After the latest interviews, there are some who highlight the details of Pope Francis’s words without grasping the whole. Even some who are inside the Church are reinforcing criticism of the Pope.
Alberto Melloni wrote in theCorriere della Sera (October 3): “Pope Francis’ ministry is exercising a maieutic function on everyone: it brings out the joy of the unhappy, the distrust of the wary, the narcissism of the narcissists, the opportunism of the opportunists, the pain of the mourners, the thirst for communion of the excluded, the hope of those who have lost hope, and the faith of those who saw a flickering flame from a candle at the bottom of their lives and did not know what to call it.”
Pope Francis’s communicative power and closeness are the engine of this “litmus effect” in the round. Not surprisingly, according to a study by the Toniolo Institute, 83.6 percent of young respondents “believe that the words chosen by the Pope are suited to the contemporary world, i.e., capable of reaching people’s hearts” (Vatican Insider, 2 October). On the other hand, after the interviews with La Civiltà Cattolica and Eugenio Scalfari in La Repubblica, “the distrust of the wary” – which was already in the making – is now fully manifested.
For sociologist of religion Pietro De Marco, the Pope’s words “to the press and to the world” fall into “repeated approximations” and are unacceptable. According to De Marco, “the Pope appeals to right and left, practitioners and non-believers, without discernment. His overriding message is ‘liquid.’ Nothing can be built on this ‘success,’ however; it only shuffles around something that already exists, and which is not the best” (Settimo Cielo, October 3).
In a symbolic comparison between Pope Francis’s words and Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to another “secular champion,” Sandro Magister, the Vatican correspondent for L’Espresso (which is the same newspaper that published De Marco’s text) emphasizes the difference of style and arguments that he sees between Benedict XVI and Francis, and that this “reveals the real program of [Francis’s] pontificate.” For Magister, “the secret of Francis’s popularity is the generosity with which he yielded to the expectations of ‘modern culture’ and the shrewdness with which he avoids what could become a sign of contradiction.” He wonders about the fact that Pope Francis “shows that he is convinced it’s more worthwhile to meet the challenges of the present time with the simple announcement of the merciful God” (www.chiesa.it, October 3).
Although the text expresses alarm that Pope Francis is blindly adored by everyone, in reality it is not so. Both inside and outside the Church, a paradoxical debate has been officially opened on whether the Pope is Catholic, to paraphrase one of Francis’s most impressive statements. In fact, Francis told Scalfari in the interview, “I believe in God. Not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God, there is God. And I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my shepherd, but God the Father – Abba – is the light and the Creator.” It is a provocative and unusual image, but it falls in line with a constant preaching, which, as Pope Ratzinger repeatedly invited us to do, puts Jesus Christ at the center of attention and warns against clericalism and the dogmatic, legal, and moralistic exclusivity of Christian witness. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini used the same image in recent years in his “Noctural Conversations” with Georg Sporschill. At the time, Pietro De Marco, always a guest of Magister’s, fiercely criticized the text, saying, “I am concerned about the passage in which Martini says: ‘Men turn away from the […] Ten Commandments and build their own religion, and this risk also exists for us. You cannot make God Catholic; God is beyond the limits and definitions that we establish. In life we need them, of course, but we should not confuse them with God’” (www.chiesa.it, November 12, 2008).
By worrying about the authority of the Pope, however, we run the risk of not reading and not accepting what is only a reversal of perspective on missionary action to the world. That does not at all erase parts of Catholic doctrine and teaching; rather, it offers the conditions to make them “closer” and more credible.