Pope’s controversial statements ‘part of reform plan’

Unscripted and sometimes controversial statements by Pope Francis are part of the larger reform of the Church and the papacy, according to the author of a new biography on the first Jesuit pope.

Speaking before a public lecture at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Austen Ivereigh said his book The Great Reformer; Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope deals extensively with any criticisms of the first non-European Catholic Pope.

However, the London-based journalist, who has a PhD from Oxford on Church State Relations in Argentina, admits he began to “deeply admire” the new pope during his research for the book, in particular for his “great courage”.

“A lot of the writings that came about after his election, were reading him through a lens which really didn’t apply to Argentina. It was a European or a North American lens, so part of the motive of the book was to explain and contextualise him,” he explained.

“A lot of people are saying that, given that he is so often misunderstood, maybe he should just say less, but I don’t agree with that for two reasons.

“Firstly, I think that direct spontaneous speech is part of a larger reform of the Church and of the papacy which he is carrying out and he perceives it is very important to have that direct contact with people. He doesn’t want to be filtered.

“Secondly, he causes offence, but that to me is part of his authenticity. He is not setting out to please people, unlike politicians. Only a pope could get away with calling Europe an ‘infertile grandmother’. He is quite happy to use those kind of metaphors which people in public life don’t normally do,” he added.

A former deputy editor of The Tablet and founder of Catholic Voice in the UK, Dr Ivereigh believes the reason certain statements by Pope Francis are generating reaction is because he is a different kind of pope.

“We are used to the template of a monarchic distant papacy. Because he is a very different kind of pope we are still adjusting to that... One of the things he is setting out is to be is normal and you have to be normal, he has said that a number of times.

“His connection with ordinary people is part of the way he is re-establishing a connection between the papacy and what he calls God’s holy faithful people.”

During his public lecture at Mary Immaculate College Dr Ivereigh explored how reform of the Vatican will have an impact on the entire Catholic Church and its affect on Irish Catholics in particular.

He also previewed this year’s Synod on the family, scheduled for October, where controversial issues around marriage and sexuality are on the agenda.

He said the fact some cultures no longer defend the traditional understanding of marriage is part of the background to the Synod, however he doesn’t believe the Irish referendum on same sex marriage will have any impact on the Synod.


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