Pope Francis signals new course for the papacy

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Signs line a wall in Rome welcoming Pope Frances. RNS photo by David Gibson

Signs line a wall in Rome welcoming Pope Frances. RNS photo by David Gibson

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 3.12.37 PMVATICAN CITY (RNS) Ahead of his formal installation as pontiff on Tuesday (March 19), Pope Francis is sending clear signals that he intends to lead a papacy markedly different from his predecessor — and perhaps different from that of any other pope in modern times.

In weekend meetings with the cardinals who elected him and in encounters with parishioners after Mass on Sunday, in a Saturday audience with journalists and in his first public appearance since his election, Francis set a tone of informality and approachability and indicated that it was no longer business as usual in the church.


  • As he concluded a Saturday morning meeting with some of the thousands of reporters who have been covering the papal transition, Francis said he would bless the group, but out of respect for their differences would not make the sign of the cross over the gathering. “Given that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, (and) others are nonbelievers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each one, but knowing that each of you is a child of God,” he said, to applause.
  • At the same event, Francis went off script to explicitly mention both the church’s “virtues and her sins.” In highlighting again his emphasis on solidarity with the poor, he indicated that it should extend beyond mere charity. “How much I would like a poor church, for the poor!” the pope exclaimed.
  • Also on Saturday, Francis reappointed the heads of Vatican departments of the scandal-plagued Roman Curia, as expected, but did so only provisionally. The Vatican stressed that the pope “wants to take some time to reflect, pray and discuss before making any definitive appointment or confirmation.” When Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, he reappointed all the curial chiefs for the rest of their five-year terms, locking in a dysfunctional management team that was the focus of much criticism from the cardinals who elected Francis to clean house.
  • On Sunday, appearing from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Francis recited the Angelus prayer with a huge and enthusiastic crowd of more than 150,000. In the midst of his brief and informal reflection, he praised by name the writings of Cardinal Walter Kasper, “a very sharp theologian,” he said. Kasper’s desire to open the church to reform has prompted sharp debates over the years with Benedict.
  • Earlier Sunday, the pope celebrated Mass at the small parish church of the Vatican, St. Ann’s, just inside the Vatican gate, and stopped outside afterwards to greet each worshipper and kiss children on their heads as if he were the parish priest. He even stepped out of the gate onto the street where passersby got close enough to pat him on the back. His security detail appeared less enthusiastic about the outing.
  • Francis also continued to stress his role as the new Bishop of Rome, first among equals rather than the boss of all other bishops. He continued to refer to his “brother cardinals,” and at every liturgy and at meals he insisted on standing or sitting with the bishops and priests instead of taking the special place reserved for the pope. Vatican experts saw that as an important sign of the kind of collaborative leadership model many have been looking for.

Above all, Francis continually displayed an informality that prompted writers to dub him “the casual pontiff.”

His homilies and talks in the first days of his pontificate were usually unscripted and brief — often just a few minutes — and were filled with simple wisdom and sincerity and quips.

Signs line a wall in Rome welcoming Pope Frances. RNS photo by David Gibson

Signs line a wall in Rome welcoming Pope Frances. RNS photo by David Gibson

“Don’t think that I am doing publicity for the books of my cardinals!” he said after mentioning Kasper’s writings to the crowd on Sunday.

He also shunned the papal limousine and continued to wear the creaky black shoes that he had on when he arrived in Rome from Argentina for the conclave. And he told the cardinals to wear simple black cassocks when they came to see him rather than the more formal red choir robes with white linen-and-lace surplices.

“So long, Papal ermine and fancy lace! Welcome, simple cassock, and hopefully, ordinary black shoes! St. Francis must be overjoyed!!” tweeted an ecstatic Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told NBC’s “Today” show that he’s noticed “little signs that send signals.” Yet such signals are important, especially following the pontificate of Benedict, who took an intense interest in wearing the most elaborate and extravagant vestments, including a pair of red leather shoes.

By contrast, Francis has been stressing God’s love and forgiveness, as he did in his homilies on Sunday.

“We too, I think, are this people who, on one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other, sometimes we like to beat up on others, condemn the others,” he said.

“The message of Jesus is mercy,” he added. “For me, and I say this with humility, mercy is the strongest message of the Lord.”

  • Joe

    Perhaps in all that humility there is an element of pride?

