Settling in for a fascinating journey

Settling in for a fascinating journey

The first 100 days of a pope are not like the first 100 days of a president or prime minister or a CEO. A pope thinks long-term, and is under less pressure to put forward a series of short-term goals or programs. Most of the issues facing a pope transcend the pragmatic and the political. They require careful thought, prayer and consultation, not a string of policy statements.

For journalists, though, 100 days is a marker that requires evaluation and commentary. It was certainly the hot topic at the Catholic Media Conference this week in Denver, where I gave a talk this morning to several hundred Catholic communicators. 

So what do we know about Pope Francis after 100 days in office? We’ve had no important documents, few significant appointments and no earth-shaking reforms of the Roman Curia.

But we do have a healthy dose of papal thinking and papal preaching – on everything ranging from clerical careerism to sweatshop employment. And we have a number of papal gestures that speak volumes to people inside and outside the church.

I don't want to recap Pope Francis’ 100-day “greatest hits” here. Instead, I’d like to identify a few core characteristics and directions that seem to be emerging:

1. Francis has relocated the papacy outside the Roman Curia.

First, choosing to live in the less formal Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal apartments has turned out to be a crucial decision, because geography counts at the Vatican. The papal apartments are surrounded by Roman Curia offices, deep inside the Apostolic Palace, and Francis would have been much more isolated there. He is a people person, after all.

Second, the pope has named a group of eight cardinals – now to be expanded to nine – to advise him on matters of church governance and Roman Curia reform. Only one is a member of the Roman Curia. Nothing said more clearly that Francis intends to rely less on Vatican insiders and more on the world’s bishops when it comes to governing.

Third, much of the pope’s preaching has come in morning Masses at the Vatican guesthouse, in off-the-cuff homilies that are brief, insightful and sharply worded. The Vatican bureaucracy doesn't even consider these homilies part of the pope’s real Magisterium, and has yet to publish full texts. One reason, I think, is that unlike formal papal speeches, these extemporized talks don’t go through the usual bureaucratic machinery. They are less controlled by the Curia.

2. Francis has begun his “reform” of the Vatican by evangelizing.

The people who attend the pope’s morning Masses are groups of Vatican officials and employees, and his words are directed at them in a particular way. In that sense, Pope Francis’ reform of the Vatican has already begun. Not in the way the world was expecting, through high-profile appointments of Roman Curia heads – though that will come in due time. Instead, the pope is evangelizing the Vatican. He’s laying the spiritual groundwork for reform, by preaching the Gospel in his own back yard. For him, “new evangelization” begins at home.

3. The pope’s vision of the church’s role is less about internal identity and more about external influence.

He wants the church to be present in people’s lives. For priests, that means getting out with their faithful and sharing their problems – as he put it in his memorable and earthy phrase, pastors should have “the odor of sheep.” For bishops, it means an end to careerism (today he told nuncios that when evaluating candidates for bishop, they should avoid ambitious prelates and choose pastors who are close to the people.)

For lay Catholics, it means being willing to live the Gospel and proclaim it joyfully in word and deed, especially to those who are suffering. Although this takes courage, evangelization is not a burden, and shouldn't seem like one, the pope said.

4. The pope’s social justice agenda is slowly taking center stage. 

His sharply worded challenges to the global economic system (“We live in a world where money rules … “We need to flip things over, like a tortilla: Money is not the image and likeness of God.”) indicate that his planned encyclical, “Blessed Are the Poor,” will not be easily spun by the defenders of an unrestricted free-market economy.

But his economic Gospel is not merely aimed at international agencies and power brokers. He wants the church to embody concern for the poor and suffering, and has cautioned priests and bishops to resist the lure of the business model. “Proclaiming the Gospel must take the road of poverty.” He understands that practicing what one preaches is the key to church credibility in the eyes of many people today.

