Standing up to Pope Francis' detractors – Leonardo Boff

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In several places in the world, but primarily in Italy, among the Cardinals and members of the Roman Curia, as well as conservative lay groups, a strong resistance to, and denigration of, the figure of Pope Francis is developing. They display their discomfort, while hiding behind Vittorio Messori, a famous lay converted writer.

So it was with sadness that I read the article by Vittorio Messori in Milan's Corriere della Sera, titled: “The options of Francis: doubts about the path of Pope Francis”  (12/24-2014).  He waited for the vespers of the Nativity to cut deeply at the Pope.  Messori especially criticizes his “unpredictability that continues to disturb the tranquility of the moderate Catholic.”  Messori admires the linear perspective “of the beloved Joseph Ratzinger” and among pious phrases insidiously injects a great deal of poison. And he does it, as he himself confesses, in the name of those who lack the courage to expose themselves.

I would like to propose a counterpoint to the doubts of Messori. He does not grasp the new signs of the times brought by Francis of Rome. Moreover, he displays three errors: two of a theological nature, and one of interpreting the relevance of the Church in the Third World.

Messori has been scandalized by the “unpredictibility” of this pastor because “he continues to perturb the tranquility of the moderate Catholic.”  One must question the quality of the faith of this “moderate Catholic”, who has trouble accepting a pastor who brings the aroma of sheep, and who announces “the joy of the Gospel”. They, in general, are cultural Catholics used to the Pharaonic figure of a Pope with all the symbols of power of the pagan Roman emperors.

Now a "Franciscan" Pope appears who gives centrality to the poor, who does not “wear Prada", who courageously criticizes the system that produces misery in much of the world, who opens the Church to the people, without judging them, and welcoming them in the spirit he called a “revolution of tenderness” when he spoke to the Latin-American bishops.

There is a great emptiness in Messori's thinking.  His two theological errors are: the near absence of the Holy Spirit, and Christ-monism,  this is, that only Christ counts. There is no proper place for the Holy Spirit.  Everything in the Church  is resolved only through Christ, which does not correspond to what Jesus taught. Why do I say this? Because what Messori laments in the Pope's pastoral actions is his "unpredictibility". Well then, that is the characteristic of the Spirit, as Saint John affirms: "The Spirit blows where the Spirit chooses, you hear the voice of the Spirit but you do not know whence it comes, nor whither it goes" (3,8). The nature of the Spirit is its unpredictable appearance.

Messori is hostage  to a linear vision of his "beloved Joseph Ratzinger”  and other prior Popes. Unfortunately, this linear vision turned the Church into a fortress, incapable of understanding the complexity of the modern world, isolated in the midst of other Churches and other spiritual paths, without dialoguing and learning from others, also illuminated by the Spirit. It blasphemes the Holy Spirit to think that others' thoughts are all erroneous. For that reason, an open Church, such as Pope Francis wants, is key to perceiving the appearances of the Spirit throughout history. Not without reason do some theologians call it “the fantasy of God”, because of its creativity and novelty for history and for the Church.

Without the Holy Spirit, the Church would become a heavy institutiion, lacking creativity. In the end, she would have little to say to the world, except doctrine upon doctrine, and could not lead to a living encounter with Christ or elicit hope and joy in living.

It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that this Pope came from outside the old and tired European Christianity.  Pope Francis is not a subtle theologian, but a pastor who understands the mandate Jesus asked of Peter: "Confirm the brothers and sisters in the faith," (Lc 22,31).  Francis brings the experience of the Churches of the Third World, particularly of Latin America.

There is another deficiency in Messori's thinking: he does not value the fact that today Christianity is a Third World religion, as German theologian J. B. Metz has repeated so often. Catholics are less than 25% of the population in Europe, while in the Third World, Catholics are almost the 73%, and in Latin America, nearly 49%.

Why not accept the newness that comes from these Churches, that no longer are mirror-Churces of the old European ones, but source-Churches, with their own martyrs, confessors and theologians?

We can imagine that in the not too distant future, the See of the Primate will no longer be Rome with the Curia, with all their contradictions Pope Francis recently exposed with courageous words, heard only from the mouth of Martin Luther, and in my 1984 book, Church: Charism and Power, that, if read with today's eyes, is more innocent than critical.  It would make sense that the principal See would be where the majority of Catholics are, which is in Latin America, Asia and Africa. That would surely be an unequivocal sign of the true Catholicity of the Church within this new globalized phase of humanity.

I was sincerely hoping for a greater intelligence of faith and more openness from Vittorio Messori, with his credentials as a Catholic, faithful to one type of Church and a well known writer. Pope Francis has brought hope and fresh air to many Catholics and to other Christians, who are very proud of him.

Let's not waste this gift from the Spirit with analysis that is more negative than positive, and does not strengthen the “joy of the gospel”  for all.

Leonardo Boff

Theologian-Philosopher, Earthcharter Commission

2 January 2015

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