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Pope Francis and the Hierarchy Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 13 July 2014

Not long ago, the syndicated editorial cartoonist, Jeff Danziger, drew a scene in which a group of cardinals go and see God, and their leader asks him: “Your Brilliance, just how seriously do we cardinals have to take Pope Francis and his give-up-all-the-perks-and-behave-like-humble-parish-priests crap?” Sometimes even the anti-Catholics see the Catholic thing better than we do.  

With Pope Francis we are at an epochal point in the history of the Church. Historically, his actions are comparable with the Second Vatican Council and with the scandals. He stands out so much because rather than follow the prevailing culture, he consistently follows Christ’s injunctions to the apostles, particularly at the washing of the feet.

When the history is written, Francis will be seen as a turning point in the life of the Church and its service. Not since the Edict of Milan (313), when Catholicism first became legal in the Roman Empire, has the strange mixture of wealth, power, and apostleship concocted by sinful men been so massively challenged. Imagine how different the world would be if, for 1600 years, clergy had chosen to follow the apostolic instead of the aristocratic style.

Some U.S. bishops are following Francis’ example in choice of living quarters. He chose not to live in the Apostolic Palace, but that is only the beginning of where Francis is going. It gets more personal.

Francis is returning the apostolic ministry to its fundamentals, all the better for the Church, of course, but the whole industry of ecclesiastical careerism has been thrown on its ear. Jesus said to the twelve:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.(Matthew 20:25-28)
How quickly that was forgotten (with some honorable exceptions, of course).

Humanly speaking this is not surprising. For example, historically, as the officer corps developed in the military, they appropriated more and more perks, distracting themselves from the business of leading their men, which was their sole reason for being there. Senior personnel in large organizations frequently slip into appropriating resources and forming stylized ways of avoiding respectful communing with those “beneath” them.

In Francis’ case, however, he walked in the barrios in Buenos Aires and spoke to actual people. He could take a bus or subway, too. That attitude is one with others he has manifested: “The Holy Father spoke to the [clergy] of his sadness at hearing of people who had the experience of being ‘thrashed’ or ‘yelled at’ in the confessional and never returned because they felt that ‘the doors of the Church were closed in their face’.”(NCR May 11) He is very aware of the value of real intersubjectivity rather than asymmetric “communication.”

Authentic interpersonal communication – at which Jesus was the expert – shows the other person as together there in the love of God. There is no place for social ritual or for class-consciousness. They get in the way of authentic communication. Unfortunately, many prefer that kind of social structure and the walls – and safety – it provides.

Of course, Francis’ comments often cause panic because some are compelled to see something wrong in everything. In saying that the Catholic Church is not rigid, he does not plan to change the number of persons in the Trinity or the seriousness of intrinsically evil acts. He is merely addressing the personal rigidity of some clergy towards their people. He proposes instead that a loving heart:

a missionary heart is aware of these limits and makes itself “weak with the weak. . .everything for everyone” (1 Corinthians 9:22). It never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street. (Evangelii Gaudium)

The chief challenge of Francis’ pontificate will be finding clerical candidates mature enough and prayerful enough to serve the people in the way that he does. Then Saint John Vianney – the parish priest – can take his rightful place as model for interpersonal relationships between clergy and people for holiness’ sake.

What has not been said nearly enough is that the timing of Pope Francis’s arrival on the scene is providential. Returning to the apostolic style is the only effective way to face modernity with all of its stifling – dare I say rigid – worldliness.

When clergy are worldly then the institution becomes largely superfluous. Why have yet another worldly institution in the world? Living lives of transcendence means transcending property and the “good” life. It means going beyond interpersonal barriers for the sake of the Gospel. This is the “behave-like-humble-parish-priests” style that Francis exemplifies. Big things are happening and we are part of it.

 
Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are: Laity: Beautiful, Good and True; The World of the Sacraments; and, most recentlyCatholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini.
 
