16Mar Maybe Pope Francis will call on us all to ‘wake up’!

Like most people and, I suspect, most Jesuits, I was surprised on Wednesday evening last to learn that the Cardinals had elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy. What might we hope for from his time as Pope?
It helps that the man has a sense of humour. It is reported that he left the Cardinals to go out onto the balcony to greet the crowds by saying ‘May God forgive you all!’ And on the balcony he began by noting that the Cardinals had gone almost to ‘the end of the world’ to elect the new Bishop of Rome, and ended by wishing all a ‘good night, have a good rest’, as if talking to familiars. He came across as someone with simplicity, a prayerful man of faith and warmth. This has since been confirmed by what we have learned about his life-style. All this conveys a person of substance and yet with a light touch.
We have learned since too about his deep commitment to the poor and to social justice. This is good news for so many. And perhaps the taking of the name Francis may mean that care of the environment is included in his notion of social justice?
He will have learned from his Jesuit background, as from many other sources, that justice certainly involves a real compassion and care for individuals who are suffering, but also the struggle to reform structures and institutions. Perhaps in this context he will be better able more to convey to victims of clerical sexual abuse that the Church is truly sorry, and that effective remedial means have been taken and will be taken? And with his Ignatian background of ‘finding God in all things’ he may well have interesting ways of addressing secularization.
So far, perhaps so obvious – and encouraging.

I was struck by two other aspects of his short address to the crowd.
First, he several times referred to his new role as Bishop of Rome – not Pope, not Supreme Pontiff. I would suggest that this was not accidental. I am supposing that he wanted to locate himself among, and not apart from, his fellow Cardinals and Bishops. This is of huge significance: could we be seeing here the first concrete steps towards a re-imagining of papacy in a more collegial manner, true to the inspiration of the Second Vatican Council? The days of absolute monarchy should be well and truly over. Pope John-Paul suggested as much when, in 1995 in Ut Unum Sint, he asked for help in re-envisaging the papacy so that it could better serve its function as a service of unity and love.
And secondly, in the same vein, it was so fascinating that before giving his Urbi et Orbi blessing to the assembled crowd and to the world, he paused and asked them for their blessing, their prayer for him – and bowed in silence when receiving it. Here he was situating himself among the People of God – the description used by the Second Vatican Council to express the mystery of the Church. The baptized first, and then priests, bishops, pope in service of the people. This is consistent with his reported criticism of ‘clericalism’ while still in Argentina. And it takes up the teaching of Vatican II that faithful share in the role of Jesus Christ as prophet (teacher), priest (the common priesthood of the faithful) and king (a share in decision making). It respects the notion of the ‘sense of the faithful’ as a source of church teaching.
It will be so interesting to see if the new Bishop of Rome can begin, with the help of others, to devise structures and institutions by which this kind of collegiality at all levels of the Church can be made effective and the vision of Vatican II implemented. I am thinking of regular synods and councils – even, eventually an Ecumenical Council which another elderly and seemingly ‘caretaker’ Pope, John XXIII called- which could feed into church teaching and decision-making. I am thinking of the learning we can experience from our Protestant and Orthodox brothers and sisters in this respect. I am thinking of the reform of Canon Law to allow for effective Episcopal collegiality and decision-making powers to laity, thus empowering parish councils.
It would be a wonderful first step if Francis could instigate a reform of the Roman Curia, resisting its tendency (like that of all civil servants?) to usurp executive power rather than offer administrative service. Might he, as others have suggested, introduce many more lay people, women and men, into the Curia, from all around the world? Might he even –as is possible if one looks back historically- call lay men to be Cardinals, and then why not lay-women, to help him and his fellow-bishops govern the church?

It is reported that Francis is traditional in many of the so-called neuralgic areas of church teaching to do with sexuality and gender. But with his Jesuit background in Ignatian discernment, both personal and communal, might he be less fearful about having issues discussed more openly, so that church teaching might more surely arrive at a truth that could be received in peace by the faithful?

But, in the end, it depends as much on us as on Francis. A colleague once wondered aloud if perhaps the Holy Spirit had been ‘ taking a nap’ since Vatican II. But perhaps it is we Catholics who have been sleeping? Structured conversations in Dioceses like Down and Connor, Killaloe, Kerry and others have already thrown up hopeful straws in the wind. Similarly organizations like the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) and soon to be formally launched Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) are giving leadership. How wonderful if the advent of Pope Francis might empower our Bishops also to exit from that culture of silence and deference which, thankfully, is a thing of the past with regard to child sexual abuse, but which too often reigns supreme in so many other areas of church life.
How wonderful, if for Church and world, Pope Francis might, in a Christ-like way, say to the rest of us: ‘Wake up, Lazarus!’

• Gerry O’Hanlon, S.J., Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice/Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the Milltown Institute.

11 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    Excellent, excellent, summary of why Pope Francis might well be a part of the “solution” or “THE solution”. I seriously hope any association with the organization “CL” does not create serious blockage or that could make him more of the “problem”, and that would probably be the last straw.

  2. Veritas

    I’m very confused. A brief glance at the history of the new Pope Francis reveals a man who is probably even more doctrinally orthodox/conservative than Pope Benedict. Yet people of a ” liberal/feminist ” disposition are singing his praises. Does this mean that they agree with Catholic orthodoxy, and that Pope Benedict was right after all. Also it has been reported that at one stage Fr. Bergoglio was banished to a relative outback by his ” liberal ” Jesuit superiors, because they viewd him as too doctrinally orthodox. Yet there was no great media outcry in his support, at this action. Very, very confusing. Can someone please explain.

  3. Joe O'Leary

    The following pieces suggest that the new pope is even more conservative than his predecessors:






  4. Darlene Starrs

    Thank you Veritas….It would seem somewhat confusing to find a “feminist” singing the praises of a conservative Pope Francis!
    I do not intend to speak on behalf of any other woman, except myself in response to your query. You have permission to refer to me as feminist, although, I have no personal agenda. As far as I can ascertain, we have seen, right from Pope Francis stepping out onto the balcony, fundamental differences between him and Pope Emeritus Benedict. Differences that I believe are reflective of his authentic relationship with Christ and of a man, who sincerely, wants and needs, the Church Institution to “straigten up and fly right”. I applaud his refusing to wear the Santa suit, with red velvet and Ermine trip, as well as, the red shoes! I applaud his living in a modest apartment as a bishop! I applaud his wearing of his simple cross! I applaud his ‘natural” speech to the people waiting for him in the square! I applaud his “declaration”, that the rest of the Church are pilgrims, and so the clergy must be pilgrims! In his homily, he says, that fidelity to Christ, is living out Vatican II! (paraphrased) and finally, and most importantly: Pope Francis has no patience and regard for “clericalism”. Now, we don’t know, his definition of clericalism, in it’s fullest form, and so whether or not, he is ultimately going to be renown for applying the hermeneutic of reform is way too early to determine, however, I like what I see and hear thus far.

  5. Martin

    ”…so that church teaching might more surely arrive at a truth that could be received in peace by the faithful?”

    The truth of the Gospel is not meant to be received ‘in peace’. The Gospel is uncomfortable; it challenges because it calls us to give up our old way of life.

  6. Veritas

    Darlene, what do you think of the Pope being sent into “exile” by his fellow Jesuits for his orthodox/conservative views? Do you not agree that it was shameful? I don’t really like this emphasis on one pope being better than another. They each bring their unique personality to the ” job “. Personally I found Pope Benedict very humble, engaging, and intelligent. But I also like the new Pope’s traits. Best wishes to them both.

  7. Joe O'Leary

    What’s this about being sent into exile by his fellow Jesuits for being too orthodox?

    If it is true that the Jesuits are not enthusiastic about the new pope that is a very worrying sign.

    Maybe it has to do with this: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=25586

  8. Darlene Starrs

    Thank you Veritas….My latin and Irish are non-existent compared to everyone on the website…..so I looked up the meaning of Veritas…..”truth”….good name….Well, time will tell, how conservative….Pope Francis.is..It is really not a question for me of being conservative….it is about being obedient to Jesus Christ as He speaks to the Church from the perspective of Vatican II. It would seem that Pope Francis does in deed intend to pay this greater attention. In truth, there is not a whole lot I disagree with in terms of church teaching, however, there must be collegiality and co-operatiion at all levels of the Church……that is how a community of Christ lives….I, as a Catholic, am not asking for much, am I?…..an openness to dialogue, discussion, collegiality and collaboration….an openness to waking that sleeping giant, the laity, even more, and finally, recognizing the unique gifts of the Holy Spirit, that not only come with the laity in general, but women. I, in particular, would like to see a great resurgence of scripture study and prayer, and Small Christian Communities in parishes, doing this, because that is the way, the Church is evangelized….encountering Jesus Christ. It would seem it is time for a 2013 version of Saint Patrick! That’s really not radical, is it? I believe, the time has arrived anew in 2013 for evangelization, catechization, and building community.! The Church does the same work, with the Alpha and the Omega, from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year, but our context always changes, and so like the Latin phrases says….the Church is forever reforming…..
    as God continues to come in the moment, with the same, penetecost commissioning…..

  9. Veritas

    No problem Darlene, I respect your views. I might have issues with your interpretation of Vatican II, but we can agree to differ. I’m very surprised at Joe O’Leary’s comment. He seems to take it as a given that the Jesuits who censored Fr. Bergoglio are correct. Are their motives not open to question? Personally I agree with the Pope’s views on same sex marriage, abortion etc. So I suspect his honeymoon period with the media will be short-lived. As it should. The Church’s role is essentially counter-cultural. The Irish Church got way too close to the State in the past; it’s equally sinister for the Church to cosy up to the liberal fundamentalists of the media.

  10. Gerard Flynn

    For an account of allegations leveled against Francis which urges caution if not outright suspicion towards them, see the following link:


  11. Veritas

    In my opinion Pope Francis will be an excellent Pope, just like Pope Benedict was. It’s good to see that he has brought Mons. Ganswein on to the team as well, to maintain continuity. My wife was especially pleased with the latter decision, as to use her own words – ” the Mons. is very easy on the eye “. So everyone’s a winner. God bless and good luck, Pope Francis.