What I like most about Pope Francis is probably his integrity. Honesty and humility wrapped up with transparency. This is exactly what some people seem to find most frustrating – the off-the-cuff remarks, open to interpretation, or occasionally without all the details in place. The WYSIWYG Pope (What You See Is What You Get). But that is precisely the charm. And a much needed breath of fresh air. Just as Benedict XVI was a different kind of fresh air after the long lingering of John Paul II, and his theological acumen and teaching gifts a welcome change from the poetic philosophy of our most recent sainted bishop of Rome, the straight-shooter Francis is a welcome change from the meticulously careful German academic.
I am still unpacking all the ecumenical and interreligious activity of the weekend, but some small examples suffice as well. During his interview on the plane, Papa Francesco again responded to questions about celibacy, stating ‘nothing new’ when he said that the door is (theoretically) open, as required celibacy for diocesan priests is a discipline and not doctrine or dogma. Many have said it before and anyone who has studied Church history or understands the hierarchy of truths knows this and is probably thinking, “Just words… I’ll believe it when I see it.”
But whether he is talking about celibacy, or clericalism, or retiring popes, he is willing to speak directly on subjects that have been largely taboo for the rest of us for the last generation. I am not talking about ‘liberal’ issues like changing church moral teaching, ordaining women, or embracing New Age spirituality as a replacement for the rosary. I am talking about centrist, orthodox, reform issues like creative responses to our ministry problems drawn from the Tradition of the Church. This is about healing wounds caused by scandal and sex abuse, and demolishing systems that promoted or allowed such to happen, and build up in their place living adaptations of even more ancient ecclesiological structures.
Pope Francis is willing to name these problems, and at least open them up for discussion. Hopefully that attitude will trickle down, like a bad economic model (or perhaps, like the dewfall), to the rank and file church leadership, and we will have a vibrant discussion on how best to support our priests, bishops and deacons without enabling clericalism; how to support celibacy as a charism without foisting it on anyone with a call to ecclesial ministry and leadership; and how to accept that the bishop of Rome is not a monarch for life by divine right, but a diakonos of the diakonoi of God.