Viewpoint: There was (mostly) good news from Rome during 2013

by M. Francis Mannion

BEST DEVELOPMENT IN CATHOLICISM: The election of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope Francis. I like everything about this Pope–everything he says and everything he does. In my adult life, I have never been this enthusiastic about a Pope. While he is completely orthodox on doctrine and moral theology, his joyful spirituality and pastoral outreach to the Church and the world is quite extraordinary.

MOST EXCITING PAPAL CONVICTIONS: First, Francis’ belief that at the heart of the Gospel is Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness, compassion, and solidarity with all who are poor, homeless, spiritually “lost,” or marginalized. Second, the Pope’s oft-repeated statement that he prefers “a church that messes up for doing something than one that’s sick for remaining closed inside itself.”

BEST FORMAL PAPAL MESSAGE: “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium), in which Pope Francis sets out the “program” for his papacy. I must admit that I have rarely read a papal document from beginning to end. (Being a good speed-reader, I have, however, skimmed over most of them!). But this one, like a good novel, I could not put down. Every Catholic should read it, and I encourage every parish to set up a study group to discuss it. It is available from good book-stores, or it can be ordered from on-line booksellers.

BEST MOVES BY THE MEDIA: “Time” magazine choice of Pope Francis as “Person of the Year.” Also the choice of Francis as “Person of the Year” by “The Advocate,” the national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender magazine. While “The Advocate” well recognizes that Francis holds very traditional views on sexuality, modern sexual lifestyles, and same-sex marriage, it is impressed by the “tone” of what he says.

GREATEST FEAR: That Pope Francis will not be able to sustain his plan to reform the Roman Curia (the various departments of the Vatican), given the “conservative” efforts by some high-level Vatican officials to push back against the Pope’ plans. Francis has, however, addressed this matter more than once, and has made it clear that the Roman Curia must change.

MOST DESIRABLE PAPAL APPOINMENT TO COME? That Archbishop Piero Marini, long-time papal master of ceremonies under Pope John Paul II, but later “promoted” to an office of no great importance, become the next Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Piero Marini is thoroughly in the tradition of Paul VI in implementing the liturgical vision of Vatican II, and he is not an enthusiast about recent “restorationist” liturgical directions.

MOST “IMPRUDENT” CHURCHMAN? Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, has said publicly that he never knows what the new Pope is going to do next, and that Francis’ decision not to live in the well-appointed papal apartments was an “affront” to Pope Benedict. Some have said that it is one thing for the Archbishop to express these sentiments in private, but talking to the media has seemed to them extremely “imprudent.”

BEST NEW PAPAL MARIAN DEVOTION: When Father Borgoglio was a doctoral student in theology in Frankfurt, Germany, in the 1980s, he discovered a unique 18th century painting of “Mary Undoer of Knots” (Maria Knotenlöserin) in St. Peter’s Church in Augsburg. The picture shows Mary untying a knotted ribbon that symbolizes the many the knots of human anxiety, illness, and distress. Cardinal Bergoglio made devotion to this image popular in Latin America, but it has yet to catch on in the U.S.

MOST HOPEFUL PAPAL SIGNAL ABOUT THE LITURGY: Get away from the introverted hot-house obsession with liturgical matters among some groups, and focus instead on ministering to a broken world.

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. By permission of The Intermountain Catholic, Salt Lake City.


  1. I have prayed that Pope Francis could foster a tenuous peace for the liturgical movements in the badly fractured Roman rite. Pope Francis’s de-emphasis on liturgy could, for at least the span of a papacy, partially unite and mend Roman Catholics of different liturgical persuasions under Pope Francis’s resolve to teach and evangelize the Gospel.

    After reading comments here and also on liturgically conservative or traditional websites, I find that few on either side are willing to place aside liturgical concerns for the moment. Instead many contend that their form of worship is more well suited to Pope Francis’s charism.

    We are far, far away from any simulacrum of cooperation, let alone a common purpose. This saddens me, but then again Pope Francis can only offer his message, and not demand action of the faithful.

  2. I also don’t think I’ve ever read a papal document from beginning to end. Their writing styles were largely ponderous so I always contented myself with a good scan of the original followed up by reading various summaries in the Catholic Press. And I have to admit that I haven’t yet thoroughly read The Gospel of Joy. I read paragraph by paragraph well into the document before being overwhelmed by its scope and content. I kept pinching myself whenever it occurred to me that this papacy was all a dream. I will read it through and probably with a group of staff and parish leaders in the new year. I thank God for having lived long enough to have the joy of my “youth” restored. Viva il papa!


