Leonardo Boff Interview: “Pope Francis is One of Us”
An interview of Leonardo Boff appeared on Christmas Day in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (roughly, “Cologne City Notifier”), and it has some explosive things in it.
Boff, the 78-year-old son of Italian immigrants to Brazil, entered the Franciscan order and studied five years in Germany. He became a strong voice for liberation theology and a vocal critic of the official church, for which he was twice forbidden to publish by the Vatican. In 1992 he left the Franciscan order and the priesthood.
Referring to the pope’s relationship to liberation theology, Boff states that “Francis is one of us.” He believes that Francis has not only made liberation theology the common inheritance of the church, he has also developed and expanded it to include the ecological dimension. As Boff characterizes it, “Whoever speaks of the poor must today also speak of the earth… to hear the cry of the poor means to hear the cry of the animals, the forestlands, all of tortured creation.”
Boff reveals that Pope Francis asked him for material for his encyclical “Laudato si’.” Boff sent Francis his advice and some of his writings. The pope told Boff not to send the materials directly to him, however, because Vatican underlings would grab it and it wouldn’t get to him. He advised Boff to send the materials to the Argentinian ambassador, with whom Francis has a good relationship going back to his time in Argentina. “Then it will certainly land in my hands,” the pope told him. A day after the publication of the encyclical, the pope called Boff to thank him for his help.
Boff notes that the pope has worked for reconciliation with the most important representatives of liberation theology – Gustavo Gutierrez, Jon Sobrino, and him. Boff told the pope of the difficulty of acting while Pope Benedict is alive – “but the other one is still living!” The pope would have none of it: “Il papa sono io” (“I’m the pope”). Boff speaks of Francis’s “courage and decisiveness.”
Pope Francis invited Boff to Rome for a visit, and Boff had even landed in Rome for the visit. But then – this was immediately before the beginning of the 2015 family synod – 13 cardinals sent a letter to Francis as a sort of revolt against his leadership of the synod. The pope said to him, “Boff, I don’t have time. I must calm the waters before the synod. We will come together another time.”
Boff jokes that Cardinal Burke is “the Donald Trump of the Catholic Church.” Except that Burke is neutralized within the Roman curia – “Thanks be to God,” Boff exclaims. Boff says that Burke and like-minded cardinals think they must correct the pope, as if they stood over him. To which Boff says,
“One can criticize the pope, discuss with him. I have done that often enough. But that cardinals publicly accuse the pope of dissemination of theological errors, or even heresy, this is – in my opinion – too much. This is an affront which the pope cannot tolerate.”
Asked about the lack of concrete church reforms under Pope Francis, Boff maintains that Pope Francis is more interested in the survival of humanity and the future of the earth than he is in the church and its inner workings. He wants above all that Christianity make a contribution to these overarching problems. But yet, Boff believes deep church reforms could be coming – “Just you wait!” He notes that Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is a close confidante of the pope, recently said that big surprises are coming soon. Boff wonders if it might be female deacons, or perhaps the readmission to ministry of married priests – “Who knows?” Boff has heard that the pope wishes to respond positively to a request of the Brazilian bishops in this regard, at first as an experiment in Brazil.
Boff says that a decision to readmit former priests would not affect him personally, for he already ministers as a priest. He baptizes, he buries, and when he comes to a community lacking a priest, he celebrates Mass with them. So far, no bishop has objected or forbidden this of him. Bishops in fact rejoice and say to him, “The people have a right to the Eucharist. Continue on without any worries.”
Boff reveals that his theology teacher Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, who died recently, was very open about this. When the cardinal saw married priests in the pews during Mass, he called them up to the altar and celebrated the Eucharist with them. He often did this, and said, “They are indeed priests forever, and they remain priests!”