The New Pope is changing Business as Usual in Rome and Vatican

ESSAY by Hans Kung

Who could have imagined what has happened in the last weeks?

When I decided, months ago, to resign all of my official duties on the occasion of my 85th birthday, I assumed I would never see fulfilled my dream that — after all the setbacks following the Second Vatican Council — the Catholic church would once again experience the kind of rejuvenation that it did under Pope John XXIII.

Then my theological companion over so many decades, Joseph Ratzinger — both of us are now 85 — suddenly announced his resignation from the papal office effective at the end of February. And on March 19, St. Joseph’s feast day and my birthday, a new pope with the surprising and programmatic name Francis assumed this office.

Has Jorge Mario Bergoglio considered why no pope has dared to choose the name of Francis until now? At any rate, the Argentine was aware that with the name of Francis he was connecting himself with Francis of Assisi, the world-famous 13th-century downshifter who had been the fun-loving, worldly son of a rich textile merchant in Assisi, until at the age of 24, he gave up his family, wealth and career, even giving his splendid clothes back to his father.

It is astonishing how, from the first minute of his election, Pope Francis chose a new style: unlike his predecessor, no miter with gold and jewels, no ermine-trimmed cape, no made-to-measure red shoes and headwear, no magnificent throne.

Astonishing, too, that the new pope deliberately abstains from solemn gestures and high-flown rhetoric and speaks in the language of the people.

And finally it is astonishing how the new pope emphasizes his humanity: He asked for the prayers of the people before he gave them his blessing; settled his own hotel bill like anybody else; showed his friendliness to the cardinals in the coach, in their shared residence, at the official goodbye; washed the feet of young prisoners, including those of a young Muslim woman. A pope who demonstrates that he is a man with his feet on the ground.

All this would have pleased Francis of Assisi and is the opposite of what Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) represented in his time. In 1209, Francis and 11 “lesser brothers” (fratres minores or friars minor) traveled to Rome to lay before Innocent their short rule, consisting entirely of quotations from the Bible, and to ask for papal approval for their way of life, living in poverty and preaching as lay preachers “according to the form of the Holy Gospel.”

Innocent III, the duke of Segni, who was only 37 when he was elected pope, was a born ruler; he was a theologian educated in Paris, a shrewd lawyer, a clever speaker, a capable administrator and a sophisticated diplomat. No pope before or after him had ever had as much power as he had. Innocent completed the revolution from above initiated by Gregory VII in the 11th century (“the Gregorian Reform”). Instead of the title of “Successor of St. Peter,” Innocent preferred the title of “Vicar of Christ,” as used by every bishop or priest until the 12th century. Unlike in the first millennium and never acknowledged in the apostolic churches of the East, the pope since then has acted as the absolute ruler, lawgiver and judge of Christianity — until today.

The triumphal pontificate of Innocent proved itself to be not only the high point but also the turning point. Already in his time, there were signs of decay that, up until in our own time, have remained features of the Roman Curia system: nepotism, favoritism, acquisitiveness, corruption and dubious financial dealings. Already in the 1170s and 1180s, however, powerful nonconformist penitent and mendicant orders (Cathars, Waldensians) were developing. But popes and bishops acted against these dangerous currents by banning lay preaching, condemning “heretics” by the Inquisition, and even carrying out the Albigensian Crusade.

Yet it was Innocent himself who tried to integrate into the church evangelical-apostolic mendicant orders, even during all the eradication policies against obstinate “heretics” like the Cathars. Even Innocent knew that an urgent reform of the church was needed, and it was for this reform that he called the glorious Fourth Lateran Council. And so, after long admonition, he gave Francis of Assisi permission to preach. Concerning the ideal of absolute poverty as required by the Franciscan rule, the pope would first seek to know the will of God in prayer. On the basis of a dream in which a small, insignificant member of an order saved the papal Basilica of St. John Lateran from collapsing — so it was told — the pope finally allowed the Rule of Francis of Assisi. He let this be known in the Consistory of Cardinals but never had it committed to paper.

