At the time of this writing, we do not know if the speculations on the possible grand gesture of Pope Francis in L’Aquila will become a reality. It is said that Pope Francis will renounce the pontificate. He will present a reform of the vacant see that will somehow allow him to influence his successor. It is said that the Pope will project the Church towards the future. Of all this, however, there are no confirmations, only speculations. And it is uncertain that something will happen at the end of the extraordinary Consistory of 29-30 August.
Whether or not it is about to bid farewell, Pope Francis’ pontificate has received several shocks in the past week. These shocks testify that, in any case, Pope Francis is losing that deposit of sympathy that the press had given him up to now, and the trust of many men of the Church. Of course, it can be temporary, and it always happens in significant transitions. However, putting the events together can help provide a more general reading.
At the general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke off-the-cuff about the war in Ukraine, committing a not insignificant diplomatic slight. The Pope placed attackers and victims on the same level and then linked the assassination of Darya Dugina in Moscow to the war. These were almost imprudent words, given that at the moment, it has not been established who committed the attack and why – despite Moscow’s official version, which left many doubts.
Pope Francis’s words have aroused very harsh protests from the Ukrainian Ambassador to the Holy See, Andriy Yurash, and various representatives from Ukraine, ecclesiastical and not. Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of Vatican News, spoke on the Ukrainian-language portal to explain and contextualize the Pope’s words. But in the meantime, Ukraine has summoned the nuncio to Kyiv to the foreign ministry to protest.
It is not the first time that speaking off the cuff, Pope Francis underestimates or does not consider the consequences of his actions. Returning from his trip to Canada, he claimed that he did not use the word “genocide” to refer to the situation of indigenous Canadians because he had not thought about it. He said he remembered that it was genocide for him anyway. His words are dangerous and also harmful to the Church in Canada, which now finds itself in the difficult position of being accused without having done anything. The issue of residential schools, and Native American forced assimilation programs, was a state issue. And now, how are the bishops going to develop a counter-narrative?
This is just the latest in a series of examples that could be given and which illustrate an approach: Pope Francis speaks in a personal capacity, but also on behalf of the Church, yet he is not very interested in practicing the virtue of prudence. On the contrary, he mostly wants to show his opinion and to do that with strong tones, as if this would have more impact on people.
This is also the case in his relations with his confreres. Just think of the harsh tones he has always used with the bishops of the Italian Conference of Bishops but also with other religious and confreres in his homilies and speeches.
The second slight that occurred last week was the decision of the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill not to participate in the meeting of religious leaders in Kazakhstan. The Pope, who was also going specifically to be able to meet the Patriarch, thus finds himself with a trip ready to go but with its most important meeting left out.
It is interesting to note that Kirill has not communicated an opt-out from a meeting. On the contrary, he has withdrawn altogether from participating in the whole conference, although his participation had been confirmed on May 1.
Why does Kirill prefer to postpone a meeting with the Pope? Because first of all, the Moscow Patriarchate wants a personal meeting and not a meeting on the sidelines of a congress for all the religious leaders of the world.
Also, Kirill is still offended by the Pope’s words during their videoconference. On that occasion, while listening to all the alleged reasons why Russia had to go to war against Ukraine, the Pope blurted out against the Patriarch: “We are not state clerics.” Words that almost led to a cooling of relations.
Kirill’s defection demonstrates how Pope Francis’ fluid diplomacy, based on a personal relationship, has its strengths and limitations. Now, the Pope will be in Kazakhstan at a non-Vatican event, where he will privately meet all the religious leaders present but not the one he cared most about.
Finally, there is the Consistory. The cardinals look forward to the first time when they will finally be able to be together and get to know each other after six consistories for the creation of new cardinals. But there is a lot of disappointment:
1. There are no group conversations.
2. They are divided into linguistic groups.
3. A plenary session is previewed only at the last day, but no one knows if he will be able to speak. .
Yet many cardinals are preparing interventions, also questioning the unquestionable apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium. Moreover, the Pope’s personalist style has awakened many of those who had been ultimately marginalized.
These three situations strongly question the personalist style of Pope Francis. It seems that there is a growing detachment from the Pope, who had instead had moments of maximum influence at the time of the drafting of Laudato Si’.
The honeymoon with the media and public opinion, as well as with other institutions, now seems to be over. But is this the true face of Pope Francis? Or are they just accidents on the way?