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Another side of Pope Francis

Usually Pope Francis beams in delight when he’s photographed with people, particularly in ‘selfies’ – apart from when he has to pose with politicians, especially those with whom he disagrees. As with the famous blank look he adopted when President Trump smiled beside him in the official photograph. That picture, painting a thousand unspoken words, brought glumness to a new level.
An important key to understanding Francis is that he’s a Jesuit. While Jesuits are strong on debate and consultation, there comes a point when a Jesuit superior will make a decision and will move decisively to exert his authority.
Christopher Lamb, in The Tablet, caught a glimpse of ‘a different Francis’ on one occasion when he spoke to his then press aide in a determined way. Lamb suggested that while Francis’ tough side is largely hidden from public view, he’s now beginning to demonstrate a willingness to use papal muscle.
That determined Francis was on full view last week when he fired the man in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Müller, regarded as the third most powerful man in the Vatican, had suggested that Francis’ letter, The Joy of Love, which effectively opened the door to separated and divorced people receiving Communion, didn’t say what Francis indicated clearly it had said. Müller had tried to talk down what was a central plank of Francis’ campaign to bring the concept of ‘Mercy’ into the centre of the Church’s life.
Müller had become part of a determined campaign questioning the direction Francis was taking the Church and it seemed that the only thing protecting him from his outlandish disloyalty and, in effect, disobedience was Francis’ benign personality. Or so we thought.
There’s a hard centre to Francis. We saw it when he wrote a letter to the clergy of Ahiara diocese in Nigeria, who had refused to accept a bishop from a different clan. Francis ordered them to write a letter to him (Francis) apologising for their attitude and pledging their total obedience to him as well as promising to accept whatever bishop he appointed to their diocese. On top of that Francis told them that if they hadn’t responded as he wished within 30 days that they would be automatically suspended. Smiling assassins have been more oblique than that.
We saw Francis’ hard centre too when he reprimanded Archbishop Zecca in his native Argentina for not defending a priest, Fr. Juan Viroche, who had confronted drug traffickers in his parish. Viroche was found hanged, in what seemed like suicide but many suspect was murdered.
We saw it again when Francis sent a message to cardinals in Rome reminding them of the ‘noble tradition’ of informing the Secretary of State in the Vatican when they left the Vatican and where they were staying when they were absent. It was clearly an effort to remind cardinals that their day-job was in Rome and that they shouldn’t be swanning around the world making appearances (and often, as was the case, implicitly snipping at Francis.)
Cardinal Raymond Burke, for instance, demoted by Francis to a largely ceremonial role with the Knights of Malta, speaking in Virginia, USA promised his audience that he himself would stem the confusion caused by Francis’ letter, The Joy of Love by issuing ‘a formal correction’! Though head of the highest Vatican court Burke travelled the world, presumably with multiple suitcases, to celebrate elaborate Latin Masses vested in elaborate medieval costumes, in an effort to revive the old Latin Mass and to encourage its adherents. Enough of that, Francis is saying to the cardinals.
A week or so ago Francis indicated that he ‘was going nowhere’, a response that is being interpreted as an indication that he wants to ensure that his message will survive his pontificate. Just as the elderly Pope John XXIII was widely regarded as a benign and loveable grandfather figure whose necessarily short pontificate would be little more than a temporary blip before the situation reverted to normal, those who dismissed Francis’ pontificate in the same way may have to readjust their sights.
Francis, it seems, is determined to bed down his reforms in unchangeable structures and is prepared to face down opponents like Burke and Müller who seem to believe that disobedience is acceptable for cardinals and bishops when the pope doesn’t agree with them
Francis knows that the reforms of Vatican Two were shuffled aside by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, even though lip-service was often paid to them. And he knows too that, as President Trump is demonstrating, reforms can be short lived when a successor campaigns to undo them.
So, it seems, we’re moving on to the next stage of Francis’ reforms when, despite the opposition of forces within the Vatican who seem to believe that as civil servants they can tell the pope what to do,
The Catholic Church under Francis’ leadership is moving determinedly towards establishing the reform movement on a permanent footing.
What we need now is for the Church to take Francis’s reforms seriously, not as a temporary blip but as a permanent condition.
After Francis’ recent robust reactions (as outlined above) two things are now clear. One, he’s determined to push his radical reforms through; and, two, he expects those in leadership positions to communicate the theme of mercy and compassion he has placed at the very centre of the Church. And if they don’t, he won’t be slow to demand it of them.
Hopefully, that includes Ireland too.
see also
La Croix International   Cardinal Müller’s self-delusion and sense of entitlement
and www.tonyflannery.com         Muller complains of lack of due process in his sacking!!!!!!

