We are still getting to know Pope Francis, studying his actions and his words as we try to gauge the man and what sort of papacy we might expect of him, where his stylistic differences with his predecessors end and the substantial differences (or similarities) kick in. I expect a couple of heads will explode upon reading this in his remarks, today, to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See:
After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.
But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
Somewhere, Notre Dame’s Richard McBrien has to be frustrated. It was McBrien, doing the pundit thing on some cable news channel in 2005, who suggested Joseph Ratzinger would “never” be elected pope because he was too polarizing, as demonstrated in his last homily as Cardinal Ratzinger, an exhortation to the world, and his fellow conclave-bound Cardinals, in which he said:
We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.
That “dictatorship of relativism” line — which was spot-on, by the way — was hugely unpopular in some quarters, when Benedict uttered it, and resoundingly criticized as too “hard-line”, too insensitive to the notion that there are separate truths and personal realities, and that
all most of them are equally valid (not the icky rad-trad ones). McBrien declared that in uttering those words, Ratzinger had blown any chance he might have had, of being pope.
And here is Pope Francis validating the phrase and the thought behind it. O Heavy Sigh and Facepalms, for some, today! O Light Sighs of agreement from others!
It’s a little amusing, I admit, but I expect the sighing will continue, on all sides, in turn — and in alternating measure — for quite a while, as I’m still convinced that Pope Francis is going to challenge all of us to let go of any of our comfortable notions — any idol of an idea held on to too dearly — in order to cling more dearly, more vulnerably, more tenderly and tenaciously, to Christ Jesus, alone.
Like the ditty goes, “I’m loving’ it!”
UPDATE: Writes John Allen:
. . .anyone who saw [Francis’] election as a repudiation of the broad philosophical and theological outlook of Benedict XVI probably has another think coming.