As I wrote recently on my main blog, I recently heard journalist Paul Vallely at the Search for Meaning Book Festival in Seattle; he gave the keynote address. Pope Francis: Untying the Knots is the first in-depth book on Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Vallely wrote it after traveling to Argentina to interview those who knew him well and investigate the claims that the Pope did nothing to prevent the kidnapping and torture of two priests during the Dirty War.
I'm fascinated with Pope Francis' transformation as a young man: he began as an arrogant, dictatorial leader who was also extremely conservative.
Vallely gives great background and insights into the politics of Argentina and the Vatican. In his younger days, he spurned liberation theology (the attempt to interpret Scripture through the plight of the poor) and did indeed prevent the eventually kidnapped priests (who were working in the ghetto) from delivering communion. His detractors say this opened the door for the military junta to kidnap the priests. Vallely discovered that Francis worked valiantly to get them freed after they were kidnapped, and it seems that Francis now has regrets about what he did or did not do. And now not only has he embraced and celebrated liberation theology, but he has also made a huge step toward transparency: he's asked the Vatican to open up its archives on the Dirty War.
The key reason that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to become Pope is that Jesuits are called to be servants, not leaders. The founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyala, didn't even want them to be bishops. So that explains why Pope Francis is tackling the job in such an unusual, servant-like way. Being the Pope is like being royalty! He has spurned most of the trappings of Pope royalty, as we've heard since the Council of Cardinals elected him. From paying his own hotel, thinking that his Vatican apartments were way too big, and refusing to wear the fancy robes or read shoes, to washing the feet of the poor, female, and underprivileged, he prefers to be a servant rather than a Catholic king.
Francis views God in a clearly different way than previous popes and many priests...that God is grounded in mercy:
"Mercy, this word changes everything. It is the best word we can hear: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just... The Lord never gets tired of forgiving; it is we that get tired of asking forgiveness."Vallely explores why Bergoglio chose the papal name of Francis.
"Francis is more than a name--it's a plan," said Leonardo Boff, founding father of liberation theology. "It's a plan for a poor Church, one that is close to the people, gospel-centred, loving and protective towards nature which is being devastated today. Saint Francis is the archetype of that type of Church."In recent days, Pope Francis continues to promote justice, make waves, and anger conservatives by declaring the gender age gap "a scandal" and preparing to release an encyclical on climate change. Although today Frank Bruni wrote about the absurdity of the Pope's statement in the New York Times that the Vatican's "own kitchen is much too messy for them to call out the ketchup smudges in anybody else’s."
Bruni went on, "He left out the part about women in the Roman Catholic Church not even getting a shot at equal work. Pay isn’t the primary issue when you’re barred from certain positions and profoundly underrepresented in others...For all the remarkable service that the Catholic Church performs, it is one of the world’s dominant and most unshakable patriarchies, with tenets that don’t abet equality."But still, it's progress given the glacial pace of the Catholic church, and it's angering conservatives who would vastly prefer the church to remain frozen to any kind of progression.
Human rights lawyer Alicia Oliveira, Pope Francis' close friend for 40 years (who died in 2014), said about the Pope:
"He tells me he's having a great time. Every time I speak to him I tell him, 'Be careful Jorge, because the Borgias are still there in the Vatican.' He laughs and says he knows. But he's very, very, very happy. He's having fun with all the people in the Vatican telling him he can't do things--and then doing them."