 
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Comments (50)Add Comment
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., July 13, 2014
Dear Fr. Bramwel, your article seems at least in part to take the same perpective of those who who calimed that Vatican II not completely chagned the chruch but that it had the effect of returning the Church to the entity that Our Lord had intended it to be and which it was until corrupted by some Great Apostasy that resulted from the Edict of Milan. Isn't the idea that Vatican II returned the Church to its prsitine and Divinely intended nature really the very basis of the Hermeneutic of Disruption? Doesn't that assumption invalidate every development and practice of the Church since the Apostolic Age? I am afraid that you have made Pope Francis look basically a 21th Century Luther, even something like Catholic Obama who intends to presdie over the fundamental transformation of the Church.
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written by Bangwelll Putt, July 13, 2014
We were privileged, before the providential arrival of Pope Francis, with the presence of another most humble, devout Servant of God, Pope Benedict XVI.

Although they differ in style, there is no difference of substance between the two men. Pope Benedict lived in personal simplicity of heart and spirit. He has a profound understanding of artistry and beauty as they serve the greater glory of God.

Pope Francis understands this time in history. A reverse symbolism prevails as many people of good will see holiness demonstrated in casual attire and behavior; ancient ritual laden with meaning is seen as artificial, prideful. He labors to bring these believers back to the Church.

Anything at all can be misused and become an occasion for the sin of pride. We would perhaps do better to acknowledge many and diverse ways of approaching God. One is the dedication of beauty and excellence in architecture, music, and divine service to the glory of God. Another is a divestiture of worldly beauty. This is effective when the style chosen is purely simple; never mediocre.

Pope Francis is a person of great love and devotion. His qualities, albeit in a different "key", were and are present in Benedict.
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written by schm0e, July 13, 2014
And, unfortunately, the franchise for tweaking the Pope's words in order to bring them into the service of despots has likewise encountered a turning point.

But "media savvy" will fix that. /s
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written by Jon S., July 13, 2014
Conclaves are not infallible. I sincerely hope Father Bramwell is right, but so far I'm not seeing it. As I see it, Our Lord showed us that we must be about both truth and love, which was also a theme of Pope Benedict. E.g., before Our Lord proclaimed the good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand, He said to repent. The Holy Father strikes me as all too much like the U. S. bishops that have dominated the Church since Vatican II (the Bernadins and Mahoneys and now the Dolans and the Wuerls)- seeing love and truth, the pastoral and the doctrinal, as opposites to choose between. As the "don't-be-so-judgmental" Francis never seems to tire of judging his stereotype of "rigid" Catholics, the forces within the Church that have been corrupting her and using her for their own agendas for the last five decades continue to have free reign. The practical result of the Francis gospel of mercy that I'm seeing is that God is so merciful that we don't have to go to Mass, worry about same-sex marriage, etc. - especially if we believe in some kind of half-baked socialism, environmentalism, and pacifism. Maybe the Church needed Cardinal Burke more than Cardinal Bergoglio. I hope I'm wrong.
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written by Paul, July 13, 2014
This is a very disappointing article.

"he consistently follows Christ’s injunctions to the apostles" - this seems idolatrous. "No one is good but God" as Jesus said.

"How quickly [the gospel of Matthew] was forgotten" - remember when Isaiah's lips were touched with a burning coal after he claimed that all of Israel was sinful? So should yours. Your mouth needs purification.

"Francis ... walked in the barrios in Buenos Aires and spoke to actual people." Is this so unusual?

"There is no place for social ritual" - on the contrary, ritual can support sociality.

I hope the "big things" that Father Bramwell is a part of, do in fact bring more holiness into the world. But if this movement were really a holy one, it seems unlikely that its practitioners would feel obliged to cast aspersions on other clergy - indeed all clergy since the Edict of Milan (313)!

For a more persuasive embodiment of holiness, consider St Francis de Sales.

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written by JPamy, July 13, 2014
I had no idea who Jorge Bergoglio was before he stepped on to the terrace - and yet, that afternoon as I sat with my four young and emerging adults, I shed tears of joy and we all cheered and were genuinely thrilled for reasons only God knows.

"Who is this man?" I wondered, and yet my deep distrust of media sources and my refusal to allow them to define for me the person who is the Vicar of Christ in this time lead me on a journey to attempt to know Pope Francis. This was a great challenge. Unlike his immediate predecessors - John Paul the Great, and Benedict the Beloved Teacher - Francis had left very little in the way of published works that allow us to see into the minds of people who achieve huge things.

