Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Bishops' Catacomb Pact on Poverty

Just a month before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII said in a radio address that the Church wants to be “the Church of all, especially the Church of the poor.”

Just days into his papacy Pope Francis told a gathering of reporters, “How I would like a Church that is poor, and for the poor.”

It is well-known that Jorge Bergoglio, while serving as auxiliary bishop and then as Archbishop of Buenos Aries had earned the nickname “slum bishop” because of his ministry among the poor and broken members of his archdiocese.

His own lifestyle gives witness to Gospel values: “Go, sell what you have, give to the poor, and come, follow me” (Mk 120:21). “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” (Mt 6:19).

Several times in his apostolic exhortation Gospel Joy Pope Francis focused attention on the world’s poor, urging justice, economic change, alms and spiritual care. He also encouraged our learning from the poor (“They have much to teach us,” #198) and to be cautious of a lifestyle that excludes others (“The culture of prosperity deadens us...” #54).

One of the criticisms leveled against the Second Vatican Council is the little mention of the Church’s ministry to the poor. Only eight of the Council’s 16 documents refer to the “poor,” and the total references are but 24.

Bishops from poor diocese were particularly concerned about the Council’s failure to address the issues of poverty.

Just days before the Council’s final session, about 40 bishops (mostly from Latin America) gathered for Mass in the catacombs of St Domitilla (a series of underground caves in Rome where thousands of early Christians are buried).

Although many of these bishops had been meeting on their own and apart from the Council to discuss the problems of poverty and how the Church should respond to them, on this occasion  (November 16, 1965) the group decided to enter into a pact, agreeing to change their personal lifestyles to better reflect Gospel poverty.

Although the original signed text  is missing Bishop Bonaventura Kloppenberg (a German-born Brazilian bishop who died in 2009) did leave among his papers a complete text of the pact, which he titled “Pact of the Servant and Poor Church.”

It is believed that Archbishop Oscar Romero, of San Salvador, who was martyred in 1980 and beatified by the Church in 2015, was the driving force behind the formation of the so-called “Pact of the Catacombs.”

The opening statement of the pact says, “We bishops assembled in the Second Vatican Council, are conscious of the deficiencies of our lifestyle in terms of evangelical poverty. Motivated by one another in an initiative in which each of us has tried to avoid ambition and presumption, we unite with all our brothers in the episcopacy and rely above all on the grace and strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ and on the prayer of the faithful and the priests in our respective dioceses. Placing ourselves in thought and in prayer before the Trinity, the Church of Christ, and all the priests and faithful of our dioceses, with humility and awareness of our weakness, but also with all the determination and all the strength that God desires to grant us by his grace, we commit ourselves to the following.”

Then comes a series of lifestyle changes and initiatives the signing bishops agree to undertake; among them are:

--we will try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport, and related matters.

--we renounce forever the appearance and the substance of wealth, especially in clothing (rich vestments and loud colors) and symbols made of precious metals

--as far as possible we will entrust the financial and material running of our dioceses to a commission of competent lay persons

--we do not want to be addressed verbally or in writing with names and titles that express prominence and power (such as Eminence, Excellency, Lordship); we prefer to be called by the evangelical name of “Father”

--we will do everything possible so that those responsible for our governments and our public services establish and enforce the laws, social structures, and institutions that are necessary for justice, equality, and the integral, harmonious development of the whole person and of all persons

--when we return to our dioceses we will make these resolutions known to our diocesan priests and  ask them to assist us with their comprehension, their collaboration, and their prayers.

This catacomb pact was developed and signed 50 years ago. The majority of the histories of Vatican II never mention the pact. Most Catholics never heard of it. It is hard to determine whether the agreement had influence on the churches of the signers.

But it appears that Pope Francis knows of the pact, or at least shares in its convictions and provisions. Look at the propositions and then look at Pope Francis’ ministry, and the two fit like hand in glove.

Full text of the Catacomb Pact is available online, e.g., http://www.sedosmission.org/web/attachments/article/137/Catacomb

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Pope's Leadership: Humble and Unafraid

I’ve been reading Jeffrey A. Krames’ book Lead with Humility, (American Management Association, 2015), subtitled “12 Leadership Lessons From Pope Francis.”

Krames’ analysis of the leadership style of Pope Francis includes a number of observations:     The new pope is not afraid of change, nor does he shy away from shaking up the institution; he is not afraid of disruptive innovation.     Pope Francis believes that leadership is service, and true leaders lead in a spirit of humility.     He lives on the frontier, insisting that leadership requires going out to the periphery, “smelling like the sheep,” decentralizing decision-making.    The man is pragmatic, seeing things as they are not as he would like them to be.

