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Pope Francis: Delight of the World

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Jorge Mario Bergoglio is fast becoming one of the most popular persons on the planet, a global celebrity of the greatest appeal. In the eyes of a diverse many he can do no wrong. Hans Küng, Leonardo Boff, Roger Cardinal Mahoney, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, and Jane Fonda have all spoken glowingly of him. The National Catholic Reporter, the flagship publication of liberal Catholicism in the U.S., regularly features “Francis: the Comic Strip” and maintains a blog called “The Francis Chronicles,” designed, it appears, to coo over the Pope’s every movement and hang on to his every word. According to the Daily Beast, “People all around the world seem to be falling in love with Pope Francis and there’s really no question why. He’s challenging traditional orthodoxies and drawing new crowds. From taking selfies to dedicating sand sculptures, the Pope’s fan base could rival Biebs’.” The Huffington Post, no friend of the Church, has hailed the “punking of the papacy” by Francis while denouncing Benedict XVI as a particularly sad example of the outmoded papal model Francis is leaving behind. Well, they all might be on to something: What Pope Francis’s is saying won’t rock the boat of contemporary culture.

Guesswork is no longer necessary to discern the vision of Pope Francis. In recent months, the Holy Father has defined his priorities and reiterated his vision for the Church of the near future. He’s made it clear that he’s not merely distancing himself from his predecessors; in many cases, he has indicated that he’s actively pursuing a reversal of stance with respect to Benedict XVI and John Paul II (see the previous New Oxford Note, “Pope Francis & the Primacy of Conscience”). This might best be exemplified by his comment to journalist Eugenio Scalfari that he has the “humility and ambition” to complete the unfinished work of Vatican II. The Pope’s implication is that his predecessors did not. (N.B. To stand up and declare that one has “humility” is the opposite of being humble.)

The agenda of Pope Francis could be aptly expressed as reforming the “reform of the reform.” Lest anyone forget, the “reform of the reform” set forth by John Paul II and Benedict XVI sought to curb the innovations that were falsely undertaken in the name of the Council. Consider all the experimentation in pastoral style, in the liturgy, and in Catholic catechesis and formation; the emphasis on ecumenism, dialogue, and the seamless garment; the destruction of traditional churches and the attack on popular piety and practices — all supposedly mandated by Vatican II. The Pope’s suggestion that we haven’t yet endured enough of this sort of experimentation, that we have not yet grown into the mature, modern-minded Catholics supposedly envisioned by the Council, is for some a bitter pill to swallow.

Where, one might ask, has Bergoglio been during these post-conciliar decades? Could it be that he’s been trapped in a Jesuit bubble, co-mingling with like-minded ideologues who put subjective post-conciliar extremism ahead of the good of the Church? In the words of Italian theologian Pietro De Marco, “Pope Francis shows himself to be the typical religious of the Society of Jesus in its recent phase, converted by the Council in the years of formation, especially by what I call the ‘external Council,’ the Vatican II of militant expectations” (La Repubblica, Oct. 7).

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