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Pope Francis, the Pope of Surprises

Posted to Personal Update | Issue 126 | 02/07/2013

Pope Francis, the Pope of Surprises
Pope Francis’ insistent references to the Devil, Satan and “the Prince of this world” is surely a surprise. In stark contrast to the silence of many of today’s preachers, Pope Francis is not shy about warning Christians to take Satan’s activity seriously.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Satan has seemingly ceased to be a major player in the spiritual life of Christians. Like pieces of old furniture no longer esteemed and shifted into the attic, Satan along with Hell, divine judgement and mortal sin were quietly moved out of sight, or rather, out of the hearing of the faithful. I have no doubt that not a few priests and prominent Catholics will be less than comfortable with the Pope’s insistence that the Devil is not a myth, a personification of human weakness, but a real spirit viciously striving to destroy God’s work.
Take this quote from one of the Pope’s morning homilies during Mass at the Casa di Santa Marta: “With his death and resurrection, Jesus has ransomed us from the power of the world, from the power of the devil, from the power of the prince of this world. The origin of the hatred is this: we are saved and that prince of the world, who does not want us to be saved, hates us and gives rise to the persecution that from the earliest times of Jesus continues until today.”
Pope Francis has no truck with what might be called “religious correctness”. Take his comments made in the middle of April: “Calumny aims to destroy the work of God, and calumny comes from a very evil thing: it is born of hatred. And hate is the work of Satan. Calumny destroys the work of God in people, in their souls. Calumny uses lies to get ahead. Be in no doubt”, he said, “Where there is calumny, there is Satan himself.”
Every Christian must respond to the Devil, as Jesus did, with the Word of God. “With the prince of this world one cannot dialogue. Dialogue is necessary among us, it is necessary for peace, it is an attitude that we must have among ourselves in order to hear each other, to understand each other. And it must always be maintained. Dialogue is born from charity, from love. But with that prince you cannot dialogue; you can only respond with the word of God that defends us.”
Holy Scripture has much to say about Satan, and this fact highlights a paradox in the modern Church. The Second Vatican Council made much of the Scriptures in the Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum, and theologians told us of the importance of reading the Scriptures and basing our faith on them. Yet, on this subject, so well attested in the Bible, many of these same theologians are silent or else dismiss the biblical teaching about Satan, as if it were some primitive myth, now demystified and unacceptable to modern minds.
An Italian theologian, Imos Biffi, wrote a feature article, published in early May in L’Osservatore Romano, on the biblical teaching about the Devil. A translation can be read in What becomes clear—if clarity were lacking up to now—is that the Bible reveals much about the existence and activity of the fallen angels, and shows why Christians should pay serious attention, as both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have reminded us.
Pope Francis does not believe in tiptoeing around problems in the Church, one of which is the pervasive influence of secular beliefs about morality. He is well aware of the work of the Evil One, and, it would seem, of his activity even within the walls of the Vatican.
Let me conclude with another papal quote:
The faith is not negotiable. There has always been, in the history of the people of God, this temptation: to cut a piece away from the faith, perhaps not even very much. But the faith is how we speak of it in the Creed. We must overcome the temptation to do a bit as everyone does, not to be so very rigid, because right from there begins a road that ends in apostasy. In fact, when we begin to cut up the faith, to negotiate the faith, to sell it to the highest bidder, we start down the road of apostasy, of infidelity to the Lord.
Yes, we are back to a basic truism about the Gospel message: our faith is an organic whole; all the different doctrinal elements are connected with one another; you cannot omit or change one part without weakening or denying others, and like the proverbial thread, once cut, the whole weave can unravel.
Is the Pope a Liberation Theologian?
Catholic progressives have been falling over themselves because they believe that Pope Francis is one of their own. Read this from Leonardo Boff: “Francis will teach a lesson to the Church. We are coming out of a bitter and gloomy winter. With him comes the spring.” Maybe it’s the honeymoon period, brought on by the Pope’s homely style in the Vatican as well as his example as archbishop of Buenos Aires. Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that progressives are surely in for a disappointment.
Leonardo Boff is one of the luminaries of Liberation Theology, which had its hour in the Seventies, especially across Central and South America. He entered the Franciscan Order in Brazil and was ordained priest in 1964, after which he studied at the University of Munich in Germany. Fr Josef Ratzinger, as he was then, was one of the two professors of theology, but did not direct his doctoral thesis. Years later, after Boff wrote his best known work, Church: Charism and Power, with the subtitle, Essays in Militant Ecclesiology, it was the same Fr Ratzinger, now in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who decided that there were serious “ecclesial” problems with his theology.
