Catholic News Service: Doubts and Regrets Among Some in the Vatican About Pope Francis’ ‘Abrupt Change in Style’

Francis X. Rocca, writing for Catholic News Service, writes that there are mixed feelings in officialdom about the “abrupt change in style” with Pope Francis:

His abrupt change in style from the previous pontificate has overwhelmingly charmed the press and the public. But among the hierarchy, off-the-record sentiments seem to be more mixed: admiration at the ease with which Pope Francis has assumed his new role, alongside doubts that he can or should keep up such an unconventional approach for long.

The new pope made an immediate impact with his extraordinary gestures of humility: bowing and asking the crowd’s blessing on election night, paying his own hotel bill and eschewing papal regalia such as red shoes and a gold pectoral cross; and with his displays of spontaneity, such as straying from prepared texts and stopping to greet the crowd on a Rome street.

Especially within the Vatican, there are surely many who inwardly regret the clear signs that informality will be the rule in this pontificate. After all, honors and decorations are among the few worldly rewards legitimately available to those in the hierarchy. More importantly, anyone who understands the significance of appearances in Italian and thus in Vatican culture understands that Pope Francis’ changes indicate a threat to something more vital than vanity.

Read the full story here, “Changes in style send clear message from Pope Francis.”

25 comments

  1. I think part of the problem with Pope Francis is that his Latin is probably not very good, at least based on his use of it in the liturgy. Although wikipedia does list it among his languages but without citation. This may or may not be an intentional signal by the Pope. If you do not know Latin, you do not know Latin.

    I am not arguing that Latin is excellent for its own sake or that the Liturgy should or should not be in Latin. If one cannot read (here I mean read not funble through) Latin (or Greek for that matter), one has a limited ability to engage the tradition. I think that we expect from the pope, someone more than simply a pastor (at least in the normal sense). The documents of the VII were composed in Latin, and it is the Latin text of the documents that is binding on us. What will Pope Francis do when someone presents him with a seemingly novel idea concerning the text of VII or Trent? How will he judge it?

  2. I only hope that Francis’s change in style from Roma medieval dress, practices and and customs will provide a model to so many bishop who are also so eager to be in tune with there latest roman pontiff in their own dioceses as they usually are and begin to adopt the more simpler approach and emphasis of Francis of the poor fisherman Peter and the concern of the apostolic church for the poor and outcasts of society.

    1. @Robert Nugent – comment #2:
      I think that often early Christianity is presented as a “simpler” approach based on caring for the outcasts, but it must be remembered that the “apostolic church” also wrote Romans and Galatians. This were documents that had doctrinal and moral concerns beside helping the poor.

  3. After all, honors and decorations are among the few worldly rewards legitimately available to those in the hierarchy.

    This attitude stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ words in Mark 12: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

    Or see the longer and harsher version of this story at Matthew 23, with the long list of woes. Each time this pericope appears in the lectionary, I am mindful of the incongruity of standing in the place of honor as I read, wearing my long robes. The text says one thing, and my attire and my privileged seat says something else.

    I’m hard pressed to come up with any kind words in the gospels from Jesus about worldly honors, decorations, or awards. The only honor he speaks of is the cross, and it is given to those who serve the last, the lost, and the least.

    If Rocca’s reporting is correct, it speaks volumes about the depth of the problems in the Curia. It’s not just a need for organizational reforms (i.e., better accountability at the IOR, so that international banking rules can be met), but also spiritual reforms. Like Peter at the footwashing, it appears that at least some in the hierarchy do not understand that their mission is to serve in love, not to rule over.

    1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #5:
      Should children not recieve stars on their papers at school? Should we not have birthday parties? Should Christians refuse to recieve honors for hard work or for years of service? Should we stop teacher of the year awards? Are wearing “robes” at Mass worldy? Are different ranks inthe military of police worldly?

