All Change

On February 11th , five years ago, Pope Benedict announced his resignation as Pope: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry … in order to govern the barque of St Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

Using something of a simplistic summary, I would see Benedict as a pope of Catholic tradition, in general line with his predecessors. By contrast Francis may be seen as a pope for change – though he would doubtless claim his focus on a deeper understanding of Catholic tradition which, in the light of Vatican II, needs to develop. His general approach would appear to be emphasis on the importance of conscience, and its ability to overcome other considerations. Some high (or low) spots come to mind:

His reaction to homosexuality was “Who am I to judge?”
His view that under certain circumstances a Catholic in a second marriage could lawfully receive the Eucharist without excluding the sexual side of the second marriage.
His extension of the use of the liturgy in the national tongue of the congregation.

Taken, together with other instances – including curial appointments – this suggests quite deep changes in Catholic tradition. Of course we do not know whether his successor will reverse this trend or continue to progress it.

So I now suggest that we should discuss whether we approve of Pope Francis, in whole or in part. Or are we waiting patiently for a replacement to put everything right again?

(The current issue of the Catholic Herald (2 February) carries a complete article, by Damian Thompson, on Pope Benedict’s resignation.)

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald other, Pope Francis, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to All Change

  1. G.D says:

    I approve of him as i’ve said before.
    He balances the humble priest & no nonsense prophet aimiably. With no nonsense humility in both roles as far as i am concerned.
    And gets right royal ire from extremists of both roles, who would proclaim only one or the other.
    (Where as he keeps & proclaims the Kingly role for Jesus Christ!).

  2. galerimo says:

    Thanks Quentin. More than your aporetic question about papish approval I find greater significance in the prominence you give to the Pope’s resignation. It forms a substantial part of your blog this week.

    How hard it is for anyone to become the new recruit after a sudden and unexpected resignation. Outside of Vatican circles I wonder if there was any inkling about what the Pope was going to do at the time. Really? A Pope resign?

    First there was no living memory of any previous resignation or any memory of having more that one Pope “in situ”. Even though the Church has experienced both of these circumstances previously.

    I think in light of the development of the centrality of the papacy from the time of the Reformation as well as the definition of Papal infallibility as recently as 1870 there was a growing perspective of unshakeable absolutism forming in the minds of many of us Catholics around our popes.

    Benedict was seen by many as the ideal successor to John Paul II. They were like partners and Benedict came across almost as an extension of that prevailing and confident style of papacy.

    I wonder if churchmen of a certain age and outlook will ever get over it. Myself included.
    I don’t think the younger generations are too bothered.

    The resignation appears today still as a very courageous and adroit thing for the Pope to do. Not only did it have an undermining effect on an emerging monolithic view of papacy but it confronted us all with our mortality. It takes a brave person to admit they are getting too frail for the job. I think we all feel like that but not many of us hold the truth aloft for all to see.

    The Pope wanted to do the best thing for the Church and even though it was a relief for him from the pressures of office it was still a huge sacrifice. I think it was a demonstration of his own pastoral concern and humility to step down when he did and the way he did.

    It was a seismic event and one I think that continues to reverberate for the present incumbent.

  3. John Nolan says:

    Francis’s style is more authoritarian than Benedict’s and he has an unfortunate tendency to scold, whether it be the Curia or fellow-Catholics he identifies as ‘rigid’ or ‘self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagians’ (whatever that means). Before peremptorily dismissing Cardinal Müller he said ‘They tell me you are my enemy’. ‘They’ presumably refers to those he relies on for information and advice (among them Fernandez and Spadaro) who appear to be briefing against some of the cardinals.

    Of course, the Vatican has long been a hotbed of intrigue, but when insiders talk of a ‘toxic’ atmosphere of bullying and intimidation, one has to pause for thought. Bergoglio’s predilection for Peronist economics is well known; perhaps the old dictator has influenced him in other ways.