Before long the media began to fit Francis into a convenient narrative that attempted to force us Catholics into "Francis Camps" vs. "Benedict Camps". Ugh! I love B16 - another man I never heard of before he was the pope, and yet Joseph Ratzinger had nearly a library of published works (mind-numbingly intuitive, instructive, insightful, sound and reasonable).

But I found a book that will aide me and my friends in understanding the mind behind the man whose actions were causing such a commotion. It is entitled "Encountering Christ: Homilies, Letters, and Addresses of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio" . The short "talks" are grouped as: "for catechists" "Christmas Eve homiles" Lenten Homiles" "Easter Vigil homilies" "Corpus Christi Homilies" "For Priests" "For Bishops" "On the Social Doctrine". This book has not one single word written by someone other than Jorge Bergoglio, not even an intro. I didn't want another persons opinion I wanted him alone, unfiltered. This book I recommend to all.

I realize this is a long post but my point is, Francis is, in a small way, knowable and his actions as Pope are somewhat predictable based on the words he communicated in the half dozen years leading up to his election (I haven't read anything he has written prior to that). And his homilies for priests and bishops are reveal a consistency of character. Though him, God continues to inspire His people to live out the Gospel message that Benedict and John Paul taught to us.

Maybe there is a pattern in God's plan...JP = Hope, Benedict = Faith, Francis = Charity.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, July 13, 2014
"There is no place for social ritual or for class-consciousness. They get in the way of authentic communication."

If there is a gathering of many bishops for an event and if a priest walks into the assembly, he is likely to be ignored. He's of lesser status.

And If there is a gathering of many priests for a Church event and if a deacon walks into the assembly, he is likely to be ignored. He's of lesser status.

And If there is a gathering of many deacons for a Church event and if a layperson walks into the assembly, he or she is likely to be ignored. They are of lesser status.

And If there is a gathering of many 'movers and shakers from a parish and if a newcomer or someone not in the "in crowd" walks into the assembly, he or she is likely to be ignored. They, too, are of lesser status.

Somehow the Church has poorly integrated that Gospel about the last shall be first and the first last. Perhaps this is why it is so jarring for Catholics to hear about Holy Father Francis phoning women in Argentina and Boston. He's broken those hierarchical rules that Christ never established in the first place.
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written by Manfred, July 13, 2014
"Then St. John Vianney-the parish priest-can take his rightful place as model for interpersonal relationships between clergy and people for holiness' sake." What does that mean? The Cure of Ars' parish was all of Europe as penitents came from all over to go to confession to a pious priest who had been given the Divine gift of being able to read their souls. He heard confessions ten, twelve, fifteen hours a day, sustaining himself on boiled potatoes his housekeeper would pass into him. Do you really believe the Saint had to wait for El Padre Bergoglio to substantiate his place in the Church? Your knowlege of Catholicism, Father, leaves a lot to be desired.
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written by Tim Rohr, July 13, 2014
This article was definitely beneath....way beneath what I had come to expect from TCT. Guess I'll go elsewhere now.
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written by jenny, July 13, 2014
excellent !!!
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written by Jack,CT, July 13, 2014
Amen Father- Best i have seen on our Holy Fr!
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written by Rose, July 13, 2014
The Pope's washing of the feet of women and Muslims marked the turning point of the Church, the beginning of its end. What is the point of an all male priesthood if women have their feet washed (or Christian priests if infidels are permitted to engage in Roman Catholic ceremonies)? The Last Supper was male and the beginning of Christianity. Also, this Pope's emphasis on material poverty and attacks on capitalism, point to a man fixated with this world. I'm waiting for the day he preaches that this is world is only a temporary existence and that the poor should accept their lot as things will be better in heaven - and quote Jesus that the poor will always be with us. That would be interesting!!! Also, his off-the-cuff comments about not judging homosexuals, or not interested in evangelizing Protestants begs a huge question. Does he believe the Roman Catholic Church is the only means of eternal salvation???
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written by breidenc, July 13, 2014
I think the article has some good points about being the servant of others, but St. Paul indicated his mission was to be "all things to all people." Moreover, the understanding of Thomistic thought is that the supernatural builds upon the natural, it doesn't replace it.
Therefore, in so doing, while we may complain that the Bishops live in their super fancy houses and are aloof from the rest of the lay people, these are simply abuses of what was intended behind having the accoutrements of an aristocrat. The Church appropriated these "fancy houses" and "courtesies" so that they could evangelize the aristocracy who had practically all the power over the rest of the population. Just as Fr. Mateo Ricci became accustomed to Chinese culture, or St. Francis Xavier to Indian Culture, so too did the early Bishops do the same. They intended their effort to make the natural, more supernatural. Are there abuses and misappropropriations? Of course. But not a few aristocrats, who maintained the power of life and death over slaves and peasants, became saints, living the Gospel values towards their servants. In the same vain, the Bishops still must seek out the power-holders in an effort to evangelize them since they still lord it over their subjects. If the Bishops convert them, then the world is a far more loving and just place for far more people than converting the small business or government employee.
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written by Jack,CT, July 13, 2014
@Rose, Would it not have bee easier for you to
simply say you do not care for the Holy
FATHER than a exhausting list of
perceptual wrongs as you see it?
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 13, 2014
Hi Thomas - I have never heard Vatican labelled as returning the Church to its pristine condition. However I think one can make the case that everything that Francis is doing can be found in Vatican II. There is enough teaching on relating to people etc. to substantiate what he does.
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 13, 2014
Paul - so why did Jesus give injunctions to the apostles? You are mixing up your concepts. Your personal attacks are precisely the kind of shoddy communication that Pope Francis is working against.