    1. Relocating the Pope’s residence to the Domus Sanctae Marthae centered the papal focus upon the Pope’s and the Curia’s service to the church rather than the head of state functions of the papal palace (where Francis still receives heads of state).

    2. Domus Sanctae Marthae is an ideal location not only because it receives church oriented visitors but because many lower members of the Curia (monsignori) live there. When eating they did not interact with guests or with each other very much. When it was first announced the Pope was going to live there, many were frightened about how to interact with the Pope on a daily basis. So Francis placed his living, his daily Mass and daily meals at the heart of the Curia problem, getting it to work for the benefit of the universal church. He was not going to solve that problem from the lofty papal palace but by living in the trenches.

    3. Francis made the Daily Mass more than either himself or the Domus the source and summit of his being a pastor. The papal daily mass was no longer a private devotion in the papal palace attended by a few but rather the place where visitors and everyone who works in the Vatican assembled not in the immensity of a Saint Peter’s square papal Mass but in a more personal and social space.

    (This has profound implications for parish structure and parish liturgy since daily parish masses are largely the private devotions of the priest and a few parish members).

    4. Francis transformed the daily Masses not only socially by also psychologically by his “Meditations” the homilies that are formed by his Jesuit morning meditations. They give everyone equally (the Curia, the guests, the internet general public) access to his spirituality.

    (Again Francis uses a simple homiletic structure [ brief, three key words, focused upon scripture, and informed by prayerful reading of scripture] that has profound implications for parish life).

    5. In summary Francis has looked at some of the basic institutional structures (standard ways of behaving in social science lingo) of his life, i.e. where he lives, his routines (Mass, eating), his various social relationships, and has profoundly rethought them in terms of the Gospel, surely a model for everyone not simply for priests and bishops.

    This is a profoundly liturgical pope when it comes to essentials as exemplified by this daily Mass and homilies. Unfortunately “introverted hot-house obsession” with liturgical trivialities prevents many from seeing this.

    Notice also the profound eccesiology behind his simultaneously being a model parish priest, the bishop of Rome, and Pope, i.e he is most effective at being a bishop and Pope by being a model parish priest. Domus Sanctae Marthae could be your parish.

  4. Thanks, Jack…..again, your insightful comments capture the reality that Francis’s liturgical style gets to the heart of the gospel imperatives (the core vs. accidentals….it was what I was trying to respond to Allan with on the earlier blogpost. Liturgy is not at its core *style*)
    Sorry, Jordan, but when you state: “Pope Francis’s de-emphasis on liturgy could, for at least the span of a papacy, partially unite and mend Roman Catholics of different liturgical persuasions under Pope Francis’s resolve to teach and evangelize the Gospel.” you miss the essence of liturgy – is he *de-emphasizing* liturgy or is he re-orienting to the *real and actual* core of liturgy?

    Here is a link to a summary and interesting article by a Benedict liturgy lover:
    (Note – you have to click on the first highlight within the Roberts piece to get to the article)

    High Point:

    “So I was intrigued to come across Haines’ essay in which he expresses a certain “pain” in watching Francis’s liturgies. It would have been easy for him, who so loved Benedict’s approach, to dismiss Francis. Instead, he reflects on what may be a disproportionate or misplaced emphasis in his own life on the value of liturgy unconnected to real people, real circumstances outside church walls. I found it a courageously candid bit of introspection:

    “Without supposing to know the Holy Father’s heart, it seems clear that the celebrated liturgy, to him, is viewed as something incomplete in itself. That’s not to suggest, of course, that he considers it somehow deficient. Rather, in approaching the liturgy, Pope Francis seems always to have in mind its connection to real effects, both in the soul but also in the flesh”

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #8:
      Thanks for sharing this, Bill.

      Haines’ piece, on which Roberts’ reflection is based, was written less than a week after Francis’ election.

      Perhaps allowing a little more time to elapse might give him a more complete picture of Francis’ approach to liturgy, instead of concluding that it lacked affection for the aspects Benedict paid attention to, such as ‘its finer points’ and its ‘splendour.’

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