Ideologues of all kinds have been trying to figure out Pope Francis for over a year now. Many, if not most, are still trying to fit him into their own boxes. But try as they might, he can’t be stuffed into a box.
Archbishop Chaput gave a recent talk for the Napa Institute in which he explains quite clearly how Pope Francis is simply Catholic. He’s not a liberal. He’s not a conservative. And if you consider him only through the lens of one of these categories (which are not two, but a vast multitude, depending on a variety of social and cultural factors), you won’t understand him.
In order to understand Pope Francis, it helps to first understand the saint whose name he took. Contrary to some popular beliefs, St. Francis was not a 13th century hippie. Archbishop Chaput begins his talk with this clarification:
I’m a Capuchin Franciscan, and I’ve often found that people think of Francis of Assisi as a kind of 13th-century flower child. St. Francis was certainly “countercultural,” but only in his radical obedience to the Church and his radical insistence on living the Gospel fully — including poverty and all of its other uncomfortable demands. Jesus, speaking to him from the cross of San Damiano, said, “Repair my house.” I think Pope Francis believes God has called him to do that as pope, as God calls every pope. And he plans to do it in the way St. Francis did it.
Pope Francis took the name of the saint of Christian simplicity and poverty. As he has said, he wants “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he grounded this goal in Jesus Christ, “who became poor and was always close to the poor and the outcast” (186). That’s a very Franciscan idea.