A different path

In fact, Francis of Assisi represented the alternative to the Roman system. What would have happened if Innocent and his like had taken the Gospel seriously? Even if they had understood it spiritually rather than literally, his evangelical demands meant and still mean an immense challenge to the centralized, legalized, politicized and clericalized system of power that had taken over the cause of Christ in Rome since the 11th century.

Innocent III was probably the only pope who, because of his unusual characteristics, could have directed the church along a completely different path, and this would have saved the papacies of the 14th and 15th centuries schism and exile, and the church in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation. Obviously, this would already have meant a paradigm shift for the Catholic church in the 13th century, a shift that instead of splitting the church would have renewed it, and at the same time reconciled the churches of East and West.

Thus, the early Christian basic concerns of Francis of Assisi remain even today questions for the Catholic church and now for a pope who, indicating his intentions, has called himself Francis. It is above all about the three basic concerns of the Franciscan ideal that have to be taken seriously today: It is about poverty, humility and simplicity. This probably explains why no previous pope has dared to take the name of Francis: The expectations seem to be too high.

That begs a second question: What does it mean for a pope today if he bravely takes the name of Francis? Of course the character of Francis of Assisi must not be idealized; he could be one-sided, eccentric, and he had his weaknesses, too. He is not the absolute standard. But his early Christian concerns must be taken seriously even if they need not be literally implemented but rather translated into modern times by pope and church.

  • Poverty: The church in the spirit of Innocent III meant a church of wealth, pomp and circumstance, acquisitiveness and financial scandal. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of transparent financial policies and modest frugality. A church that concerns itself above all with the poor, the weak and the marginalized. A church that does not pile up wealth and capital but instead actively fights poverty and offers its staff exemplary conditions of employment.
  • Humility: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of power and domination, bureaucracy and discrimination, repression and Inquisition. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of humanity, dialogue, brotherhood and sisterhood, hospitality for nonconformists; it means the unpretentious service of its leaders and social solidarity, a community that does not exclude new religious forces and ideas from the church but rather allows them to flourish.
  • Simplicity: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of dogmatic immovability, moralistic censure and legal hedging, a church of canon law regulating everything, a church of all-knowing scholastics and of fear. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis of Assisi means a church of good news and of joy, a theology based purely on the Gospel, a church that listens to people instead of indoctrinating from above, a church that does not only teach but one that constantly learns.

So, in the light of the concerns and approaches of Francis of Assisi, basic options and policies can be formulated today for a Catholic church whose façade still glitters on great Roman occasions but whose inner structure is rotten and fragile in the daily life of parishes in many lands, which is why many people have left it in spirit and often in fact.

While no reasonable person will expect that one man can effect all reforms overnight, a paradigm shift would be possible in five years: This was shown by the Lorraine Pope Leo IX (1049-54) who prepared Gregory VII’s reforms, and in the 20th century by the Italian John XXIII (1958-63) who called the Second Vatican Council. But, today above all, the direction should be made clear again: not a restoration to pre-council times as there was under the Polish and German popes, but instead considered, planned and well-communicated steps to reform along the lines of the Second Vatican Council.

A third question presents itself today as much as then: Will a reform of the church not meet with serious opposition? Doubtless, he will thus awaken powerful opposition, above all in the powerhouse of the Roman Curia, opposition that is difficult to withstand. Those in power in the Vatican are not likely to abandon the power that has been accumulated since the Middle Ages.

Curial pressures

Francis of Assisi also had to experience the force of such curial pressures. He who wanted to free himself of everything by living in poverty clung more and more closely to “Holy Mother Church.” Not in confrontation with the hierarchy but rather in obedience to pope and Curia, he wanted to live in imitation of Jesus: in a life of poverty, in lay preaching. He and his followers even had themselves tonsured in order to enter the clerical state. In fact, this made preaching easier but on the other it encouraged the clericalization of the young community, which included more and more priests. So it is not surprising that the Franciscan community became increasingly integrated into the Roman system. Francis’ last years were overshadowed by the tensions between the original ideals of Jesus’ followers and the adaptation of his community to the existing type of monastic life.