"Is this unusual?" Yes.
"Social ritual?" It depends on whether the ritual is being used to separate oneself from people or not.
"casting aspersions on all clergy" - making an historical observation is not casting aspersions. And if John Vianney is the standard then how many clergy meet it?
"St Francis de Sales" or perhaps Francis of Assisi?
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 13, 2014
Manfred - ad hominem as usual - precisely the kind of communication that Pope Francis is working against.
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 13, 2014
Tim - pity that you do not say why. Fullness of communication is what Pope Francis is working for.
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 13, 2014
Rose - it would take a long time to respond, chiefly because the answer would need a lot more detail than you have offered. Just to take one point - "not judging homosexuals" This is standard teaching in the sense that one is not to reject the individual. It is the behavior that is the issue and about which there are serious moral questions. The simplification of historically situated speech is one the issues dogging modern communication generally and Pope Francis is on the receiving end of that very often.
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 13, 2014
Breidenc - I am not sure that I can get to all of what you say but Saint Francis spoke to kings better than the clergy did. This needs fleshing out but interestingly in each age there has been a saint who has shown that he/she can communicate Christ's truth in a way that reaches people's hearts without living in a palace. I think the argument that clergy needed wealth to communicate needs work.
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written by Hans Moleman, July 13, 2014
Good perspective, Bramwell. But mome unanswered questions remain regarding Francis. Most seriously, what about Cardinal Maradiaga? Francis appointed this demonstrated "Liberation" theologist and anti-Semite as his man to reform the papacy, giving us the right to ask where Francis stands on both issues. Francis' performance in his recent Mideast visit raises legitimate questions about where he stands on the church's history of anti-Semitism. His recent predecessors went a long way to purge that history. In the face of rising Jew-hatred throughout the world, one must wonder about the sudden prominence of Maradiaga.
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written by Hans Moleman, July 13, 2014
Francis has made a wonderful first impression, but with at least one area of deep concern. Cardinal Maradiaga is an open anti-Semite and a leading proponent of “Liberation Theology” (i.e., Christian Marxism). And yet Francis picked him to reform the papacy.

This is not to accuse Francis of either of these poisonous tendencies; but it does suggest that he sees them as non-issues for today’s church. If he thinks so, in today’s climate of mushrooming anti-Semitism worldwide and renewal of leftwing revolutionary movements around Latin America, then he is dangerously wrong.

In light of the serious miscues in his recent Mideast trip, one must ask: will he continue with his recent predecessors’ attempts to purge the church of its long history of anti-Semitism? Or is he just the next Western leader who refuses to recognize the Jewish state’s right of self-defense?

