Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pope Francis' Style of Leadership

There is a pattern emerging in the way in which Pope Francis exercises the authority of the papacy.

His style is not to impose but to invite.

By word and example he brings the faithful back to the heart of the Gospel, that is, to the values of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In his book Repair My House  (Orbis, 2012), Capuchin Franciscan Father Michael Crosby distinguishes three Gospels:  1) the gospel Jesus preached , 2) the gospel Paul preached, and 3) and the gospel the Church preaches.

Jesus’ Gospel focused on the Kingdom; Paul’s Gospel focused on Jesus; and the Church’s Gospel focuses on teaching authority.

Crosby believes that many, if not most, Catholics define themselves more by the third gospel. “They identify their faith with membership in an organization called Catholicism rather than their baptism into a living body that makes them disciples of Jesus Christ” (p. 79).

He recalled an occasion when he asked a classroom full of bored students, “How many of you are ‘disciples of Jesus Christ?’” No one raised a hand. After repeating the question and getting the same non-response, he asked, “How many of you are Catholics?” Almost all raised their hands.

There is validity in all three gospels, but focusing upon one to the detriment of the others undermines them all.

Pope Francis is bringing us back to an awareness, a consciousness, of the values of the Kingdom: mercy, forgiveness, simplicity, poverty, purity of heart, courage, love. This is Jesus' Gospel.

One of the tactics Pope Francis has chosen for Church renewal is collegiality. If the Church is to be reformed and renewed, it will not happen by a decree of the pope but by the collaboration and consensus of the people. He is responding to one of the signs of the times.

About three years after the final session of the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens, one of Vatican II's major players, wrote a letter to Pope Paul VI lamenting that discussion of certain issues had been forbidden at the council and in a recent synod.

Suenens explained: “The Council has given the Church a new awareness of collegiality; everything that promotes such collegiality in turn promotes pontifical primacy, enhancing its role as the heart and head of collegiality in action” (Memoirs and Hopes by L-J Cardinal Suenens, Veritas, Publications, 1992, p. 190).

Continuing his appeal for collegiality, Suenens added, “The central fact, which we cannot ignore in today’s Church, is that adhesion to any decision is dependent, not on the uncontested legal authority of the one who makes the decision, but on the ‘credibility’ of the authority itself, which must show that all the ‘pre-conditions’ to the decision have been met and respected, and that the interested parties themselves –be they clergy or faithful—have been properly consulted, if the decision concerns their lives” (p. 191).

Pope Francis is a model of consultation, collaboration, and collegiality.

His forming the Group of Eight Cardinals who are offering advice on reforming the Curia and restructuring the Vatican Bank, his worldwide consultation with bishops and laity about their input for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, and his suggesting that he would be open to the ordination of married men if a conference of bishops has considered the matter and asked for dispensation from the Canon Law which prohibits such ordinations in the Roman rite –all these gestures reflect his collegial spirit and, I believe, the way in which he chooses to exercise his papal authority.

Father Jorge Bergoglio learned a valuable lesson in the 1970s and 80s when he was Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesuits in Argentina. Appointed to fix a number of problems among the Jesuits in Argentina, Bergoglio came down rather hard on his fellow religious, returning to pre-Vatican II values and lifestyles.
“Bergoglio’s stances became increasingly dogmatic,” as his biographer Paul Vallely put it in Pope Francis: Untying the Knots (Bloomsbury, 2013, p. 57).

Vallely continued, “Certainly when Bergoglio finished his term as Rector his superiors in Rome did not know what to do with him. It was decided that it would be best if he was removed from Argentina for a period. Bergoglio was dispatched to Germany…” (p. 58).

In his August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro, SJ, as published in America magazine, Pope Francis acknowledged his failure at consultation while he was a superior in the Society: “My style as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults…I made decisions abruptly and by myself…My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems…It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems…Over time I learned many things.”

Pope Francis’ return to Gospel values reflects the direction set by Vatican II for the renewal of religious life. The decree Perfectae Caritatis noted that up-to-date renewal “comprises both a constant return to the sources of Christian life in general and to the primitive inspiration of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time…It is to the church’s advantage that each institute has its own proper character and function. Therefore the spirit and aims of each founder should be faithfully acknowledged and maintained…” (2).

Pope Francis’ way of leadership and renewal will not be by heavy-handed legalism, condemnations or dogmatic pronouncements. 

Without denying the fundamental teaching of the Gospel, without undermining the magisterium of the Church, Pope Francis will apply what Pope John XXIII called for in his opening address to the Second Vatican Council, namely, making use of  “the medicine of mercy rather than of severity.”

Pope John ended his address with the expectation that the bishops would demonstrate in the Council’s proceedings “serenity of mind, brotherly concord, moderation in proposals, dignity in discussion and wisdom of deliberation.”

I think these observations give us a reasonable insight into how Pope Francis will exercise his position as the vicar of St. Peter.

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