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.)