5. He has confidence in his own spontaneity. 

So far, he’s willing to be unscripted in “safe” settings like the morning Mass or an audience with children, but also in “unsafe” settings like his conversation with the officials of the Latin American Conference of Religious. I’ve seen other popes go down this path (even Benedict like to extemporize at first) but top Vatican officials would pretty quickly convince them that a prepared text is better for everyone. It seems to me that Francis has decided otherwise, and I think the reason is that, for him, being a pastor is not the same as being a speechgiver.

At 100 days, I think we’re beyond the “honeymoon” period. We’re settling into a fascinating pontificate.


15 comments (Add your own)

1. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh wrote:
Thankyou for this excellent overview summary of the first 100 days of Pope Francis. This Pope seems to be his own man and yet, I understand that he followed the culture of the Vatican of secrecy in regard to clergy sexual abuse, and protected at least one predator priest; and I understand that he refused to meet with the victims of priest sexual abuse in the past. I have hopes that he has learned his lesson and will pledge obedience only to God. I believe that the pledge of obedience to the Pope has created an immature clergy, and has caused a disconnect when the Pope is not following what Jesus would do, as in the clergy sexual abuse crisis, which has gone on for centuries.

Our fidelity to the promises and oaths we make, must be consistent with the fundamental promise of fidelity to God in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit. The Theologian Bernard Haring spoke of the crisis that occurs when fidelity to conscience conflicts with promises made to obey Church authorities, including the Pope. Bernard Haring is quoted as saying: "Religious obedience has...dignity. In its absolute form, we owe religious obedience to God alone."

I believe that the hierarchy around the world has been limited in following the truth, because of their oath of loyalty to the Pope and the desire to please the Pope rather than a desire to follow Jesus and please God.

The only exception in the hierarchy, to my knowledge, has been Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland who has had the courage to do what Jesus would do in making the predator clergy and complicit bishops accountable, and in giving over all records of clergy sexual abuse to the police for investigation and prosecution as needed.

If Pope Francis would give over all the records in the Vatican and elsewhere, on clergy sexual abuse, to police and lawyers for investigation, I believe it would help to show some transparency and some desire for integrity from the leadership of a church that has become so morally bankrupt, that has damaged so many lives, and that has been the source of so many suicides around the world by those who gave up hope that anyone would believe their stories of having been sexually abused by a nun, a brother, a priest, or a member of the hierarchy. I pray that Pope Francis will get the courage to do what Jesus would do and help to restore our church.

Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Fri, June 21, 2013 @ 5:29 PM

2. Dr. Curt Schmidt wrote:
You accurately note that previous Popes let themselves be persuaded that a text that could be gone over for accuracy was the better way to communicate with the faithful.
But perhaps Francis realizes only too well that the Pope, not the curia, is the ultimate arbiter of what is said or not said.

Francis could indeed change the entire makeup of the Curia, as well as of the College of Cardinals. They all serve at his pleasure, do they not? He could quite easily choose an equal number of women as of men for the offices that head up the curia, could he not? And an equal number of women as men for the College of Cardinals, could he not? And if one or the other rule of Canon Law stands in the way, he can issue a decree that changes them, can he not?

So it is not an issue of transforming the current members of the power structure, but of replacing them with those who do not seek power, but rather like the Son of Man, have come not to be served, but to serve. After all, you cannot have power struggles with the curia if you choose people for those positions who share your views and intend with alacrity to carry them out.

Fri, June 21, 2013 @ 10:52 PM

3. Miguel Prats wrote:
Dr.McHugh is dreaming if she thinks the Vatican would do the right thing and turn over ALL records regarding the sexual abuse of minors to police and plaintiffs lawyers
but she's right to wish it. A complete admission of sins committed and a committment to sin no more is what Jesus made perfectly clear. Unfortunately it will never happen. In regards to her statements that the heirarchy of the Church is morally bankrupt I agree somewhat. As regards to her opinion that the Church has damaged many lives and caused many suicides, she is dead on.
I do not know Dr.McHugh personally but two things are obvious to me.
One being she's a Catholic who's not afraid to speak the truth and admit the obvious no matter how painful that truth may be.
Two she is that rare Catholic who is a victim of clergy abuse but still sees good in the Church. As a survivor of abuse by a priest, I commend and honor Dr.McHugh for having the wisdom and courage to publicly state her opinions.