      I would not call these ‘worldly’ awards, at least in the biblical sene of world. I would call these natural awards which may become worldly based on the subjective disposition of the moral agent. These are usually just an acknowledgement of natural excellence. This is confirmed by the passage that you quote. In it Christ was not condemning long robes or being greeted in the marketplace (are we not to say hi to one another). Christ condemns those who these things do at the expense of widows and then hypocritcally say prayers.

      You could have worldly awards in an objective sense. So if you honored someone for fornicating, killing the innocent, or gluttony (think hot dog eating contests), these are objectively worldy.

    2. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #5:
      Well said, Peter.

      From the quote presented in the post, I thought Rocca was sympathetic to those who want their badges and honors, and who place la bella figura above the Christian values of humility and service. But perhaps he doesn’t really share their view. By the end of the piece, Rocca makes a strong statement that places Pope Francis in a distinctly prophetic role:

      “To a more restricted and disproportionately powerful group of spectators, the new pope’s departures from Vatican protocol also send another, no less revolutionary message: that he knows what he thinks is right and will not hesitate to defy precedent or the instructions of others to act accordingly.”

      The message I am taking away is that Pope Francis may charm the poor, but he will anger the powerful, and he must be strong enough to stand firm.

  4. He tends to drop the final s in Latin words, as happens also in Argentinian Spanish. I asked Italian friends how his Italian sounds and they said “strange”, not only because of the accent but because of incorrect grammar and idiom. Ratzinger’s was heavily accented but more correct. Of course Bergaglio’s will improve rapidly. Apparently he would be more fluid in his family’s original Italian dialect than in standard Italian.

  5. “After all, honors and decorations are among the few worldly rewards legitimately available to those in the hierarchy.

    All this time I thought eternal reward for service well done was available.

    “More importantly, anyone who understands the significance of appearances in Italian and thus in Vatican culture understands that Pope Francis’ changes indicate a threat to something more vital than vanity.”

    Hmm, more vital than what, exactly? If it is bruised egos, so be it. If you know about modern Italian culture you know it is so screwed up that a convicted criminal is a major force to this day in their politics. I do not think that is a model we want to follow as Catholics. More to the point, he is not all that informal – the installation took three hours – but the difference is that this time, I did not notice the time until after the fact. I see him as a leader, not just of Catholics, but of people in general. Do not mistake his tenderness and concern for the poor for weakness, or his preference for informality as a lack of faith or reverence.

  6. Anyone who is a member of a parish or who serves a parish in some ministerial capacity knows very well that being a Catholic means very different things to different people. For many it is a vital part of their cultural and family upbringing. “We’re Catholic, perhaps not very good ones, but Catholic nonetheless.” There are Catholics who actually know how to offer Mass and Catholics who just attend, hear, or watch Mass. There are priests who seek to be servant leaders and others who Lord it over their “subjects”. There are priests who are bright and priests who are holy, some are even holy and bright.
    My perception of the Vatican and the Catholic church in Rome and its environs is that there altogether too many dioceses, bishops, cardinals, monsignors, and other priests in proportion to the actual number of Catholics who could be considered practicing by any stretch of the imagination. Among all of the above are probably individuals whose level of belief is marginal because they are mostly functionaries. The perform clerical functions and duties and receive compensation for doing so. I do not intend this as a judgment but as a speculative observation.
    We’ve been blessed for quite some time now with Bishops of Rome who at least appear to taking the quest for holiness seriously. They are true believers who must function in an ecclesiastical environment in which some dysfunction is commonplace. Some of the functionaries see it as their job to manage the incumbent pope in such a way as his holiness will not interfere too much with their less holy lives. Into this milieu strides an Argentinian cardinal who as a Jesuit Provincial was acccused of betraying the poor and some priests who served them in base communities. I believe those charges are false, but nonetheless they may have radicalized him to the point where he was bound and determined to preside over a “poor church that serves the poor”. He’s the pope know and popes do what they decide to do. Not everyone is happy about someone they may not be able to…

  7. The false idea is that badges and honours are inherently opposed to humility and service. Of course they can be, and no doubt have been.

