Assessing the celebrity Pope

Celebrity versus substance

Pope Francis' first year has been crowned by the appearance of a new magazine, Il Mio Papa, testimony that the Pope is now mythical, a celebrity, and that the myth can be manipulated, marketed and monetised, writes Andrew Hamilton SJ.

It is difficult to give an accounting for celebrities. They demand absolutes: each one is utterly new; what they replace is out of date. But merely popping their balloon also misses what in them attracts popular attention.

So it is with evaluating what is distinctive about Pope Francis and what he has already contributed to the Church. It is hard to move beyond such self-evident banalities as that he takes his Catholic doctrine and ethical teaching seriously, that he is approachable, that he is not a liberal theologian, and that he is free in his approach to security and liturgy.

More thoughtful analyses have explored opposites. His distinctive contribution is said to have lain not in substance but in style, not in theological exploration but in pastoral reach, and not to have touched the essentials of faith but accidentals.

Each of these sets of paired phrases is useful for fixing what Pope Francis is not. But they do not explore the coherence between the gestures that constantly surprise. Nor do they explain the enchantment of so many people, within and without the Catholic Church, reflective and unreflective, many of whom have been disappointed and disillusioned by the Church.

It may be more helpful to explore what Pope Francis transparently shares with previous popes, namely the strength of the faith in Christ that animates them all, and seek to identify his distinctive perspective.

FULL STORY The celebrity Pope (Eureka Street)

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