I used to write about Pope Francis from the vantage point of a secular academic who was also an Anglican Christian.
I had two blogs, one for the academy and another for the Anglicanism. When I started writing about Pope Francis literally the day after his election, I thought I would be able to split my thinking in half and maintain two different perspectives. At the blog where I wrote pseudonymously as ‘Chinglican at Table,’ I wrote explicitly about how I saw the movement of the Holy Spirit in the elections not only of Cardinal Bergoglio in Rome, but also Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury and Tawadros II as the Coptic Pope. As a Chinglican, I tried to track how the Spirit was moving across these communions, so I often talked about the new Bishop of Rome’s surprising convergences with the work of evangelical Protestants in Hong Kong and in the United States, including unexpected meeting points with a movement in American evangelicalism called the ‘New Calvinism.’
On my academic blog, I tried to keep my charismatic sensibilities in check. It wasn’t like I was trying to be ‘secular’ or anything – my PhD, after all, is a critique of secular ideologies circulating in religious communities – but I tried to speak at arm’s length, attempting, say, to cover the politics that the Francis phenomenon was unleashing from the get go. I tried to discuss how Francis swum the ideological currents of the contemporary world, and to that extent, the only thing I ever did prescriptively in my own name on the Francis thing is to tell a journalist at Columbia Journalism Review to beware of calling Francis a ‘liberal,’ for the simple reason that it wouldn’t be a satisfying description of what Francis was doing in the world.
The only trouble was that it was hard to think through Francis’s politics (and the politics of his predecessors, for that matter) without the spirituality.
I’m saying this now because I think I might try to offer some of my reflections on World Youth Day as it happens as well as on the Year of Mercy over the course of this blog. I want to do this especially because I have so many friends at World Youth Day in Kraków right now. But it is a little weird to do so because I feel like the stakes for talking about the Bishop of Rome are a little higher now. This is, after all, Patheos Catholic, which has a certain position in the Catholic blogosphere. What’s more, I’m actually Catholic now. Let’s leave aside for a brief second the politics that the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church has had with the Vatican curia over the Havana Joint Declaration with Kirill of Moscow (tentative resolution here) and the question of whether we really have our own ‘patriarch’ (for the record, I think we do). The fact is that I am now a person in communion with Pope Francis. I’m not just what he calls ‘people of good will’ in Laudato Si’ (62) anymore.
Will that change the way that I write about him?