Confused about Pope Francis? You have company!

William Oddie has an interesting piece at the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald (represented recently by Crisis which is growing in my estimation) about Pope Francis’ modus operandi.

If you are confused sometimes about what Pope Francis does or what he says… or, importantly, doesn’t say… you are not alone.

Let’s have a taste:

This Pope Does Not “Do” Doctrine

If you are puzzled, even disoriented by the Holy Father’s conduct of his pontificate (and I stress at the outset that what follows is not intended as an attack on it) you may be reassured by an article in this month’s National Geographic magazine, which contains some possibly indiscreet remarks by the Pope’s spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, which indicate that you are not alone. I say “possibly” indiscreet, since as he is the Pope’s director of communications, maybe what he says is something the Holy Father doesn’t mind us knowing.

This is from an account of a conversation between the Pope’s spokesman when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Federico Wals, and Fr Lombardi. “So, Father,” the Argentine asked, “how do you feel about my former boss?” Managing a smile, Fr Lombardi replied: “Confused.” He described the contrast between the way Pope Benedict would give an account of a conversation with some world leader and the way Pope Francis does it.

After meeting with a world leader, the former pope would emerge and rattle off an incisive summation, Lombardi tells me, with palpable wistfulness: “It was incredible. Benedict was so clear. He would say, ‘We have spoken about these things, I agree with these points, I would argue against these other points, the objective of our next meeting will be this’—two minutes and I’m totally clear about what the contents were. With Francis—‘This is a wise man; he has had these interesting experiences.’ Chuckling somewhat helplessly, Lombardi adds, “Diplomacy for Francis is not so much about strategy but instead, ‘I have met this person, we now have a personal relation, let us now do good for the people and for the Church.’”

No one knows all of what he’s doing, according to Fr Lombardi. “His personal secretary doesn’t even know. I have to call around: One person knows one part of his schedule, someone else knows another part.” The previous day, the Pope had hosted a gathering in Casa Santa Marta of 40 Jewish leaders—and the Vatican press office learned about it only after the fact. Fr Lombardi shrugged his shoulders and simply said: “This is the life.”


Maybe his unpredictability is more calculated than we have supposed? Maybe it is part of his campaign to reform the Roman Curia, which had clearly become corrupt and over-powerful. Everyone still remembers his 2014 Christmas rant to the Church’s highest-ranking officials, including a list of 15 “ailments” that he said plagued the Vatican’s bureaucracy. He portrayed a Church hierarchy that had lost its humanity at times, a body consumed by narcissism, where men who are meant to serve God with optimism instead presented a hardened, sterile face to the world. He denounced the “pathology of power,” and the “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that has made leaders of the Catholic church forget they are supposed to be joyful.

Well, they didn’t like it much: the question is, was he right? The “confusion” still felt within the Vatican, and reported by Fr Lombardi, may well be part of a tactic to get on top of the Roman Curia: who knows?

But what about the rest of us? I’m confused too: after the publication of Laudato Si (my views on which, if you’re interested, may be read here) I was angry, as well, at least at first.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. AnnTherese says:

    I thought Pope’s Francis’s “Christmas rant” was one of the most courageous statements he’s made. When you speak truth to power, you are persecuted, of course. On other points, I haven’t found Francis to be confusing at all. Disorganized or a poor communicator? I don’t know if that’s true or not,[You don’t know if that’s true… BUT…] but it seems a little nit-picky (this happens when there’s nothing substantial to criticize), and besides, it’s true of many CEOs. [Apples and oranges.] That’s why good assistants are priceless.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    Time magazine (shockingly) published a very good little article titled “The Top 4 Misconceptions About Pope Francis”. It should be shared. It can be found here:

  3. Benedict Joseph says:

    Confused? I have used that descriptive for myself for the last time in regard to this situation. Why would one continue to attribute “confusion” to oneself, when the consistent pattern of behavior being observed and endured is itself what is confused? None of us are confused. The groundlings are not confused. We are hurt, feeling manipulated, deceived, as sheep without a shepherd. Those are confused who are, for a variety of reasons, are of two minds, and seek to resolve their interior conflict by enlisting us in the solution they find suitable to their priorities. . Those are confused who ascribe authority and veracity to works and pumps that are precisely not authoritative or truthful, but appear to be of the Adversary. There is a confusion rife within the hierarchy, at its highest level.
    Today we celebrate the memorial of The Passion of Saint John the Baptist, he who died a Martyr for truth and justice. Why would I listen to voice of men who exercise their authority in confusion over the blood crying out in the wilderness of Saint John who was not afraid to speak the singular Truth to Herod and his concubine?
    We have more than one harsh reality that needs to be ironed out.

