“We’re Settling into a Fascinating Pontificate…”

So says veteran Vaticanista John Thavis. I was lucky enough to hear him offer that assessment in person, last week in Denver. Fortunately, he’s also published it on his blog: 

I don’t want to recap Pope Francis’ 100-day “greatest hits” here. Instead, I’d like to identify a few core characteristics and directions that seem to be emerging:

1. Francis has relocated the papacy outside the Roman Curia.

First, choosing to live in the less formal Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal apartments has turned out to be a crucial decision, because geography counts at the Vatican. The papal apartments are surrounded by Roman Curia offices, deep inside the Apostolic Palace, and Francis would have been much more isolated there. He is a people person, after all.

Second, the pope has named a group of eight cardinals – now to be expanded to nine – to advise him on matters of church governance and Roman Curia reform. Only one is a member of the Roman Curia. Nothing said more clearly that Francis intends to rely less on Vatican insiders and more on the world’s bishops when it comes to governing.

Third, much of the pope’s preaching has come in morning Masses at the Vatican guesthouse, in off-the-cuff homilies that are brief, insightful and sharply worded. The Vatican bureaucracy doesn’t even consider these homilies part of the pope’s real Magisterium, and has yet to publish full texts. One reason, I think, is that unlike formal papal speeches, these extemporized talks don’t go through the usual bureaucratic machinery. They are less controlled by the Curia.

2. Francis has begun his “reform” of the Vatican by evangelizing.

The people who attend the pope’s morning Masses are groups of Vatican officials and employees, and his words are directed at them in a particular way. In that sense, Pope Francis’ reform of the Vatican has already begun. Not in the way the world was expecting, through high-profile appointments of Roman Curia heads – though that will come in due time. Instead, the pope is evangelizing the Vatican. He’s laying the spiritual groundwork for reform, by preaching the Gospel in his own back yard. For him, “new evangelization” begins at home.

3. The pope’s vision of the church’s role is less about internal identity and more about external influence.

He wants the church to be present in people’s lives. For priests, that means getting out with their faithful and sharing their problems – as he put it in his memorable and earthy phrase, pastors should have “the odor of sheep.” For bishops, it means an end to careerism (today he told nuncios that when evaluating candidates for bishop, they should avoid ambitious prelates and choose pastors who are close to the people.)

For lay Catholics, it means being willing to live the Gospel and proclaim it joyfully in word and deed, especially to those who are suffering. Although this takes courage, evangelization is not a burden, and shouldn’t seem like one, the pope said.

That’s just for starters.  Visit his blog for the rest.


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