Vaticanista John Thavis reports here about the unease some Vatican officials feel about Pope Francis’ informal style. What are they to do with a Pope who makes informal pastoral phone calls, improvises his homilies at daily Mass, makes off the cuff remarks to journalists and basically says whatever he wants to whoever he wants?
Thavis portrays the problem as a bunch of uptight, legalistic, po-faced Vatican bureaucrats being fussy about a pope who is a relaxed, easy going people person. Thavis paints the picture of happy go lucky Pope Francis who won’t be reigned in by the stuffy traditionalists.
This is the sort of trite observation and shallow analysis we are used to hearing from Thavis.
I’m sure there are some stuffy, legalistic types haunting the halls of the Vatican, but it doesn’t take one of them to see some of the communicate problems Pope Francis is causing.
When he behaves in this way he is causing confusion among the faithful. Should a pope interfere in the pastoral matters of an individual in another country? Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the local pastor and bishop? Isn’t it a fair observation to ask why a pope who is all for downsizing the papacy, delegating and handing over to the people should then step in an get involved at a very local level? To ask these questions does not mean one is an arch conservative semi sedevacantist. It’s a matter of common sense.
Furthermore, shouldn’t a pope realize he is pope and behave accordingly? No matter what the pope’s personal style and personal preferences, he is now the pope and whether he likes it or not, people hang on his every word and action. Yes, yes, we all know that a chat with reporters on a plane or a personal phone call by a pope are not infallible doctrinal statements. The problem is, a huge number of people in the world don’t realize that. Pope Francis should therefore understand that he is no longer Padre Bergoglio and learn that one of the greatest things a pope can do is to not do anything.
There is another problem with Pope Francis’ style which is lurking in the background which I have not heard anyone else commenting on, and it is this: if a person in a public role trivializes that role with a very personal and informal style, then when they want to make a formal pronouncement the chances are that they will not be taken seriously. Make enough gaffes and speak off the cuff enough and soon the world will consider everything you say to be a gaffe and all your pronouncements to be inconsequential, off the cuff matters of opinion.
So when Pope Francis makes an off the cuff remark or an informal phone call that has to be “re-interpreted” and “put into context” by everyone from mommy bloggers in Iowa to the Vatican press office it cheapens all his statements. When he stands up and speaks formally about the evils of greed, the threat of war, the horrors of abortion or the crime of human trafficking–because he has made public off the cuff remarks which are matters of opinion hoi polloi and the press will treat those comments also as being no more than a matter of opinion.
When our modern relativistic society already considers most statements on everything to be no more than a matter of opinion, then the pope’s serious statements will then be dismissed as no more than one man’s opinion. He’s a nice man and everybody likes him, but his informality and off the cuff remarks have then cheapened his authority and whatever he says will be treated as no more than the opinion of that nice old codger in the white outfit in Rome.
Catholics around the world are right to be alarmed at the Pope’s style. I for one, am an admirer of Pope Francis. I think he’s a breath of fresh air. I like the fact that he is willing to turn over a few tables and bring reform and renewal to the church.
However, I think he should also be careful and listen to his advisers in this very serious matter of communications. The way things stand at the moment there are only two conclusions one can draw: first, that the Pope knows exactly what he is doing and the consequences of his style, and that it is his intention to weaken the authority of the papacy and bring it down to no more than the opinion of one person or second, that in this area of personal style and communications he is an amateur and he needs to stop, take stock, listen to the experts and reign in his style.
A pope after all, must integrate his own personality and style into the living tradition of the papacy for as he does he is not only keeping the papacy alive and renewing it with the charism of his own style, but he is also setting precedents for the future–and that is a serious task and responsibility.
Read Thavis’ whole article here.