  4. Clinton R. says:

    The pontificate of Pope Francis has been like no other before him. Hopefully his style will be unique and not carried on by his successors. The Church and a disbelieving world need to hear clear and concise teachings of the Catholic Church. Doctrine IS important. The Liturgy IS important. The emphasis on ecumenism and the environment has not been fruitful. Seeing the Pope wear a clown nose, pose for selfies, dangle a Rosary around his ear, etc. is not becoming of the Vicar of Christ. Pope Francis has been very direct in warning the faithful about satan and he does exhort us to go to Confession. But His Holiness often gives the impression he is leaving a crack in the door that gives hope to liberals inside and outside the Church doctrine and praxis will be changed. And thus, the sense of dread we have vis a vis the Synod in October.

  5. marcelus says:

    Oddie,another first world writter who think has a right to indicate the duties and task popes should accomplish.
    I have often found his articles at Crisis extremely volatile. One day he praises PF the next he criticizes him.

  6. Giuseppe says:

    At least Donald Trump stays on message. Google #trumpbible for trump-ish quotes from his favorite book and trump-esque commentary on the Bible. Pretty funny.

  7. joan ellen says:

    Geoffrey: Thank you for the link. I happen to like this ‘take’ on Pope Francis.

  8. joan ellen says:

    As world and church events continue on their current path…Pope Francis…especially with his calling the Church a field hospital…and his references to various sicknesses…will, for me at least, continue to be a source of comfort.
    His easy going manner is a big help, while he all the while continues as a solid Catholic who, indirectly, pulls the solid Catholic faith out of us, with the result being we catechize others solidly, as occurs over and over and over again…as witnessed on Social Media…for example. We are immensely blessed.

  9. pfreddys says:

    I used to complain about the pontificate of St. John Paul, I thought he was so scattered-brained that I would call him a hippie. Now with this pontificate St. JPII seems like a razor.
    All that being said I have to admit that out of all the six pontificate I have experienced in my life the only one I have actual affection for is Benedict’s….also possibly John Paul I.

  10. “No one knows all of what he’s doing, according to Fr. Lombardi. ‘His personal secretary doesn’t even know. I have to call around: One person knows one part of his schedule, someone else knows another part.’”

    When I read this, my thought was, “This is what a good spy or undercover operative might be doing. Keep everyone off balance. Don’t trust anyone. Don’t let anyone have all the pieces of the puzzle.” If Pope Francis knows what he’s doing, then this may all work out for the best. Of course, by keeping everyone off balance, he leaves us wondering just whose side he’s on too. The idea of the Pope being “under cover” seems a bit odd especially in this day and age, but it may be exactly what is going on.

  11. Norah says:

    BenedictXVIFan, this may be of help:
    Vatican denies letter was intended to endorse Italian author’s book on same-sex unions
    Catholic World News – August 28, 2015

    The Vatican press office has issued a statement to counter an Italian writer’s claim that Pope Francis praised her book defending same-sex unions.

    Francesca Pardi, whose book Piccolo Uovo was among the gay-oriented books banned from city schools in Venice, had written to Pope Francis to protest. She received a polite response—not from the Pope but from an official of the Secretariat of State—saying that the Pope “is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values.”

    Pardi quickly made that letter public, and succeeded in prompting a series of media reports that the Pope had endorsed her book. The August 28 statement from the Vatican rejected that interpretation of the letter. “In no way does the letter from the Secretariat of State mean to endorse behaviour and teachings not in line with the Gospel,” the statement said. The Vatican statement added that the letter to Pardi was intended to remain private, which “unfortunately did not happen.”

  12. organistjason says:

    The Statement/observation of Dr. Oddie, “this Pope does not do Doctrine” says it all. St. Pope John Paul II was, as one Cardinal wrote after Conclave II (1978), one of the brightest minds in the room. Liturgically there were somethings that happened that just set me on edge. But his Theology, his unwavering devotedness to the Doctrine/Magisterial teaching of the Church was unyielding. Which made him Great. I would advocate one of the other “Great minds” of the Church was also in Conclave II, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. With his own election as Pope Benedict XVI, the Church very appropriately was corrected with the “reform of the reform”. Those that “hijacked” Vatican II were reigned in, to an extent and the Sacredness of the Holy Mass found a rebirth. Pope Benedict is a Brilliant Theologian. There is no “gray” area. The Truth is the Truth not needing a majority vote or the accolades and praise of the secular media and those in authority seeking “celebrity” status. Confused? We shouldn’t be confused. Quite clearly as Dr. Oddie stated, “This pope does not do doctrine.” That one statement says it all and everything that follows flows from that fact.

  13. pseudomodo says:

    “Go home tonight and give your children some confusion, and tell them that this confusion comes from the pope.

  14. Joe in Canada says:

    Instead of the Pope speaking and then Fr Lombardi having to explain what the Holy Father meant, Fr Lombardi could tell us first what the Holy Father is going to mean, and then the Pope will tell us.

  15. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Sandro Magsiter, covering some of the same ground, with additional examples from other sources, 16 days later:

  16. DonL says:

    The is a marked difference between confusion and contradiction. Neither are signs of the truth–which is Christ, and thus is that which will set us free.

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