What Pope Francis really, really wants

Pope Francis

Decentralisation and collegiality will be the ‘radical’ hallmarks of the Francis pontificate, writes Paul Vallely, author of 'Pope Francis - Untying the Knots.'

Is Pope Francis a liberal or a conservative? Traditionalists in the Church, temporarily silenced by the whirlwind that is the new Pontiff, are now rallying to suggest that, for all his dramatic new style, Francis is in fact thoroughly traditional in his mainstream views. But are they right?

In the UK, the editor of The Catholic Herald, Luke Coppen, suggests that the media has constructed a fantasy Francis figure on to whom they project a secular leftist agenda. In the US, the conservative George Weigel claims Francis is making no break with the pontificates of his two predecessors.

Pope Francis has abetted this confusion with mixed signals on appointments.

He has confirmed the conservative Archbishop Gerhard Müller as Vatican doctrinal enforcer as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But he purged the cappa magna traditionalist Cardinal Raymond Burke from the committee that oversees the appointment of bishops.

The root of the misunderstanding comes from the assumption that there is only one axis of divergence with the Catholic Church when there are in fact three.

The first is political. A century of Catholic social teaching has ensured most popes have been critical of unregulated capitalism as a vehicle for delivering the common good. Francis is even further to the left with his criticisms of ‘trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice.’

The second axis stretches from reactionary to progressive on mainstream doctrine. Francis has repeatedly referred to the need to value human life from conception until natural death. But there are subtle shifts.

But on the third axis he is undoubtedly a change-maker. On the spectrum of whether the Church should be centralised or local he is firmly at one end of the spectrum. So are all eight of the cardinals – liberals and conservatives in other ways – whom he has chosen to serve as his Committee of Eight cardinal advisers.

In his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was disdainful of the advice of what a former aide called ‘Italians with emptying churches telling bishops in countries with growing congregations what they should and should not be doing.’ All this instilled in him the importance of the Church being run more collegially.

Whether or not Francis is a liberal he is certainly a radical. Hold tight for an exciting ride.

Read full article: Pope Francis: possibly liberal, maybe a conservative, but definitely radical (The Irish Times)

Further coverage:

9 ridiculous claims in Rolling Stone’s cover story on Pope Francis  (The Week)

What do liberal catholics want? (The Week)

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