The week that begins today and ends with the creation of 20 new cardinals may represent the turning point of Pope Francis’ pontificate. The choices of the new cardinals not only show Pope Francis’ sensitivity toward the world’s peripheries and a certain pastoral approach, they also indicate a change concerning the pivotal issues at stake in this papacy. This change cannot be underestimated.

Before the arrival of Pope Francis, the main themes of discussion in the Church have had solid theological roots. But even the question concerning the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, as well as for homosexual couples – both of which were the object of a heated debate at the last Synod of Bishops – are in the end based on theological foundations, and deal with the application of doctrine. Moreover, even the criticisms aimed at the pope’s plan for curial reform – the other issue at currently at stake in this pontificate – are founded on theological and juridical grounds.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis demonstrates that he is moving on completely different grounds. It is not by chance that one of his favourite quotes about ecumenism is taken from the conversation between Bl. Paul VI and the Patriarch of Costantinople, Athenagoras: “If we were to close ourselves off in a room together and leave the theologians outside, we would accomplish ecumenism in one hour.” In similar fashion, leaving theological discussions aside, Pope Francis wants to propose a model of a Church that evangelizes through attraction, and not because of the strength of its concepts.

Pope Francis’ choices in two consistories mirror this intention. Beyond choosing a few candidates with strong institutional ties, Pope Francis has selected as cardinals mainly bishops whose primary interest is not found in some or other theological position, but in pastoral practice. Pope Francis’ Church bypasses theological discussion and aims at going straight to the heart of the people.

All of these new cardinals will bring their peculiar perspectives to the consistory the Pope has convened to discuss reform of the Roman Curia. The reform seems to be stuck. The first comprehensive draft was highly criticized by Vatican dicasteries, and there is a real risk that the structure will remain as it is for the moment, in expectation of a definitive change that will not take place before the end of this year – as Pope Francis has admitted. Nevertheless, another option that one insider designates “St. Peter’s option” may be explored.

It can be explained this way. During the construction of the current Basilica of St. Peter in the 16th century, the old basilica was only gradually dismantled, step by step, while it was replaced with the new building. This is the way Pope Francis works, by establishing new structures around the currently existing structure which is then removed once the new structure is complete.

Through this lens we can better understand the process by which the Vatican at first hired expensive external commissions and then followed this step with the establishment of the Secretariat for the Economy, the Council for the Economy and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. These bodies were born without statutes and they set out to work while waiting for their specific powers and competences to be drafted.

This is way curial reform will be carried out. According to sources, during their recent ad limina visit, the Lithuanian bishops asked Pope Francis about the reform. He replied that two super-congregations, respectively, for Justice and Charity and Laity and Family will be established. How the competences of the many minor dicasteries that will be subsumed into these new Congregations will be arranged is yet to be decided. But establishing them is a first step toward the much anticipated Curia reform.

The rationale is that the Curia structure must be reduced in size in order to be closer to people. Beyond the theological discussions that characterized the major curial reform begun under Bl. Paul VI and concluded under St. John Paul II, Pope Francis’ reform is mostly intended to be functional in order to extend the voice of the Church to “the end of the world” from which the Pope hails. For Pope Francis there is no need for structures, instead there is a need for a credible witness.

This rationale is reflected in his choices of new cardinals. Up till now, several keys to reading Pope Francis’ picks over the last two years have been suggested. It was argued that he wanted to privilege the geographical peripheries of the Church, or that he wanted to combat careerism, and that for this reason he was not awarding the red hat to bishops in dioceses that have always had a cardinal by tradition, or else that he wanted to internationalize the College of Cardinals.

All of these reasons are intriguing and even true if one glances at the cardinals’ profiles from the perspective of their assignments or their geographical locations Nevertheless, these interpretations may be misleading and may even betray Pope Francis’ spirit.

Broadly speaking, the Pope selects bishops whom he appreciates for their pastoral touch. In a recent interview, the archbishop Soane Patita Mafia of Tonga, a surprise pick among the new cardinals, emphasized that he will take with him to Rome the cry of poor of his country. He is not the only one. Cardinal-designate Francis Kriengsak Kovithanij of Bangkok, Thailand  is working to foster small Christian communities in a country where Christians are a very small minority.

Pope Francis got to know many of these new cardinals during the last Synod of Bishops. He appreciated their human touch and their pastoral sensitivity. More than what they currently do in their homeland, the impression they gave when they took the floor at the synod, the way they defended and supported mercy and closeness to people, were crucial to their selection.

Still, no theological preference seems to drive Pope Francis’ choices. Instead one finds a human touch, a peculiar instinct that guides the Pope in understanding who the prelates are with whom he feels more at ease.

