News of Pope Francis’ deteriorating health has given way to speculation about different scenarios. The point now is no longer to identify a successor to Pope Francis but to understand how to fix the governance problems that have occurred during this pontificate.

Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he had been elected with the mandate to carry out reforms. But are these reforms effective, welcome, and understood? Or do they constitute an overreach, and therefore the next pontificate will be led to correct them, to amend them?

It is not a question for which there is an easy answer. Pope Francis has tried to generate change in many ways. But, until now, his papacy has been anti-institutional and informal, and a centralizing papacy capable of making decisions against everything and everyone.

The Pope does not have a circle of loyalists. Whenever he attracts the necessary allies to achieve a goal around him, he is always the center of attention. If you read Pope Francis with the classic categories, you cannot understand him. Instead, he should be read under different standards which go beyond the criteria that have always guided the Church.

Breaking old habits is sometimes necessary, and indeed the cardinals, when they elected Pope Francis, thought it was a necessary jolt. They probably didn’t realize how far this overhaul would go.

Even Pope Francis, in a recent interview, commented almost ironically that they probably hadn’t thought about what they were getting into. In any case, many thought of a short pontificate. In the pre-conclave, Andrea Tornielli, one of the few who mentioned the name of the archbishop of Buenos Aires as a possible papal candidate, recalled in one of his pre-conclave pieces a saying that “three or four years of Bergoglio would be useful.” Ten years have passed.

After ten years, Pope Francis, first of all, leaves a college of cardinals renewed by almost two-thirds. Speculation is already starting about another consistory within the year, given that the number of cardinal electors will drop to 114 by the end of the year. This college of cardinals, however, is divided, rarely consulted except when there are personal reasons or sympathies, and above all, is made up of cardinals that are difficult to recognize outside Church circles.

There hasn’t been a real generational change, and great characters have not succeeded the great personalities, making everything more uncertain. Because the cardinals vote for who they know and consider authoritative, with rare exceptions.

Bergoglio was no exception because the campaign for him had started much earlier, despite maintaining a low profile for the candidacy before the media. Indeed, perhaps for that very reason.

However, the new cardinals chosen by Pope Francis do not seem to fully deliver. At the local level, conferences of bishops have generally not chosen cardinals created by Francis to guide them or as points of reference, with rare exceptions.

It’s not just the case for places that seem “recalcitrant,” like the United States. The appointment of Bishop Mariano Crociata as president of COMECE (the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union) was a sign that even the bishops in Europe, where the reforming impulses of Francis are exploited, are looking elsewhere. At another European bishops’ group, the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco was president for five years with resounding consensus, even though it was clear to everyone that the Pope did not love him.

For some time, the institutions in the Church have been looking for “quiet revolutions” to address some situations. It is a model of self-protection, which does not place itself in disobedience with the Pope, but shows the Pope which lines they deem right to follow.

They take what they see fit from the Pope but seek a calm, non-revolutionary leadership that keeps the institutions firm. In a world lacking intellectual peaks, bishops would be satisfied with good bishops and not champions.

It is an excellent theme: are champions of the reform, great proclaimers of revolutions, needed, or simple priests? And, above all, doesn’t proclaiming reforms at all costs lead to not making any reforms or to making reforms just for the sake of it?

The question also applies to the Pope’s reforms. Coincidentally, in the week the Pope feels ill, there is also the noisy exit of the Jesuit Hans Zollner from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he founded. Beyond the general and personal problems, a statement by Zollner highlighted the issue of the Commission itself being included in the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith without anything having been established regarding its work and dependence on it.

In short, there is an incomplete reform that worked well on paper but needs various adjustments. And it is these that the Pope does not think about. He is not even concerned that a commission under a dicastery is headed by a cardinal with the same rank as the head of the dicastery itself.

Pope Francis, as we know, does not care about these details. But these are the details that change the language of the institution, and this is a language that has formed over the centuries.

The institution thus seems to be set aside in the name of a generational change that does not come from the institution and that has not been designed for the institution. The result is also a change of vocabulary, ceremonial but also real, and therefore a difference in the substance of things.

Only that everything appears rootless except for some impromptu statements by Pope Francis.

In short, the fact remains that perhaps the Church has not fully understood the message of Pope Francis. But did he make himself understandable?


2 Responses to Pope Francis, has the Church embraced him?

  1. [...] Gagliarducciwww.mondayvatican.comLundi 3 avril [...]

  2. James Scott scrive:

    Whilst the article is a summary of some of the many failed aspects of the current pontificate, the casual observation by its author that a bishop was elected to a senior post even though ‘it was clear to everyone that the Pope did not love him’ highlights a depth of Christian dissonance in the Vatican which still, after more than a decade, takes my breath away

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