    An interesting little scenario is being played out at the moment. A conference on the role of women, scheduled to be held at the Vatican next month, has been moved after Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Congregation for the Laity, Family and Life, ‘disinvited’ three women, among them Mary McAleese, former Irish President and a high-profile advocate of women’s ordination and ‘LGBT rights’. In August Dublin is to host the World Meeting of Families, and Pope Francis will attend some of it. There is a push to put ‘LGBT’ issues high on the agenda.

    The Irish press and dissident Catholic groups are predictably spinning the affair into one where the progressive Francis is once more being obstructed by reactionary Curial cardinals. But wait a minute – Farrell was handpicked by Francis not eighteen months ago to head up this new dicastery, which is made up predominantly of lay men and women, and which reflects the Pope’s ideas on Curial reform. He is an American prelate born in Dublin, and is hardly a rabid conservative.

    Let’s see how this plays out. It would appear that the LGBT lobby, frustrated by what they see as Francis’s ambivalent attitude, are trying to pin him down. And although he lacks Benedict’s intellectual heft and genuine humility, I suspect he is a shrewder political operator than his predecessor.

    • John Thomas says:

      – How sad (in my view) that we have to have an “LGBT lobby”. I stayed at a B & B recently, in Shropshire, and the man bringing the food regaled us with a story about LGBT soldiers in WWI; I found myself thinking that while it used to be called “the love that dares not speak its name”, now, it seems to be impossible even to get through breakfast without it being brought up, and pushed in one’s face. Not being a Catholic, I think it would be wrong for me to express a view on Pope Francis – but he is considered by many to be “liberal”, and, as I have said before on this site and elsewhere, once the Catholic Church sets its feet on that particular slippery slope, one, and only one, destiny awaits it …

      • John Nolan says:

        John Thomas

        Hilarious! I have studied the First World War and have yet to come across either a lesbian or a transvestite soldier, although the Germans called the kilted highlanders ‘the ladies from hell’.

        Fear not. All the Pope (or any pope) can do is to uphold unbroken tradition. The idea that tradition can be ‘changed’ is a contradiction in terms. If Pope Francis is of the opinion that homosexual acts can be considered moral (and there is no evidence that he does) or that women can be ordained (ditto), it makes no difference. He is not competent to change doctrine in either regard.

        The main beef that conservatives have with PF is that, unlike all his predecessors, he is failing in his duty to ‘confirm the brethren’ and is sowing confusion. There may be method in his madness, but it is hard to discern.

  4. galerimo says:

    Approval “in whole or in part” your ask.

    I do approve how, returning from the World Youth Gathering in Rio on the Papal Flight on Sunday, 28 July 2013 Francis’s answer to the question put to him by Ilze Scamparini included the remark

    “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?

    He gets my approval here as he reiterates the Catholic Catechism teaching in 2358 A point he made at the time.

    But approval too must go to Benedict for his trip to Cuba in March 2012 declaring himself a “pilgrim of charity”. The strong case he consistently made for the rights and dignity of the human person was very impressive given the circumstances of the society he was visiting.

  5. Iona says:

    Quentin:
    “His view that under certain circumstances a Catholic in a second marriage could lawfully receive the Eucharist without excluding the sexual side of the second marriage.”

    Could you give us chapter and verse on that one, please? I didn’t think he’d been quite so explicit.

    • Quentin says:

      Briefly, Iona, you are right in saying that the Pope has not been explicit. But if you read Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia you will see how he explains the importance of mercy over law in this context. This has been generally interpreted in the way that I have described it. It would have been easy for him to explain that he didn’t mean to go as far as that, and so shut down all the fuss. Behind all this lies the general and more important question about the relationship between law, conscience and mercy. Breaking the traditional barriers here has already essentially occurred in the matter of contraception (grave matter and directly against the law). Adultery may be more important but the principle is the same. If every couple using artificial contraception were to be refused Communion the queue would be very much shorter.

      • John Nolan says:

        The problem is, Quentin, that chapter 8 of AL (which appears to have been written by Victor Fernandez) is being interpreted by different bishops in different, indeed contradictory ways. When this happens, it is up to the Pope to clarify matters.

