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Francis the Reformer: Some Reflections


In his latest bombshell interview – this time with the left-leaning, secular La Repubblica – Pope Francis shows again that he really is a pope who gets it: Most of the Church – indeed, most of the world – is not much interested in the crimson and lace of renaissance papal pageantry, or the single-issue heterodoxy of even the most well-meaning culture warriors.

Instead, we are yearning, thirsting, starving for the Gospel, and for the reforms necessary to move the Light of the Nations out from under the bushel basket and back onto the lamp-stand. Let the world see, and the world will believe. The only way to focus on the Big Thing is to clear out the little things that, by justice, need changing. Tinkering is not enough, and prayer without action is merely piety.

In the last six months, I have seen and heard the bishop of Rome take on clericalism, careerism, triumphalism, and narcissism in ecclesial leadership – the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis, the financial crisis, and the vocations crisis, to name a few. He has touted a hermeneutic of mercy, and condemned the selfish materialism of the world. He desires a poor church for the poor, and is willing to actually do something about it.  He has promised discussion on the role of women in the Church (though, to be fair, so did Popes John Paul II and Benedict), and there is reason to believe it might actually happen. He proposes reforming the curia, the synod of bishops, and the attitude of princely prelates.

In his first interview, with La Civiltà Cattolica, he talked about the importance of dialogue, discernment, and the frontier. When asked about reforming the Roman Curia, he talked about ecumenism and the need for ecumenical reception, especially from the Christian East, in the areas of synodality and collegiality. He talked about the Jesuit gift for being centered on Christ and the Church while reaching out to the borders, to the people on the fringe, most in need of Mother Church’s warm embrace and, sadly, mostly likely to have experienced a clerical cold shoulder. Previously, when asked for advice for leadership in any field, his said his advice is always the same: “Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!”

Today he referred twice to the late Cardinal Carlo Martini, archbishop of Milan and perennial papabile for the moderates in the college of cardinals. In his first angelus, he cited Cardinal Walter Kasper, the brilliant theologian and chief ecumenist under Pope Benedict. He also made a few remarks that seem to have been lost in translation, so we shall see!

The bishop of Rome is called, in canon law, the Roman Pontiff. Sometimes he is given the imperial title of pontifex maximus. These are, truly, ecumenical titles that literally mean “bridge-builder”. The bishop of Rome, as successor of Peter, has as his unique vocation to build up unity between divided Christians and churches. Like his predecessors in the last fifty years, Pope Francis is clearly dedicated to this. Nearly twenty years after Pope John Paul II asked for input on how to reform the Petrine Ministry for the sake of Christian Unity, Pope Francis seems ready to start implementing some of the recommended changes.


His critics are tired of hearing about his humility, and want to insist that it was fun to be Catholic before, too. Suddenly the neo-cons and radical traditionalists are vying to prove which are really, truly “more Catholic than the pope” and have discovered to their mutual horror that ultramontanism is not actually all it was cracked up to be the last twenty or thirty years. Some of the same voices shouting “santo subito” at JPII’s funeral or printing John Paul II the Great buttons before he was even dead, are suddenly warning against a papal cult of personality.

On the other hand, my students want to know why no one has ever spoken about the Church like this, and why there has never been such a popular pope before (granted, they are too young to remember John Paul II’s early years, and even I am too young to remember the excitement in the wake of Vatican II).

After I posted a link to today’s interview, a friend wrote me this message:

It has been a struggle for me, at times, to feel comfortable going to church. This is not because of the individual people at our parish, but because the structure of the church has been so dominating and exclusionary. The article you posted this morning brought tears to my eyes. If Pope Francis truly guides the Church in the direction he says he is, I am more at peace with raising my children Catholic than I ever have been.

A couple weeks ago, I naively ventured out to St. Peter’s early on a Wednesday morning, thinking I would sneak in the basilica before the crowds began to show up for the 10.30 audience. I should have known better. Already at 08.00 the piazza was full, and I overheard one tour guide complain, “What can I do? I have a group coming at 10:15! This never used to be a problem!”

This is a pope who knows how to pope. He is the bishop of Rome, the servant of the servants of God. Pray for him, because we need him. We need the vision of Vatican II to be unfettered and its reforms fully implemented, and need them to be done now, after years of discussion and debate, it is time for reception. We need the scandal of a broken, divided Body of Christ to be overcome, and we need the conversion of hearts and minds that are the first step to both reform and reconciliation. The world needs the Church, and the Church needs to be in the world…. not passively, but actively.

This is our mission and our vocation, and my bishop is asking you to embrace it. Please do.



Pope Francis Interview with La Repubblica – Top Seven “Quotes”


“The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present.”

