28Mar Pope Francis may end the fear and oppression in the Church

What will Pope Francis be like? That is the question many people are asking. He has been elected pope after four amazing weeks in the Catholic Church. I am referring to the weeks between Benedict’s retirement and Francis’ election. What happened during those weeks took me completely by surprise. There was an outbreak of open discussion about the problems within the Church that began to happen as soon as Benedict stepped down. He deserves great credit, because, whether he intended it or not, his decision to retire was what set the wheels of discussion in motion. Then, over the next few weeks, we had archbishops and cardinals saying things about the Church that up to then were only being said by groups like the Association of Catholic Priests. There was suddenly a widespread recognition of the urgent need for reform and renewal in the Church. People at the highest level began to accept that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council had not been properly implemented. And most strongly of all, almost everyone going into the conclave seemed to accept that the Vatican structure, what we call the Curia, was dysfunctional, and not serving the Church well. There were even suggestions of possible corruption within the Vatican. For people like ourselves in the ACP, who had been saying these things for the past few years, it was extraordinary to hear our best lines being taken by senior cardinals.
So Francis has come into office with a wind of change at his back. It still remains to be seen if he will allow it to blow freely. The initial signs are promising. I love the early indications that his style will be simple, that we will see the end of all the excessive pomp and ceremony, of dressing up, that became a feature of the Church in recent years. His love for the poor is also a very powerful sign. And I am glad to see the end of the red shoes! “The carnival is over” he is reputed to have said when someone offered him the red shoes.
He is not going to be a radical. He will not suddenly issue a degree abolishing compulsory celibacy and ordaining women. That is clearly not his style. In fact, it would seem that in matters such as these he tends to be conservative. But that doesn’t worry me at all. In fact I wouldn’t want a Pope to do such things. I am looking for something more simple and basic from him. I would love him to create a climate within the Church where there is freedom of thought and expression, where issues can be discussed and debated. Because that is the only proper way in which to bring about real change. Change that comes through a decree from on high is no good, and will not survive. But change that comes through a process of discussion, or dialogue, as we call it in the Church, is the enduring kind of change.
I am hopeful that he will do this, that he will put an end to that awful era of fear and oppression that has been such a part of the Church in recent times, and replace it with openness and dialogue. In other words, that we would have a continuation of the type of discussion that went on right around the Church during those weeks of the interregnum. I think it is important that Francis has come from a religious background, that in fact he is the first Jesuit pope. For the past fifty years the structures of government in religious life have been based on discussion and dialogue. All important decisions are made in consultation with the members. So this way of governing should be deeply imbued in the new Pope. For this reason I have a positive sense that we have put the era of diktat from the top behind us, and that at last the notion of collegiality as proclaimed in Vatican ll may come into its own.
Maybe I am over optimistic. But this is a time for hope, both because of the sense of a new Spirit blowing through the Vatican, and also because we are about to celebrate Easter and the Resurrection.

• Fr Tony Flannery CSsR is a member of the Leadership Team of the ACP

25 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    Thank you Father Flannery. Will you give us a word about whether you think, your particular situation, with the CDF and the Vatican will change for the better?

  2. Pól Ó Duibhir

    https://twitter.com/RevPaulPhD/status/317363856500486144
    .

  3. Raymond Hickey

    The winds of change are indeed blowing through this church. In reference to Pope Francis, Tony writes, “I would love him to create a climate within the Church where there is freedom of thought and expression, where issues can be discussed and debated. Because that is the only proper way in which to bring about real change.” In other words, a Christ-like community! How welcome that would be.

    In the season of hope, let us pray that this Jesuit, Pope Francis, will emulate the spirit of his brother Jesuit Fr. Teilhard de Chardin when he prayed, “May the Risen Christ keep me young for God’s greater glory; young, that is: smiling, optimistic, active and perceptive!”

  4. Chris McDonnell

    The Washing of Feet is an action of gentle kindness, an act of service and an intimate act of love. This evening Papa Francesco undertook that action in a juvenile prison in Rome, washing the feet of both young men and young women. We are blessed with a Bishop of Rome whose actions are inspirational and we should thank God for him.

  5. Wilfrid Harrington, O.P.

    Thank you, Tony. I do share your hope. After fifty years, full implementation of Vatican II is long overdue. Collegiality is a priority. That theological witch hunt must end. A prerequisite for meaningful change is radical reform of the Roman Curia.

    Wilfrid Harrington

  6. Mary Wood

    If, so help us, Pope Francis were to die today, he has made such an impact and life-statement that he could NEVER be forgotten.