Sat, June 22, 2013 @ 8:29 AM

4. Gianni Valente wrote:
Grazie, John. Sei sempre il più grande. W Papa Bergoglio, e il bel viaggio che ci ha fatto iniziare insieme

Sat, June 22, 2013 @ 10:05 AM

5. Yae wrote:
"He understands that practicing what one preaches is the key to church credibility in the eyes of many people today."

One of the main reasons I like Papa Francis, thanks be to God. His more personal style when it comes to the papacy, is refreshing and encouraging. No more hidden off in some high apartment, no more "off limits" to the common man. He is simple, real, and yet devout, true, and solid. He speaks in a language I can understand and grasp and reflect on.

Papa Benedict had his own style but he was always so reserved and many times hard to understand or relate to but I admire him nonetheless since he gave so much to the Church and did his best.

I will keep praying that Papa Francis will stand firm against the tide that would seek to swallow him whole and control his every action and word. I will also keep praying that those who continue to dissect his every word, critique his every move, rant about what he wears or does not wear, will cease to do so and listen to what our Lord Jesus Christ is trying to tell us all by the example of Papa Francis.

Sat, June 22, 2013 @ 11:38 AM

6. Darren wrote:
I appreciate your summary of what we have seen from Pope Francis so far. I think his emphasis on pastoral care and on caring for the poor is, while not a break in any way from his predecessors, nevertheless a welcome and refreshing reminder of what Christ calls us to be. I worry, however, that he will conflate what Christ wants us to be and what governments of the world should be.

That is to say, while we as Christians and individuals would be very misguided indeed if we were to follow only free market principles in our own lives and with respect to charity, governments are not people. And the free market, while imperfect, has clearly been shown to be the best guarantor of prosperity and freedom the world has ever seen. Well-intentioned or not, socialistic and communist systems are inevitably agents of tyranny and poverty.

So, while it would be nice if we could somehow create an earthly paradise of sharing and equality, history shows that it will never happen with our flawed human natures. Instead, the free market that allows wealth to flourish can allow the wealthy to truly be Christians and share what they have with those who are less fortunate. We should aspire to pull everybody up to the standards wealthier nations enjoy. We should not drag everybody down into poverty in the name of justice and equality.

Mon, June 24, 2013 @ 7:07 PM

7. TomD wrote:
@Darren. You are right. Freedom is always to be preferred . . . freedom tempered by faith, freedom directed away from sin, and freedom directed toward virtue.

Freedom is not an absolute in our lives, like love is. Freedom is the consequence of God's love, but with limits. The fruits of freedom develop from how it is lived.

Mon, June 24, 2013 @ 8:27 PM

8. Timothy A. Donohue wrote:
Re:Darren
Free market systems do not exist. Tesla is fighting to sell electric cars and moon shiners have been jailed for years. Brenhon Law holds that common ownership is above individual ownership. Pope Francis is returning the ownership of The Church to each believer and encouraging world governments to recognize their responsibility to the entire planet as opossed to territorial claims.

Tue, June 25, 2013 @ 9:09 AM

9. Deacon John wrote:
I, too, thank you for this insightful look at Pope Francis' first days. What I have appreciated about him is his pastoral approach to so many issues.
First, his insistence at going to the juvenile detention center in Rome to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass was a beautiful expression of compassion and care for those who often get marginalized right off the page in society and in church.
Second, his "lower level" approach to vestments and liturgy is refreshing. Some in our church place far too much emphasis on just the right brocade for a chasuble, insist on a rigid and scrupulous interpretation of the rubrics, and only allow music that is so ancient and complex that only a well rehearsed choir can participate. Now don't get me wrong - I like beautiful vestments and high liturgy, too, but (at least where I'm at)the pendulum has swung decidedly and widely to the right. It's discouraging for me to see priests fight over details like the precise placement of altar candles, etc. And lastly, I also liked the fact that he only used a selection of the readings for the Easter Vigil instead of the whole batch. I believe it stems from his care for the people in pews who also have lives outside of the church. Hopefully, Francis' actions can bring us to a better balance in these areas and a pastoral focus that includes the poor, the imprisoned, and the "lepers" of our day.