To do Francis justice: On Oct. 3, 1226, aged only 44, he died as poor as he had lived. Just 10 years previously, one year after the Fourth Lateran Council, Innocent III died unexpectedly at the age of 56. On July 16, 1216, his body was found in the Cathedral of Perugia: This pope who had known how to increase the power, property and wealth of the Holy See like no other before him was found deserted by all, naked, robbed by his own servants. A trumpet call signaling the transition from papal world domination to papal powerlessness: At the beginning of the 13th century there is Innocent III reigning in glory; at the end of the century, there is the megalomaniac Boniface VIII (1294-1303) arrested by the French; and then the 70-year exile in Avignon, France, and the Western schism with two and, finally, three popes.

Barely two decades after Francis’ death, the Roman church seemed to almost completely domesticate the rapidly spreading Franciscan movement in Italy so that it quickly became a normal order at the service of papal politics, and even became a tool of the Inquisition. If it was possible for the Roman system to finally domesticate Francis of Assisi and his followers, then obviously it cannot be excluded that a Pope Francis could also be trapped in the Roman system that he is supposed to be reforming. Pope Francis: a paradox? Is it possible that a pope and a Francis, obviously opposites, can ever be reconciled? Only by an evangelically minded, reforming pope.

To conclude, a fourth question: What is to be done if our expectations of reform are quashed from above? In any case, the time is past when pope and bishops could reckon with the obedience of the faithful. The 11th-century Gregorian Reform also introduced a certain mysticism of obedience: Obeying God means obeying the church and that means obeying the pope. Since that time, it has been drummed into Catholics that the obedience of all Christians to the pope is a cardinal virtue; commanding and enforcing obedience — by whatever means — has become the Roman style. But the medieval equation, “Obedience to God equals obedience to the church equals obedience to the pope,” patently contradicts the word of the apostle before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem: “Man must obey God rather than other men.”

We should then in no way fall into resignation; instead, faced with a lack of impulse toward reform from the top down, from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pushing for reform from the bottom up. If Pope Francis tackles reforms, he will find he has the wide approval of people far beyond the Catholic church. However, if he just lets things continue as they are, without clearing the logjam of reforms as now in the case of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, then the call of “Time for outrage!Indignez-vous!” will ring out more and more in the Catholic church, provoking reforms from the bottom up that will be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy and frequently even in spite of the hierarchy’s attempts at circumvention. In the worst case — as I already wrote before this papal election — the Catholic church will experience a new ice age instead of a spring and run the risk of dwindling into a barely relevant large sect.

[Theologian Fr. Hans Küng writes from Tübingen, Germany.]


About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The New Pope is changing Business as Usual in Rome and Vatican

  1. eslkevin says:

