The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope

Pope Francis has been great fodder for sensational news stories ever since he became pope. Will we see more of the same in 2017?

In 2016 news outlets announced that he was considering introducing deaconesses – female deacons – to the church, next stop female priests. Pope Francis merely said that he had wondered about the role of deaconesses too, and it should be studied.  I have difficulty in understanding on how one can extrapolate a comment on studying the issue to having  deaconesses and priests!  It does make for good headlines though.

I think it is important not to take what what reads in the media at face value.  The various Catholic news sources may not be as bad, though they have their own biases, as can be seen in the recent furor over the ‘dubia’.  Translations of complete transcripts however are more reliable, such as the recent one of Pope Francis’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia. By the way, that Christmas address is good reading as an overview of his guiding principles and actions.  Still, we can take this investigation in learning about Pope Francis even further.

What do Pope Francis’ words/deeds mean? Where are they coming from? To really understand a man, or in this case the Pope, it is instructive to learn about his life, and Austen Ivereigh does a great job in his 2014 book, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. I enjoyed many insights into this fascinating leader of my church.  To whet your appetite a few tidbits are given below.

What was Pope Francis’s childhood like?  How and why did he decide to become a priest?

Learn about how this former vehement opponent of the charismatic members of the church changed his mind and why(291-292). And what formative experiences have teased out the delineation that Pope Francis now makes about the role of the episcopal and papal authorities. (Not one unified uniform church but one church in reconciled diversity?)

Find out about the then Argentinean bishop’s role in the 1968 regional conference of Latin American bishops.  This elaborated on the preferential orientation to the poor – the origin of liberation theology – to liberation not only from sin but sinful social structures that kept the majority poor. It brings to mind my recent post on the thoroughly Catholic AND.  

Then, what role does Pope Francis think the magestrium and the people of the church should play?  This should be of interest to all those who critique the Catholic church as an unwieldy bureaucratic organization.  Again we can look to this life story to see the people centered focus. That the activity of the church should not only be directed to the people but also be derived from the people. The people show how the church teaches, the magestrium what it teaches (111).

All Catholics are part of the church, and it is our participation in it, facilitated by this “radical reformer”, that makes it what it is each and every day. I do my part to understand what is happening and why, rather than simply relying on 2 second media sound bites. In doing so I am excited energized encouraged in many ways.  

Be BOLD, Be CATHOLIC.