Pope Francis is rushing to establish his legacy. At least, he appears more and more to be in a rush to leave a legacy. A great book in many languages on his life and the historical events that characterized it has already been announced, with a marketing push that is really unprecedented for a pope. Francis has also let it be known – in yet another interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa – that he will be changing the funeral rites for pontiffs and has already made arrangements for his burial in the Roman and papal basilica of Saint Mary Major.

Not only.

This same week, a letter from the pope to the employees of the Secretariat for the Economy was made known, in which he reiterated the validity of the economic reforms and highlighted guidelines for investments. That letter from the pope was published almost simultaneously with another letter, this time from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who — in another act of unprecedented interference — reiterated to the Vatican promoter of Justice his desire to see the Vatican trial conclude with convictions for the culprits.

The aforementioned letter from the Secretary of State is so irregular that it can only be explained as a response to the will of the pope, or at least to what the cardinal secretary of state believed to be the will of the pope.

These news items from last week signal a further acceleration in the Pope’s desire to “package” the work done and keep it safe. There is an intention to indicate a path and make it permanent.

Ultimately, the frequent responses of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on the most disparate issues also respond to this logic. Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez consistently links his decisions with reference not only to the ordinary magisterium of Pope Francis but also to past declarations of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Thelatest of these documents, on access to communion for single mothers, really drives the point home.

Pope Francis, who celebrated his 87th birthday on December 17, is one of the oldest popes in history.

Pope Francisis also a pope who has tied his teaching tightly to his person and his personal decisions. It isn’t quite right to say that his pontificate has been anti-doctrinal. None of his teachings have been contrary to established teaching – certainly not in words – and all of them are susceptible of orthodox construction.

Instead, Francis has conducted a personalist pontificate.

All his decisions refer to his experience of himself, his way of being, and his point of view. The Church and its teachings seem to be put in the background with Pope Francis. Everything refers, inevitably, to him.

It is indeed a different approach.

Also, Pope Francis links the reforms to his personal decisions, which he then justifies by saying that he had had a mandate and that he respects the will of those who entrusted him with the mandate. The reform of the curia, for example, would be a desire that emerged during the pre-conclave meetings. But was this a reform of the Curia? Was it an even bolder reform of the curia? Was it the idea of putting the curia aside, as Pope Francis did, cutting off all the intermediate bodies?

The reform of the curia aimed at giving less weight to the central government.

The first sacrifice on this altar is the Vatican Secretariat of State – increasingly marginalized by the pope – goes hand-in-hand with the theme of synodality, also developed immediately by Pope Francis. We are now on a great synodal path desired by the pope, yet Pope Francis himself said that the request to reflect on the synodal path was only in second place in the polls asking which theme to choose for the synod.

The suspicion is that the pope uses the themes to justify his conduct of the government, not vice versa. He has a modus procedendi, but he does not have a strategic vision. Reforms happen through trial and error, with steps forward and steps backward and great confusion on the part of those who have to apply the reform or even understand it.

Pope Francis probably knows that what he left behind is at most provisional – something nuclear – an idea from which to make some sort of start. Even the reform of the curia was ad interim, and has already been amended several times by special legislation, only two years after its publication. In Francis’s way of doing things, structural reforms are temporary. He changes them frequently, often through motu proprio and apostolic letters.

Many of the Pope’s teachings are also provisional, starting with respecting the Second Vatican Council, which can be interpreted and applied in various ways.

It is crucial, however, to recognize that the recent acceleration follows a wind-up of many years. It may have become unmistakably discernible with the death of Benedict XVI, but it did not start there. The death of Benedict XVI made it possible to complete a generational change. Still, the letter Traditionis custodes, which effectively abolished the liberalization of the traditional rite desired by Benedict XVI, preceded the death of the former pope. .

Pope Francis sent the letter, gave it a univocal interpretation, and forced everyone to conform to it, even those dioceses that bore great fruit after the liberalization of the traditional rite.

With the Vatican trial at its conclusion, while everyone doubted both the soundness of the pope’s economic reforms and the basic justice of the prosecutorial apparatus Francis established for the purpose of bringing Cardinal Becciu et al. to trial in a Vatican City criminal court, here is something that puts these reforms in black and white.

Another example of the Pope’s desire to lead the debate is that he spoke at the synod, in his native Spanish, offering assurances of the quality of the process, effectively silencing all the contrary or otherwise perplexed voices on the synodal path.

Pope Francis has now decided to take a further step.

Changing the Pope’s funeral rites means putting a hand on a tradition that has grown over millennia. The Pope’s funeral rite is not for the Pope’s magnificence but to allow people to pay homage to Peter and to put the whole Church in prayer for the election of Peter’s successor. Simplifying the ritual means considering the ritual as a way to show privilege. This is certainly not the case.

Pope Francis used a television interview to announce his decisions to change the funeral rite and the decision to be buried in Saint Mary Major. One may be forgiven the impression thatit is by way of interviews – increasingly frequent – that Francis wants to be present in the debate. Francis wants people to talk about him. He also wants to say what he thinks from a platform that stands outside the ecclesiastical world. Perhaps this is because he thinks that such a platform will protect him from accusations that come from quarters inside, where his intra-ecclesiastical maneuvering is better understood.

The result, however, is the story of a Church that exists only in extreme situations.

One wonders if single mothers feel discouraged from receiving communion due to the rigidity of some pastors and faithful. This may be true in some cases, but the truth is that communion is practically never denied in small communities unless there is a serious scandal.

One wonders if all priests are sick of rigidity, if there are so many priests who are backward, and if it is enough to concede that there are many good priests, so to avoid offending the pastors who have been present in the area for years .

One wonders if the Church that Pope Francis is fighting against is not the current structure but the idea that the Pope has of the structure—a notion, too, which in some cases does not correspond to reality. The Pope solves the problem at its root, centralizing everything on himself.

We are, after all, in the statio orbis of April 27, 2020, when the pope ascended the churchyard of St. Peter’s Basilica alone, at the height of the pandemic. The pope was there, hombre solitario y final.

The Church was missing.

The fundamental question is: will the pope’s legacy be safe in this way? Or is it just more in doubt?


3 Responses to Pope Francis, a birthday that smacks of budgets

  1. James Scott scrive:

    ‘…with a marketing push that is really unprecedented for a pope.’

    But this papacy has been defined by ‘marketing…unprecedented for a pope’

    It is, in a nutshell, the essence of the church of francis

    When challenged to justify any of his outrageous proposals(and when he deigns to respond to the lower orders who presume to question a bishop; the Bishop of Rome, at that!) he never fails to quote a precedent; established by none other than:

    Papa Bergoglio

    Pure farce.

  2. John Smith scrive:

    Regarding Pope Francis’s new Papal funeral right, does that include his mortal remains being tossed in the back of a utility van as was done to Pope Benedict? It’s only a 15 minute drive to papal basilica of Saint Mary Major, especially if done in the dead of night.

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