X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Coffee House

Pope Francis’s revolution is just beginning – and the media will find it boring

13 March 2014

3:27 PM

13 March 2014

3:27 PM

Yesterday I took part in an interesting discussion at The Catholic Herald’s offices on the subject of Pope Francis’s first year. The question was, as it seemed to be for the BBC this morning, whether his ‘revolution’ has been one of substance or style. The answer, I reckon, is a bit of both – and a bit of neither. Yes, Francis has thrilled left-liberals everywhere by suggesting that the Church should be nicer to gays and women, by telephoning famous atheists for a chinwag, and by – altogether now – ‘snubbing the pomp and ceremony’ of the papal office.

But I’m not sure how radical a departure all that is, really. To listen to some commentators, you’d think that Popes John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had trotted about the world saying, ‘Well these poor folk are just getting what they deserve, lazy sods, and the sick deserve to suffer because they are probably gay. Now pass me my tiara, Alfredo.’ When obviously they, er, didn’t.

[Alt-Text]


Francis comes across as what he is – a holy man who loves the poor, the sick and the wretched. But the notion that his concern for the unfortunate marks some sort of volte-face in Catholic history is stupid. It’s true that his language and attitude have been different. He is the first Pope to have used the word ‘gay’ to mean homosexual, in public at least, which is not uninteresting. His approach to leadership is more immediately evangelical than that of his predecessor Pope Benedict. But it’s worth remembering that almost every Pontiff in the last century has been praised in his first months for his private austerity and holiness — and for being a breath of fresh air. It’s just what people say about new Popes. The press said much the same of John XXIII Paul VI, John Pauls I and II, and even the conservative ‘Rottweiler’ Benedict.

Still, the widespread perception of Francis’s revolution of style does mean that he is now well-placed to carry out a revolution of substance, a radical reform of the Curia. This is something lots of Catholics — liberal and conservative – have long prayed for. Francis has already begun the tackling corruption at the Vatican bank, a longstanding source of embarrassment, and he has put Cardinal Pell – a no-nonsense conservative type — in charge of a new Vatican finance department. Arguably, he has moved to decentralize the Church – pushing authority away from Rome. He has asked his Cardinals to think more in a more ‘collegial’ way. This is a possible shift that excites Catholic liberals and alarms conservatives, since the Vatican has come to be seen as a bastion of tradition and the more collegiate parts of the Church’s hierarchy, such as the various bishops conferences, as the agents of progress. But it ain’t that simple. A less centralised Church does not necessarily mean a more liberal one. Individual parishes are often far more conservative than their bien-pensant bishops would like. It will be interesting to see whether Pope Francis does indeed intend to hand over more power to the bishops’ conferences, or whether – as his questionnaire to the laity suggests – he wants to do something far more radical.

Curial reform and collegiality sound pretty boring to non-Catholics, however, and I predict that many of the secular pundits who now laud Pope Francis will go off him pretty quickly when they realize that he wants to embrace the spirit of Vatican II more than he wants to liberalise Church teaching on condoms, feminism and all gay rights. (One of funnier aspects of media coverage of Catholicism is that commentators who spend a lot of energy denouncing the Church as sex-obsessed have no interest in Catholic stories which are not about sex.)
Meanwhile, Francis’s more loyal admirers within the progressive Catholic flock will insist that his good intentions are being thwarted by the creepy traddies in Rome – and the press will gleefully quote them saying so. But as this media dance plays out, the real Pope Francis may just have time to finish the substantial reform he has started.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close