  • Chris

    I agree Joe. “Look at me – I’m so humble”. Doesn’t add up!

  • Jack Gordon

    I don’t pretend to read the pope’s mind, and you two probably shouldn’t either. You don’t want the world to be saying, “How clever Joe and Chris are. They know more than the entire world’s press combined! Or at least they seem to think they do.”

  • gilhcan

    I think it is far past the time when religion should contain immensely more substance and not be so loaded with mere “signals” and symbols “You will recognize them by what they do!” Let us give Francis time to show he intends the biggest change of all, one that should require another, truly ecumenical council.

    The first item on that agenda should be a revolutionary change in church management. No world organization can be centrally managed, especially by a leader appointed for life. The evil of that has been too well portrayed by our federal court system, led by the Supreme Court.

    Management must be decentralized, and all the people, indirectly, must have a say as to whom is selected as leader for a specified, temporary time. Get rid of the central curia. Get rid of the latter day invention of the College of Cardinals. Let the bishop of Rome be the bishop of Rome–and a Roman–just as other bishops are bishops of their own locales. They should all be chosen by their own people.

    Let the lay people choose their own ministers. Let the lay and clerical members of each local area choose their own bishops. Lay leaders and bishops can meet from time to time for regional matters, including the selection of representatives to larger councils. We don’t need “archbishops.” We must clean out the clericalism of the hierarchy and the whole priesthood.

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  • Jack Gordon

    Gilhcan: You are behind the times. What you suggest has already been tried. It’s called Protestantism. In my humble opinion, it has not worked very well.

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  • Barbara

    Joe/Chris .. assume you’d say the same of Jesus for being and behaving humble in public.

  • Richard

    This simplification could be called, in a lot of what we are seeing, desacralizing of the office of pope, and of the sacraments, as was seen recently in his first papal mass, a return to the new mass. Paul VI engaged that trend when he sold off the Papal Triple Tiara. He also later said the “smoke of Satan had entered the Church”.The New Mass itself is supposedly the product of the simplification of the Tridentine Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the progressives of the Liturgical reform movement. The papal office is not supposed to be about the personality of the office holder but the upholding of Christ’s representation. Just as he’s turned from the altar in his offering of the New Mass, he is appealing to our human weakness rather than leading us to worship Christ in Truth. Of course if you look as his support of same sex legal unions, or the lowest denominator of New Mass outrageousness in his home country, and his rampaging ecuminism, this appeal of simplicity will lose its blush.

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  • Jack Gordon

    Take your medication and return to bed for more rest.

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  • David

    I think you make a good point there. We will have to see how well the new Pope strikes this balance between his desire (and what I understand to be a desire of many Catholics) to make the Church more accessible, open, and transparent, and the risks of making it more personality-oriented. Tradition and liturgy exists for a reason, and it should not be changed, modified, or modernized without reasons that are at least as good.

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  • Moral Proposal to Francis
    Proposal about rise Moral of Humanity
    Dear Pope Francis,

    In the world take place the moral degradation. Unfortunately, all kinds of religions cannot stop this process only their real possibilities, absence of mutual understanding and effective cooperation. As a result of absence of due education at youth high of morals level of relations of people the modern mankind cannot provide itself in a necessary measure with useful, rational image of getting of means to a normal life. Economic crises, wars, robberies, murders proceed.
    For some reason people do not realize simple TRUE: the reason, (base) of all unreasonable actions of people and bad conditions of their life on a planet the Earth is a wild way of life, absence of education at youth of useful moral qualities of the person: goodwill, honesty, decency, own advantage without a damage to other people, aspirations to all fine, elegance, respect of wisdom, benevolent politeness, tolerance, delicacy, modesty, etc.
    There has come time the Earth on the basis of observance in a life of reasonable natural mutual relations of the people stated by founders of the most widespread religions of the world (is time) for the organization of international propagation of high norms of morals, education of intelligent relations of people in all states of our planet: the Buddha, Christ and Mohammed.
    Bitterly to realize the fact that presently by use of mass media and, first of all, TV, frank immorality is constantly propagandized. For example, ways of a robbery, physical mockeries and murder of people, and also advertising, violence, dishonesties, cynicism, permissiveness, illegal actions for enrichment of criminals by any way; etc.
    At the same time, for the decision of the above-stated problem of change of living conditions of people it is necessary to take advantage effectively of results of progressive development of the international TV.
    Unlike religious cents of the United Nations Organization (UNO) possesses unique possibility of coordination of actions of the governments of all countries of the world. Therefore (in connection with circumstances) the greatest effect of re-education of mankind it is possible to reach by the organization on air of the Intelligent Television Channel of the United Nations Organization.
    If the UNO (Ban Ki-Moon) agree with idea of necessity of global re-education of moral shape of people on the Earth (in the world) in commonwealth with attendants of religious communities we can by commonwealth with you quickly develop and present to the UNO the Concept of work of the Intelligent Television Channel (ITC of the UNO). We are ready to develop and present immediately to you for the coordination our vision (representation) of the Concept of all basic spheres of intelligent unostentatious propagation of high morals, the organization of reasonable beautiful living conditions of the person on the Earth on the basis of high ethics. Your personal great prestige will provide a substantiation and a recognition of necessity of acceptance of the positive decision in the United Nations.
    At further (subsequent) our contact it suggested to use any variant of the name (on your discretion) United Nations Television Channel: «The True Tree», «Honour and Conscience», «The Reasonable Future», «Reasonable and Useful», «Reason, Advantage, Beauty», etc.