        We all know that contracepting couples and couples in irregular relationships receive Communion. The only people who don’t automatically troop up to Communion in Novus Ordo Masses are conscientious non-Catholics. The idea that sacramental Confession of mortal sins is a prerequisite for Communion disappeared long ago in the minds of the small rump of practising Catholics.

        If this is elevated into a principle, and conscience is simply equated with private judgement, and presumption of God’s mercy is taken as a given (rather than one of the sins against the Holy Ghost), then there is little point in being a Catholic. The Anglican Church is an all-inclusive ‘Church of Nice’ and is still losing adherents.

  6. galerimo says:

    The Joy of Love. I think Francis gets as much Joy from his as Nana got “plaisir” from hers.

    Francis’ down to earth approach to God, the world and to people is a gift that he brings to church leadership. He recalled (28/7/13) how Cardinal Quarracino, his predecessor as Archbishop of Buenos Aires used to say that as far as he was concerned, half of all marriages are null. I couldn’t agree more. And Francis keeps such common sense in view as a responsible pastor for so many including those denied sacramental access because of the mistakes of early life choices.

    I see no reason not to give part approval for how Francis created a council of Cardinal Advisers (13th April 2013) with eight members from around the world who hold ideologically diverse views. They continue to advise him on his major church actions.

    The Australian Cardinal Pell appeared as an unlikely candidate for dealing with Francis’s financial reforms. A staunch conservative, Pell was privately disappointed with the Pope Francis’ election. So another part of my approval for how the Pope does not just surround himself with flunkies.

    A big part of approval too as Pope Francis has given renewed significance to the Synod of Bishops, as well as the importance he gave to the Extraordinary Synod that he convened to discuss the family in today’s world as well as divorce and remarriage. (2014 & 2015).

    And before I run out of approval I can give another part to his work resulting from extensive consultation throughout the world and synodal collaboration on 19 March 2016, Amoris Laetitia.

    Finally I whole heartedly approve of a teacher whose consistent message is that Mercy “is the first attribute of God.” God “does not want anyone to be lost. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins”.

    🎶 🎶 🎶 “chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie” 🎶 🎶 🎶

    • John Nolan says:

      Galerimo, I think you need to go to Specsavers and order a pair of glasses which are not rose-tinted. Francis’s ‘V8’ group of cardinals has yet to achieve anything tangible, not least with regard to financial irregularities – its leading light, Maradiaga of Honduras, has recently been implicated in a financial scandal of his own.

      The Synod of 2014 degenerated into acrimonious farce and the blatant attempt to manipulate its outcome by Francis, Baldisseri and Forte was played out in public. It was not an edifying spectacle.

      ‘Plaisir d’amour’, a setting (1784) by Jean-Paul Egide Martini (1741-1816) of a poem by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755-94), is about the transient joy of sex and the fickleness of women. ‘J’ai tout quitté pour l’ingrate Sylvie/Elle me quitte et prend un autre amant.’

      If one really wants to be cynical, one can quote Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773). ‘The pleasure is momentary, the position is ridiculous, and the expense damnable.’

      When AL appeared, some wags (recalling Dr Alex Comfort’s 1970s best-seller) translated its title as ‘The Joy of Sex’. Are you suggesting they were closer to the mark than they realized?

      A ‘down to earth approach to God’. Now that’s food for thought.

  7. galerimo says:

    I approve of the Christ-like way Francis physically kissed and embraced Vinicio Ravi whose skin was covered with hundreds of tumors. It was in St Peter’s Square in full view of many who were feeling repugnance at the sight. November 2013.

    The lady who accompanied Vinicio on that day was his aunt. “When he came close to us,” she said, “I thought he would give me his hand. Instead he went straight to Vinicio and embraced him tightly. I thought he wouldn’t give him back to me he held him so tightly. We didn’t speak. We said nothing but he looked at me as if he was digging deep inside, a beautiful look that I would never have expected.”

    Vinicio, accustomed to stares of shock and fear, was initially confused by the pontiff’s lack of hesitation. “He didn’t have any fear of my illness,” he said. “He embraced me without speaking … I quivered. I felt a great warmth.”