It would be good to hear from him on these questions.
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written by Rose, July 13, 2014
@Jack: I presented a list of wrongs that go against traditional Catholic theology. By attacking me, you exhibit typical liberal Catholic (Democratic?) behavior, i.e., discrediting the messenger, not refuting my charges. Why can only altar boys be boys? Because they will hopefully eventually become priests. Francis is the first pope to wash women's feet. What are traditional Catholics supposed to do when women at local parishes want their feet washed? This has been a source of contention for many years. Also, Islam is a Christian heresy. Do you know what heresy is? Or could you not tell a Muslim he is a heretic? I have told Muslims they are. And, maybe Francis doesn't believe the Church is the only source of salvation. Why did he say "good atheists" can go to heaven? He says Marxism is another form of Christianity. Finally, the Pope is not meant to be liked. He must expound the truth in order to save souls. I'm not hearing any of this from this man. Yes, I don't like him.
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written by Martel, July 13, 2014
As I began reading this article, I thought it was satire. There has never been a pope like this since the Edict of Milan? Multiple popes were monks from impoverished orders, and some actually lived in a poverty far more radical than Francis, e.g. Pope Celestine V. Father, with respect I believe this language is somewhat reckless in its implied denunciation of all previous popes as being beholden to wealth and disconnected from the faithful.
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 13, 2014
Martel, thank you for the comment. You might want to read Sandro Magister's column on Celestine V.
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written by Augustine Thomas, July 13, 2014
(Apparently it's against the rules to mention the FFI on a "New Church" blog like TCT.)

"Don't trust the saints and martyrs everybody, trust the people who have emptied the Church in the last two generations, nothing to see here!!!"
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., July 13, 2014
Dear Fr Bramwell, I more than a bit taken aback by your admission to not having heard of the idea of Vatican II taking us back to the true, pristine Church. That notion is the very basic assumption of the hermeneutics of rupture, the false interpretation of the Council has been condemned so eloquently by Pope Benedict XVI and Cdl Burke. Pope Benedict also described the false interpreations of the Council documentss as the "virtual council," and he attributed those false notions to the media people amking false claim about that the Council said. I believe that the media people who were making false claims were mere reporting the lies that were being told to them by dissident theologians who did not get what they wanted from the Council but nonetheless lied to the media, thereby disninforming millions of innocent faithful, much to the joy of thier fellow heretics. You must be aware that all of the liturgical innovations that went beyond what the Council called for were justifed on the grounds that the innovations were in keeping with the way things were done in the Apostolic Age. The subsequent de-emphasis of the Sacrament of Confession and the supression of such pious practices as Eucahristic Adoration and even the Rosary were all carried out under cover of the false notion that they were corruptions of True Christiaity. Pope Pius XII characterized this tendency to insist that imagined original forms were the only valid ones as "gratuitous aniquariansim." At the heart of most revolutionary theories is the notion that the revolutionaries must return the world back to the state of nature that humans lived in prior to some primal corruption. For the Marxist the Orignal Sin is marriage, which brought forth private property. for those who hate Holy Mother chruch it really the existence of the Chruch Herself.
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written by Jack,CT, July 13, 2014
Well Rose At least you finally admit it,that I respect,
Not liking Pope Frances is not a friend to
you!
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written by Rose, July 13, 2014
@Father Bramwell: Father, this past March when the football player Michael Sam came out as gay (remember that infamous kiss) Archbishop Tim Dolan said "Good for him,” Cardinal Dolan replied. “I would have no sense of judgment on him. God bless ya.” WOW!!! This would have been the perfect time for Dolan to say that Sam must repent, give up his degenerate lifestyle and not live in sin. But NO!!! Dolan said "Bravo." WOW!!! At least the Duck Dynasty patriarch had the courage to speak the truth about homosexuality. And he's a layman, not a priest. This is pretty much the Catholic Church's idea of dealing not just with homosexuality but sin in general.
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written by John A. Dempsey, July 13, 2014
Yes, JPII knew nothing about ordinary people. Where would he have met them? Oh, yes, maybe in the quarry of the chemical factory, or in his own working class town of Wadowice, or in the streets of Nazi and then Russian occupied Kracow, or in the parishes in which he served, or in the young couples he counseled. Do you get the idea Father?
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written by Alex, July 13, 2014
I really wished I could be this enthusiastic about Pope Francis. Don't misunderstand me, I have the deepest respect for his position. But up to now, Francis seems to have condemned all which the world today is ready to condemn (like the mafia). All the while trying to change the image of the church on issues that the world of today disagrees with it.