    Pope Francis: new style, old problems | World | DW.DE | 21.06.2013‎
    4 days ago – Pope Francis does not reside in the Apostolic Palace high above St. Peter’s … would have been labeled crazy, possibly even a militant critic of Rome. … In his first appearance 100 days ago, the pope described himself as … In his way, Francis of Assisi was a capricious early 13th century revolutionary.
    Francis at 100 days: ‘the world’s parish priest’ | National Catholic …‎
    Jun 17, 2013 – Pope Francis kisses a boy as he arrives for his weekly general audience in … at which the Catholic world stands after the first 100 days of the Pope Francis era. … any substantive steps toward a much-discussed reform of the Roman Curia. …. according to Rossi, from first above equals to first among equals.
    Pope Francis’ Liturgical Revolution – PrayTell – Worship, Wit & Wisdom…/pope-francis-liturgical-revolution/‎
    Mar 22, 2013 – On the morning of his first full day in office, Pope Francis made an … 1570, which was mostly a codification of the late medieval Roman rite. ….. for the scriptures, for instruction, for unity and above all else is the … I remember when my childhood diocese had two low Masses once a month, each 100 mi away.
    Pope Francis‎
    DV New articles 7 days a week to encourage people trying to follow the … I like Pope Francis, and he is a rose in a field of dandelions, but, I really, really, … of being attentive to dangers that threaten it; but above all that they are capable … How Joseph got added to the Roman Cannon …. Revolution to stop authoritarianism
    Articles about Pope Francis – Washington Post › Collections
    Pope Francis downplays threat of Vatican scrutiny of religious orders … on the throne of St. Peter seems to have started nothing short of a revolution. … Now, 100 days into his pontificate, a debate is brewing in Rome over whether Francis has set. … He’s refused to stand on the customary platform above other archbishops …
    Pope Francis, Bishop Of Rome, Invites Romans To Join Him At City ……/pope-francis-bishop-of-rome_n_3032114.h…‎
    Apr 7, 2013 – ROME — Pope Francis was formally installed as bishop of Rome on Sunday … Pope Francis’s Emerging Revolution | Christianity Today … We can be heroes, if just for one day! …. Do not consider yourself to be above others.
    Prophecy of the Popes – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia‎
    While in Rome, Malachy purportedly experienced a vision of future popes, which … World War One and the atheistic communist Russian Revolution; ‘Light in the sky’ …. As noted above, this motto applies not to Paschal III, but to Callixtus III, who …… Since Francis’ election as Pope, proponents in internet forums have been …
    Prophecies about the Last 10 Popes by a 12th century monk‎
    On his last trek to the holy see in Rome, in 1148, Malachy accurately predicted … Amazingly, Pope John Paul II was the only pope who was both born the day of an …. Pope Francis the 1st took his name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, an …. In the days of peace that are to come after the desolation of revolutions and wars …
    Pope Francis signals new course for the papacy | Religion News ……/pope-francis-signals-new-course-for-the-papa…‎
    Mar 18, 2013 – Above all, Francis continually displayed an informality that prompted writers to dub him “the casual pontiff.” His homilies and talks in the first days of his pontificate were usually … Signs line a wall in Rome welcoming Pope Frances. … The first item on that agenda should be a revolutionary change in church …
    Pope Francis and the American Sisters – Religion Dispatches…/pope_francis_and_the_american_sisters/‎
    Apr 16, 2013 – The jury is still out on Pope Francis in a pontificate that may well be shaped by women. … Bishop of Rome, his Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, … Jesuits, I am informed, usually wait 100 days before making major … of steering committee of the cardinals, hardly a revolutionary idea.

  2. eslkevin says:

    100 days: Pope Francis off to invigorating start – The Catholic Register…/16506-100-days-pope-francis-off-to-invigorati...
    1 day ago – As we mark Pope Francis’ first 100 days in office, it would be … mostly by the sometimes-Machiavellian bureaucrats of the Roman Curia, it sends a signal. … Just like Jesus, he places God’s words above those of the Pharisees. …. Pope calls for ‘revolutionaries’ to change hearts by sharing God’s love.
    Clerical Whispers‎
    2 hours ago – Pope Francis says due to “our common roots” with the Jewish people, “a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!” … But above all, as friends, we enjoyed each other’s company, we …. of St. Peter seems to have started nothing short of a revolution. … Now, 100 days into his pontificate, a debate is brewing in Rome …
    History of the Catholic Church – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia‎
    Thus, it asserts that the Bishop of Rome has the sole legitimate claim to Petrine …. next bishop, thus starting the line which includes the most current pontiff, Pope Francis. … Sea, and over 40 Christian communities had been established by 100. … of Jesus’s death, Sunday was being regarded as the primary day of worship.
    Pope Gregory VII – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia‎
    Later, on the same day, Hildebrand was conducted to the church of San Pietro in … Above all, the requirement of Pope Nicholas II that the Holy Roman Emperor be consulted in the matter was ignored. ….. 100. Missing or empty |title= (help); ^ Bernard F. Reilly, The Contest of Christian …. Pope Francis … French Revolution.
    History of the papacy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia‎
    The return of the popes to Rome after the Avignon Papacy was followed by the … The popes during the Age of Revolution witnessed the largest expropriation of …. In a ceremony in St Peter’s Basilica, on Christmas Day, Leo was supposed to ….. commemorating the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII.
    Pope Francis | March 15, 2013 | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS…pope-francis/15218/‎
    Mar 15, 2013 – Many here say electing Pope Francis has brought Catholics together … and ecclesiastical privilege, he could be a revolutionary figure for the church … Rome to be part of the momentous occasion of electing a new pope. … The group released a list of 20 suggested actions for the first 100 days of the papacy.
    Pope Francis | Facebook‎
    Prior to his election, he served as an Argentine Cardinal of the Roman Catholic … 100 days of Pope Francis “HABEMUS PAPAM” and here you can watch the ….. sees the Pope not just as the head of the Catholic Church, but above all else as a …. His revolutionary actions at the time became the base for the Community of …
    Catholic News Service Home Page‎
    Brazilian bishops support peaceful protests as World Youth Day nears … say how they might affect World Youth Day activities and the visit of Pope Francis in July. … Pope calls for ‘revolutionaries’ to change hearts by sharing God’s love … Former CNS Rome bureau chief, North Dakota bishop receive media awards · Bishop …
    Pope Francis, Nostradamus, Prophecies of St. Malachy, the Last ……/pope-francis-1-nostradamus-prophecies-of…‎
    Feb 17, 2013 – He definitely has a connection to Malachy’s Pope Peter of Rome Prophecy free bulletin. … pope are buried, will be the name of the Last Pope before Judgment Day. …. and retired farther up the mountain to his cave 1,000 feet above sea level. ….. of young and poor children during the Industrial Revolution.
    Which Allegations Against Pope Francis Have the Vatican – The Blaze…/which-allegations-against-pope-francis-ha…‎
    by Billy Hallowell – in 260 Google+ circles Mar 16, 2013 – VATICAN CITY (AP) — The honeymoon that Pope Francis has enjoyed … On Day 2 of the Francis pontificate, the Vatican denounced news …. (For example, the third “mass grave” of less than 100 was found in …. [5] It was Rome that instigated the Bolshevik Revolution and the murder of the czar’s family.