    In 2008 after publication of the philosophical treatise “INTELLIGENCE”, (Choogin V.V. and Chepelyuk E.V., ISBN 978-966-2207-01-9), SUPREME CREATOR has visited my brains, has removed restriction on far-sighted reflections, has lifted above clouds, has provided clearness of understanding of the validity and has charged to think over process of perfection of a life on a planet the Earth.
    Since 2009 I have started to write down separate thoughts in writing-books.
    On July, 07th, 2010 SUPREME has sent me the Envoy in the name of the small beautiful butterfly of yellow colour who has sat down to me on a brush of a hand and did not leave it in the course of installation of four support for the future summer-house which has been conceived for reflections and fixation of new thoughts in writing-books. This «Sign of God» has definitively convinced me of necessity of a writing of the Way of Mankind for the Uniform State “EARTH DWELLERS” for ordinary workers of people all over the world (not for rich oligarchs).
    Till December, 31st 2012, I have written eight writing-books.
    From January, 01st, till April, 04th, 2013 all thoughts have been placed on the computer.
    Now I am engaged in updating and polishing of the text of four heads of the fundamental philosophical treatise «Domination of Nonsense, Primitive State and Power of Reason, Virtue on a way to Reasonable and Just State». I assume to finish by October, 2013 editing of all text of the treatise.
    The form of a statement of a real way to the Future is presented in the form of a spoken language for accessible understanding of the maintenance by ordinary workers worldwide. Certainly, I understand the first negative reaction of “experts”: «Author has gone mad!», «It is all to carry out not really!», ЕТС. But me the opinion of modern heads of the states and philosophers does not interest, as I carry out the commission of SUPREME CREATOR. I accurately realize one true: all simple citizens will welcome a reasonable, fair way for them in the Future State “EARTH DWELLERS” for achievement of normal living conditions and development of the abilities and talents.

    The first edition of the treatise in small quantity of copies (at least 100) is expedient for carrying out in perfect Russian language for preservation of all subtleties, nuances of my reflections. The second publication of this work is rational for spending in English language for use in all countries.
    I understand a negative reality of a situation: in our country nobody will resolve treatise publication for reviews of “experts” will be negative! Surprisingly, but in the Middle Ages the publication of works of thinkers even in case of presence of the bitter truth of life of those times was carried out! Then it could be carried out, and now it is possible to publish only works on advantage to oligarchs. Primitive state is frank!
    After October I am waited by great difficulties with procedure of the edition of the treatise about basic features of the organization and useful functioning of the Reasonable, Just State on the basis of high ethics of Intellectual Intelligence.

    With big respect,

    Valeriy Vitalievich CHOOGIN
    Academician of Ukrainian Technological Academy,
    Dr. Sc. (Technical), Professor.

    Kherson, UKRAINE

  • Jack Gordon

    The English in this letter is bad, very bad. I couldn’t get beyond a few sentences. Learn to speak it and write it properly or use a seasoned translator. If you don’t, neither the pope nor anyone else will read what you write.

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