    My hope is that Francis will help restore the meaning of the sort of visible honours the Church bestows, that he can re-invigorate the content of the Church’s traditional symbolic life, rather than decry it as superficial and sacrifice it in the name of substance.

    Already, Pope Francis is getting a certain type of honour or glory for being so humble, a type of glory given by many in the press, the Catholic faithful and those observing around the world. It probably feels quite empowering to be the Pope who gets to shake everything up.

    We shouldn’t kid ourselves and think that, precisely for being so evidently and visibly humble to the world, the holy father doesn’t have to struggle with the temptation of pride within himself. There is always a play between reality and appearance, with a certain amount of reality never observable except to the Father alone who sees all.

    1. @Jordan DeJonge – comment #10:
      I have some sympathy, but it has declined over the years, especially in the past decade as I’ve witnessed too much love of honours by ambitious clerics rise and pastoral care decline. I do not for one moment think the pontiff emeritus intended this, but I do think the loudest of his fans have not helped (and have in fact just inverted the problems of the most careless reformers of 2 generations ago). Think of how the Apostles consistently misunderstood Jesus…. Anyway, it’s become more of a game of a Society for Creative Anachronism, Version AD 1847, than something worthy.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #11:
        I imagine that’s quite true, Karl, for many who have climbed the ranks. I guess my point is that it’s naive, inhuman and not Catholic to strive, as an ideal, for a Church where there would never be any finery or marks of honour. The question, as always, is a balance between these external signs and their inner content. Again, Francis might be trying to help us recover the inner content of the Church’s symbolic life by doing things which are themselves radically symbolic rather than substantial. My point is that, if this is understood, it’s not really in opposition to “honours” or crosses of gold, but actually depends on their value as well rather than simply repudiating them. Afterall, if the office of the papacy were not so lofty, it wouldn’t mean much that the Pope is taking the bus. I also take the bus, to the spiritual edification of none. Likewise, the significance of the humility of Christ, his plainness and poverty, also depended on the reality of his glory– which he did give glimpses of from time to time in miracles, acts of authority , the transfiguration, and the witness of a glorified body that ascended into the heavens above.

  8. As a social scientist it is abundantly clear to me that Pope Francis has been deeply influenced by his religious background, specifically his Jesuit background. That influenced how he functioned as a bishop and cardinal and those influences continue into his Papacy.

    According to Canon Law, Pope Francis is a religious and remains a Jesuit even after having become Pope. I remembered from my pre-Vatican II training as a novice that both religious life and the episcopacy are states of perfection. In trying to get some information about why this is so, I came across the following from Saint Thomas

    Whether religious who are raised to the episcopate are bound to religious observances
    http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/SS/SS185.html#SSQ185A8THEP1

    As stated above (Article [1], ad 2) the religious state pertains to perfection, as a way of tending to perfection, while the episcopal state pertains to perfection, as a professorship of perfection. Hence the religious state is compared to the episcopal state, as the school to the professorial chair, and as disposition to perfection. Now the disposition is not voided at the advent of perfection, except as regards what perchance is incompatible with perfection, whereas as to that wherein it is in accord with perfection, it is confirmed the more. Thus when the scholar has become a professor it no longer becomes him to be a listener, but it becomes him to read and meditate even more than before. Accordingly we must assert that if there be among religious observances any that instead of being an obstacle to the episcopal office, are a safeguard of perfection, such as continence, poverty, and so forth, a religious, even after he has been made a bishop, remains bound to observe these, and consequently to wear the habit of his order, which is a sign of this obligation.

    This is probably the only thing that I have ever read from St.Thomas. It looks like he has a lot on both the episcopate and religious life. Hopefully one or more of our Thomas experts will put it all together and make a post out of it. It might help some to recognize how very traditional Francis is.

  9. The Eastern Church tradition is to pick monks as bishops. Monastic spirituality pervades Orthodox spirituality. The liturgy is the monastic liturgy adapted to the people; the fast is the monastic fast adapted to the people. So aspiring to a monastic like life is part of their spirituality. I suspect this may be one reason why the Orthodox are attracted to Francis. He is trying to live out the monastic life as a bishop.