    Another thing. You can always judge a man by the car he drives!

    So next tick for part approval is the Focus. Its also about how Francis began and continues his papacy by shunning the trappings of wealth and privilege; refusing to live in the luxurious papal apartments; declining to wear the more ornate papal vestments and especially opting for a Ford Focus!

  8. John Nolan says:

    Galerimo, like many others you confuse style and substance. The papal apartments are far from palatial, and Francis’s decision to live in the relative comfort of the Domus Sanctae Martae actually costs more in extra security. I can understand his wanting not to live ‘above the office’, but this is nothing to do with humility. Nor do I see him driving around Rome in a Ford Focus, dropping in on the occasional parish priest, and dispensing with the thugs in dark suits who accompany the pope these days (they were particularly obtrusive at Benedict XVI’s Westminster Cathedral Mass in 2010).

    As a cardinal, Bergoglio had no objection to wearing choir dress; declining to do so as pope suggests deliberate ‘dressing down’ for effect, like politicians wearing suits without ties (a fashion started by David Cameron).

    Wearing ‘ornate’ vestments for the liturgy was something St Francis of Assisi had no trouble with, on the grounds that nothing was too good for God.

  9. galerimo says:

    There is no doubt that the resignation of Pope Benedict five years ago is one of the major events for which he will long be remembered. But his election too as Pope in April 2005 was also a very significant moment.

    Here was a man whose ecclesiastical career had been very central to the life of the Catholic Church for many years during the papacy of John Paul II.

    John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope for nearly 400 years handed over to a European whose early life included the experience of growing up in Nazi Germany. Benedict is a native born German and both himself and his family experienced the domination of the Adolph Hitler. It was a terrible time. A time of hatred and division, torture and death on a horrendous scale.

    The elevation of Benedict to a church role, a major part of whose function is to unify brought about a healing and a restoration that has to be acknowledged. I feel that for a lot of people it was “an over and done with” moment as far as the scars of European war were concerned.

    The person of the Holy Father, his origins and history come very much into view when he takes up office. It is hard to imagine anyone other than Benedict who could have instilled a greater sense of reconciliation, healing and hope for the future in a Europe where memories of war were still alive.

    And now Francis the first ever Pope from the New World. Even though he can claim Italian parental lineage, he represents a huge shift in the centre of gravity where the leadership of the Catholic Church is concerned.

    Francis II, The final Holy Roman Emperor-elect, abdicated in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars that saw the Empire’s final dissolution. Perhaps we have lived to see the final European Pope with an end to the great millennia of Christendom.

    Whatever the significance of these momentous times it is that they are certainly not easy days in the leadership of the Catholic Church.

  10. John Nolan says:

    Indeed, galerimo. The two millennia of Christendom have run their course. Already Europe is entering a post-Christian era where its birthrate is below replacement level and most of its immigrants are Moslems.

    In my lifetime, morality, based on Judaeo-Christian principles, has been not just abandoned, but turned on its head. As a result of Vatican II the Catholic Church, far from strengthening itself by engaging with the modern world, compromised itself and accelerated its decline. South America? Catholics are fleeing the Church for heretical protestant sects. Africa? Christianity, like any other European construct, is a recent implant and its roots are not deep.

    Yes, Christianity (and the Catholic Church in particular) achieved a lot in 2000 years. It is the bulwark of western civilization and without it classical culture would have been lost, art and music would not have developed, natural science would not have progressed.

    I don’t want or need touchy-feely, happy-clappy so called ‘liturgies’ and go out of my way to avoid them. They claim to worship God but in reality merely celebrate themselves. My attachment to the
    Latin Mass and the Gregorian chant which I sing at it has historical and intellectual resonance. But I have to admit that the modern(ist) Catholic Church has knocked the religion out of me. And, given the precipitous decline in Mass attendance, I am not the only one.

    • Quentin says:

      You have said some important things here, John. I am only sorry that, not being related to the current blog, it may not get the discussion it deserves. We must come back to the issues you raise.

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