I have reported previously on talks in St. Mary's, Haddington Road, in what has now become known as the Patrick Finn series of lectures. It is to St. Mary's credit that these talks have been of a high standard and have been followed by a no-holds-barred Q&A session.
Last night was no exception and we were treated to a very interesting talk on Pope Francis, by Paul Vallely, who has researched the pope's life in depth and has written a revealing and authoritative book on the pontiff.
The first thing we learn is that there are two Jorge Bergoglios.
The first was such a died in the wool traditionalist and strict disciplinarian that he totally messed up anything he put his hand to in his clerical roles in Argentina, so much so that he had to be got out of the country. It took three subsequent Jesuit provincials to undo the damage he had done to that order in Argentina.
This man was accused of collaborating with the Argentinian junta and specifically of betraying two members of his Jesuit order to the military who inflicted severe torture on both of them.
This man used his power to quash any attempts to bring liberation theology to bear on the plight of the poor and marginalised.
But somewhere along the way, and with no small help from his sojourn abroad and his subsequent banishment to Argentina's second city, Cordoba, hundreds of miles from the capital, he went through the dark night of the soul and emerged a different man.
This second man was still a conservative as far as doctrine was concerned, but his whole approach to his mission in life had changed and he now not only embraced liberation theology but became the "bishop of the slums". He threw away the trappings of office and lived a life as close to that of an ordinary person as he could.
It is this second man we now have as Pope. Humble by design, a skillful political operator, and a man who hopes to reform the Catholic church and put it in a position to carry out its original religious mission.
He is sending out ambiguous signals, both to avoid confrontation, and to give himself room for manoeuvre. He leaves Müller in charge of the CDF, gives Maradiaga his head, and tells the USA nuns to ignore the same CDF. Unfortunately, in his wish to avoid confrontation, he is unlikely to undo any of the silencing imposed by the CDF under previous pontiffs, so Tony Flannery's analysis, that the ball is now in the court of the Orders' Superiors, is correct.
He just might have become Pope in 2005, but any possibility of this was effectively scuppered by the circulation of accusations of ineptitude and betrayal. The Cardinals, then assembled in Rome for the Conclave, were reminded of his "betrayal" to the Junta of the two Jesuits under his command, Fathers Yorio and Jalics. Subsequent judgement suggests that while his actions may well have contributed to the arrest and torture of the men, he did not consciously give them up to the military, though he should have foreseen the likely consequences of what he did. When he ordered his Jesuits to pull out of any involvement with liberation theology and cease the social work they had been doing, these two priests refused. He was incensed and got the bishop to revoke their faculties. It appears the military interpreted this as a signal that it would be safe to move against the men and so they were arrested and tortured. Fr. Yorio is dead but (the new) Francis has recently been reconciled with Fr. Jalics who runs a retreat centre in Germany.
Paul Vallely drew attention to the symbolism of Francis's actions. As he remarked, symbolism is very important to a church which has its sacraments. And Francis has been sending some mighty signals, from his eschewing the papal apartments in favour of a flat, to his dispensing with most of the ornaments of papal office. In place of the ornate gold bejewelled crosses of previous pontiffs he wears a pewter cross with the motif of a simple shepherd tending his flock under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
So what of the future? Well, it remains to be seen if this man can reform centuries of clericalism and make the universal church relevant to ordinary people.
He comes from a region where the church is growing, and, no doubt, hopes to translate that success from a local into a universal success story.
Posts on previous talks:
Michael Jackson, John Coolahan, John McDade SJ, Jim Corkery SJ, John Bruton, Margaret McCurtain