  7. Nuala O'Driscoll

    Happy Easter to everyone on this website where I have found some comfort and refuge from my wanderings in the wilderness.

  8. Gene Carr

    Tony Flannery would have a point if the issues that he and others had raised for “open” discussion pertained only to the need for reforms or the disfunctional Curio. But that was not the case. The issues that CDF took Fr Flannery to task for had to do with core tenets of faith and morals, such as the nature of the priesthood and the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage. I can find no evidence whatsoever that the new Pope’s views on these matters are any different from those of his two predecessors.

  9. Hazel Cooper

    The three great virtues are listed as faith, hope, and charity (or love). Pope Francis seems imbued with faith, and radiates the love Jesus had for the poor – and he is giving us all hope. May God Bless him, take care of him and help him in his difficult job.

  10. seán eile

    Agree with Mary (no 6). Even if this period is just a “Prague spring’ Pope Francis has changed everything. Everything he does is so blooming obvious, and Christian – why was it forgotten?. He is right in saying the Church/Vatican/Curia got side tracked. In all honesty and with sincere respect for the man, but is Brian Darcy a potential Luther? I feel an active member of the Church again – 3 months ago I would have thought this impossible. Deo Gratias.

  11. Soline Humbert

    @7 Thank you very much Nuala for your Easter blessing.
    I also want to wish all contributors/readers a very blessed Easter,filled with the joy of the Risen Christ. May we all experience the power of His resurrection in our lives .
    “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east,
    (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

    We awaken in Christ’s body
    as Christ awakens our bodies,
    and my poor hand is Christ.
    He enters my foot, and is infinitely me.

    I move my hand, and wonderfully
    my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
    (for God is indivisibly
    whole, seamless in His Godhood).

    I move my foot, and at once
    He appears like a flash of lightning.
    Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
    open your heart to Him

    and let yourself receive the one
    who is opening to you so deeply.
    For if we genuinely love Him,
    we wake up inside Christ’s body

    where all our body, all over,
    every most hidden part of it,
    is realized in joy as Him,
    and He makes us, utterly, real,

    and everything that is hurt, everything
    that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
    maimed, ugly, irreparably
    damaged, is in Him transformed

    and recognized as whole, as lovely,
    and radiant in His light
    we awaken as the Beloved
    in every last part of our body.
    (Simeon the New Theologian 11c)

  12. Pól Ó Duibhir

    https://twitter.com/irlpol/status/318309323291914240
    .

  13. Brendan Hoban SSC

    I agree that Pope Francis brings some hope to our Church and long may it continue. He has talked a number of times about our need to be a Church of “the poor and the marginalised”. This brings me back to the 70s and 80s when liberation theologians talked that language. It was something that we had got from Vatican II and the energy that came from that. Of course, it really came from the Scriptures and the prophets of the Old Testament but the Church and many of its office holders had lost it on the way. Working in solidarity with the poor and the marginalised is the great challenge today as well. It is also a danger and risky because the person who practices that is in danger of conversion – reform and renewal – and may find themselves marginalised as a result. This could be a good test for many in our Church today: when did you feel marginalised, how did you come out of it and what was the renewal / reform you experienced that you owe thanks to the poor for your conversion?
    When Cardinal George Pell (as archbishop then) stated at a seminar in La Trobe University in May 1988 that “the doctrine of the primacy of Conscience should be quietly ditched…” he was not silenced by CDF. Later at the Acton Lecture in Sydney in August 1999 he stated “catholic teachers should stop talking about the primacy of Conscience. This has never been a catholic doctrine..” and this seemed to run against Vatican II “Gaudium et Spes” and John Henry Newman who called conscience “the Vicar of Christ”. Not only was Cardinal Pell not silenced but he has continued to rise in the clerical world as cardinal and Vox Clara among many other offices. I believe the injustice shown to our own “silenced” priests needs to be righted and that Pope Francis may be offering signs of hope.

  14. Brendan Cafferty

    I think Francis has a lot of goodwill on his side. It may be difficult for him satisfy everyone but he has made a good start.There is something refreshing about him, call it a Prague Spring, The Obama effect or whatever.I have a feeling things will change -but no one expects a revolution. Things like putting an end to the clamping down on good priests would go a long way. I think the compulsory celibacy issue has to be tackled, if married Anglicans who come over can be allowed continue as priests, there surely is an anomaly.And why not invite all those priests who left to get married to come home, that is if they wish to return.

