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The Franciscan Pontificate and the Half-Full Glass

25 August, 2014 0 Comments

By Lyle Dunne

The first non-European Pope was elected to do one thing: reform the Roman Curia, the pitifully disorganised, corrupt and lazy central machinery of the church – Damian Thompson, The Spectator.

As far as the present pontificate is concerned, I’ve been a bit of a semicaliplenitudinarian. No, it’s not from Mary Poppins, but don’t bother looking it up, I just invented it: someone who thinks the glass is always half full.

Balancing the books (Author's photo)

OK, there’s no particular prospects of any improvements on the liturgical front – but we probably won’t go backward, with some limited (if regrettable) exceptions like the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

Theologically, there have been some interesting unscripted remarks – but at least this is a cure for papolatry: anyone who can remain ultramontane throughout this pontificate would win the open bull ride in any rodeo in Australia.

But, I’ve consoled myself, he might be just the man to clean out the Augean Stables of the Vatican. Someone who can do that might not be a liturgist or a theologian, but he may nevertheless be what the Church needs most right now.

I’m pleased to discover Damian Thompson agrees – in spades, as the above quote indicates.

(I found this via Fr Zuhlsdorf’s outstanding blog; readers may want to visit for a summary with his trademark pithy rubrical glosses – and while you’re there, why not stay for lunch?)

Thompson’s article covers the morass of Vatican finances in some detail, including the central role of Cardinal Pell as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

I have a couple of reservations about the article, though (ingrate that I am):

First, Thompson’s comments about the Anglosphere, and Pope Francis’ ignorance of it, concern me a little. I’m a big fan of the Anglosphere in relation to secular politics, but there’s a grave danger in taking an Anglocentric, or indeed a Eurocentric, view of the Church. His reservations about “decentralisation” (and Fr Z’s) are shaped by their experience of their respective national espiscopal conferences. But Britain and the US are not the Church, or even anything close to a majority thereof. If we’re talking about decentralisation in relation to financial and administrative matters, as opposed to doctrine (and the context doesn’t make it clear), then I think there’s room for a little subsidiarity.

Secondly, the perspective of Spectator-style conservatism has its limitations in relation to ecclesiastical matters. Not all the problems with governance and discipline in the Church, or even in the curia, are related to Church finances. Thompson notes in passing that there is no chance of Pope Francis’ changing the Church’s teachings on sexuality, and in any case this is not his priority – as a well-deserved smackdown of the preoccupations of the media and the zeitgeist in relation to Church teachings. But I think it’s fairly clear that the Church’s problems in relation to sexuality do not relate exclusively to whether to change teachings.

Pope Benedict XVI was a clearly a master theologian, and his subtlety of understanding in relation to liturgical matters was such that I often struggle to keep up, despite his masterful prose style. If he resigned because he felt he was “not up to” aspects of the role, it was clearly not in these areas, but in relation to administration. And I don’t think he resigned primarily because he doubted his ability to reform the Vatican’s “cosy way of doing business”.

Financial reform may be a good place to start – but, as Pope Francis himself has noted, the time available for the clean-up is finite.

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