One year ago today, Jean-Louis Tauran, Cardinal Protodeacon, appeared on the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica and pronounced the habemus Papam formula to the awaiting throng in the piazza, whose size continued to grow exponentially since the first wisps of white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel. When the name Bergoglio escaped from Tauran’s lips, in the piazza there was a general reaction of stunned surprise (except, of course, for any Argentinians present, who obviously greeted the announcement magna cum iubilo). At the end of Conclave 2005, the crowd’s vociferous exultation interrupted Cardinal Estevez after pronouncing the name Ratzinger. Between the two events there is a marked difference in the immediate popular reaction; whereas Estevez had to wait for the cheers to subside before revealing Ratzinger’s regnal name, Tauran completed his announcement without need to pause.
Ten minutes later, Pope Francis appeared on the loggia. Immediately noticeable was his style of dress– abito piano senza mozzetta e stola. After the customary double playing of the Marcia Pontificia and L’inno di Mameli, Francis addressed the world with words which have since become famous and endeared him to the watching world.
Fratelli e sorelle, buonasera! Voi sapete che il dovere del conclave era di dare un vescovo a Roma. Sembra che i miei fratelli Cardinali sono andati a prenderlo quasi alla fine del mondo, ma siamo qui!
Brothers and sisters, good evening! You all know that the conclave’s task was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals went to get him from near the end of the world, but here we are!
It was a Wojtyla-esque move, recalling the future saint’s self-deprecating first address on 16 October 1978 (non so se potrei bene spiegarmi nella vostra– nostra— lingua italiana; se mi sbaglio mi corregerete). After a brief word of thanks, Francis’ first act of his pontificate was a most gracious one.
E prima di tutto, vorrei fare una preghiera per il nostro vescovo emerito Benedetto XVI. Preghiamo perché il Signore lo benedica e la Madonna lo custodisca.
And before anything else, I want to raise a prayer for our bishop emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray that the Lord bless him and that Our Lady protect him.
At mention of Benedict, the crowd lifted a hearty cheer for the old pontiff, much louder than the greeting which accompanied Tauran’s announcement.
Pater. Ave. Gloria.
Then, after asking the crowd to pray for him in silence, he took on the papal stole and pronounced his first blessing Urbi et Orbi— not chanted, as is customary– becoming the first known Pope who does not sing liturgically. Thus began a pontificate which continues to surprise. The runner-up in 2005 who begged the Cardinals not to oppose Ratzinger had now taken his place on the throne of Peter. What are some major themes emerging from his first year at the Church’s helm?
1. Curial reform
A project begun by Benedict XVI, Francis continues the streamlining of the Curia, especially consolidation of dicasteries and greater financial oversight and scrutiny. To aid in this monumental task, he has instituted an eight-man Council of Cardinals with whom he consults regularly. The goal of these consultations is to work towards the development of a new Apostolic Constitution to replace John Paul II’s now-dated Pastor Bonus. The current configuration of the Curia as laid down in that Constitution is a product of the Cold War era’s Montini-Wojtyla ostpolitik, in which considerations of international diplomacy– and thus the Secretariat of State– dominated both internal and external ecclesiastical affairs. This resulted in a decades-long consolidation of power centered on Vatican diplomats considered favorites of John Paul’s Cardinal Secretaries of State (first Casaroli, then Sodano). Francis is breaking this circle of power, pushing the Secretariat of State towards a pure focus on diplomacy, while leaving the coordination of inter-dicasterial efforts to a moderator curiae.
His appointment of Pietro Parolin to succeed Tarcisio Bertone as Secretary of State is a clear move towards this reform. With this choice, Francis is exhibiting his preference toward pastors who “shine with priestly identity”. Parolin is a seasoned diplomat who, however, has not fallen into the tendency of many of his confreres to succumb to la mentalità dei principi condemned by Francis in his first address to the Vatican diplomatic service. Cardinal Parolin has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay away from internal Church affairs and, it seems he is the right choice for Francis’ reform. In recent days, the Pope has appointed Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello (another diplomat) as moderator curiae.
In the realm of finances, the Pope has vigorously taken steps to conform Vatican monetary practices to international transparency standards, to establish more stringent oversight of the Istituto per le Opere Religiose (IOR; commonly mislabeled as “the Vatican Bank”), and to unite the IOR and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) under a Secretariat of the Economy. George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop-emeritus of Sydney, is now Prefect of that Secretariat.