Renunciation of worldliness may also imply for Pope Francis a renunciation of intellectual debate. Pope Francis wants shepherds with the smell of the sheep, and he had been clear about this since the beginning of his pontificate. Other qualities do not seem to matter that much to him; they seem to be mere add-ons that he applies to his discussion of bishops when it suits him to do so.

These new cardinals (Pope Francis has chosen some 40 to date) will have an impact in this coming week’s consistory on curial reform. Now that the Council of Cardinals has met eight times, the Pope is seeking a turning point, and in order to bring this about he is filling the College of Cardinals with a considerable number of individuals whom he believes share his vision.

Although the reform issue might be solved with the so-called “St. Peter’s option,” the struggle over the upcoming Synod seems more complicated. Once again, Pope Francis’ intention is to free the Church from an over-dependence upon doctrine in order to find a pastoral approach that will bring the Church closer to people. But how can doctrine and pastoral practice be reconciled?

This continues to be a hotly debated topic. The discussion evidences a strange convergence between the Roman Curia and some local Churches, many of which, ironically speaking, are on the peripheries. Not by chance, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, underscored in an interview granted to the weekly magazine “La Settimana” that the strong points of the last synod of bishops were the doctrinal framework, the Gospel of the Family, and the push for young people to receive an education about love.

But these issues were included in the Synod’s final report only after the small groups (circuli minores) strongly criticized – and pushed for a substantial rewriting of – the Synod’s midterm report.

Cardinal Baldisseri’s words signalled that the Synod war has already begun, and that – in spite of the slogan “We don’t turn back” which accompanied the presentation of the next Synod’s guidelines – the majority of bishops does not endorse a pastoral practice that is completely detached from doctrine.

And Pope Francis would probably not support it either. The Pope is always very orthodox in his declarations. This fact has been demonstrated several times. The Pope backed the Slovakian bishops in their commitment to promote a referendum to defend the traditional family in their country. He invited Filipinos to be wary of the ideological colonization of the family. He expressed a strongly negative judgment over gender theory, which he also defined as ‘demonic’ during a meeting with Austrian bishop in an ad limina visit. Taken together these moments indicate that Pope Francis is anything but progressive.

So, who is the real Pope Francis? The one who supports liberal bishops and priests, or the one who speaks in an orthodox way? The answer may be more obvious than expected.

Simply put, for Pope Francis pastoral practice is more important than any given theological debate because the latter, in the end, may be no more than a worldly exercise. Perhaps his famous declaration about preferring a “poor Church for the poor” may also be read this way: a Church light in structure with limited philosophical debates and a great deal of pastoral love.

But this is not new. Benedict XVI spoke in almost the same terms about the need to escape worldliness and to move beyond the self-referentiality of ecclesial structures. And he underscored the value of mercy as is evidenced in the homily he delivered at the Mass for the inauguration of his petrine ministry. Time and again Pope Benedict preached about a Church that should not be constructed on ideas, but engaged in a lively evangelization effort.

Nevertheless, between these two popes a paradigm change is taking place. Pope Benedict was convinced that a solid theological background was needed so that the Church’s pastoral practice would be correct. In fact, the search for truth was pivotal in his pontificate. Pope Francis, on the other hand, sets aside any given theological problem in order to seek immediate, personal contact with people.

Bishop Eduardo Horacio Garcia, who was Cardinal Bergoglio’s auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires,  recounted shortly after Pope Francis’ election that “at the end of the Jubilee Year, for which Cardinal Bergoglio had called a missionary year, we priests of the archdiocese asked Cardinal Bergoglio to call a synod in order to discuss how to harvest the fruits of our mission and draft guidelines. But he responded that a synod was good only for producing useless documents, while the only thing we need to do is to continue our missionary efforts and to remain in a state of permanent mission.”

These words perhaps explain better than anything else the inner sense of this pontificate. Pope Francis is putting everyone in a state of permanent synod in order to understand each bishop’s perspectives. But the direction of his reforms will proceed from a pastoral approach, and nothing else. Perhaps this is the real change of paradigm.

26 Responses to Pope Francis: Will It Really Be a Revolution?

  1. Charles S scrive:

    “…the majority of bishops does not endorse a pastoral practice that is completely detached from doctrine.
    And Pope Francis would probably not support it either.”

    But it was Pope Francis who put Cardinal Baldisseri and Archbishop Forte in charge, and who declared that Cardinal Kasper’s was a “serene theology” done on one’s knees. I hope you are right, but pursuing the “pastoral” without any reference to doctrine (including explicit New Testament doctrine like the indissolubility of marriage or the necessity to partake of Communion worthily) will in effect render doctrine meaningless. And it is also a false mercy.

    • AJ Boyd scrive:

      Perhaps that is because Kasper et al’s solution is not completely detached from doctrine at all, but also makes the pastoral a priority over the ideological. Same orthodox faith, but with orthopraxis too.