“Leaders of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”

“Narcissism …indicates an excessive love for oneself and this is not good, it can produce serious damage not only to the soul of those affected but also in relationship with others, with the society in which one lives. The real trouble is that those most affected by this – which is actually a kind of mental disorder – are people who have a lot of power. Often bosses are narcissists”

“This Vatican-centric view [of the Roman Curia] neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I’ll do everything I can to change it. The Church is or should go back to being a community of God’s people, and priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God.”

“It also happens to me that when I meet a clericalist, I suddenly become anti-clerical. Clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity. St. Paul, who was the first to speak to the Gentiles, the pagans, to believers in other religions, was the first to teach us that.”

“A religion without mystics is a philosophy.”

“We will also discuss the role of women in the Church. Remember that the Church (la chiesa) is feminine.”

Original Here

English Translation Here

Commentary explaining problems with the interview here. Turns out the interview was not recorded or notes taken, but the result of the recollection of the 89-year old Scalfari. The tone of the text, the spirit of the interview if you will, is confirmed as accurate by the Vatican, though the details and vocabulary – and the translation- need to be taken with a grain of salt. As is to be expected with Italian journalism. The contrast in the quality of the interview with the one given to the Jesuits last week is striking.  The readiness of some supposedly Catholic commentators to throw the bishop of Rome under the bus because of mistranslations or misremembered timelines – even without trying to find the original first it seems – is the most shocking aspect of all, however.

Quote of the Day: Pope Francis on Leadership


My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. …I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.

But now I hear some people tell me: ‘Do not consult too much, and decide by yourself.’ Instead, I believe that consultation is very important.

Pope Francis in his interview with Antonio Spadaro of La Civiltà Cattolica, and published in Jesuit magazines around the world on 19 September.

Beards for Bishops Campaign: Rome Edition

In the fall of 1997, I remember standing at the door to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, as I was congratulated several times on my appointment as auxiliary bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend.


A.J. Boyd, Bishop Daniel Jenky, 1997

Of course, it was not me, but Daniel Jenky, CSC, rector of the basilica who had been so nominated. I was merely serving as vimpa for Bishop John D’Arcy, who was on hand to make the announcement. I was also jokingly referred to among the other servers and basilica staff as Fr. Jenky’s body double, so alike we looked with beard and glasses. Vested in alb and vimp veil, it is no surprise I was mistaken for the bishop-elect on more than one occasion that day.

We decided to dub his excellency as poster-bishop for our newly founded “Beards for Bishops” campaign. We – seminarians, servers, and theology students – felt it was high time for the lingering prejudice against hirsute hierarchs in the Latin church to come to an end.

When differences become polarized divisions, extreme positions are taken in reaction to “the other” that would not be considered in an objective, balanced mindset. Thus Reformed churches become iconoclastic and whitewashed, while Catholic churches spew baroque excess, each extreme fueling an even more extreme reaction. Similarly, as Eastern and Oriental churches maintained and promoted a manful and manly beardliness for its clergy. in the wake of division, the Latin west insisted on the clean shaven route. Perhaps in the wake of that move, clean-shavenness was purported to be too effeminate for the orders of the East, and so on.

In law, starting in the twelfth century, Latin clergy were discouraged and sometimes forbidden from growing their beards. The Council of Toulouse, in 1119, apparently threatened excommunication for those whos facial hair grew (or merely grew unruly, it is not clear), and Pope Alexander III (1159-81) ordered his archdeacon (think vicar general/chief of staff) to ensure that all Roman deacons and presbyters were clean shaven, by force if necessary. Gregory IX incorporated Alexander’s decree into canon law, and there it remained into the twentieth century. In 1866, the second plenary council of Baltimore explicitly outlawed beards for clergy in the U.S. The 1917 Code of Canon Law said merely to keep a simple hair style (CIC 136 §1), so the local law and cultural taboo remained. No legislation regarding facial hair remains in the 1983 code, Deo gratias.


Innocent XII

It was not a consistent ban, despite the attitude and cultural assumptions during the Pian papacies of the 19th and 20th century. The popes from Clement VII (1523) to Inocent XII (d.1700) certainly had beards (as did, if the mosaics at San Paolo fuori le Mura are to be believed, most bishops of Rome from Peter through the first millennium  In fact, it was 800 years before we had the first beardless pontiff, in the person of Pope Valentine).

Nevertheless, the late pre-conciliar climate had ossified the  ban on barbarous appearance, and even after the apparent change with Vatican II, a bearded bishops was still barely to be found in the western Catholic church. From those humble beginnings in 1997, the Beards for Bishops campaign is now even more humble, and ready to tackle the next challenge: a bearded bishop of Rome.