Cardinal Ratzinger was most unhappy about the general tendency to rely on various secular philosophies and sciences while ignoring the tradition of the Church. One of the philosophies was Marxism, at that time embraced by many academics across the Western world and not a few Catholic priests. In particular, Ratzinger identified three areas that were erroneous and dangerous.
Boff suggested that Christ did not found a Church with a specific form and structure, that is, a priesthood, a hierarchy and a sacramental system. Secondly, he regarded revelation and the dogmas of the Church as transitional and changeable, this being the stance of relativism which effectively undermines the content of faith. For Boff, the Holy Spirit ensured that the “timeless truths” of Christianity would not petrify in the life of the Church. Thirdly, Boff expressed a profoundly hostile criticism of the ministers of the Church, accusing the “institutional church” of “expropriating the religious means of production”, that is, the sacraments, the remission of sins and the freedom of the baptised. He accused them of acting as if they owned the Church, leading to a laundry list of abuses, as Boff wrote in chapter 12 of his book.
In 1985 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith required Fr Boff to cease all public activities as a priest. In 1992, Boff left the priesthood but continued his advocacy of liberation theology, now expanded to include environmentalism—“mother earth and brother sun”. His fame ensures him steady work as a conference speaker, which certainly pays the bills, now that he is a married man.
On a Different Planet
I am not so sure if Pope Francis would be happy to read Leonardo Boff’s interview published in Der Spiegel. Boff assures us that the new pope is going to make radical changes to the Church. “He now is the pope and he can do whatever he wants.” What a wild statement from a former theologian? And then this extraordinary claim: “In many aspects—as those referring to contraceptives, celibacy, and homosexuality—Bergoglio as a cardinal, followed a conservative line that was due solely to pressure from the Vatican…” That is so much rubbish, and, even if it were correct, would make Pope Francis a complete hypocrite.
Yes, Pope Francis has called for a Church “that is poor and for the poor”, yes, he  is radical and revolutionary as a follower of Christ. But, he is not a Marxist, a New Age humanitarian, or a believer that progress can be achieved by the development of trade and universal consumerism.
As Jesuit provincial, Fr Bergoglio was all too familiar with liberation theology that went hand in hand with the collapse of religious life. He opposed it, even when this stand left him isolated among the Jesuits. His guiding theology was not that of Boff, Guttierez or Sobrino, but another Argentinian Jesuit, Fr Juan Carlos Scannone, now 81 and today widely recognised in South America as the outstanding theologian of Argentina.
Scannone’s theology of the Church and her mission was not drawn from Marx or sociology but from the traditional faith and wisdom of the common people of South America. 
Bergoglio’s dismissal of liberation theology is best summed up in a preface he wrote for a book on the future of Latin America written by his close friend in the Vatican curia, the Uruguayan Guzmán Carriquiry Lecour, secretary general of the pontifical commission for Latin America, a layman married with children and grandchildren, the highest ranking layman in the Curia.
After the collapse of ‘real socialism’, (that is, Marxism) these currents of thought (liberation theology) were plunged into confusion. Incapable of either radical reformulation or new creativity, they survived by inertia, even if there are still some today who, anachronistically, would like to propose it again.
Pope Francis and the Liturgy
Pope Francis is very different from Pope Benedict, and in no area is this more obvious than in the liturgy. Yet, some of the rash predictions that Pope Francis will dump liturgical reform, so close to the heart of Benedict, or that he is against the Extraordinary Form, or, to put it baldly, that he is not interested in the liturgy, are unjustified.
I am leaving aside the accusations that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio restricted the Extraordinary Form after Summorum Pontificum in 2008. Maybe those who frequently attend the EF Mass could do some research and let me know. What is well attested is Cardinal Bergoglio’s efforts to persuade his priests to celebrate Mass in a correct manner, follow the rubrics and preach a life-giving sermon. In other words and please pardon the expression, to give the faithful a decent Mass.
According to my source, liturgical abuse is a “massive problem” in Latin America, and nowhere more common than in the villas miserias or shanty towns in the capital. Surrounded by extreme poverty and social deprivation, many priests are still deeply influenced by Liberation Theology, and hand in hand with a skewed politicised theology, liturgical experiments, improvisation and efforts to be “relevant” follow.
