by M. Francis Mannion
There is a great deal in Pope Francis’ style of life and ministry that inspires questions about the ways clergy live and minister. What follows are a number of these questions. I will name six:
1. PLACE OF RESIDENCE. Cardinal Bergoglio has always lived in humble quarters. When elected Pope, he chose not to live in the Vatican papal apartments, but in the House of St. Martha, what amounts to a hotel. Instead of living in their own houses and condominiums, could not bishops and priests follow the Pope’s example of frugality and live instead in rectories?
2. INEXPENSIVE CARS. Cardinal Bergoglio rarely travelled in a car. He took the bus and subway most of the time. In Rome he eschews limousines and stylish cars and travels without much ado in his Ford Focus and his used 1984 Renault. Could not bishops and priests follow his example by buying modestly-priced—even used—cars?
3. USE OF TITLES. Pope Francis styles himself most of the time as “Bishop of Rome,” not as “Pope” or “Supreme Pontiff”—which, of course, he is. In Buenos Aires, even as Cardinal-Archbishop, he was often called “Father Jorge.” Is it not time for bishops and priests to simplify their titles. Instead of being styled “Reverend,” “Right Reverend,” “Most Reverend,” “Your Excellency,” “Your Eminence,” why not be known and addressed simply as “Bishop,” “Archbishop,” “Cardinal?” Besides are not all the baptized reverent, excellent, and eminent? (And why not abolish—retroactively!—the title of “Monsignor” (“My Lord”!)?
4. STYLE OF DRESS. Pope Francis refused the red shoes used traditionally by Popes, as well as the mozetta (the scarlet cape worn over the Pope’s shoulders)—in its more formal version made of velvet and trimmed with ermine, and the white rochet (a lace surplice worn under the mozzetta). Francis has kept the inexpensive pectoral Cross he used as a bishop, and prefers his own simple vestments to the more ornate ones in the papal wardrobe. As many bishops already do, why not have bishops and cardinals leave aside their scarlet and purple vesture and wear a simple black cassock, a pectoral cross, and a cardinal’s or bishop’s skull cap (a zucchetto)?
5. MODEST VACATIONS. Pope Francis rarely took vacations in Buenos Aires. He has not used the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo (at least not this year), but stayed in hot and humid Rome. Perhaps then, clergy should be careful about the kinds of vacations they take, avoiding such things as cruises, trips to Hawaii, and expensive vacations at exclusive resorts?
6. FRANCISCAN ATTITUDE. After his model, St. Francis of Assisi, Francis took the name of the poor man of Assisi. With this comes and attitude of simplicity and humility (the cardinal virtue of the Christian life). Francis wants a “poor church for the poor.” This means a commitment to those who are hungry, homeless, the street people, the imprisoned, those with AIDS, as well as those who are marginalized and spiritually “lost.” The Pope wants priests to identify strongly with these groups, so that they will “smell like the [poor] sheep” to which they minister. To signify such a commitment, could not every bishop and priest donate 20 percent of their salaries to charity? Could not every parish allocate 20 percent of its annual budget to charitable ministry, and conduct a permanent outreach through soup kitchens, food pantries, and thrift stores? This kind of commitment would also be signified by bishops and priests consciously avoiding exclusive clubs and expensive restaurants—to which the poor have no access.
I do not—repeat NOT—hold myself up as a model for anything I am proposing here. I am “preaching” as much to myself as to anyone else. I hope nobody will be offended by what I write, but might find it useful for a sober examination of conscience.
Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul parish, Salt Lake City.
By permission of The Intermountain Catholic, Salt Lake City.