A Vatican ll pope


Eugene Kennedy put it  very well in the National Catholic Reporter

Why is it that, although Pope Francis only entered our lives a season ago and Pope Benedict XVI spent eight long — and I mean long — years as our Holy Father, does Francis seem like someone we have known a long time while we may say of Benedict what the Irish say of Johnny, that we hardly knew ye?

Benedict for all his intellectual gifts always spoke like the professor he was, his words hardly ever connected with human experience and ordinary lives.

A  cursory look at his life shows us an ethereal, discombobulated existence devoid of depth experiences. He has lived within the womb of the Church and its books  much too long. His theological work hardly ever touched ground.It never appeared to mine the depths of real living. His one term as a  pastor in Munich was not successful, He did his job as papal enforcer with a ruthless efficiency, often destroying theological careers and lives with a stunning equanimity. To be fair, as pope he did change, became less judgmental and more pastoral but he never really connected with Catholic people.


Francis is a breath of fresh air, a throwback to John XXlll to whom he is being compared. He is home in his own skin, never hectors people and prefers like John “the medicine of mercy” rather than condemnation. His life has been filtered through his work with those on the periphery, the marginales.His simple gestures, his eating with others, his eschewing the papal apparel of the “Flutterers” as irish writer Colm Toibin calls the high plumaged clerics.

Kennedy attributes all of this to Francis being a Vatican ll priest like ones many of us knew before the restoration of the highly clerical and hierarchical church under JP ll and Benedict. My friend Jimmy was one of those priests. He died at 81 and  at our last meal together he shared with me a letter from his former bishop in an American city. This Vatican ll pastor-bishop lamented the rightward swing of the institutional clerical leaders  and its docile authoritarian bishops who constantly genuflected to Rome and spurned the insights of the People of God. The bishop praised Jimmy for his pastoral work and hinted that a more democratic church would return.

Why does Francis seem so appealing. Kennedy writes:

Francis seems familiar because Catholics have already known him in the Vatican II priests who have been their pastors and sacramental ministers over the years since that council brought new life to an old church. Catholics have known him in the bishops and priests who brought the spirit of the council to their dioceses and parishes. Every Catholic can list the Vatican II priests who have helped them and their families get through the spiritual challenges of life.

That, alas, was not Benedict’s strong suit, as he was determined to diminish the influence of that council that he insisted had been misunderstood and misinterpreted. For Francis, Vatican II’s spirit seems second nature, as it was and remains in the Vatican II priests now often under siege by Benedict’s efforts to reform the reform of Vatican II.

Francis seems familiar because you have known him already in the many good priests who have remained faithful to the church and its people even when the sex abuse scandal cast its shadow unfairly across their lives. Francis seems as if he has always been in your life in the ministry of the Vatican II priests and bishops. Francis seems to be defined by the “spirit of Vatican II,” a phrase that Benedict’s self-righteous reformers of the reform condemn as close to heretical.


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