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  1. Excellent review of the situation.

  2. As lay person who tried to assist in my parish, the experience has been depressing. The parish management and development of the parish rests completely on the priest. As as you may be aware, most priest are elderly and do not want change and seem to resist it . Our parish is dying and it will continue to deteriorate to the point of no longer being relevant. Any of the young people who have tried to become involved in parish life have been kicked to touch and we have some great young people.
    I can only hope the the bishops of Ireland take stock and connect with their flock and perhaps show the competencies that make good leaders. The church in Ireland needs leader now more than ever.
    Hopefully, Pope Francis will take the risks needed to be successful Pope, introduce the necessary reforms and really make the church open to all, show that Gods love is there for all…

  3. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Inverted pyramid scenario fixes all this immediately. Bishops or middle managers as they are referred to in the real world occupy a space of either the cultivation of talent or micro-management of tasks with the rarest being able to handle both efficiently. It would appear that Bishops, being strained themselves with the sheer number of priests who find themselves in their guidance, can’t be expected to become saviours overnight and will continue to micromanage the church into oblivion. The devil has always been in the details. Without everyone acting like they are in service to the laity, and for each other for that matter, all is potentially lost. When a company is failing, it is usually the fault of the execution of this middle management but Pope Francis has provided a work-around for you all which is his blessing and apparently a forgiveness of sorts.
    I’m not sure if I’m in the position to evaluate Pope Francis’s progress but I can tell you one thing – I’m a church outsider; one with children who have decided to excommunicate themselves from the church for the most important of reasons yet we are inspired to get involved in this church he is describing. My initial attraction to a new evangelization was brought about by this website because it called to renew the items we all felt important as a family unit.
    There is nothing subtle to what he is doing from a management perspective – he is giving everyone a sword to use instead of a pen – an ability to strike down oppression and clericalism wherever it is found but only if people develop the courage needed to do things in a completely different manner. You have to believe this.
    If I read one more article on this website about you all waiting for someone in the Irish church hierarchy to lead, it is such a disrespect to Pope Francis at this time because it completely disregards his authority which is greater than any bishop. If the bishops properly understood what he was doing, they’d understand that he is in turn creating a fair amount of breathing room for you all, but only if you believe that there is the possibility of solutions ready to bubble to the surface of this abyss from regular folk in your midst.
    It happens all the time in every other institution, why not this one? If you don’t think this is possible, then by all means, continue to look for that leadership from Irish hierarchy.

  4. May your voice be heard @2 Boatman.

  5. declan cooney says:

    Cardinal Muller has remained loyal to the Pope, in spite of the way he was replaced (a phone call on his last day !! not very polite).
    How many have remained loyal to the Pope when he declared that there will not be priestesses/women priests in the Catholic Church ?!
    The world needs alot of mercy and compassion from all in the Church.

  6. Con Devree says:

    Deliver The Pope and Cardinal Meuller O Lord from every evil. Grant them peace in their day. In your mercy keep them free from sin and protect them from all distress.
    You gave and left us with your peace. Through the faith and prayers of the saints help us to avail more of this gift so as to enable you to grant unity to our Church. Help us to prioritise giving praise and glory to your name, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven especially those of ours most in need of your mercy.
    Help us to deal with each other as we are, not as we really are.

  7. I agree with Lloyd. If the ACP is waiting for bishops to care and support priests, we could be waiting quite a long time. what I find strange is that for some of our recently ordained bishops they shared many of the concerns of their fellow clergy. As soon as a mitre is put on their head and a pastoral staff in their hand, they forget the needs and concerns of their priests. Does care for priests ever come up at the Bishops’ meetings? There was a lot of very compassionate coverage about priest’s dying by suicide in Ireland. Did any bishop issue a response to how they are helping priests deal with the difficulties in their lives? Silence, it speaks volumes.

  8. Sean O Brien says:

    5 Declan “Cardinal Muller has remained loyal to the Pope”:
    We are truly living in the age of the alternative fact!

  9. Many of the issues that are raised in this article will be raised by Cardinal Schonborn at a conference in Limerick tomorrow. Hopefully we might get a report on the acp website.

