Pope Francis wants a Church that is merciful, compassionate and, as he explained in Florence yesterday, “to have the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses”.
In order to do this he realises that Catholicism needs credibility – and that is one reason why reforming the Vatican, its finances and administration, is so important.
Francis was elected to oversee an internal clean-up of the Roman Curia but he has also decided the Church needs a completely new way of engaging with the world. He further outlined his vision of the latter in an important speech at a gathering of 2,200 Italian bishops, priests and lay people in Florence’s Cathedral yesterday.
Such work is not easy but in recent days the Pope has showed how determined he is to press ahead with reforms. He may want a Church that caresses but Jorge Bergoglio is a forceful and determined character.
This can be seen in his decision to address the latest round of the Vatileaks saga from the balcony of St Peter’s during the Sunday Angelus. In recent years Popes have never addressed “scandals” in this way as it might have been seen as washing your dirty linen in public.
Francis, however, decided to address an issue that thousands of Catholics in the square will have known about. He stressed that the leaks detailing financial mismanagement at the Vatican will not deter him from “the reform project that we are carrying out, together with my advisers and with the support of all of you.”
The remarks linked his reforms with the interests of ordinary Catholics and in other words might be read as saying: “Let’s clean up this mess together.”
Pope Francis is greeted by thousands of Catholics as he arrives at the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence (PA)
Then, in Florence, the Pope set out his vision a radical renewal of the Italian Church. This is necessary, he explained, because: “we are not living an era of change but a change of era.”
He told Italian Catholics, to adopt humility, selflessness and beatitude, features which “tell us that we must not be obsessed with power” and he wants a “restless Church” that looks after “the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect”
“It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit – so that all will be possible with genius and creativity,” he said.
Francis then warned of two temptations: Pelagianism, which says humans can achieve salvation without divine help, and Gnosticism, which emphasises the spiritual over material and whose followers argued Christ could not be both fully divine and human.
Pelagianism, he explained, “leads us even to assuming a style of control, of hardness” stressing that “Christian doctrine is not a closed system.”
He explained: “Before the problems of the Church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally.”
Gnosticism, he pointed out, “leads us to place our trust in logical and clear reasoning that, however, loses the tenderness of our brother’s flesh.”
However the constant need for reform in the Church, the semper reformanda “does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures.”
Francis is wary of systems and structures and prefers for the Church to adopt an approach which means it is close to people – “washing their feet” – and where bishops are “just pastors.”
This, however, may not be enough where the reform of the Vatican is involved. Part of the problem in the curia is the lack of systems for recruitment of people (so often done on personal recommendations) and financial accountability and there is a need for an updating of the structures. Francis, who often makes his own appointments based on personal contacts, will need to be careful that he does not simply replace one system of appointing people on recommendations with another.
A better understanding of his approach to renewing structures can be read in Evangelii Gaudium, which he urged the gathering in Florence to read as it gives a more detailed framework of his ecclesial vision.
In this document the Pope explains how he wants a missionary church, that puts all its efforts into evangelisation including its structures.
“There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them,” he writes. “Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling”, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.”
One only has to view the video near the end of this article from the Roman Catholic newspaper in the U.K. ‘The Tablet’ to recognise the extraordinary charism of loving-kindness that motivates the present successor of Peter, Pope Francis.
His desire to bring people in from the margins of the Church and the world have hardly to be linguistically understood to take in the fact of Pope Francis’ likeness to his illustrious predecessor Saint Francis of Assisi – whose personal experience, in embracing a leper near the hill town of Assisi man years ago, gave him an abiding love of the poor and marginalised of society. In the video link provided here, above my comments, I urge you, my readers, to experience for yourselves the charity with which the Pope addresses the people from the exterior pulpit of Prato Cathedral. This is an object lesson of humilityfor us all who want the Christian Church to be at the foreefront of peacemaking and openness to others in the world around us, while yet perpetuating the dignity of ALL God’s children.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand