Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Francis I - a Pope for the People of God?

"Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins". Icon of Christ Crucified speaking to Francis of Assisi

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio,76 born  December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires Argentina, was elected pope on March 13, 2013. Taking the name Francis I (after St. Francis of Assisi), he is the first pope from the Americas.  The archbishop of Buenos Aires is seen by some as an austere Jesuit intellectual who modernized Argentina’s conservative Catholic Church and became the first Jesuit to become pope. While the Jesuits have had their share of disagreements with the Vatican in the past, especially during pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the lack of a previous Jesuit pope might may have more to do with the background of their order.  Jesuit priests at the time of their solemn and final profession in the Society of Jesus promise: I will never strive or ambition, not even indirectly, to be chosen or promoted to any prelacy or dignity in or outside the Society; and I will do my best never to consent to my election unless I am forced to do so by obedience to him who can order me under penalty of sin (Constitutions S.J., Part X, N°6 [817]).
Yet, because of various reasons and in different circumstances—for example, need of a bishop in an area where the Church has still to be developed, recognition of a theologian's outstanding contribution to theological reflection, etc.—several Jesuits have been made bishops or even cardinals and now Francis I. In such cases they remain only nominally Jesuit, as they lose active and passive voice within the Order and are no longer under the obedience of the Superior General.
It is said that as archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio lived in a modest home, travelled by bus, cooked his own meals and readily made himself available to the common and poor citizens of Argentina.   Bergoglio persuaded hundreds of Argentineans’ not to fly to Rome to celebrate with him but instead to give the money they would have spent on plane tickets to the poor.  At the same time was a fierce opponent of Argentina’s decision to legalize gay marriage * in 2010, arguing children need to have the right to be raised and educated by a father and a mother.  He was created a cardinal by John Paul II on 21 February 2001.
Because Bergoglio as a former Jesuit, even if it is now considered nominally so – it will be interesting to see how his Jesuit background will help him address the mountain of problems which he has now inherited.  Without question the very future of the Roman Catholic institution depends on it.  For that reason alone something should be said about the order of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits – particularly how this may contrast with the dogmatic and iron rule under both JP II and Benedict.
The order’s commitment to social justice could be the trigger for renewed scrutiny from the Vatican.  According to author David Gibson ‘The Rule of Benedict’ (2006), The Jesuits saw themselves as responding to the [Vatican II] council’s call for religious orders to return to their roots”.  Gibson continues . . . “One of Ignatius’s founding principles, set out in his famous Spiritual Exercises, was for Jesuits to “choose poverty with Christ’s poor,” reflecting what his spiritual descendants did, especially in Latin America.  But, the Roman Curia had a different view and focused on what was seen as the order’s improper involvement in politics.”    
As a champion of the poor Bergoglio, must have been surprised when JP II and Cardinal Ratzinger both finally condemned liberation theology, in the mid eighties, as a hardcore Marxist idea.  While the Jesuit order has also been outspoken against centralization of the Church during the reign of JP II and Benedict XVI it is too early to state with any certainty if this remains an ideal to be followed with Francis I. Such liberating ideals were also reflected by some former Jesuits such a Michael Walsh when he spoke out against Roman Catholic elitist groups such as Opus Dei claiming that “the basic tenet of Christianity is that faith in Jesus Christ should be a liberating force in people’s lives, that it should free them to become more themselves, more in charge of their own destinies”.  Should Francis I desire a return to a more humble institution it would certainly signal a significant change from the hard line rule introduced by his predecessors.
The conflict in theologies handled under the direction of Pope John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger as head of the Office for the Doctrine of the Faith numerous notable Jesuits led many Jesuits being removed or silenced. These included such notables as Jon Sobrino, Jacques Dupres, Thomas Reese,  Karl Rahner, Fr. John McNeill, David Hollenbach, Anthony de Mello, Fr. Roger Haight, Fr. Paul Valadier, Jacques Dupuis, Fr. Bill Callahan, Fr. Pedro Arrupe.
The Jesuit Society remains the largest order in the church today with nearly twenty thousand members. It’s very success also created problems.  It has been so influential that it often ran afoul of both secular and Vatican authorities.  Is it possible that Francis I may be the Pope to finally challenge the Curia and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and head the church in a new spirit filled direction?  Will he be(come) a modern chuch leader for the People of God, a Pope for the times?

Links:  Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M. on Francis I - here 

* while Francis I may have opposed legalizing gay marriage on the basis that children deserve a mother and father it should be recognized that a) the adoption of children by married gay couples became necessary because the biological parents were not able to care for them  b) gay married couples are not able to reproduce . 


Bill said...

This is Bill deMello, Anthony(Tony) deMello's younger brother. I have recently published his biography, available through Orbis books and and Amazon.UK:

trebert said...

What a delight to hear from you. Many thanks for giving me a head’s up on your book. It is already on order through Amazon. You may indeed have chosen a challenging task by writing a biography about a member of your own family. It is said ‘family may be among your most fearsome critics’.
Your brother’s influence on the spiritual life of my wife Ann and I has been and continues to be most profound. No other individual has had more impact on our spiritual growth. His simplicity, when wrapped in one of his delightful stories, was always equal to discovering gold among life’s daily dross. Although I never met your brother before he died, I did feel I ‘knew’ him after a weeklong retreat presented by Fr. Jim Dolan, SJ. at the Mt. Carmel Spiritual Centre, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Fr. Jim knew your brother and his presentations were simply the best. That was at least twenty years ago and I still have his notes.
In years past, when I was still active in our parish it was my extreme privilege to present one of your brother’s video programs to our church community – especially when they had not heard of him before. They were always very well attended and much appreciated. Whenever possible I would make available copies of his many books. And, when people asked me which book was the best, I would inevitably answer ‘all of them’.
There is much more I would like to share with you, but I will leave that up to you and perhaps your busy schedule. In the meantime, Ann and I look forward to reading your book. The question is – who will get to read it first?
Again many thanks for your note.
God bless,
PS you may email me at