MICHAEL KELLY SJ. 2017 for Pope Francis: what to expect.

Dec 22, 2016

At the heart of what Arrupe sought to do was get Jesuits out of their comfort zone, engaged with the real world and most especially reconverted to Jesus Christ by their encounter with the poor.  Pope Francis would agree. 

When Pope Francis was elected in 2013, I asked an Italo-Australian friend of mine who has worked in Italy for decades how he thought an Italo-Argentinean would react to living in Rome?

“Like we all do,” said my Australian-born son of Italian born parents. By “all” he meant those who know the language and culture of Italy, but are nationals of somewhere else.

“How do you ‘all’ react?” I asked. “We just look at the Italians and say why on earth would you do it that way?”

My friend went on to explain how trapped native born Italians are in their own customs and unchallenged ways of doing things and how reluctant they are to learn from outsiders.

While Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the Italian pope you get when you don’t get an Italian pope, his formative experiences put him well out of the Italian mindset and well away from the way the Vatican operates.

Add these three following elements to the fact that his personally formative experiences are all out of Europe and in Latin America:

  • His deep appreciation of how Vatican II (1962-65) was intended by the Council Fathers to be a corrective to the papal centralism in the decrees of Vatican I (1870);
  • The profound influence on him of Ignatian spirituality as a way making decisions; and
  • The decisive influence on him of Pedro Arrupe who as superior general in 1973 made Bergoglio provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina at the tender age of 36.

Apart from being proudly an outsider to Rome, these three determinatives in his mentality and priestly personality are the keys to what we can expect from Pope Francis in 2017.

While Vatican II was many things, it consisted of decrees on the church that tried to have bishops be more than errand boys with the papal message.

What goes by the awkward word in English — synodality — has two purposes: the first is to make the Catholic Church an attractive partner in the area of ecumenism. Other churches will not take Catholics seriously while there is a monolithic power structure in decision making and church leadership.

Allied to that thrust is the internal imperative — to scale back the monarchical rule that has distorted the papacy’s leadership within the church, especially since 1800. Called the “long 19thcentury” by many historians of the period, the 19th century survived till the death of Pope Pius XII in 1957. It was a period of church governance that was utterly uncharacteristic of the church’s history.

Take one instance — the appointment of bishops. In 1800, no more than 3 -5 percent of the world’s bishops were directly appointed by the pope. Today no more than 2 percent are appointed by any other means than direct papal assignment.

“Synodality” is Pope Francis’s way of making policy development a shared, “collegial” activity. It is the first step in shedding the pope and the Vatican of supreme and unqualified authority in just about everything.

Voices around the church are clamoring for change and nowhere more vigorously than on the question of access to authorized ministry — married priests, women priests, other forms of authorized ministry. The next neuralgic point to address after the care of the divorced and remarried will be ministry.

Some want a top down decree by the pope to license changes just the way Pope John Paul blocked them — top down. That’s not Bergoglio’s way. He’s not going to be doing anything until he hears voices from the bishops who can take decision making into the synodal process.

Many have been disappointed that ministry will not be the subject of the next meeting of the synod. But, as my colleague Robert Mickens points out, the subject will be raised inevitably if church authorities genuinely listen to the young people they consult on their attitudes to Catholicism, including how the church can survive without eucharistic ministers.

That’s when the next key feature of Papa Bergoglio’s mentality and spirituality will kick in: discernment. It is the automatic assumption of anyone even remotely familiar with spirituality that has shaped Papa Bergoglio’s soul that life involves choices between genuine alternatives.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola are a subject on which Bergoglio is a recognized expert. They are the handbook of a school of prayer calculated to assist anyone doing the exercises to make decisions.

And decisions are never easy because options always, have costs and require careful and patient assessment in the presence of the Spirit. And not having options leads to false assessments and bad decisions.

That is why this pope of all popes fosters debate and the contest of opinions and proposals. He believes we as a church come to better conclusions when all the cards are on the table.

The current dubia of the four cardinals anxious about the outcome of the last synod meeting on marriage and the family will be grist to his mill. If there is substance to the dubia, the truth will come out. If the dubia are misconceived and inadequate, that will also come out. He has nothing to fear in such a contest and actually welcomes it, as anyone schooled in the spirituality he has been will agree.

This pope sees the church on a journey led by the Spirit. Anyone who has ever been on a journey knows it is always full of unexpected surprises. Too many other Catholics are linear in their appreciation of Catholicity — they are people going the right way down a straight one-way street who need the reassurance of signposts even while traveling in an agreed and assigned direction.

Not that this pope is without guideposts. He believes the church was created and is led and renewed by the Holy Spirit. And he knows, as St. Ignatius underlines in the Spiritual Exercises, that there are bad and evil spirits out to wreck, divide and destroy. It is why he is very comfortable talking about the devil — the personification of the evil spirit.

My take on this Pontificate is that its most significant feature is the re-opening of topics, issues and a conversation that the Vatican Curia tried to close down immediately after the Council Fathers left Rome in 1965. That “shut down” was then reinforced by the last two pontificates and their impulse to control everything centrally.

Only a mean and malicious spirit would call this opening an irresponsible exercise having “anything goes” as its motto. But in 2017 and beyond, expect the leadership of Pope Francis to allow a lot more to be said and considered than was ever possible since 1979.

However, some consistent and enduring features will remain. Pope Francis has spelt them out in Evangelii Gaudium, his opening and still relevant and reigning policy statement. And the other key characteristic will be one emphasized by the lodestar of his earlier life in the Jesuits — Pedro Arrupe.

Also a man with a second to none appreciation of the Spiritual Exercises, Arrupe did something to the Jesuits that now Bergoglio is doing to the church: woke it from a torpor that had allowed the order to rest on its laurels and in too many instances lose sight of its missionary purpose.

At the heart of what Arrupe sought to do was get Jesuits out of their comfort zone, engaged with the real world and most especially reconverted to Jesus Christ by their encounter with the poor. The final and crowning act he performed as general (before a stroke crippled him) was to establish the Jesuit Refugee Service, an outreach dear to Bergoglio’s heart.

Some saw Arrupe’s impact as producing chaos. Others saw him as the re-founder of the Jesuits. I am of the latter persuasion. I think Jorge Mario Bergoglio would agree with me.


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