  3. eslkevin says:

    Mar. 27, 2013

    Pope Francis’ frugality has captivated headlines, as this pontiff has very openly shunned unneeded amenities both during his time as a cardinal and in his short tenure as head of the Catholic Church. His most recent decision — to decline the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace — is, once again, capturing headlines.

    As the National Catholic Reporter notes, Francis is, instead, planning to live in a suite inside the Vatican guesthouse (also known as the Casa Santa Marta). This is the same location where he has been residing since the conclave.

    The stunning announcement was made by Fr. Federico Lombardi, a spokesperson for the Vatican. It marks the first time in 110 years that a pontiff has decided not to live in the traditional residence.

    In this photo released by Brazil’s Presidency, Pope Francis, right, talks with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 20, 2013 Credit: AP
    Once again, Francis shows himself to be one who shuns or, at the least, avoids luxury accommodations. For the time being, he plans to steer clear of the Apostolic Palace for living purposes, but he is using the space to hold meetings and audiences, CNN reports.

    “He is experimenting with this type of living arrangement, which is simple [and allows him] to live in community with others,” Lombardi said of the arrangement.

    While it’s possible he may choose to live in the traditional setting at a later date, for now, Francis is living in communion with priests, bishops and other residents whom he will be able to have regular worship with at Casa Santa Marta. This decision coincides with past statements Francis has made about simplicity and poverty.

    Also, Francis has been having meals in the common dining room with other residents and celebrating mass at 7 a.m. with Vatican employees, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

    Pope Francis blesses the faithful in St. Peter’s Square during his inauguration Mass at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Credit: AP
    This tone, while surprising when comparing the pope to past leaders of the church, seems to be within the bounds of his past statements and actions. In fact, the announcement comes at the same time that an insider account of Francis’ criticisms of the Catholic Church during the conclave has gone public.

    As TheBlaze reported on Tuesday, Francis was vocally critical of the church just hours before he became pontiff. In addition to decrying “theological narcissism,” the then-cardinal said that the Vatican needs to escape from self-absorption. Francis encouraged a focus on injustice, sin, suffering and ignorance (areas that he apparently called “peripheries”).

    Details of the internal comments made by Francis were released this week by Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana.

    And, as we’ve extensively documented, Francis has shown a particular love for and devotion to helping the poor. While in Argentina, he lived in a simple apartment and took public transportation (hence the earlier reference to frugality).

    His penchant for helping “the least of these” and his past personal decisions to conserve and to avoid unneeded elegance, especially in light of his current choice of residence, show consistency and character (read more about these issues here).

    At the least, critics must admit that Francis does what he says and says exactly what he does.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s