    The Jesuit ideal is one of perfect indifference to creative things, whether riches or poverty, health or illness, fame or humility. The prayer of the Jesuit is above all to choose what God chooses for oneself. If God chooses wealth we are to accept that gift with perfect indifference, willing to have it disappear tomorrow, yet use that wealth for the greater glory of God now.

    However, the Jesuit also prays that (if God so wills) that God will grant him the poverty, the humility, and the suffering of Christ even though he also prays to be otherwise perfectly indifferent to these very things if they are not God’s will.

  10. “After all, honors and decorations are among the few worldly rewards legitimately available to those in the hierarchy.”

    Well, there’s that, plus living in homes like those generally owned by only the wealthiest in society; being served daily by cooks and housekeepers and personal secretaries and drivers; having excellent health insurance coverage provided; having living expenses such as food and utilities provided at the cost of their employer; wielding enormous power and/or influence over the consciences and spiritual lives of thousands and sometimes millions of people; not to mention the regular salary they draw.

    And they find a little informality threatening?

    1. @Barry Hudock – comment #16:

      Although we are less than six days before the Passover, John’s admonition against false charity still holds relevance. John 12 notes that it is Judas Iscariot who criticized Mary’s shattering of the jar of nard. A year’s worth of pennies for a laborer! Why would one lavish this precious gift on the Lord instead of on the “poor”?

      The Christ of the gospels is at once materially poor, and at other times glorified beyond human comprehension. At times Christ is the epitome of compassion, and at another time crushed under Roman domination so that we may live forever. Our Holy Father is at once the vicar of Christ, the human representative of the Lawgiver himself. At other times, the pontiff shows compassion, again following the example of the Lord. Why, then, would renouncing the wealth of the Church complete anything else other than a finite comfort for persons? The Christian faith itself provides infinite comfort. Were we ever promised everlasting freedom from fear and suffering in this life?

      Our Holy Father is early in his reign. Perhaps his reluctance to show the glorified Christ through the majesty of his office has been delayed or obscured for a purposeful reason. Only the Holy Spirit knows why our new pope is reluctant to show all the facets of his role of vicar. I do know, however, that materials only bring temporary respite. This respite bears no resemblance to either Christ’s glory or suffering.

  11. Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… Because of this, God greatly exalted him…”

    There is no separation of humility and glorification. The latter depends on the former. Every humble action should be revered as a revelation of God’s glory.

    Perhaps that is the lesson Pope Francis has to teach. ( as I picture Alec Guinness as Innocent III coming down from his seat at the Lateran to embrace St Francis)

  12. Jim, obviously there is a separation of humility and glorification in that the latter is the reward of the former.

    Jesus was and is exalted. Catholic and Orthodox worship logically represent this as glory, i.e, gold and other beautiful colours, crowns, elevations of image, bowing before the image, kissing it ect.

    But he is exalted because he humbled himself, and this is also rightly shown in worship in depictions of his suffering and servitude.

    Finally, his actions in servitude would not have counted as humility did he not have a glory that existed before the world.

    The point is that the maxim “every humble action should be revered as a revelation of God’s glory” depends, for its effect, on some representation of glory as well. That is, some representation of God’s glory.

  13. Jordan, note that I didn’t say a word of criticism about the many material comforts enjoyed by those who serve us in the hierarchy (though there’s a strong case to be made that those comforts make their witness to our world less effective).

    My only point is that it’s a bit laughable to suggest — as Francis Rocca does in his article — that the ceremonial “honors and decorations” are the only earthly rewards the poor guys get. On the contrary, I’d say they have earthly rewards in abundance. Argue they need or deserve them if you want, but let’s not pretend they don’t get them.

    I do think that most Catholics know intuitively that there’s something not quite right about the “princes of the church” living like princes of the earth. That’s precisely why 94 percent are currently expressing a favorable opinion of the Holy Father.

