Reporting on Benedict and Francis from Bavaria

In the Süddeutsche Zeitung  from Munich – most likely a newspaper Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reads daily – Matthias Drobinski is noting the contrast between Pope Francis and his predecessor.

The Opposite of Benedict’s Program” reports on the “sensation” of the short speech Jorge Mario Bergoglio made at the cardinals’ meetings before the conclave, made public with his permission. Dobrinski sees it as the “program of the new pope,” like the 2005 homily of Joseph Ratzinger at the Mass before the 2005 conclave.

Efforts are underway to put Bergoglio in the light of continuity with Ratzinger, Drobinski says. Both are against relativism and for the truth of the Gospel. Bergoglio warn of a “worldly” church, which fits with Benedict’s desire for “desecularizing” the church.

But note the contrasts:

In 2005 Joseph Ratzinger described the church as a little ship threatened by the high waves of the “dictatorship of relativism.” What can a ship crew do in a storm? Shorten the sails, close the hatches, raise the ship sides, close oneself off from the danger from the outside.  In 2005 Joseph Ratzinger preached hermeticism, securing of what one has, preservation of the entrusted treasure in a secure place. This is – to put a fine point on it – what his successor castigates as an “egocentric church” which “seeks Jesus within.”

The image of a church that goes to the borders of the world and human existence is not compatible with the image of a ship in a hostile storm. A church that goes to the borders risks something. It risks losing its own security. And the treasure of Catholic tradition, in view of the cries of the present day, appears as something beautiful but secondary.

To go to the periphery: the notion derives from Latin American liberation theology, whose proponents left their rectories in the 70s to live with the poor. For many in the curia – but by no means for all – this is a battle cry: to be a liberation theologian and thus naturally a Marxist is a curse. It is a battle cry just like the demonstrative renunciation of insignia, trappings, and formalities of papal existence, the renunciation of forms that have long since broken free from their content, that have become self-referential and narcissistic.

The cardinals have voted for this battle cry – with full knowledge of the inflammatory speech of the cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina. With a two-thirds majority, they are fed up with the royal court carrying one of the curia, the sacralization of form over existential content, a church leadership scandalously concerned with itself, with a pope at the peak who is, to be sure, a man of integrity and well-educated, but increasingly out of his depth.

They voted for a change that they had not yet wanted in 2005. These cardinals will now have to support their Pope Francis over against the mentality of adamancy, of closed hatches. For those powers are very strong in the Catholic Church.

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In Drobinski’s “How Pope Francis Thinks,” there is interesting information about Bergoglio’s wrangling with Vatican officials. Drobinski writes:

It was a bitter battle about wording and formulations. It was embedded in brotherly gestures, in chants and prayers. The battle took place in the shadows of the modern cathedral of Aparecida, the big Marian pilgrimage shrine of Brazil, in May 2007. The bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean had gathered to talk about how the Catholic Church on the continent should react to globalization, the division of society into rich and poor, secularization, loss of faith, and the success of the Pentecostalist churches.

We have to open ourselves anew, found the majority of those gathered. For the conservatives and the Vatican delegates, that was threatening. They sought to influence the process, and they had supporters: the people from the “Sodalicium vitae christianae” of Peru, a very conservative brotherhood which managed to take over the work of translation, administration, and media relations.

Suddenly, the next morning, the document approved the night before sounded different. At some point, the leader of the editorial commission had had enough. He himself now supervised the process and took over media relations. It remains unclear whether the sickness that caused Opus Dei Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima and Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of Bogotá to depart was of viral or political cause. But in any case for Jorge Mario Bergoglio, cardinal from Buenos Aires and leader of the final editing, it was a triumph – over all wishes for change out of Rome.

Whoever wishes to know what Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict, thinks, can go back to his hundreds of books and articles… […] Whoever on the contrary wishes to know what Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the new Pope Francis, thinks, must above all look at his life and his deeds. He has never produced a theological work of his own … […] Bergoglio has written a half-dozen books and edited a few more; there is an authorized biography and an interview book together with Rabbi Abraham Skorka. That really isn’t much. […]

Asked about the conflicts at the gathering in Aparecida, Bergoglio answered that in the Church the Holy Spirit is the “author of unity and diversity. When it is we who create diversity, it comes to schism. And when it is we who want unity, it comes to uniformity and synchronization.” Yes, the Church must always change: “One does not remain faithful by clinging to the letter like traditionalists or fundamentalists. Faithfulness is always change.”  […]

One can understand why they are nervous in the curia when Pope Francis wears black, orthopedic shows instead of red, and washes and kisses the feet of prison detainees on Holy Thursday. These gestures are not for their own sake, they are the program. This Francis from far-off Argentina is at once revolutionary and conservative. […]

For many Europeans, the new pope will be hard to stomach.


  1. “These gestures are not for their own sake, they are the program.”
    Quite so. Those who would start from the gestures are looking down the wrong end of the telescope. I believe the Church is being called to a conversion of perspective: to turn from the details to the bigger picture (Jesus Christ); from introversion to looking and reaching outwards. Viewed this way, many of the present problems and issues suddenly appear very different.

  2. Pope’s sister: Francis ‘plenty tough enough’ to lead

    I find John Allen’s interview with Francis Sister fascinating, especially if you place it in the context of this fact

    What I’ll miss is our weekly phone calls, if he’s not able to make them as often. We used to talk every week, really long conversations, and I’ll miss that if we can’t have them anymore.

