The Way of Francis – a real alternative

You could, if you felt so inclined, compare President Donald Trump with Pope Francis. Not indeed that they have much in common, though some might say that St Peter’s in Rome trumps (to coin a phrase) Trump Tower.
But from there the points of comparison run into the sand. An example of the yawning gap between the two is that one bans refugees and Muslims, the other welcomes everyone, including the homeless and the poor. And one telling the other that Christians build bridges rather than walls underlined the gap between the two. Chalk and cheese, you might say.
But there’s one key perspective they both share – both are leaders with a limited time to achieve their root and branch ‘reforms’. They need to work fast or be remembered as little more than shooting stars, promising much but ultimately falling out of the sky.
Their approach is different too. Trump has to have everything done and dusted by Monday week, even if chaos ensues. Francis has a more measured approach, apparently deciding that it’s counter-productive to attempt to take all the jumps in one go.
For Trump, three steps forward and no step back; for Francis, two steps forward and one step back. For Trump, it’s about draining the swamp in Washington; for Francis, the Rome he’s attempting to reform wasn’t built in a day and won’t be dismantled in a day.
For Trump reform is about applying business principles to politics; for Francis reform is about applying gospel truths to church politics.
It would be interesting to imagine, for a moment, what might happen to the Catholic Church if Francis was to adopt Trump’s more robust approach.
If, instead of trying to inveigle the Church’s civil service into adopting the spirit of reform officially embraced in the Second Vatican Council, Francis decided to send a few hundred of them back to their dioceses and replace them with others whose commitment to reform was a matter of public record, what would the fall-out be?
If instead of indulging the disloyalty of cardinals sniping at his heels, Francis was to take back their red hats and divest them of their associated roles and finery, might it not elicit more respect for him and his reform?
If he demanded the resignations of bishops who have clearly impeded the progress of reform in their dioceses, would it not help to focus the minds of others who have mastered the task of merely paying lip service to change?
If he announced
(1) that immediately women deacons were being introduced;
(2) that the possibility of the ordination of women to the priesthood was being actively considered;
(3) that he was inviting back priests who left the active ministry to get married to return to active duty;
(4) that he had set up a high-powered commission to examine the possibility of making the celibacy of priests optional; and
(5) that within, say, five years an absolute gender balance in appointments to the Vatican would be in place.
In other words, if Francis did a Trump on it.
But clearly that’s not Francis’ way. Because he believes that how you do something is just as important as what you do. That’s why when Francis met the Irish bishops he sat in a circle with them. He told them he wasn’t going to give them a lecture but he wanted to listen to them, to hear what they had to say. He told them that they could say anything about anything. They could criticise him if they so wished. It was a completely open agenda.
Francis didn’t need to say anything for the bishops to know what he was saying by saying nothing.
Or, at least, that’s clearly his plan. So what was he saying to the bishops when, instead of sitting on some version of a papal throne, he sat in a circle with them. What was he saying when instead of ringing a bell when the translator’s voice began to go, he got up himself to get a glass of water for the translator. The message to the bishops was obvious. Do as I do; listen, hear, debate, critically analyse, nothing is off the agenda.
No wonder the bishops were pinching themselves. Who could possibly have believed it? After two long Siberian pontificates of our discontent, we are being offered not just a welcoming Rome but a new way of functioning as a Church. Everything is on the agenda. All we have to do is to take the tide that Francis is offering us.
The problem for bishops is that the ball is in their court now. Everything is different so there’s no point in trying to keep everything the same.
One example. Five years ago a group of Latin Mass enthusiasts convinced Pope Benedict that a new half-Latin translation of the Mass in English was needed. With his help and the help of bishops’ conferences throughout the English-speaking world, a complex, Latinate, often incomprehensible translation was inflicted on priests and people.
Here in the western dioceses a bishop arrived to present the translation to a gathering of priests. He told us what a truly wonderful translation of the Mass it was but, recognising the mood of the meeting, spent the day conspicuously avoiding questions or discussion. It was an exercise in episcopal filibustering.
Almost every priest in Ireland, especially those who had served in parishes, knew that the translation would do untold damage. I suspect most bishops knew it too and those who didn’t know it now, when they visit our silent churches.
No one told Pope Benedict but Francis, who’s not too hot at the English himself, was told and he heard and he’s just put a new committee in place to re-examine the translation.
Pope Francis has given his answer. And part of it is listening attentively to the questions. Unlike Donald Trump.

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  1. Mary Burke says:

    Will the bishops of Ireland embrace the spirit and vision of Francis and make a decision to introduce the 1998 translation to Ireland? After all it was approved by all eleven of the English-language conferences of bishops. It would just be a matter of triggering that decision.
    Isn’t it the case that under Chilean Cardinal Medina Estevez the Ccngregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments reversed the process which was based on Sacrosanctum Concilium? The procedure is that approval of translations is the responsibility of bishops’ conferences and the Congregation’s role is to grant a recognition. What happened in the case of the missal now in use was that the Congregation approved the translation and requested the bishops conferences to give the recognition – which they duly did – without questioning the reversal of roles.
    The tail wagged the dog and nobody called a halt – or if they did they were ignored.
    So, will the Irish bishop let us down again by doing nothing or by not taking the initiative on the 1998 translation? I suspect that with the recent wholescale replacement by Francis of the membership of that Congregation they would be pushing an open door.
    Wouldn’t it be a great way to prepare for Francis’ visit to Ireland next year.

  2. Mary@2 in a normal world — I am not talking about a perfect world–just a normal world, the bishops would push that “open door”. But sadly, it seems our Irish bishops, and other bishops too, do not live in a normal world.

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