But I haven't come to the church because it agrees with the world of today. I came to the church because of what I read of it from Chesterton, about the institution that frequently wouldn't agree with our spirit and moods, but instead defend truth and tradition, urging us to really consider things and avoid easy lies. And, of course, the whole Franciscans of the Immaculate debacle doesn't help much.
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written by Paul V, July 13, 2014
There are two things that trouble me and it's not just with your leaders it's also with other Christian leaders as well. It's the who am I to judge bunch and what I see as a false ecumenical movement. I don't judge the sinner, that's Our Lord's job but I have to judge whether or not the behavior would be sinful for me to engage in. We're all sinners but you have to confess your sin then repent, and it seems to me the who am I to judge crowd forgets the "go and sin no more" part of the equation. I'm not against a denomination or religion evangelizing or working together to meet common goals but it seems to me our leaders are going beyond that and have stepped up to and possibly crossed the line into false ecumenism. Considering all the end time craziness that's going on I wish our leaders would speak with more clarity regarding these and other issues.
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written by Manfred, July 14, 2014
" Precsiely the kind of communication Pope Francis is working against." This pope just gave a SEDCOND interview with Scalfari, the atheist editor of La Repubblica, and AGAIN no notes or audiotape were present. AGAIN, Fr. Lombardi had to come rushing to explain what the pope meant when he said that 2% of priests were pedophiles, and that number included bishops and cardinals. Fr. Bramwell, the message you and this pope are attempting to foist on an informed laity is being rejected as the comments and the need for your multiple replies to your column will attest. It is time you retired.
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 14, 2014
John Dempsey: who said John Paul II did not know about ordinary people? I did mention that some exceptions to the general trend existed. This is an 800 word column. How much detail can one present?
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 14, 2014
From some of the comments, I am getting the feeling that Pope Francis is being handled like a politician. That is the only word that I can find right now so if someone has a better one . ... This perception shapes our way of relating to the Pope. We need another level of relating and thinking that does not turn the Pope into a screen on which to project our needs.

Reducing the Pope to the level of just another politician means losing the unique and irreplaceable understanding that "our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock." (Lumen gentium 22) This role is unique and it gets discarded very easily if we fall back on something that we probably spend a lot of time on, namely politics, with all its divisiveness and, dare I say superficiality.

To think about the Pope there is a pile of teaching, largely unread, that sets up the framework for thinking effectively and respectfully of this unique personage who is the successor to Peter.
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written by John A. Dempsey, July 14, 2014
Father,

Next time, choose your 800 words much more carefully.
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written by Judy, July 14, 2014
Agreeing with John A. Dempsey. These 800 words were thoughtless and insulting to the many great popes over the centuries. In my opinion, we do NOT have a great pope right now. So tired of the Spirit of Vatican II posts that ignore the destruction to the Church that it has caused.
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written by Mary, July 14, 2014
One of Peter's tasks is to confirm and strengthen his brother's faith. It might be helpful to many when responding to those who feel anxious about, or dislike Frances, to really hear the bottom line message: Pope Francis is not confirming some of us or strengthening some of us in the faith. When criticizing us that we don't get what Francis is about, what he is communicating, please do not demean us that we do not read enough, only see the politics, are conservative, won't stoop low to help others (as a social worker I particularly loath that one when Francis supporters dismiss my yearning for something more) etc. Those of you who "get Francis" need to listen and understand that for many the message is not being received because of the way it is being communicated, not because of the deficits of the receiver. For many of us, the message about Christ and salvation is getting lost in the message about social justice/social gospel - when both are needed. We are being fed food which is nourishing only one half of the equation and not the other - the love of God with your whole heart, mind and soul. Something is not being communicated to strengthen us. I feel empty on this half of the equation when listening to Francis who may think he is saying it. The message gets lost in throw away comments and behaviors. He seems to assume that we have that fundamental but you know doubt creeps in and we want the rock to be - the Rock. And when priests kick you when you are down because you just "don't get it", well you just don't feel like there is anything "to get".
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written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, July 14, 2014
Mary have you listened to his wonderful homilies? The sense of Christ that comes out is great. One literally has to track everything that he is saying. I spend a lot of time on the Vatican website to get a rounded picture of what he saying rather than getting things from the secular press.
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written by bill russell, July 14, 2014
"Returning to the apostolic style" sounds like the romantic historicism which Pius XII condemned. Good for the Pope, at least for his attempts to end clerical careerism - but we still are burdened with clerical politicians like Cardinal Dolan laughing raucously as his archdiocese collapses. Unfortunately, they will outlive Pope Francis. But on other matters, the Francis Effect on the Church is similar to the Enola Gay Effect on Hiroshima.
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written by Don, July 14, 2014
Father, perhaps people view him as a politician because he is acting like one? I think his papacy has been a disaster thus far. He has completely mis-judged what message the world needs to hear from the Pope at this moment in history. It's not "Who am I to judge?" Rather, the world needs to hear the very first words of Jesus Christ at the beginning of his public ministry: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And the words of St. Peter on the morning of Pentecost: "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."
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written by Drusilla Barron, July 14, 2014
I click the links and research because I know we live in an emotional age of sensation. An Evangelical minister (EM) has lunch with the Holy Father (HF) and then posts that the HF has said he doesn't want to convert Evangelicals, that they must each find Jesus in our own way. A Catholic blogger encounters the quote from the EM and soon many people are up in arms. Great emotion and confusion ensues among those who don't read encyclicals and sermons because they only read extremely pious stories. Their failure to read is not willful. They're simply not fully literate. The confused become easy prey to sedevacantists and other wolves on the prowl.

