January 9, 2024 Editor

A Few Thoughts On: Pope Francis in 2024 – a year in God’s time

His biographer says the Pope is alive, alert, calm and very much in charge. His greatest test in the year ahead will be how successfully he is able to hold the tension between truth and mercy.

The Tablet04 January 2024

The Tablet

by Austen Ivereigh

WN: Is the Pope amongst the wisest Christian leaders alive today? I vote YES! And I add: one of the greatest!

In the article highlighted, the biographer writes:

To them, the militant conservative Christian party seems pharisaical, content to ignore the gospel of mercy in order to pursue its war on relativism.

Such a “pharisaical option for the marginalized (the least of these!)”  (pacepreferential option for the poor“) is tragically ubiquitous in the world today–a monstrous presence never seen before in my lifetime of 75 years. It has no place in the Church which follows what brilliant American theologian James Alison (himself with a homosexual orientation) dubs the pacific mimesis of Christ, as seen in my partial book review of The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes.

The article’s writer further makes a profoundly insightful observation–in which there is great hope:

In an age of growing distrust and rejection of democratic institutions as remote and unaccountable, and at a time of polarisation, populism and post-truth, what the world’s largest global institution does to re-order its internal culture through listening and consensus is being watched carefully, not least because the Church, like the world, is increasingly multi-polar and diverse.

Amen.

excerpts:

The opposition manoeuvres in early 2023 had a consolidating effect on Francis.

When you consider that this time last year Francis’ opponents were salivating over what they were convinced was his imminent resignation, 2023 now looks like a remarkable one for the Pope and his reforms. Expect no less from 2024, a year in which Francis will be even more prophetic in speaking out against war and populism, and in defence of migrants and the care of Creation, and will press home, above all, the pastoral conversion of the Church.

The opposition to his pontificate remains furious and well-resourced, but is these days mostly confined to small circles in mutual disarray. In January 2023, those circles were busy mobilising in Rome, anticipating a conclave. Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s secretary, published his memoir about the former pope even as Benedict lay in state in St Peter’s Basilica, taking catty swipes at Francis and disclosing private conversations intended to exaggerate differences between the two popes’ visions.

In the conservative Catholic mind, the papacy should be leading the culture war against liberal agendas on abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage, the trans movement, ecology and migration. Francis knows that yoking the Church to the culture war in this way would be disastrous, and that radical traditionalism does not speak for ordinary Catholics, whose voice has been heard through the synod on synodality.”
Then the 81-year-old Australian cardinal George Pell, who died suddenly after hip surgery at a Rome hospital, was outed as the anonymous author of a vicious anti-Francis “Demos” pamphlet that had circulated even as Pell was praising Francis in public. The Spectator then ran an article that he had given them, deploring the global synod on synodality as a “toxic nightmare”. Shortly afterwards, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the doctrine chief sacked by Francis back in 2017 for undermining the Pope’s teaching on marriage and family, published an acidic book laying out, in essence, an alternative pontificate to Francis’.

This is not a liberalisation of doctrine but the embrace of pastoral prudence and discernment. Most Catholics recognise in gay relationships (and the call for same-sex marriage) not self-indulgent hedonism but the same opening to God-given virtues (fidelity, loyalty, love) they see in  Christian marriage. . . But – at least in the West – they are scandalised less by same-sex unions than by the shunning of people in loving relationships. To them, the militant conservative Christian party seems pharisaical, content to ignore the gospel of mercy in order to pursue its war on relativism.

Rumours had been circulating that the Pope had a condition that was being covered up, and was only waiting to bury Benedict before standing down. The missives of Gänswein, Müller and Pell were designed to shape a conclave expected last March. Asked by journalists on his way back from South Sudan in February whether the death of Benedict had created a rift in the Church, Francis said: “I think Benedict’s death was instrumentalised by people wanting to score points. The people who instrumentalise such a good person are people without ethics. They are people who belong to a party, not to the Church.” The Pope didn’t have to spell out whom he was talking about.

What Francis is reflecting is this . . . dream of “a Church that more fully lives a Christological paradox: boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance through its pastoral and discerning accompaniment”. . . The working document of the October [2023] assembly of bishops in Rome distilled the same idea by quoting Psalm 85, asking how the promise that “love and truth will meet” can be made credible.
In the course of 2023 his patience ran out with many members of the “party”. After sending Gänswein back to Germany, he ordered an investigation into a notorious radical-­traditionalist, pro-Trump bishop in Texas with a noxious anti-papal Twitter feed. The removal  of Joe Strickland as Bishop of Tyler was followed in November by the removal of Vatican privileges from the US traditionalist cardinal Raymond Burke, who met the Pope in the library of the Apostolic Palace last week. Media reports said that Francis had moved against his critics. But he doesn’t mind critics. What he objects to is their bad faith and the resources they put into turning Catholics against Rome, fomenting schism.

. . . the Church was for all – “todos, todos, todos!” – and that its welcome was not conditional on a person first changing. Instead, he has explained, the Christian community welcomes everyone, and each person finds their “way forward”, growing step by step in prayer and in dialogue with “pastoral workers”. . . (taking the Church out of the ghetto of beleaguered moralism while avoiding the temptation to accommodate Catholic doctrine to liberal modernity, is for Francis key to the Church’s future.) –Pope Francis in Lisbon, World Youth Day, August 2023

In the conservative Catholic mind, the papacy should be leading the culture war against liberal agendas on abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage, the trans movement, ecology and migration. Francis knows that yoking the Church to the culture war in this way would be disastrous, and that radical traditionalism does not speak for ordinary Catholics, whose voice has been heard through the synod on synodality. In 2024, expect more moves against those who claim a special charism of authority above that of St Peter’s successor.

What Francis is reflecting is this desire for a Church that is attentive to the realities of people’s lives. The global summary of the national synod syntheses in October 2022 quoted the England and Wales report’s dream of  “a Church that more fully lives a Christological paradox: boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance through its pastoral and discerning accompaniment”. The call has perdured through the synod’s various stages. The working document of the October assembly of bishops in Rome distilled the same idea by quoting Psalm 85, asking how the promise that “love and truth will meet” can be made credible.

Please click on: Pope Francis in 2024 – a year in God’s time

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Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.