  15. Mary O Vallely

    “This could be a good test for many in our Church today: when did you feel marginalised, how did you come out of it and what was the renewal / reform you experienced that you owe thanks to the poor for your conversion?”

    Fr Brendan Hoban @13 asks a really interesting question.

    This link below just happens to be about a Jesuit and an American but we have our own great examples here of priests, religious and lay people, female and male, working with the marginalised and often marginalised themselves. It would be interesting to hear from some of them.

    “In the Acts of the Apostles, it is written, “awe came upon everyone.” The expression teaches that the measure of our human compassion is not based on the amount of work we do for those in the margins, but on our willingness to form a kinship with the marginalized, our willingness to move away from judgment toward awe, Fr. Boyle said.”

    http://www.onbeing.org/program/father-greg-boyle-on-the-calling-of-delight/5053

    Thanks, by the way, to Fr Bernard Cotter for the lovely, heartwarming tribute to his former parish priest, Fr Denis O’Connor. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

  16. Darlene Starrs

    I so appreciated your words Brendan and Brendan! While, what you say is true about the “celibacy” question, and welcoming back to the ministry, those who left to get married……I think, that if Pope Francis, has a serious bias about “clericalism”, he may not be in favor of increasing the ranks of clerics with anglicans, married men, or even women. It is likely that Pope Francis prefers to have the ‘laity’ as they are in life, take up the ministries of the Church, that would have been, the responsiblility of the clergy. I have assumed this from some of the things Pope Francis has said recently about clericalism and from what he said, when he was a bishop of Buenos Aires.

  17. Soline Humbert

    @15
    Thank you Mary for that link to the article on the On Being website
    While I was on the On Being site,I was attracted to read another article: Tattoos&Torah:One woman’journey to the rabbinate. (Well, I would!). Very interesting article. Seems to me we should stop trying to put limits to God’s wild and wonderful imagination! http://www.onbeing.org/blog/tattoos-and-torah-one-womans-journey-rabbinate/2667

  18. Fintan Sheerin

    Did anyone read Pope Francis’ address on 3rd April? One part caught my attention:
    ‘Another element. In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness’

    ‘God does not choose according to human criteria’. This is an interesting statement as we have always told that women cannot be ordained priests because Jesus did not have women present at the Last Supper. But Jesus, as God, does not choose according human criteria. Tissa Balasuriya used a similar basis for his suggestion that women can be ordained.

  19. Philomena Carolan

    I think it is a good thing what Pope Francis is doing, Pope Benedict XVI just closed the doors on the problem and then resigned leaving Pope Francis to pic up huge pieces of damage.

    However, I know Pope Francis is looking into the abuse issues and dealing with it and that is good, excellent in fact but, I don’t think the celibacy problem should stay for too long, there are still many priests out there not known to the Vatican, as to whether Pope Francis abolishes celibacy in ten years time, this problem is a bit of an urgent issue I think, I don’t think it should be kept for too long, this problem has been going on for quite some time.

  20. Bob Hayes

    It seems odd that Fintan Sheerin (no. 18) is so moved to quote Pope Francis on women and the Resurrection. The Holy Father was doing no more than re-state what is in the Catechism (CCC 641).

    Noel (no. 20), I agree entirely. ACP needs to move away from the ‘underground movement’ mentality if its criticism of Vatican opacity is to have any credibility.

  21. Paddy Ferry

    http://www.richardsipe.com/Burke_Gallery/The%20Cost%20of%20Looking%20Good%202007%5B2%5D.pdf
    Just in case anybody missed this — the link was provided by Mícheál @3 under the piece “Latin Mass enthusiasts alarmed at Pope Francis’ election”– I thought I should refer to it. It really is a must-read. I’ve also been wondering if Bob Hayes, Anne, Sean (Derry)and those of like mind approve of the dressing up tendencies of Raymond Burke and his ilk. Mícheál, thank you for drawing our attention to this.

  22. mjt

    “Tridentinum” – has been liquidated? About time too.

  23. Bob Hayes

    Paddy (no. 22) offers a link to the website of Richard Sipe who is, ‘devoted full time to research into the sexual and celibate practices of Roman Catholic bishops and priests’.
    http://www.richardsipe.com/index.html

  24. Joe O'Leary

    Fintan, I suspect that the phrase “God does not choose according to human criteria” will be used by the Vatican as a reason for not ordaining women.

  25. Joanne Carroll

    @Soline 11, thank you soline for the beautiful poems/prayers from Hopkins and Simeon the New Theologian. They remind me of the crucial truth, and raise me to hope. And thank you, Tony, for your measured and hopeful essay.