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WSJ: Pope Francis and the New Rome

6. april 2015

The most radical part of Francis’ papacy is his embrace of the liberalizing principles of Vatican II—from poverty and sexual ethics to church governance.

FRANCIS X. ROCCA, The Wall Street Journal, skriver 3. april  bl.a.:

One Saturday last month, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Ognissanti (All Saints’) Church in one of Rome’s working-class neighborhoods. Little known to tourists or art historians, Ognissanti was the site of a momentous event in the modern history of the Catholic Church: Exactly 50 years earlier, Pope Paul VI had gone there to celebrate the first papal mass in Italian rather than in the traditional Latin.

In marking that anniversary, Pope Francis made plain his view of the vernacular Mass, one of the most visible changes ushered in by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The practice still pains Catholic traditionalists who mourn the loss of churchwide unity that came with a common language.

Allowing Catholics to pray in their local languages “was truly a courageous act by the church to draw closer to the people of God,” Pope Francis told a crowd gathered outside. “This is important for us, to follow the Mass this way. And there is no going back…Whoever goes back is mistaken.”

In his two years in office, the pontiff has drawn attention for his unconventional gestures—such as personally welcoming homeless people to the Sistine Chapel last month—but those gestures matter most as signs of the radical new direction in which he seeks to lead the Catholic Church: toward his vision of the promise of Vatican II. Both the acclaim and the alarm that Francis has generated as pope have been responses to his role in the long struggle over the council’s legacy.

For a half century, ordinary Catholics and their leaders have debated, often passionately, whether the changes that followed the council went too far or not far enough. Pope Francis’ immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, devoted much of their pontificates to correcting what they deemed unjustified deviations from tradition in the name of Vatican II.

Now Pope Francis has effectively reversed course. In word and deed, he has argued that the church’s troubles reflect not recklessness but timidity in interpreting and applying the principles of Vatican II, especially the council’s call for the church to open itself to the modern world. “It usually takes half a century for a council to begin to sink in,” says Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. “Now we have a pope who says, ‘Look, we just had five decades of internal debates and controversy about the meaning of Vatican II, and now it’s time to do it.’ And that’s what he’s doing.”

The pope’s vision of Vatican II has translated into a dramatic shift in priorities, with an emphasis on social justice over controversial moral teachings and a friendlier approach to secular culture. This has alarmed those who fear an erosion of the church’s role as the foremost bulwark of traditional morality in the West, particularly amid heated battles over same-sex marriage, bioethics, abortion and religious freedom.

Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council with the avowed intention of bringing “fresh air” into the church. In his opening speech, he called on the church to “make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity” or “condemnations.” More than 2,500 bishops from around the world attended the four sessions, which produced 16 official documents bringing up to date the church’s teachings on, among other things, scripture, worship, religious freedom and relations with non-Catholics.


Bishops will come together again in early October to resume debate and produce recommendations. Any changes in the church’s approach to family issues will be up to the pope. Yet his word will not be the last.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper is the most prominent advocate of making it easier for the divorced and remarried to receive Communion. He says that most Catholics and their leaders welcome Pope Francis’ opening, but as he told an audience last fall (according to the National Catholic Reporter), a significant minority of bishops feels otherwise. They have been “exercising restraint and pulling their punches,” he said, “in the hope of sitting out this pontificate.”

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