Francis: Pope of a New World

Francis: Pope of a New World is a book on Pope Francis that was just released as an ebook with the Hardcover coming in the next two days. This was written by the fairly well-known Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli. The writer who I keep forgetting is a man.

This book has the flaws you would expect from a book on a new Pope released just two weeks after his election. This is certainly not going to be the definitive biography and that is not what you would expect anyway. As a buyer what I was hoping for was a book that would flesh out his childhood, vocation to the priesthood, and to his years as the Cardinal of Bueno Aires.

The fact that Andrea Tornielli was a friend of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio helps to make this book more than just put a pope on it marketing. The caveat would be that while the author had a light friendship with the Cardinal, Bergoglio spent as little time in Rome as he had to. Still he is able to give some insight to the man and tell some intriguing stories.

It does take a couple chapters for the book to get really worthwhile. The book is setup with the time of the Conclave and the election of the Pope. There is some of interest here, but those familiar with much of the news in the last weeks will find nothing really knew here except for some possibly leaked news to how the voting went. Mention was also made regarding some of the scandals in recent years such as the so-called “Vaticanleaks” and Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation. Also mentioned was Cardinal Mahony and the pressure for him not to attend. In regards to this I thought the author rather minimized the extent of what Cardinal Mahony did in the coverup of abuse. I was also annoyed by the blanket term of “pedophile” used throughout as this is not a very helpful term as it is often inaccurate, but I guess ephepophile does not roll of the tongue as well.

The following chapter concerns Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his resignation. There is as you would expect a historical overview of Popes who have resigned, but what I found worthwhile was information about Pope’s from Pope Piux XII on who had considered resigning. I have seen bits and pieces about this before, but it was nice having it all together to give perspective. One thing I found annoying was that twice Pope Benedict XVI was referred to as Pope Ratzinger. I am not sure whether this is a custom that varies, but it was not one I was use to.

The rest of the book though was really what I wanted as it gave me much more sense of the man and his family life and background. The story of his vocation was much more filled out than what I have read before and it is rather an interesting story. Especially since it came about a point in his life when he was considering a proposal for marriage and a sudden decision to go to confession rather than to go with his friends as planned. His sister weighing in on this was also rather enjoyable. I also found fascinating the different reactions from his parents to his pursuing the priesthood which was inverted from the norm since his Mother was against it and his Father for it. There is one story regarding this with his mother that I thought rather funny since it was so Jesuitical. Jesuitical while also being rather heart-warming in an odd way.

I had also already gotten some sense that the new Pope had a good sense of humor and there were several stories throughout that confirmed this. Just to give you a recent example, the then-Cardinal when arriving a the airport came in at the same time as two other Cardinals one being the Cardinal from Manilla who was dressed in civilian clothes.

They respect one another. They greet one another. The next day, in the Sala Clementina, when Padre Bergoglio meets Cardinal Tagle dressed in a regulation black cassock with red trimmings, red cape, and zucchetto, he tells him jokingly, “You know, yesterday at the airport there was a boy who looked a lot like you . . .”

One of the aspects of Pope Francis most commented on is his style which gets cast as humility. In some ways this is both endearing and off-putting. It can easily be misread as a theatrical humility which of course would be no humility at all. I confess to wondering about this myself at times, but I don’t believe this at all now. What the book really shows is that this Franciscan simpleness has always been an integral part of his life from the earliest days. Growing up in a semi-poor family provided some of the roots of his sensibility, but it seems to go beyond that. That this was a man always willing to be in service to others. That he was so focused on others seeing the individual, that he had no desire to puff himself up. We have all heard the stories of him riding on the bus, but the examples multiply as for example cooking for others. Impressive to me though was what he did to remove barriers from himself to others. His style seems to be all about removing barriers such as not having a secretary and installing a phone so priests could call him directly anytime. It will certainly be captivating in the years ahead how this direct style will be played out in his Petrine ministry.

We have already seen signs that God’s mercy will be a major theme in his pontificate as it has been a theme throughout his priestly ministry. A major theme throughout the papacy and certainly emphasized by Blessed John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

From this insight, Bergoglio derives also a bit of advice for confessors. He asks them, when they go into the confessional, to be neither rigorists nor laxists. “The rigorist is someone who applies the norm and nothing else: the law is the law, period. Basta The laxist “sets it aside: it is not important, nothing will happen … just go on that way.” The problem, explains the future pope, “is that neither one cares about the person in front of him”. And so, what should confessors do? “Be merciful.”