Quod non fecerunt Barberini fecerunt barbari, anyone?

A sadly small number of cardinal electors willingly wear wisdom-witnessing whiskers:

  • George Allencherry, 69,
    Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
  • Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis, 53,
    Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
  • Reinhard Marx, 59,
    Archbishop of Munich
  • Antonius I Nagueb, 77,
    Patriarch emeritus of the Coptic Catholic Church
  • Sean O’Malley, 68,
    Archbishop of Boston

One could add to that the hairier heads of the other Catholic Churches sui iuris, whether patriarch or major archbishop, given their office as heads of churches, and whether created cardinal or not, equivalent (at least) to the cardinal-bishops in dignity:

  • Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, 57,
    Patriarch of Alexandria for the Coptic Catholic Church
  • Gregory III Laham, 79,
    Patriarch of Antioch for the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church
  • Mar Ignatius Joseph III Younan, 68,
    Patriarch of Antioch for the Syrian Catholic Church
  • Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, 73,
    Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church
  • Sviatoslav Shevchuk, 42,
    Major Archbishop of Kyiv–Halyč of the Ukranian Catholic Church

(Their Beatitudes, Patriarchs Bechara Boutrous al-Rahi of the Maronites and Raphael I Louis Sako of the Chaldeans are clean-shaven; rumors of Latinization have neither been confirmed, nor denied.)

Of these ten, then, who is papabile? The retired Coptic patriarch is already a patriarch emeritus and unlikely to succeed another. The Antiochene may be seen as too old. The Ukranian major archbishop, de facto patriarch of the second largest of the Catholic Churches (after the Roman), is seen as the most likely of the non-cardinals, but as more than a decade younger than the youngest cardinal, it is still a long shot. And, the idea of electing an eastern patriarch as bishop of Rome may still be too great a change for too great a number of cardinal-electors, though there is a sort of precedent (thirteen Greeks, four Syrians, and two from modern day Israel/Palestine, if you count Peter himself).

Though I might personally welcome such a move, let us assume it is unlikely. That leaves only two villous vescovi among the princes of the Roman Church.

ImageArchbishop Reinhard Marx of München serves on the pontifical council for peace and justice and the congregation for catholic education, and is president of the German bishops’ conference Committee for Social Issues. He was elected a year ago as President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union. He has published books on Catholic Social Teaching, and has been a bishop since 1996. When he was appointed, German news agency Deutsche-Press Agentur, described him as “left of center” in general, but “moderately conservative” on doctrinal issues. There have been seven or eight German popes, depending on whether you count Stephen IX, born in Lorraine (now France).

ImageArchbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley of Boston is an Irish American Capuchin, with a record of cleaning up dioceses damaged by the sex abuse scandal (and the bigger scandal of their cover-ups by bishops). He was born in Lakewood, OH (where I lived for all of three months in the wake of the abuse scandal-induced hiring freeze on the diocese there in 2002). His doctorate is in Spanish and Portuguese literature and he was the first cardinal to start a personal blog and podcast, in 2006. He serves on the Congregations for Clergy and Consecrated Life, and on the Council for Family. There has never been a capuchin pope, an American pope, or indeed, a genuinely Western pope (that is, a pope from the western hemisphere!)

Could one of these two men be elected bishop of Rome later this week? If so, the Beards for Bishops Campaign will rejoice in the return of the razorless pontificate after centuries of suppression.  Join us in prayer, invoking the patron saints of facial hair, St. Brendan the Navigator and St. Wilgefortis the bearded virgin and martyr.

Beatification debriefing in brief

New image of the newly Blessed

This morning I have already begun to hear stories of people’s experience here in Rome for the beatification, from one being interviewed by CNN in the middle of Piazza San Pietro, to others who gave up trying to get within a kilometer of the Vatican, and still others who deliberately skipped town to avoid the chaos and the crowd.

The Beatification Mass began at 10:00am Sunday, with an hour-long rosary and divine mercy chaplet planed ahead of time.

Vatican security had cleared the Piazza at 7:00pm Saturday night, though people had already staked places and laid out sleeping pads on the cobblestones around the square. They were moved back beyond a large perimeter. We saw nearly every law enforcement agency available in the city – Policia Municipale, Guarda di Finanza, Carabinieri, Corpo Forestale, Polizia di Stato, et al.

One friend was at the perimeter by 1:00am Sunday, and she made it no closer to the altar than the obelisk in the centre of the piazza. Others arrived at 4:00am and were never able to get into the square. The gates officially opened at 5:30am, allowing people into Piazza San Pietro and Via della Conciliazione. By 6:15am, people were packed up to Castel Sant’Angelo. We followed a group of bishops into the crowd, only to be turned back on the close side of the castle – even the bishops could not get through.

