Pope Francis: An Initial Hasty Mormon Reaction


Pope Francis


I’ve just spent pretty much the past two hours — time that I really don’t have — watching the announcement of Pope Francis and his inaugural remarks as successor to Benedict XVI.  The event was too important, too historic, to miss.  Other things could wait.


I found it quite moving and impressive, and not only because I’m a sucker for old traditions.


St. Peter’s Square and Baslica, with the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican apartments to the right


I was moved by the faith and devotion clearly visible on the faces of many of those in St. Peter’s Square.  I was struck by the still very strong yearning for religion and spirituality evident, despite the undeniably secularizing trends in Europe and the West generally, in the vast crowd thronging the Square and, even, in the sometimes rather awed voices of the journalists and commentators covering the announcement.


The new Rome Italy Temple
of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, under
construction (as of 12 January 2013)


Even though I believe the most important religious news coming from Rome to be, sub specie aeternatis, the construction of a new building on the outskirts of the city, I have a deep respect, even veneration, for the Roman Catholic Church, and I offer my sincere congratulations to any Roman Catholic readers that I might have out there on the election of a new bishop for the Holy See.  This newly chosen leader appears to be a brilliant academic (as far as I know, the first Jesuit ever elected to the papacy, and with a German doctorate, no less) who values the pastoral; a firm advocate of traditional Catholic moral values (bravo!) who is nevertheless an advocate for the poor and the disadvantaged and the suffering (he is said to have recently visited a hospital to wash the feet of dying AIDS patients); a prince of the Roman Catholic Church (and now its sovereign) who declined to live in an archepiscopal palace but, instead, has remained in his own small apartment, cooked his own meals, and taken public transportation to work.  He was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II (a hero of mine) as part of a very deliberate effort to combat the quasi-Marxist extremes of so-called liberation theology and to bring the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) back from the brink of heresy and leftist schism, but he is genuinely committed to ordinary people rather than to the older model of bishops as as an untouchable elite.  His choice of the papal name Francis — undoubtedly alluding to St. Francis of Assisi — speaks eloquently of how he views his new role.


I’ve already offered a prayer on behalf of Pope Francis and his people.



  • http://wellbehavedmormonwoman.blogspot.com Kathryn Skaggs

    Lovely “hasty” post.

  • JohnH

    It is possible that he is referring to St. Francis of Assisi, but I think it more likely (given he is a Jesuit) that it is in reference to St. Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuits and Patron Saint of Catholic Missions.

    • danpeterson

      It’s certainly possible that he had St. Francis Xavier in mind, and it’s very possible that he had both in mind.

      But, for most people (I think), mention of “St. Francis” without any further specification almost always means St. Francis of Assisi — and an invocation of that name would certainly seem to be consistent with what that St. Francis did and how he lived his life.

    • danpeterson

      A Vatican spokesman has evidently clarified that it was, indeed, St. Francis of Assisi that the new pope had in mind when choosing his papal name.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    According to Al Jeezera English, the name Francis was chosen in honor of the work St. Francis of Assisi did for the poor and downtrodden, which will be a main focus the of new Pope.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Francis Xavier was the first Christian missionary in Japan, and thousands of converts passed on their loyalty to Christianity despite three hundred years of official prohibition of Christian worship.

  • Louis Midgley

    Dan’s remarks on this remarkable event captured my own feelings really well. I gag when I hear journalist speculate, however. My hero was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. I wish him well in his retirement.

  • Ray Agostini

    I wasn’t an admirer of Ratzinger (I know it sounds archaic and outdated, but the *head* of the same Inquisition that killed Joan of Arc just didn’t ring a bell with me, even though it eventually transformed and canonised her), but so far I’m impressed with the new Pope, and much for the same reasons Dan is impressed. When I became a Mormon, I felt like re-expressing Huston Smith’s view, that the former (Catholicism) was like riding a jack-ass, and my new faith (Mormonism) was like riding on a “majestic elephant in high India” (Just to be clear, Smith didn’t make any allusions to Catholicism, as I have).

    Though I’m now an ex-Mormon (and an ex-Catholic), I find my empathy for both faiths growing, and that view is perhaps best explained by this interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/arts/al0172.html

    Part of that conversation:

    Pearce: Is the only hope a return to religion?

    Solzhenitsyn: Not a return to religion but an elevation toward religion. The thing is that religion itself cannot but be dynamic which is why “return” is an incorrect term. A return to the forms of religion which perhaps existed a couple of centuries ago is absolutely impossible. On the contrary, in order to combat modern materialistic mores, as religion must, to fight nihilism and egotism, religion must also develop, must be flexible in its forms, and it must have a correlation with the cultural forms of the epoch. Religion always remains higher than everyday life. In order to make the elevation towards religion easier for people, religion must be able to alter its forms in relation to the consciousness of modern man.

    This “alteration”, in the LDS view, is encapsulated in the 9th Article of Faith:

    “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

    Not to take Solzhenitsyn out of context, I’ll asterisk what I feel is most important in the following statement:

    In different places over the years I have had to prove that socialism, which to many western thinkers is a sort of kingdom of justice, was in fact full of coercion, of bureaucratic greed and corruption and avarice, and consistent within itself that socialism cannot be implemented without the aid of coercion. Communist propaganda would sometimes include statements such as “we include almost all the commandments of the Gospel in our ideology”. The difference is that the Gospel asks all this to be achieved through love, through self-limitation, but socialism only uses coercion. This is one point.

    *Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.*

    Somehow, I believe the new Pope has grasped this truth, this vision.

    • danpeterson

      Excellent comments, Ray.

  • http://theuseoftalking.wordpress.com Hans Castorp

    Thank you for these comments, Dr. P.

    As a Secular Franciscan, one of the things I’ve always admired about Mormonism is its communitarianism. May we work together for the good of all, especially the least of our brethren.

    hc, sfo

    • danpeterson