The author of the book takes this theme of rigorism and laxity up at certain point when relating stories. This narrative makes it hard at times to see the details of something and was rather confusing regarding the Cardinal and the baptizing of children of parents who were not living the faith. Of course “founded hope that the child will be raised Catholic” is a canonical question and outside of the scope of the book to address. Still it raises the question of whether following canon law is seen as being a rigorist. I don’t want to make a big deal here about what we have so little information on regarding the new Pope’s views, still it was something I wanted to know more about.

The book also deals with some of the slanders that have come out against him regarding the kidnapping of two of his priests during the dirty war. This is fairly well covered and detailed. The book-length interview in “El Jesuita” by journalists Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti provided many details used in this book. The authors familiarly with this book and other sources really helped this book to provide some of the details you would want. The book mostly succeeds at giving you more of an idea of the man. Although there is a lot more information I would like to know more about such as his years as a priest, his time as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, and his being the Ordinary for Eastern-rite faithful in Argentina which was not mentioned at all. There are certainly plenty of gaps regarding the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and no mention of all regarding his actions against liberation theology.

The book certainly left me yearning for more information, but while not sated by the information in this book I was satisfied that it more than met my expectation for a short-turnaround book on the new Pope. Certainly well-worth reading. I did not intend to write a book review almost as long as the book, but there you have it.

By the way the ebook is currently available at Ignatius Press to buy and download. It is also available on Amazon and other sellers at a price a couple of bucks lowers. Still I bought it at Ignatius Press since I wanted both to support them directly and the fact that their downloads contain no Digital Rights Management and you are able to easily read them on any device without hassle.

About Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is a former atheist who after spending forty years in the wilderness finds himself with both astonishment and joy a member of the Catholic Church. A retired Navy Chief who now makes his living as an application developer.

  • Tim Wallace

    Jeff, enjoy your blog alot! On Francis, in light of the lives and teaching of his predecessors, I thought you might be interested to know that I have just complete a historical overview of the Church in the U.S. since Vatican IIh Here is a sample from my blog on the book

  • Kathy from Kansas

    Jeff, you and your readers need to be informed that on p. 86 of this otherwise excellent book, there is a grievous mistranslation. Tornielli includes a passage from “El Jesuita,” the biographical interview with then-Cardinal Bergoglio by Sergio Rubin — a passage in which Bergoglio was talking about how he’d dreamed of being a missionary in Japan, but his recent health issues did not allow him to be sent abroad. I had just been reading “El Jesuita” (in Spanish, since it’s not yet available in English) right before I read Tornielli’s book, so I caught the error right away. The sentence at the very bottom of p. 86 SHOULD read: “Some people would have been ‘saved’ from me here, if I had been sent over there, wouldn’t they?” He was making an ironic reference to those of his fellow Jesuits in Argentina who considered him a thorn in their side, mostly because he was not as wild about “liberation theology” as they were. Instead, Tornielli (or whoever translated Tornielli from Italian into English!) rendered the sentence as a snide and cynical-sounding “How many people over there [meaning Japan] would have been ‘saved’ by me if they had sent me there?” See how much the meaning and tone of that line is changed when you mistranslate “from me” as “by me”; “here” [meaning Argentina] as “over there” [meaning Japan]; and “a number of people,” as a statement, into “how many people,” as a cynical-sounding question! The butchered translation makes it sound like Bergoglio was scoffing at the idea that his missionary work in Japan would have actually borne any fruit. That almost sounds blasphemous, making fun of the whole idea of the salvation of souls! That is SO NOT what Bergoglio said! The original Spanish — for anyone here who knows Spanish — is “Unos cuantos se habrian ‘salvado’ de mi aca si me hubieran enviado alla… no?” He was making an ironic but gentle reference to certain Argentine Jesuits who might have been quite happy to have had Bergoglio far, far away overseas, where he couldn’t cause them any trouble!

    I wrote to Ignatius Press about this, and got a letter back from Fr. Fessio himself saying that they would correct the error in any future printings. I’m glad of that — but in the meantime, I hope we can get the word out to people about the correct translation.