Tue, June 25, 2013 @ 11:46 AM

10. Connie (a non-Catholic Christian) wrote:
Hallelujha!!! God is being lived and heard through yet another of his humble and loving children! One who, by place in this world, can do 'greater deeds than this that I do,' very great deeds indeed - to help and bless all woman and mankind.

Tue, June 25, 2013 @ 1:24 PM

11. Peter D. Beaulieu wrote:
The forthcoming papal encyclical on the poor likely will not be narrowly limited to material poverty. John Paul II defined broadly the preferential option for the poor: “This option is not limited to material poverty, since it is well known that there are many other forms of poverty, especially in modern society – not only economic, but cultural and spiritual poverty as well” (CA n. 57; see CCC 1807). Pope Francis has repeated this broad perspective: “. . . there is another form of poverty! It is what my much-beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism', which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples . . . there is no true peace without truth!” (to the diplomats of the Holy See). So, yes to a flipped tortilla, but much else as well on the other burners.

Tue, June 25, 2013 @ 1:47 PM

12. Sygurd wrote:
Let's wait and see, shall we?

Tue, June 25, 2013 @ 7:14 PM

13. TeaPot562 wrote:
Pope Francis has followed older thinking in suggesting a "reform" of the world's monetary and economic system (systems?) to express an "option for the poor".
The so-called system - many investors / speculators buying and selling commodities and currencies - exists. Those who have benefitted from it can change their own lives by personal conversion, and sharing their personal wealth with those hungry, thirsty, in need of shelter, etc. See Matt 25:31-46 and Luke: 16:19-31.
Those using the system need to seek salvation as individuals, not by adoption of new laws and regulations to somehow ban the abuses caused by greed, selfishness and dishonesty.
TeaPot562

Tue, June 25, 2013 @ 7:56 PM

14. waldo wrote:
Yes, we want a leader, that remained us the commandments and the teachings of Christ. We also want a humanity that is humble enough to learn, so the words of Christ do not fall on the hard rocks of modernity.
In the second Vatican Council, the leaders of the Church spoke. The First leader, product of that council was Pope Paul the VI. He gave a simple encyclical "Humane Vitae". He spoke the uncomfortable truth. "You shall not kill for pleasure", but the masses of people as well as thousand of priest, claiming to serve God, decided not to hear that voice, and formed their own Church. They build the foundation for the sexual scandals of priests and nuns. The leaders were and are clear, but they do not have a military army or a spy networks to bring you to fallow the teachings of Christ. Christianity does not work that way. They taught to the people, but the people said: "I will not serve......." then we complain and blame the leaders. The leaders (the Popes) where right. Some of them are on the way to Sainthood, mother Teresa is on her way to sainthood, but we....have fill the porno parlors, then we blame again. Have you read the words of the scripture ...." If my people hear my voice and repent, of their wicked way, I will her them and hill their land". Christ have mercy on us.

Wed, June 26, 2013 @ 4:24 PM

15. Loretta Crane wrote:
Like a true leader, Pope Francis he will lead us, by his example. Many of us are enslaved to outward trappings, by a magnificence that command respect borne out of fear, uncertainty, and self doubt. By his declaration of his fidelity to the truth, Pope Francis makes the practice of Christianity simple, unassuming and real. Simple through love of the poor; unassuming, through a bond with the poor; real through the eyes of humility. The poor are those who lack material wealth, the hopeless, those who are uncared for. Pope Francis gives credence to the truth, he looks at reality through the eyes of our Lord. He is truly blessed, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth ..." Papa WE LOVE YOU because you give me the affirmation to carry on.

Thu, June 27, 2013 @ 5:23 AM

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