I'm originally form Latin America. I get the need to preach the Gospel to those who are materially impoverished: street children, those who live in the barrios, shanty towns, and favellas, those with no hope. At the same time, there is a huge flock of spiritually poor people in the West who teeter on the edge. They've had bad catechesis. They want holiness and have looked back to the past when holiness was a concern. I don't blame them, though I try to help as I can. But there's little support in America and Europe for the spiritually starving Catholics who are deeply, deeply confused; with the HF, they become more confused each day.

They are as much the Church, as marginalized, and in their own way, as poor as every other poor Christian and sinner. They struggle with addiction and lust and every other sin only to discover that the Church isn't supporting them. Every headline that must be corrected and explained away beats them down because it doesn't help them grow in holiness: they haven't the intellectual resources to find the corrections, they don't understand the nuances presented. What of discretion? What of love for the poor that embraces the spiritual and intellectual poverty so many in the West encounter? What of pastoral care for those who are terrified that the Church is no longer the Church? What of the Catholic Church embracing those who haven't the intellectual development to do the research?
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written by Mary, July 14, 2014
Fr. Bramwell,
Yes, I have heard and often feel inspired and then he does something which makes me anxious again. What you said about Francis was also true of Benedict - who I was anxious about until I read the actual texts. Francis' inconsistencies leave one with a feeling of uncertainty. One only has to read or listen to his interviews. And so, I don't trust. I just don't know what his message is - yet you see be very convinced.

Your article doesn't tell me anything about how to view Francis.

In your attempt to promote Francis, you chose the example of his not living in the Apostolic Palace as a way to understand Francis' direction. You interpret that move as a good thing. I don't. He lives in a hotel now. It has perks too. Living in a hotel has usually been seen as an aristocratic way of being too.

When thinking about the Apostolic Palace, my mind goes to the calls to remove our Bishop for his "palace". And, then I remember that some of us in the US are children of poor immigrants who built or bought some of those grand structures so that we could hold our own against the mainline Protestant groups who controlled work and wages. Although the builders might be dead, the family legacies, stories and pride goes on. An understanding of the time when the edifice was built/gifted reveals a story of long dead bishop who was a lot like Francis - walking in an Irish American barrio; being with his people. Calling for the current Bishop (who may or may not be worthy to live in it) to leave, signals a slap in the face of families for their sacrifices when they were poor. Church history is also family history.