  10. Mary Burke says:

    @ Declan Cooney
    Dear Declan,
    Your story of the phone call is apocryphal. Here is the evidence from the Vatican Press Office that Pope Francis met Cardinal G. L. Mueller in person on the morning of Friday, June 30.
    Allegedly the Holy See had intended to make the decision public on Monday, July 3 but when Mueller returned to his office he informed his staff. As a result the Holy See made it public on Monday, July 1, the day after the meeting.

  11. Con Devree says:

    One can appraise the future of Irish Catholicism in terms of sociology or religion. Sociologically it is still uncertain which factor will be the greater – the decrease in the number of practising Catholics or in the number of priests. Either way it is time to consider the welfare of an ageing priest population.
    I do not know whether the tradition of priests living independent lives is or is not conducive to this project. Nor am I able to comment on how if necessary it needs to be changed. But Catholicism would suggest that priests create a communal structure of support. Traditional Catholicism has also always been characterised by the lay care for priests especially in times of persecution. In the latter case this involved the danger of death.
    How soon before that becomes a new priority in terms of priest welfare? Lloyd’s management theories may have a role but care in charity will inevitably be required. The laity will have no option in faith but to become involved.
    This involvement is of course is a question of service rather than that of power. In involves sensitivity to the real needs of priests, to their perspectives, and requires people whom priests can trust in both faith and administrative terms. Service to Catholicism driven by faith, humility and prayer is a great teacher. One only has to look at people such as St Francis, the three St Teresas, and at St John Paul II as a priest in Poland.
    The ACP know their own business, but is it not their responsibility perhaps to use their initiative and resources to set up a priest-lay voluntary organisation to consider the future of needful priest welfare?
    When a priest encouraged Voltaire on his deathbed to renounce Satan, Voltaire replied: “Now, now my good man, this is no time to be making enemies.” In terms of religion a deepening of Faith, Hope and Charity among laity and clergy always creates a greater number of new priests and would greatly mitigate the problem. Our squabbling and backbiting only suits the plan of another agency.

  12. Phil Greene says:

    To Boatman,
    This is such a waste of your God-given talents, the frustration must be immense!
    A priest must “be the change” so that a parish can become vibrant some say, and once that energy is ignited then the parish comes alive and great opportunities to use those gifts become a reality. This is of course wonderful and is a win/win for all… as long as that priest remains and/or that the next priest continues with the same leadership style.
    We know that Pope Francis understands what it is like to be popular, to work in vibrant communities, to be the change… the difference is that he wants the change to be for every parish and to be about the people, the pastor,the parish, the community at large with our Faith interwoven throughout(and within). He appears to see that it must be less about him , and more about us, that policies must be updated and groundwork laid to enable us to move forward together. He sees “his patch” in broader terms , even at his age, he wants change for the greater good for all.
    WE all know this of course , nothing new here .. the newness will come when not only bishops, but priests too to work for the common greater good and invite us in , to be secure enough to allow debate and reach consensus; those priests that are in the inner circles must surely see they have a duty now to support Pope Francis in building robust foundations that effectively force them to relinquish some of their control over their parishes.. not easy if you are riding high showing how fabulous you are.. and the people you report to may only impressed by this type of leadership too..what to do?
    Priests might say that lay people, as a parish, should “be the change” and go to their bishop, (or maybe not!).. one wonders if this has been tried before .. in a compassionate way.. if the bishop can’t help do the parish go to the next level? Are there organisations/other parishes out there that can help with this problem? Perhaps the priest needs help from his peers but can’t admit to it.?
    My prayers will include yours and all parishes like yours and as Frank said “may your voice be heard”.. soon..

  13. Phil Greene says:

    To Boatman and Michael,
    Please take a look at “partnerships” at the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle Website.. http://www.rcdhn.org.uk, it offers some hope.. perhaps your bishops may be open to such initiatives, or you neighbouring parishes may rally round, or neighbouring priests may help others see the light – to help rather than hinder spreading the Good news 🙂

  14. Michael Williams says:

    I agree we need to take our Pope’s reforms seriously and I am not worried about the dismissal of Cardinal Muller. The Pope is entitled to do this.
    I am worried though, about the manner in which it is said it was done. On the face of it, it seems to lack Christian charity.
    There is a danger that that will hinder reform rather than encourage it.

  15. declan cooney says:

    Another side of Pope Francis is the manner in which he ordered three staff of the CDF but refused to give an explanation !! A little unfair and some would say dictatorial in manner. Is this the mercy that pope Francis talks about?? It would make you long for the gentleness of Benedict.

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