    • Oldway scrive:

      Pope Francis is going around now to enforce his agenda that reason why he made a lot of confusions and controversies.Pray God will save the Church.

  2. I think you misunderstand how progressives operate. They tip their hats to traditional doctrinal formulations, but seek to undermine and alter it by ignoring its consequences in its practical (read “pastoral”) application.

    This was the method many modernists in the 1960s employed, and this is exactly what we are seeing now in the “Bergoglian Revolution.”

    • Matthew W. I. Dunn scrive:

      Repent, Fr. Cekada! It will be good for your priestly soul.

      • Bill Guentner scrive:

        Why? Can you explain?

        • I agree with you that doctrine cannot be defined ideological. On the other hand, I see that many are trying to stress that “a mere application of the doctrine” becomes ideological because it does not take into account the pastoral needs, especially the need to go toward people. This is a sort of rationale that can be detected in the 2015 Synod’s guidelines, in my view. So, I just detected it.

      • Gary Lockhart scrive:

        Sincere and humble penance would do you a lot of good as well, Dunn.

    • Christopher scrive:

      Dear Father Cekada, You are correct. From my experience in the pews I can add that the progressives always hate anything that is true. They always pretend to be so loving and caring about everybody else’s problems but in reality they slander those people that have confided in them by spreading slander and gossip.

    • Remnant Clergy scrive:

      Fr. Anthony is indeed correct on this matter. The real pope is Benedict XVI, while the Biblical False Prophet sits on the throne of Peter. If you think Vatican II is bad, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.” Watch how heresy will eventually be declared as dogma, as the pagan one world church will be started. Based on the Synod of 2014, expect the major push after the October 2015 Synod. In fact, the Lineamenta says to “avoid, in their responses, a formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine”

  3. Dcn. Joseph B. Gorini scrive:

    St. John the baptizer and Jesus, Himself, are models for a missionary Chruch – they both went about calling out “Repent”! And, as Jesus Ascended He commanded his followers to go out “teaching” others to observe all that He had commanded (Mt28:19-20. I believe that if we change the word “doctine” to “truth” we will have less confusion and less concern for where the Holy Father is leading us – the Lord, Himself, guaranteed that the Church will never be absent the Truth – the Spirit of Truth has taken up residence in the Church.

  4. Br. Alexis Bugnolo scrive:

    Fr. Anthony, you are correct in your observation.

    Not all Cardinals are on board with Francis, either…

  5. Widami scrive:

    I sense your discomfort with this pope. For the last couple of decades, I have been increasingly comfortable. The “church” was so well defined by documented doctrine and moral theology. All I had to do was conform to all of the rules and rituals, read scripture and the catechism, wish everyone else well and I was assured of heaven.

    Suddenly, Jorge Bergoglio burst upon the scene and ever since I have been displaced out of my comfort zone. I had become somewhat like the scribes and pharisees. Follow the rules, etc. But this new pope preached (and lived) the gospel. He asks me to emulate our loving Jesus. Just conforming to rules was no longer enough. Now I had to actually reach out with my life to others and especially to the “existential fringes” of society. I had to hug lepers and feed the poor and love all with whom I came into contact. He tells me that if I screw it up, that’s OK but keep living and loving. I have not once read of his abandoning doctrine (and I have been reading voraciously about him).

    Just as Jesus does, Jorge Bergoglio tells us to take a leap of faith and embrace those on the fringes. Invite them by example and word to Jesus and love. He does not say to embrace their values where such values contradict those of Christ but to embrace the person. Hug the leper.

    So many use an either/or way of defining people when a both/and is more suitable. This man Francis is neither left nor right; neither progressive nor conservative; he is apolitical; he loves Jesus with all his heart and he loves all and especially the poor. He tells us that it is in his contact with the poor that he encounters the Holy Spirit and he invites us to that same source of encounter with God.

    I am bracing for a tumultuous time with Jorge but am betting I will draw closer to Jesus as a result.

  6. Br. Alexis Bugnolo scrive:

    Still, another Cardinal believes Francis is about to promote an entirely new religion, divorced from truth

  7. Sygurd scrive:

    “for Pope Francis pastoral practice is more important than any given theological debate” But isn’t pastoral practice based on theological foundations? If I just wanted to help my neighbor I could simply join a charitable organization, not the Catholic Church. The Church is made or broken through theology, period.

    • Marietta319 scrive:

      “But isn’t pastoral practice based on theological foundations?”

      It seems not for Pope Francis; otherwise he wouldn’t be fielding surveys to see what people are thinking. To him, it seems, it’s the people, not the Church, who decide between right and wrong.

      Did Jesus survey the people before teaching that marriage between and man and a woman is indissoluble?

