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.