As a young priest Jorge Bergoglio was appointed in 1973 as Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Argentina. His leadership in that office has been described as “cautious and conservative.” By the time he left that position the Jesuit community in Argentina was divided into two camps (one pro-Bergoglio, the other anti).

One Jesuit superior said as late as 2013, just after the announcement that Cardinal Bergoglio had been elected as Pope Benedict’s successor, “Yes I know Bergoglio. He’s a person who’s caused a lot of problems in the (Jesuit) Society and is highly controversial in his own country.”

In 1992 Bergoglio was ordained a bishop, and became an auxiliary for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aries. It was in this role that he became known as “the bishop of the slums,” and when he became the Archbishop of Buenos Aries in 1998 he continued to give personal care for the poor and forgotten members of society, and lived a humble life-style choosing not to live in the elegant Archbishop’s House, taking the subway and the bus to get around the city, and even cooking his own meals.

In 2013 Cardinal Bergoglio was elected “Bishop of Rome and Vicar of St Peter,” and chose the name Francis, honoring the 13th century saint nicknamed “Il Poverello” or “the Poor One.”

All reports coming from the conclave agree that the electing cardinals wanted a man who could reform the Curia (the Church’s bureaucracy) and restore energy to the Church’s mission. In one of his last official statements, Pope Benedict XVI had acknowledged that sometimes the Church displays “a disfigured face.” The new pope was expected to address these issues.

In short order Pope Francis called together a Council of Cardinals (nine of them) to assist him in the reform of the Vatican Bank and the Curia in general.

It was a sensational news-break when journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi revealed the contents of documents which Pope Benedict’s butler Paolo Gabriele had photocopied from the pope’s personal desk. Nuzzi summarized the story and the contents in his digital book Ratzinger Was Afraid, confirming rumors about irregularities in the Vatican Bank’s book-keeping and about Curia cover-up.

Nuzzi reported, “The material came from the Secretariat of State, from nunciatures, from individual cardinals and from all over the world…Already from a first glance, the papers reveal something important: the Curia’s first instinct was to cover up anything that could embarrass God’s representatives on earth or simply raise questions and doubts about their actions.”

Just weeks into his pontificate, Pope Francis began to address the issue of reform. In October of 2015 Pope Francis noted that  “While the reform path of some structures of the Roman Curia, working with the Council of Cardinals established by me, September 18, 2013, is progressing according to schedule, I have noticed that some problems have emerged which I intend to address promptly. I would like first of all to reiterate how this transition period is not a time of vacatio legis (a vacation from the law).”

Pope Francis is not afraid. Nor is he hesitant. He expects his directives to be followed. He is aware of those who would obstruct the much needed reforms.

His style of leadership is evident in his summoning the Synod on the Family. He is collaborative and consultative. He believes in using synods as a way of leading the Church, inviting the participation of laity and hierarchy alike. He reflects the spirit of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church.

When a group of cardinals wrote Pope Francis a letter prior to the Synod on the Family (October, 2015) expressing their concerns about conspiracy, fore-gone conclusions, and undermining Church teaching, Pope Francis addressed their concerns openly and to the point, assuring them that there is no conspiracy and that the synod will be conducted in an honest and open debate.

Commenting on the synod, on the infamous letter and on the group of cardinals who wrote it, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras said at a conference at Fordham University on November 3, 2015, that the letter writers “felt embarrassed for what they did because it was useless, not necessary.”

Cardinal Rodriguez reminded his audience that Pope Francis is a man of prayer. “He knows what he is doing. He’s not just acting without reflection, without praying over the steps he is taking.” And addressing the concerns of some Catholics who feel that they must reject any reforms of Catholic practice regarding sex and marriage, Cardinal Rodriguez  explained that the synod  focused not on doctrinal change but on pastoral practice, which is subject to change: “I say it is necessary to be open to the Holy Spirit because the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, not by the attitudes of men or women or pastors of the Church.”

It isn’t just because they both share the same name that we find similarities between the influence of Francis of Assisi and that of Francis of Argentina. Author Jon M. Sweeney maintains in his book When St Francis Saved The Church (Ave Maria Press, 2014) that “(St) Francis’s conversion led prophetically and organically to a conversion of the Christian faith itself.” The life-style, the focus on Gospel values, the eagerness to "repair" the church are common elements in the ministry and spirituality of both men.

Sweeney writes that anyone who has been paying attention to Pope Francis can note “the changing atmosphere in the Catholic Church today. Since he was elected in March 2013, there has been fresh air blowing into old and staid ways of doing things….Something is happening. Is it too bold to suggest that another Francis may just be saving the Church again in the twenty-first century?”

It was not without reason that when FortuneMagazine listed "The World's 50 Greatest Leaders" in 2014 at the top of the list was Pope Francis!