  8. MagesteriumMama scrive:

    I believe in the saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” That being said, likewise, compassion without Truth is false compassion. Lets pray Francis doesn’t forget about the “Truth” aspect. False compassion is what has led to the acceptance of abortion, same sex “marriage”, and the like. I know it wont start there but without sound doctrine its a slippery slope from compassion for divorced and remarried couples to almost anything people want to claim requires “compassion”. I have compassion for my kids when they make a huge mistake but I still have to discipline them for it no matter how much they hate me for it at the time. I am doing it for their own good. People these days don’t like to be told they are doing something wrong. Correcting them is a spiritual work of mercy. Not correcting them and letting them fall further from Christ is false compassion and WE have to answer for that sin. My parish priest took “compassion” on my sister who found herself pregnant out of marriage by a man who had been divorced twice without an annulment. His “compassionate” response to her dilemma was to tell her to go ahead and get married outside the church and enter an adulterous marriage. Now having had a reversion to her faith she finds herself in a very unfortunate position. That’s not the “compassion” people need.

    God bless and guide Pope Francis. I do not envy him his task.

  9. tonyr scrive:

    Why is there any reason to think we are obliged to disbelieve what we have believed all along? Even if the Pope does a new thing, has he done anything to contradict a single teaching of his predecessors?

  10. James scrive:

    The best that can be gleaned from this analysis is that the Pope finds the best way to attract bees is with honey, rather than Truth. This premise is most assuredly flawed as anyone can testify who witnessed the collapse of catechisis and theological inquiry as the Second Vatican Council’s “pastoral spirit” perfumed the halls of Catholic academia – from kindergardens to doctoral departments. That approach did not work and any amount of insistence that it did is delusional. Statistics do not lie. A vital Catholic culture was eviscerated from the inside out by obstensibly well intentioned priests and male and female religious, Jesuits playing an extraordinarily prominent role. “Dumb-it-down” Catholicism has decayed into a noxiouis corpse. Insisting that it has been pastorally successful is delusional. The Holy Father risks being seen as no more grounded in reality than President Obama in his analysis of the contemporary situation. The faithful citizenry of the the Church – the members who constitute the Body of Christ – cry out for authentic leadership in the moral, spiritual and intellectual spheres. No amount of coochy-coo pandering is going to satisfy our thirst for shepherding gounded in faith and reason. The German Episcopate and its school are bloated with the scourge of Tutonic narcissism, now well established in every corner of the Church. Disobedience and delusion reign with an iron fist from the Domus Sanctae Marthe. Rose colored glasses have long ago proved themselves of no value.

  11. Kevin Beach scrive:

    I have been a lawyer for over 40 years. In that time, I have come to realise that laws are necessary only when people do not act with abssolute love. Law is not an absolute; it is simply a means to an end. Like the Sabbath, the law is made to serve Man, not Man the law.

    Jesus said “I come to fulfil the law, not to destroy it”. But how does one “fulfil” anything? By bringing about what the “anything” was intended to achieve. Jesus gave us but two commanents: “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbour as yourself”. (As an aside, that means that we have to love ourselves before we can love our neighbour as ourselves.)

    God is a lover, not a lawyer. We emulate Him by our unconditional love for others, not by quoting laws and rules.

    • Littleeif scrive:

      As a lawyer, you surely know law is normative. It serves not only those who offend but those who obey. Nor is natural law pliable, but a part of our nature as the name implies. One cannot love another absent the law.

  12. James scrive:

    Read well… the truth is often uncomfortable, but always liberating. There is no love where there is no truth.

  13. Littleeif scrive:

    Please. There can be no pastoral absent the doctrinal, as if one could lead someone without a destination. Introducing a false dichotomy distracts from the legitimate concerns of the faithful. While some may believe faith requires a certain electricity, many faithful reject the notion faith requires a shock in every prayer and sermon. At the heart of our faith is a certain tranquility arising from the eternal continuity of truth. If we are not always speaking and seeking the truth, what on earth are we evangelizing people to say and do?

  14. Marietta319 scrive:

    “I had become somewhat like the scribes and pharisees.”

    The pharisees were the ones always seeking to circumvent the law. They were the ones who asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.

    Jesus said no, that Moses only allowed divorce because of their hardness of their hearts. Then He even explained not only the indissolubility of marriage, but also it is between a man and a woman. “From the beginning God made them man and woman…a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife…whatsoever God has bind together, let no man put asunder.”

    The Pharisees are those who want to avoid paying taxes, so they asked Jesus if it were lawful to pay taxes. Jesus said, “Give to Ceasar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

    So you see, it’s the Pharisees and the scribes who circumvent the law while seeking to justify their disobedience in terms of being “pastoral.”

    Real followers of Christ love and obey the law, even if it means picking up their cross to follow Him.

    Those who humbly obey Tradition and doctrine are the real followers of Christ. The Pharisees are the clever children of the dark.

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