The question I ask is - Would Jesus have turned down the gift if he were a Bishop? Would he trample over the sacrifice of a people who had pride in their faith and Church? Would Jesus walk in the Apostolic palace and say - this is wrong? was it wrong of the people of that time and day to construct edifices that not only tell a story of faith but are pragmatic working spaces? Would the Lord detest the craftsmanship and love that the lowly gave to their work? was their work just for wages and to please the hierarchy? sometimes they did not get paid at all - should their voluntary efforts be belittled? Or would Jesus recognize that the beautiful edifices we are talking about weren't accomplished by the Pope or Bishop but by the workers? What is the value of the work and love to the Lord? Should our buildings be abandoned? or used to their fullest? Francis himself said he is living in Santa Marta for "psychological" reasons. Does he really dismiss the work of the poor Italian laborer of the past have needed the work, who may have been forced labor but also put love and pride into his daily work? If the answer is yes - why should we in the present care about building up anything? and by extension, why should we care about just wages if work and its results aren't honored? And, if there is no past, is there no future? The people of the past built things for the future, so is there an implied message on that as well? And, while I know there is only the present, do we abandon hope of the future by our lack of caring about the past?

I am sure you would say Jesus would turn these edifices and adornments down. I bet he would have told them not to build them. But, the Church instituted itself with structures. Institutions have purpose, meaning and mission. To suggest that we could do without our edifices and social structures in telling the story or going to the periphery seems unrealistic, especially when the periphery has seemingly become the institution itself.
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written by Rachel, July 14, 2014
Thanks for a balanced and positive perspective on Pope Francis. I have found Him to be, not perfect, but very Spirit led. His life and words do confront one with the Gospel. For example, I have decided, not to stop using make-up, but to not purchase expensive make-up as a result of his pontificate. While this is little, it is also big.
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written by Don, July 14, 2014
Part of being humble is to recognize that you are only the latest in a long line of Popes. Throwing away small "t" tradition to make your point seems like the ultimate in hubris, rather than humility, to me. The foot-washing is the greatest case-in-point. Was the tradition and symbolism associated with washing the feet of priests really his to just throw away? I suppose on the surface it seems "nice" to wash the feet of women and Muslims, but it changes the whole character and symbolism of the tradtion into something completely different. And again, it sews confusion. Why do we do that foot-washing thing again? What is it supposed to represent? How is it tied to the Gospel? What has been it's historic symbolism and meaning? Or do we even care?
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written by Tom C., July 14, 2014
@Rose seems to be all about politics. Did you condemn Ronald Reagan who was our first divorced and remarried president? How come you don't condemn all of the heterosexual sodomy that men like to joke about in football locker rooms. This Pope hates hypocrisy and I'm glad he's calling people out for it.
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written by Jack,CT, July 14, 2014
@Tom,I agree,wise very wise!
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written by Edward Knauf, July 14, 2014
There seems to be a tendency to see in Francis what one hopes to see in him, rather than what is there, rather than what he's said or done. With respect to the Apostolic Palace, he said two things: first that he's eschewed living in the Papal apartment only because he prefers to live in community, and second, that the Papal apartment is in no way luxurious. But don't let facts get in the way, or prevent you from premising your entire piece on, at best, a misconception, and at worst, a deliberate ignoring of the truth.
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written by CJ, July 14, 2014
Tom C
Pope Francis, who's political? He told a Jesuit interviewer, "I have never been a right-winger."
I would have been fine if he followed it with "I'm not left winger" but that did NOT happen! I have been hopeful for Pope Francis but I highly doubt it will change. On Relevant Radio today the gushing for Pope Francis got to the point where it sounded as though Jesus has returned. I had to turn it off. Just plain weird!

For me, when I here Pope Francis he reminds me of a secular college professor. Private or public. Very different from all past Popes in my life; relativism unleashed.

Rose; I agree Pope Francis has unleashed some of our Bishops to show who they really are, just plain scary. We need big time prayer for Christ's Church and the Pope.

When the church joins the culture we know something is amiss. I think I understand why Pope Benedict resigned, what a hill to climb!

God bless us all,


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written by JQ Tomanek, July 15, 2014
Thank you Father for this post. I believe there is an element of suspicion going around. St. John Paul II reminded us that suspicion can be corrected by trusting the Church and being faithful to Her because Her Spouse is protecting Her and will not leave Her. Your article here slices through the suspicion. Yes, the pope said he is not a right-winger, he also said he is not a Marxist (left-winger if there ever was one).

Rather than seeking to find some detail that will convince you that Pope Francis is the river from which will come heresy, I recommend trusting the Holy Spirit. Pray for the pope just as vigorously as you prayed for Pope Benedict when he asked for our prayers in his Christmas greeting.

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