Frank assessment

Frank Brenna SJ

Father Frank Brennan SJ delivered the 2013 Camino Address at the Parish of Our Lady of the Way in North Sydney on 12 November 2013. Here he offers his reflections on the election of a Jesuit Pope.

It's still early days in his pontificate, but I think Pope Francis has opened up a vast new panacea and not just for Catholics. He is theologically orthodox, politically conservative, comfortable in his own skin, infectiously pastoral and truly committed to the poor.

Think only of Francis's remark during the press conference on the plane on the way back from World Youth Day: 'If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?'

Here is a Pope who is not just about creating wriggle room or watering down the teachings of the Church. No, he wants to admit honestly to the world that we hold in tension definitive teachings and pastoral yearnings - held together coherently only by mercy and forgiveness. 

Before we canonise Francis too quickly, let's concede that he was a divisive figure in his home province of Argentina when was made Jesuit Provincial at the age of only 36. He is a man who has learnt much by his mistakes; he is a sinner who has grown and thrived through his experience of the Lord's mercy.

Having fallen out with many Jesuits in his home province, he enjoyed the favour of Pope John Paul II. There were tensions between him and Father Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of the Jesuits at the time of the Jesuit General Congregations which defined the Jesuit mission in terms of faith and justice.

The greatness of Francis has been in his capacity to transcend these differences and to be gracious even to those opposed to his viewpoints after many years of silence and isolation. It was very heartening for Jesuits of all stripes to learn of Francis's Mass at the Gesu Church in Rome on the Feast of St Ignatius on 31 July 2013.

He visited the tomb of Pedro Arrupe. Just as he had mentioned Matteo Ricci and Karl Rahner in his earlier visit to the offices of La Civilta Cattolica, he mentioned Francis Xavier and Pedro Arrupe in his homily at the Gesu - each time linking an historic and contemporary figure, and each time the contemporary figure being one who had difficult relations with the Vatican from time to time.

It's a long time since any Pope mentioned Karl Rahner or Pedro Arrupe in a positive light. 

We Catholics know that any spirituality worth its salt needs the buttress of authority, tradition, ritual and community. 

As a broad Church we need to be gentle, encouraging and accommodating of each other, as well as firm, demanding and accountable.

Read full address: What Pope Francis means for the Church in the modern world (ABC Religion and ethics)


Pope Francis and Australia’s social justice agenda (Eureka Street)

Pope Francis: Curia and curiouser (Quadrant Online)

Catholics hail Pope Francis as a humble and simple man (The Australian)

First Jesuit bishop, Greg O'Kelly, welcomes first Jesuit Pope (Province Express)

Bruce Bradley SJ: Homily to Mark Election of Pope Francis (Clongowes Wood College, Ireland)

A Jesuit Pope with a Franciscan Heart (St Anthony Messenger) 

Pope Francis Canonizes Blessed Peter Faber (

Vatican is asked to beatify 16th century China evangelist Matteo Ricci (AFP/South China Morning Post)


Surprise and delight amongst Jesuits that the Pope is one of their own (RTE Radio)

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