Even in lateral directions the area around the Vatican was packed – I have not yet seen an aerial photo that was able to capture the whole scene of people-packed streets, I do not know if any of the helicopters were high enough to get that wide a view.

The 5.7 acres of Piazza San Pietro hold only a fraction of the people who came to Rome for the beatification

Some people decided to bail, and go somewhere they could be less crowded and watch it on a jumbotron – the city had a dozen such locations set up, including the Cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano and the Circo Massimo. Others continued to push in, but never made it close. We found shade and refreshment under the umbrellas of a café’s outdoor seating area, with an oblique view of a jumbotron at Piazza Risorgimento, with no audio but a pilgrims radio tuned to a station translating the whole thing into Polish.

We spent almost two hours in a line to get a cappuccino and cornetto, and then go to the bathroom, once it was decided there was no where better to go unless we wanted to bail and watch at one of the other centers around the city. We got out just in time for mass to start, and stood (thankfully in the shade with tables to put our things on), for the entire 3 hour liturgy and angelus address. Even the English reading was translated into polish on the radio, so I could only relay the parts of the mass as I saw from the partial view of the screen and from the singing in Latin.

I am glad I was here for an historic event, grateful to be in a place with shade and with a friend, but sorry that, given the exhaustion of staying up all night after the vigil that we did not get closer than we did. But, I never thought I would get as close as we did, either. For his canonization, which I expect this time next year, I think the view from San Giovanni in Laterano sounds pretty good – especially for a pope who repeatedly said his role as bishop of Rome, along with Servant of the Servants of God, was the most important responsibility of the pope.

Russian National Orchestra in the Vatican

How often is St. Peter’s Square turned into a parking lot? The cabbie that dropped us off said he has lived in Rome for half his life, and never seen it. But that was the sight that greeted us as we were dropped off at the Paul VI Auditorium for what promised to be an enjoyable afternoon out with the Holy Father (and a few other folk).

These two days have been celebrated as “Russian Culture Days at the Vatican”, one of the key public events of which was today’s concert by the Russian National Orchestra, a gift of the Russian Patriarch Kirill I to Latin Patriarch Benedict XVI.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the President of the Department for External Affairs of the Patriarch of Moscow (read: top ecumenist), personally presented the gift of the concert to His Holiness, which included a Symphony in Five Parts composed by the metropolitan himself. The concert included pieces by Rachmaninov, Rimski-Korsakov, and Musorgskij by the Russian National Orchestra; a variety of pieces by the Russian National Horn Choir, and another selection from Musorgskij and Rachmaninov with the Synod Choir of Moscow before all three combined for the final Symphony piece by Metropolitan Hilarion.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Seat of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

On the way into the building, I kept getting saluted by the Swiss Guard. At first I kept looking to see if they were saluting everyone, or if some bishop was walking behind me. Eventually we figured that in my black suit with a small red Jerusalem cross in my lapel (a souvenir from my recent pilgrimage) they may have mistaken me for a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher! Not sure there are any this young, though!

As most know, I have an affinity for things Russian, including the music, so this was a special treat for me – to combine my love of Russia, ecumenism, the Church and the Vatican all into one event. We also got seats just behind and to the right of the Holy Father and the cardinals, which made it that much more exciting. This was my first time inside the Paul VI auditorium, which can seat about 6000 people, and which is entirely powered by solar panels on the roof.

There is no question that, with the election of Benedict XVI and even more so with the election of Kirill I, relations between Rome and Moscow have thawed considerably. We continue to pray for the unity of the world’s largest Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, and look forward to fruits of dialogue even more beautiful than an afternoon’s concert!

Archbishop Giorgio Corbellini

The Secretary of the Governorate of the Vatican State  and the President of the Office of the Labour of the Vatican State joined us for the celebration of the Eucharist and a short dinner presentation. This is the office responsible for the civil government aspects of the world’s smallest soverieng nation – Utilities, communications, stamps and coins, goods and supplies, facilities, police and fire services, and labor. Though each office within the Holy See has its own recruiting and hiring practices, the Labor office is responsible for orientation to employment in the Vatican and to ongoing human resource concerns. There also exists a labor council, elected from among Vatican employees of different fields, to advise the Cardinal President of the Governorate.

The archbishops responsibilities also extend to the extraterritorial buildings and properties in and around Rome, which enjoy – to various degrees – status similar to an embassy, a little bit of one country in the middle of another. At least part of the Passionist Monastery in which the Lay Centre resides is considered extraterritorial, depending on whether you ask the Archbishop’s boss or the city of Rome!

Archbishop Corbellini is one of just a handful of bishops ordained personally by Pope Benedict XVI since his election as bishop of Rome in 2005.

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