I note that the pope’s self-designation as a sinner may be inspired by St Escriva who had “a sinner” inscribed on his tomb.
We must make the most of this stunning interview and hope there will be more. The pope is not just ‘shooting his mouth.’ It is a very carefully reflected and calculated intervention, and can even be seen as his real first Encyclical. I read it with the same sentiments as those of my mother on hearing Pope John Paul II preach in Limerick in 1979: ‘Wasn’t it great to hear a man tell you what you’d always believed!’
What most strikes me is the lucidity with which the Pope expounds a mature, broad, and integrated vision of the nature of the Church and its teaching, and with which he names and refutes the distortions created by conservatives who see the Church in sectarian terms and its teachings as a collection of shibboleths. He takes aim in particular at the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith, suggesting that its role is to be a mediator not a manager and that worries about the orthodoxy of a given teacher are best handled by the local bishops.
The hierarchy of truths has been restored by Francis. Strikingly, at the top of the hierarchy he does not place any dogma, be it that of the Holy Trinity, but rather the first, original teaching of Jesus. The earliest layer of the Q document, reconstructed by scholars, that it the nearest we can come to the actual words of the historical Jesus and that underlies much of the Sermon on the Mount for example, provides the themes that Francis has most insistently stressed.
On moral issues, he makes a very simple but far-reaching point: they have to be seen in context. The broader context is that society as a whole has radically changed and that the Church must factor this into its moral reflections. He even mentions changes in the family, which will give aid and comfort to those who think the right to marry should be accorded to same-sex couples.
The language of the new pope is the language of people of today. He has no qualms about using the word ‘gay’ or naming ‘restorationism’ as a bad thing. His musical and literary tastes, also, have a freshness about them that one missed in Benedict XVI’s confessed fondness for Plato, Mozart, Storm, Hesse, Goethe, Mann, Kafka, Annette Kolb. The difference lies I think in the sense that Francis shares his tastes with others, speaking in the demotic tones of a fan when he refers to Puccini’s Turandot or Knappertsbusch’s sublime 1962 Bayreuth Parsifal (a well-known Philips recording) or I promessi sposi.
Are there shadows in the picture? Many people will find his way of talking about the role of women quite inadequate, and will remember that his religious order the Jesuits is unique among religious orders in never having had any female branch at all. Another shadow is the doubt whether Francis can implement structural changes that would enable his vision of church to become real. Barack Obama also made inspiring speeches, but his performance in office has disappointed many of his supporters.