Cardinal Bergoglio’s task was by no means easy in his populous archdiocese. Too often, priests associated their bishop and his staff with canon law, doctrinal correction and discipline, so his first task was to break this mould, and show his priests that he shared and supported their work as a father.  As archbishop, he made the evangelisation of the favelas a top priority.  He regularly visited the poorest parishes, arranged breaks for the priests working there, and often took their place for a short period. His decision to live in a plain apartment, use public transport and dispense with traditional pomp and ceremony was without doubt motivated by a desire to be with his priests in these extremely challenging areas. In this way, he succeeded in bringing many back from political activism to genuine pastoral work. His priests stopped using sweet-bread for the Eucharist, dressed clerically, robed in proper vestments, and selected approved liturgical music and hymns. Don’t say that Francis is not interested in the liturgy.
Pope Francis’ Method to Avoid Scandal
In public every detail of Pope Francis is noticed, noted and interpreted. One detail in the new pontiff’s routine has caused some puzzlement since his election. With very few exceptions to date, the Pope has not distributed Holy Communion at his public Masses, but remains seated while other ministers perform the task. The explanation for this unquestionably intended action might well be found in the recorded conversions with Rabbi Abraham Skorka when Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. These conversations were published as a book, On Heaven and Earth, now available in English. The Archbishop explained how he deals with the tricky problem of whether to give or refuse Holy Communion to notorious public figures, a major issue of controversy in the US, but no less pressing in Argentina and Ireland:
With some of them we know their whole résumé, we know that they pass themselves off as Catholics but practice indecent behaviours of which they do not repent. For this reason, on some occasions I do not give communion, I stay back and let the assistants do it, because I do not want these persons to approach me for a photo. One may also deny communion to a known sinner who has not repented, but it is very difficult to prove these things. Receiving communion means receiving the body of the Lord, with the awareness of forming a community. But if a man, rather than uniting the people of God, has devastated the lives of many persons, he cannot receive communion, it would be a total contradiction. Such cases of spiritual hypocrisy present themselves in many who take refuge in the Church and do not live according to the justice that God preaches. And they do not demonstrate repentance. This is what we commonly call leading a double life.
Addendum: Way back in 1985 when Dr Kevin McNamara was the new Archbishop of Dublin, the Minister for Health, Barry Desmond, pushed through a bill permitting the over-the-counter sale of contraceptives to anyone, married or single, over the age of 18. The Archbishop had described the amendment to the 1979 law as a serious violation of the natural law, a blow to family morality and contrary to Church teaching. Shortly after the bill was passed in the Dáil, Barry Desmond presented himself for Holy Communion at the Pro-Cathedral before the Archbishop. A photographer was standing nearby, and next day a photo of the event appeared in the national papers. Pope Francis won’t let this happen.
Et Cetera, et Cetera
The latest Annuario Pontificio, the Church’s annual directory of facts, numbers and names across the world, has appeared, two months later than usual, due to the surprise papal election in March this year. Reporters and Vatican observers are examining it for clues about the intentions of the new pontiff.
Clues there are, and one is the manner which the new pope wishes to be described. Pope Francis chooses to be known as the “Bishop of Rome”. In last year’s Annuario, under his picture at the beginning of the directory, Benedict XVI was described not only as “bishop of Rome” but also as “Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and metropolitan of the Roman province, Sovereign of Vatican City-State, Servant of the Servants of God”. Francis has not dispensed with these titles but has shifted them to the next page, suggesting that they are now in second place.
Benedict is entered as the “Supreme Pontiff Emeritus”, much the same as “pope emeritus” already used since the conclave, thereby concluding the argument that it would be better to refer to him as “bishop emeritus of Rome”.
On Sunday, May 12, Pope Francis took time out to greet and bless the second annual pro-life march through the city of Rome. Some 30 to 40 thousand people marched from the Colosseum to Castel San Angelo, where the Pope gave a short address, in which he invited “everyone to stay focused on the important issue of respect for human life, from the moment of conception”.
Addendum: Good News About Benedict XVI
Many people were shocked to see how frail Benedict XVI was during his last public appearance, when Pope Francis visited him at Castel Gandolfo. It is very heartening to hear from an Italian bishop that the Pontiff Emeritus has recovered much of his physical strength since relinquishing the burden of the Papacy. The Catholicus Nua blog drew our attention to a piece on the website of the diocese of Molfetta, Ruvo, Giovinazzo and Terlizzi in which Bishop Luigi Martella describes his recent ad limina visit. He quotes Pope Francis’s words on Benedict XVI, “When I first met him at Castel Gandolfo, I noticed he had a lucid memory although he was physically worn out.  Now he is definitely better.” There is further good news that Benedict XVI is continuing to work on a document on Faith, which he had intended to issue as an encyclical. Apparently, Pope Francis intends to use this as the basis for his own first encyclical, which will be followed by one of his own on the poor: “Blessed are the poor! Poverty”, he explained, “understood not in an ideological and political sense, but in the evangelical sense.”

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