With new pope, hopes for ecumenical springtime

With new pope, hopes for ecumenical springtime


     Pope Francis with journalists

Pope Francis’ first few days have already generated an abundance of hope on many fronts, and one of them is ecumenism.

The fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, is attending the pope’s inaugural Mass tomorrow is rightly seen as a milestone in Catholic-Orthodox relations. That hasn’t happened since Catholics and Orthodox split in 1054.

Of course, Pope Francis does not yet have a “record” on relations with other Christian churches. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, however, he dropped some clues.

According to Bishop Gregory Venables, the Anglican bishop of Argentina, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was apparently not enthusiastic about Pope Benedict’s move in 2011 to create a structure in the Catholic Church to welcome disaffected Anglicans.

In remarks published by the Anglican Communion News Service, Bishop Venables said Cardinal Bergoglio “called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans."

Bishop Venables described the new pope as “consistently humble and wise” as well as “outstandingly gifted,” and as someone who would treat him as an equal in joint services.

In a broader sense, Pope Francis’ whole approach to the office of the papacy has generated hope for an ecumenical springtime. So far, the new pope seems intent on downplaying papal power and highlighting his role as a unity figure among his brother bishops.

It was striking that in his initial appearances, he repeatedly referred to himself as the “bishop of Rome” rather than emphasizing his role as an authority figure in the universal church.

Many experts say one of the biggest ecumenical obstacles, especially in dialogue with the Orthodox, is the way papal primacy is carried out. The key issue is how the pope’s universal role of authority and service is balanced with the pope’s collegial relationship with all the bishops.

Pope Francis has given every indication that he takes collegiality seriously. Addressing the members of the College of Cardinals the day after his election, he told them that “we are as brothers.”

“We are that community, that friendship, that closeness, that will do good for every one of us. That mutual knowledge and openness to one another helped us to be open to the action of Holy Spirit,” he said. While all roles in the church are not equal, he added, they need to work in harmony.

Italian Father Bartolomeo Sorge, a leading Jesuit intellectual, told reporters that the expectation of greater collegiality was a reasonable one.

"It's significant that Pope Francis, in the brief words he pronounced immediately after his election, spoke of the 'church of Rome' that presides in charity over the other churches. This awareness could be a prelude to achieving the kind of collegiality that the (Second Vatican) Council foresaw and that has yet to be realized," he said.

In his first major audience after his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis is meeting Wednesday with the representatives of other Christian churches who came to Rome for the event. That’s the moment we should get a clearer sense of his ecumenical intentions.

7 comments (Add your own)

1. Karen Franz wrote:
John, I've been waiting for someone to comment on the "bishop of Rome" remarks, which I thought were quite striking.

Mon, March 18, 2013 @ 8:23 AM

2. MTCCLE wrote:
Given the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch and given that not everything believed needs to be spoken, I thought perhaps the Filioque might not be included in the creed at Tuesday's Mass, but in fact it is included as it appears in the order of service.

Mon, March 18, 2013 @ 9:24 AM

3. Mike Venuto wrote:
decentralizing the authority of the Pope is interesting. Creating national churches joined by a figure head ... representing Christianity is seemingly the goal. thins would give American Catholics reign over their theological decisions..much like Polish Catholics, Russian Catholics, Vietnamese Catholics, Kenyan Catholics, Argentine Catholics, etc...it would reduce conflict and schism and create what we now have here in Obamacare...each state elects its own healthcare system... Catholics would now begin to have "states rights" as a religious group...

Mon, March 18, 2013 @ 2:32 PM

4. Christine Garchinsky wrote:
With the election of our new Pope Francis, for the first time in a long time, I have real hope for Catholic Church. I knew as soon as I heard of his name choice. St. Francis went from being the son of a rich merchant to a simple and humble monk, who followed Jesus by caring for the poor and by showing a reverence for the earth and all of God's creations. With that, I see a Holy Father Francis who may speak out on our responsibility to care for the earth and all who dwell upon it,including its wildlife.


Would I like to see an inclusion of women into the roles of priests or even deacons? Absolutely yes! Just as I see a need for celibacy to be a choice and not a mandate for ordination. However, I think that Jesus would most likely consider the Church's responsibility to the poor and hungry in the world and social justice for all people a top priority, with other changes coming later. That alone would be very big step forward. Perhaps I'm naive, but I feel that this new Pope has been chosen to lay the ground work for more changes ahead.

Personally, I would like to see an end to the extravagant garb of the hierarchy, and doing away with the gigantic gold rings and the outdated custom of kneeling and kissing it. What's wrong with a warm handshake and friendly hug. Isn't that how we would expect and appreciate Jesus greeting us? Changes as simple as that would speak volumes not just to Catholics but to the whole world.

I can't help but think that Pope Francis, having been an advocate for the poor, and setting an example of simplicity in his lifestyle as a Archbishop in Argentina, that the refreshing winds of change are headed the way of the Church and it will start in the Vatican with the installment of Pope Francis I.

Mon, March 18, 2013 @ 2:40 PM

5. Deacon John M. Bresnahan wrote:
At some point I think this pope will have to choose which ecumenical relations are more important--those with the Orthodox Churches (which are are extremely concerned with issues of heresy) and Protestant Churches (which are traditionally regarded as heretical on many issues). It will be interesting to see how he handles this situation.

Mon, March 18, 2013 @ 5:05 PM

6. Jack wrote:
There is a God!!!!....maybe....

Mon, March 18, 2013 @ 10:18 PM

7. Jerry Filteau wrote:
John, What a grace that you've been in Rome since Benedict's resignation, with your incisive commentaries on the interregnum and the election and first days of Pope Francis! Your "The Vatican Diaries" is an absolute must-read to understand Benedict XVI's years, and you've been bringing the same kind of in-depth understanding to the early days of Francis' papacy.

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 10:54 PM

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