In a recent article in America magazine, columnist James T. Keane succinctly summarizes the turn-of-events within the Church over the reception of Pope Francis I. Those who once relished papal commentary are now wary of what the new pope might say; and those who were once wary of what the previous pope might say, now seemingly celebrate every papal remark. It is enough to make one weary. As Keane wrote,
There is no question, however, that our reception of papal commentary has changed dramatically. Many of the same folks who rightly feared the cult of personality that engulfed the church throughout the long reign of John Paul II are suddenly hung on every off-the-cuff word of Francis, the pope who can say no wrong. Others, who rejoiced at every utterance of Pope Benedict XVI as a harbinger of a “smaller, purer church” (you can guess how that process was imagined to work) are suddenly licking their wounds
As the conversation about Pope Francis unfolds, I am reminded of Joseph Komonchak’s reflection on the papacy just after Pope Benedict resigned. At the Commonweal website he wrote,
But the church is not the pope, and the pope is not the church, and perhaps what we most need is a pope who will encourage and allow the laity, the religious, the clergy, and the hierarchy to assume their responsibilities for the difference the church is supposed to make in the world.
His counsel pertains to Catholic Social Teaching. Papal teaching matters. Yet, the way that it is embodied–put into action–by everyone in the Church, in cooperation with all people of good will, is what makes the difference in the world.
Keane’s article is available on America’s website.
Komonchak’s article is available on Commonweal’s website.
Posted by: N. Rademacher, Associate Professor, Religious Studies