    In the interview she says there was a real possibility before the 2005 conclave that Francis might have become Pope, however this time neither of them though that was likely to happen. This time she was rooting for Scherer I’ve always liked him. He’s for the poor.

    When asked to give an example of his toughness I suppose the best one would be his option for the poor. Many times that made his life difficult here in Argentina, both in terms of his relationship with the government and also with some business people who wanted him to shut up about it. He always chose the poor people, no matter what, and frankly in this country it can cost you to speak out in favor of the poor.

    When asked what she would say to Benedict’s brother: Benedict XVI is an extremely humble man and an extremely honest man, and it takes a lot of guts to renounce power like he did. Also, I’d like to express how grateful I am to Benedict XVI, because he did all the hard work. First of all, he had to follow John Paul II, which was almost impossible, especially because Benedict was more introverted and shy, more intellectual. I also feel sorry for Benedict because in many ways he had to do the dirty work in the church, such as starting to talk about the bad things in the church, the rotten tomatoes, such as the abuse cases.

    Sounds like Francis might have decided at the last minute to throw his hat back in the ring with his speech because he saw that there were not any frontrunners.

    It is probably best to read him as the Pastoral Pope of the Poor. He was probably willing to become Pope because like his sister he wants somebody who is for the poor.

    JP2 had the advantage of having “communism” as an external force and cause that took the focus off his internal church governance. The fall of the Soviet Union seemed to validate his Papacy.

    Francis likely thinks that the best way to follow JP2 is to have a popular external cause, namely serving the poor. However this cause is not simply a political cause but a deeply pastoral cause because most Catholics in the third world are poor.

    This pastoral more than political cause requires pastoral lifestyles that identify with the poor. If it were only a political cause then popes, cardinals and bishops could continue to pursue the lifestyle of the rich as they lobbied for the poor.

  3. Although the Pew Reports of Francis initial favorability (84%) are greater than Benedict’s initial favorability (67%), that favorability is not significantly greater than Benedict’s at the time of his USA 2008 Visit (83%). Remember Benedict was scoring media points for meeting with victims just like Francis is scoring points for being humble..

    Of course Francis initial favorability is greater than the 74% that Benedict had in August 2007, March 2008, and at his resignation in February 2013.

    But Francis favorability is less than JP2 at 91% in 1987 and at 93% in both 1990 and 1996.

    Maybe Francis 84% is just a temporary media boost like that of Benedict in 2008.

    In regard to favorability the challenge is to meet the high standard set by JP2 by scoring in the lower 90% and to keep ahead of Benedict by scoring above 80%

    Another way of looking at Francis favorability is that it is in the same range as that of nuns and priests but greater than that of bishops, and the American bishops.

    Satisfaction (which includes very satisfied) for nuns (83%) and priests (82%) was essentially the same, but there was less satisfaction for the bishop (74%), the pope (74%) and American bishops (70%) who are not different from each other.

    Perhaps a good standard for both Popes and Bishops to meet is to be essentially the same as nuns and priests, i.e. in the lower 80s. Maybe trying to keep up with JP2 is too high a standard. Maybe having Popes and Bishops that are as good as our priests and nuns would be sufficient.

  4. Luke 1:52 “God has lifted up the lowly”

    This seems to be Francis strategy for reforming the Vatican as he has daily staff Mass for the garbage collectors, the typists, etc, and lives and eats in a place frequented by lower level Vatican staff. There appears to be method and experience in the “madness” of his institutional reform.

    Francis gets his ‘oxygen’ from the slums

    John Allen reports On Saturday, I spent the morning in what’s called “Villa 21”, the largest slum in Buenos Aires with a population of almost 50,000 people. The beating heart of Villa 21 is the parish of the Virgin of Caacupé, named for Mary as the patroness of Paraguay, because most of the people living here are poor immigrants from that country. Bergoglio’s option for places such as this wasn’t notional, … It took flesh and blood in his penchant for walking the streets, talking to the people, leading them in worship and standing with them when times were tough. I stopped a woman at random and asked if she had met Bergoglio. She scuttled into her tiny shack made of tin and wood, emerging with two prized photos.

    The results are the staggering set of ministries run out of the Virgin of Caacupé parish : 1) A recovery center for drug addicts, 2) Two farms where recovering addicts work and live; 3) Fifteen or sixteen chapels around the neighborhood, where priests visit for Masses and confession; 4) A high school; 5) A trade school, offering courses in auto repair, electronics, laundry services, computers, and other practical job skills; 6) A home for the elderly; 7) A soup kitchen; 8} a community radio station, which broadcasts 24/7 and which teaches young people the media business; 9) A community newspaper called The Catholic; 10) •Drug prevention programs, 11) a daily center for kids living in the streets where they can get cleaned up, get a hot meal, and help straighten their lives out if they want it.

    Bergoglio was so well informed about the lives of his priests that it sometimes made him hard to deal with. “You couldn’t just feed him a line of crap, because he’d see right through it

    Francis is going back to Argentina in December! A state visit? A pastoral visit? A personal visit to his sister and favorite team? A walk around the slums with media in tow?

    One of the priests reports Drugs are a symptom, violence is a symptom, but marginalization is the disease. Our people feel marginalized by a social system that’s forgotten about them and isn’t interested in them.

    Wonder how many political leaders as well as religious leaders are going to get out of their bubbles and walk the streets to see what is going on? And what happens when Catholics and other Christians decide not to wait for their political and religious leaders to get out of their bubbles? This could be interesting.

  5. This was posted on April 4 and the very next day Francis was quoting Benedict enthusiastically on the “dictatorship of relativism”. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose….

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