Just as important but not mentioned in mainstream media coverage is Pope Francis’ continuation of Benedict XVI’s “house cleaning”. What Cardinal Ratzinger condemned as sporcizia nella Chiesa in his now famous Good Friday 2005 Via Crucis reflections is no less a target of Bergoglio’s pulizia. Priests who break their vows of celibacy and abuse children ruin the Church’s credibility, endanger souls, and destroy lives– Francis is keenly aware of this, praising Benedict’s efforts to purify the priesthood from unchaste, homosexual, and abusive behavior. A reform of the Church begins with addressing the crisis of the priesthood; Benedict blazed this trail, first as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which considered abuse against minors as delicts against the faith), and then as Pope, when, among other measures taken, he reduced 384 priests to the lay state in the last two years of his pontificate for such crimes. Papa Bergoglio confirmed these efforts almost as soon as he ascended to the papacy, and encouraged the CDF to continue on the path established by his predecessor.
2. Andate nelle periferie
Speaking of reforming the mentality in the priesthood: “Go to the outskirts!” Francis launched this cry during his now-iconic homily from his first Chrism Mass (Holy Thursday 2013). Though it was primarily addressed to his priests of the Diocese of Rome, it was also a clarion call to all pastors throughout the Church, exhorting them to leave their comfort zones, to go into the areas where God’s mercy is most needed– among the poor, the disadvantaged, the troubled, the persecuted. In Italian, the word periferia has as much a sociological connotation as a geographical meaning. In Europe’s large cities, the suburbs are the districts of the poor and disenfranchised– the margins of society, far from the economic and political “centers”. By going to the “outskirts”, Francis wants his priests to immerse themselves in the daily joys and hopes, pains and anguish of their flocks, and not to enclose themselves in a sort of “priestly caste”, with pretenses of status and privilege. Che siate pastori con l’odore del pecore— may you [priests] be shepherds with the scent of the sheep. Hours after that Chrism Mass, he showed the world exactly what he meant: at the Casal del Marmo juvenile prison, he celebrated Mass of the Lord’s Supper and– not uncontroversially– washed the feet of twelve inmates, Catholics and non-Christians alike.
3. The “Fantasy Francis“
Perhaps we can label this phenomenon with a phrase pronounced by the Pope himself: la mitologia di Papa Francesco. This “mythology” is an unintended consequence proceeding from the first two themes we examined. In a world whose thought-patterns are increasingly defined by secular Left-vs.-Right hermeneutics, gross mischaracterizations are unfortunately bound to occur.
Robert Morlino, Bishop of Madison, WI, presented this trend using an insightful analogy: just as modern secular culture created a “Spirit of Vatican II” totally alien to the Council itself, today a “Spirit of Pope Francis” is being disseminated through the modern mass media. He is portrayed as a revolutionary, liberalizing leader, who represents a break with Benedict, who represents the old, reactionary, oppressive Church; his quotations are routinely taken out of context, especially in English-language media, and twisted to conform to secularizing tendencies. Yet when he calls himself “a loyal son of the Church”, when he affirms that remarried divorcees cannot receive the Eucharist, when he forcefully preaches about the dangerous power of the Satan and the need for the Sacrament of Confession, when he outright says that “marriage is between a man and a woman” (though one should not judge gays who seek the Lord), when he confirms the Apostolic Visitation against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the mass media turns a blind eye.
Yet this “loyal son of the Church” is well aware of the limits of his own authority when it comes to the doctrine of the faith. As Benedict XVI underlined so often, Francis knows that the clergy are guardians and custodians of doctrine, not its masters. More and more we find liberal disappointment in Pope Francis’ pontificate, and in the next year, we should expect such disappointment to grow. Offended by this false image of his public persona, he recognizes that “Francis-mania will not last long”, because as he remains a humble steward of the Church’s precious faith, the world eventually turn on him for remaining true to the dignity of his office.
Let us pray that Francis continue to remain unshaken in his faith so that, despite the vicissitudes of the modern world, despite “the allure of the Sirens“, he will resolutely guide the Barque of Peter ever closer to the Lord.
Deus, omnium fidelium pastor et rector,
famulum tuum Franciscum
quem Pastorem Ecclesiae tuae praeesse voluisti
da ei, quaesumus, verbo et exemplo
quibus praeest, proficere
ut ad vitam una cum grege sibi credito
perveniat sempiternam. Per Christum Dominum nostrum.