The Francis shifts

It’s uncanny that the prelate not among the participants of Vatican II is the Pope who got its spirit and is spreading it. Francis has been sharper at grasping the “signs of the times,” a Council buzzword, and passing them on in our idiom.

He sees “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” The throng swarming the Nazarene, the cited 3-4 million drug victims, dense colonies of informal settlers, a microcosm of worldwide poverty, are poor. It’s only fair that the institutional Church must become poorer and shake off its dark legacy of possessions, panoply, power, politics. In stark contrast is Francis from the moment he stepped onto the balcony on March 13, 2013, to ask for prayers, in his white cassock, old shoes, and, somewhere, his worn-out satchel. Argentina spared him from the royalty of Rome.


What but “Mercy and Compassion” would emerge as his first 180-degree shift, universally picked up, a byword on the lips of priest and people? But it isn’t just awa. It digs deeper into understanding where anyone is coming from. For example, the family has been split or shattered into so many configurations; gender is adding more letters after LGBT. Are we kind, understanding, or judgmental? Do priest and prelate admit that laity are ahead in seeing and feeling the convoluted, complicated signs of living now, “from the ground up,” as Francis says?

Another sighting: “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle…. Heal the wounds.” It is probably more severe than the murmuring in the confessional box. Heal any and all, as they come, from wherever they come and in whatever condition—no exception. The Pope is wary about those who “tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn….”


Easily, the second shift is “Inclusiveness,” Vatican II’s Ecumenism—open arms for all. “Even the atheists? Everyone.” There’s the usual acclaim, but also some reluctance to accept, for example, salvation outside one’s church. Homilists still say, “We Catholics,” still “us and them,” and ours is the best and the truest.

Yet, right within the Church, there are “multiple ‘catholicisms’” who are not exactly BFFs. We’ve got CCs: Catolico cerrados, Catolico candados, Café Catholics, Cafeteria Catholics. What are you? Is it perhaps easier to find “common ground” among Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Protestants, etc., who now come together to pray, dialogue, discuss, share spiritualities?

For the third shift, conservatives are giving the Pope a hard time. Although he has not categorically said so, I feel Francis is moving away, gingerly, from dogmatism and rigidity.

Resistance is vocal and visible: against his acknowledgement of Luther’s role in reform, his inclusion of a Muslim and three women in the Washing of the Feet, “ferocious opposition” to any sign of softening in the array of teachings on family from “indissolubility” to refusing Communion and a host of others with any hint of undermining “the purity of doctrine.”

On this “deposit of Faith,” the Church presumes that: We have it all, and it’s fixed. Not so. There is the “development of doctrine” which calls for continuing “reconceptualization” and “reformulation,” to which Francis has adverted often enough. Has the Church forgotten the errors of the past and the changes it has since conceded?

This may be disturbing for dogmatists who brook no doubt, but there is the “certainty of uncertainty” and vice versa, plus your conscience and mine. Rigid rules, beliefs and teachings may make for a formidable religion but for spirituality, that is hardly enough.

It’s ironic that non-Catholics, young and old, love him, while insiders, the Curia no less, chip away at his efforts. It is a flawed institution whose enemy lies within its very leadership and avowed followers. The Francis shifts are a portent to what the Institutional Church must do or risk the worst judgement: “The train has already left the station.”


Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist.

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