    1. @Barry Hudock – comment #20:

      Barry:Jordan, note that I didn’t say a word of criticism about the many material comforts enjoyed by those who serve us in the hierarchy (though there’s a strong case to be made that those comforts make their witness to our world less effective).

      I do not know to which Jordan you refer. However, we are both on the same page for the most part.

      A person’s confession that she is a Christian necessarily entails that she cannot judge the finite value of material goods against the infinite good of salvation in Christ. This is why Jesus admonishes Judas Iscariot — not only is Judas Iscariot wrong to elevate materialism over the ultimate good of salvation, but Judas also gravely misunderstands materialism within the frame of mortal existence.

      “The media” will value Pope Francis’s gestures towards the poor, but not because of Pope Francis’s faithful intentions or the plan of the Holy Spirit for the Church. The superficial and materialistic valences of Pope Francis’s gestures feed the innate but false sense of human justice through materialism and self-conscious charity which can only be resolved in the Christian faith. There is no sum of money and no singular gesture of charity which will permanently alleviate suffering. And yet, the papal court-bad, washing the feet of prisoners=good facile dichotomy resonates with those who consider only a very narrow understanding of the gospel message.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #22:

        There is no sum of money and no singular gesture of charity which will permanently alleviate suffering. And yet, the papal court-bad, washing the feet of prisoners=good facile dichotomy resonates with those who consider only a very narrow understanding of the gospel message.

        Well said, Jordan.

  14. Barry Hudock : I do think that most Catholics know intuitively that there’s something not quite right about the “princes of the church” living like princes of the earth. That’s precisely why 94 percent are currently expressing a favorable opinion of the Holy Father.

    Exactly. I would go further and say that there is a simple rule that can help us decide whether a tradition is worth keeping. If it comes from an imitation of the life of Jesus and the Apostles: then it should be kept. If comes from an imitation of the customs and practices of European tyrants in the Middle Ages: then it should be dropped.

  15. Jordan Zarembo : @Barry Hudock – comment #20: “The media” will value Pope Francis’s gestures towards the poor, but not because of Pope Francis’s faithful intentions or the plan of the Holy Spirit for the Church. The superficial and materialistic valences of Pope Francis’s gestures feed the innate but false sense of human justice through materialism and self-conscious charity which can only be resolved in the Christian faith. There is no sum of money and no singular gesture of charity which will permanently alleviate suffering. And yet, the papal court-bad, washing the feet of prisoners=good facile dichotomy resonates with those who consider only a very narrow understanding of the gospel message.

    Much the same could be said of Christ healing the sick or feeding the multitudes. The potential misunderstanding of an act of compassion does not rob it of its value.

  16. In case you haven’t noticed, Francis has brought with him a new paradigm regarding power and authority. All of the pageantry associated with grandiose liturgical celebrations derives not from those of Jesus and his followers, but from the Imperial court and its successors. Princes and noblemen did not genuflect or kneel before the emperor or king because that’s how they approached Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, but the other way around. The elaborate vesture dates to a period in the church’s history in which the clergy were consolidating power and needed to look radically different from the ordinary people. The scene from Brother Sun, Sister Moon, when Innocent III comes off his throne to embrace Francis is an illustration of this–however fictionalized for dramatic effect.
    The traditionalists are heavily invested in the liturgical externals which are a part of the old paradigm: God reigns gloriously in Heaven with Jesus at his Right Hand and Mary nearby. Let the sanctuary be filled with the sweet or bitter fragrance of incense with its billowing smoke. Reinstitute the altar rails so as to keep ordinary mortals in their place, and have them kneel in supplication before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Issue edict after edict delineating the truths of the faith and remind everyone of the devastating peril that will befall those who question and dissent. Let the edicts be in Latin though translated into a lofty form of the vernacular guaranteed to furrow brows.
    The new paradigm is captured in the reading to the Phillipians: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem being equal to God something to be boasted about. Instead, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness he became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This Bishop of Rome, like his namesake, will do his best to imitate his Lord & Savior even should his followers betray and abandon him.

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