Published on March 24, 2014
The Faith Angle Forum is a semi-annual conference which brings together a select group of 20 nationally respected journalists with 3-5 distinguished scholars on areas of religion, politics & public life.
“Pope Francis After One Year”
South Beach, Florida
Speakers: John L. Allen, Jr., Associate Editor, The Boston Globe
Paul Vallely, Author, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots
Moderator: Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome. For those of you who are new, welcome to the Faith Angle Forum. We’ve been doing the Faith Angle Forum since 1999. This is our 24th forum.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, our first speaker, Paul Vallely, the author of a wonderful new book called Pope Francis: Untying the Knots that has been raved about by every reviewer. He’s also written an important essay in the magazine The Independent. We have about 30 copies of this. It’s called “A Rebel Pope, One Year In,” and it’s over here near the coffee. Feel free to take one.
Paul’s book has been called by The New Yorker as “indispensable.” It’s been called “riveting” by The Guardian, and The Sunday Times said “in terms of seriousness of purpose and depth of understanding,” it is “head and shoulders above” all the other books written about Pope Francis.
You see the rest of his bio in your packets. He’s a man who has traveled widely, written often on these topics, and we’re delighted he came all the way from England to be with us this morning. Paul, you’re on. Thank you for coming.
PAUL VALLELY: Yes, thank you very much, Michael, for inviting me. It’s a great gathering. I was talking to people last night and saying we need something like this in the UK, because that kind of interface between the secular press and the religious world is one where the gap is even wider in the UK than it is here.
I just want to tell you something about how I came to write the book, and I want to highlight three things about it, which I think would be useful to you, in watching the way that the papacy developed. It grew out of a paradox, essentially. When the Pope stepped out on that balcony in St. Peter’s, we were swiftly told, those that didn’t know, that he was a man who took the subway, not chauffeur-driven cars. He turned down his lavish palace in Argentina, as he’s now done in Rome, and he cooked his own food in a two-room apartment. So things that come from Buenos Aires are being reproduced in Rome.
So on the balcony, an icon of simplicity and of hope, a new pope in plain white. He wanted to be blessed by the people before he would bless them. He wore a plain metal cross instead of one made of gold and jewels. And he said that the Church of Rome was one which presides in charity over all the other churches, and the scholars watching, whether they were Catholic or Orthodox or Protestant, knew immediately that this was a quote from a first century saint, Ignatius of Antioch, and decoded it signaled an intent to restore collegiality inside the Church, but also between the churches, undermining a thousand years of papal monarchy. So this was big stuff. A pope who offered his first blessing, not just to the faithful, but, in the language of the Second Vatican Council, to all people of goodwill. A new pope. A fresh start.
And he was on the balcony less than ten minutes, but in that time, he packed in a huge amount of symbolism of so many kinds, and it was his first indication, in his plainness and his simplicity, that power resides in humility. But he was making it clear that things were going to be different from now on.
But then, the next day, the newspapers, certainly in the UK and I think in Argentina and probably around the world, were filled with allegations that this same man hadn’t behaved well during Argentina’s Dirty War in the ’70s and ’80s, when the military dictatorship eliminated 20 or 30,000 of its opponents or, indeed, anybody it felt was too critical, by drugging them and dropping them alive from aircraft.
And Francis, who was then plain Father Bergoglio, had not spoken out against these military death squads. He’d been complicit in his silence, the allegation was, and, worse still, there were stories that he’d betrayed two Jesuits to the military, who had kidnapped and tortured them. The Vatican denied it all on his behalf, but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? And the critics in Argentina were running plausible-sounding allegations.
So I got a call from the publisher, because I’d written something about that first appearance on the balcony in the newspaper, saying would I write a book about which of these was the true Francis? And I said to them, “Are you looking for a pro-Francis book or an anti-Francis book?” Because I’ve worked for publishers before, as I suspect some of you have. And it’s no good delivering a book that they then don’t like. And they said, “We’ll print whatever you find,” and that was the right answer as far as I was concerned.
So I began with a completely open mind, and I was really shocked when I began to contact the people I knew in the Jesuits to say, “Who is this man, Bergoglio?” And one of them passed on to me an email, which he’d had a few days before the election, and it was from a very senior priest who was the current leader of the Jesuits in another Latin American country, serving provincial, and he wrote this:
Yes, I know Bergoglio. He’s a person who’s caused a lot of problems in the society and is highly controversial in his own country. In addition to being accused of having allowed the arrest of the two Jesuits during the time of the dictatorship, as provincial, he generated divided loyalties. Some groups almost worshipped him, while others would have nothing to do with him, and he would hardly speak to them. It was an absurd situation. He’s well-trained and very capable, but he’s surrounded by this personality cult, which is extremely divisive. It will be a catastrophe for the Church to have someone like him in the Apostolic see. He left the Society of Jesus in Argentina in ruins, with Jesuits divided, institutions destroyed, and financially broken. We have spent two decades trying to fix the chaos this man left us.
This was an extraordinary thing to read, and it wasn’t a lone voice. Three other very senior Jesuits told me similar things. And, indeed, the level of discontent within the Jesuits that, within hours of this kind of stuff going out, or circulating in private, or on emails and on the Internet, an instruction had gone out from the head office of the Jesuits in Rome, ordering Jesuits around the world to be more prudent in their recollections and to keep to themselves any unhappy memories they might have of the new pope.
So what, I wondered, could generate this strength of feeling? And I set out to Argentina to find out. And the book tells the story, and what I want to do this morning is just highlight three things from the book, which I think will throw light on what kind of pope Francis is going to be.
And the first is something about his style of religion, which is not much written about. The second is about the style of his leadership, in which I’ll touch on the topics of sin and humility. And the third is his relations with the Vatican when he was an archbishop. And all of these, in my view, have a major bearing on the shape of his papacy.
So, first, his religiosity, actually, I use in a neutral term, not in a negative one. Secular media haven’t written much about this, the religious side of Francis. He was the eldest of five children from a busy and chaotic family, but his mother was temporarily paralyzed by one of the other births, and his grandmother, Rosa, stepped in and took the young Bergoglio off to her house every day, and he was with her all day, every day, and she just brought him back in the evenings.
So it was his grandmother who really brought him up, and she taught him how to pray. She’d arrived in Argentina from Italy in 1929, just six years before her grandson was born, and although Bergoglio was born in Argentina, he was raised on pasta and a culture of — and a faith which was distinctively Italian. Hers was what intellectuals might dismissively call a peasant faith. She told him stories about the saints. She was particularly devoted to the Virgin Mary. The rosary was a key part of her life. Her faith was very colorful and emotional and full of novenas and processions and shrines and pilgrimages.
And Bergoglio became very rooted in that view of religion, and it is still important to him, and it brought him into conflict with people in the Jesuits, who held a more intellectual view and regard that kind of religion as superstitious, which he has never done. He sees that as how ordinary people connect with God. And Argentinean Catholicism is replete with examples of this kind of folk religion, and I give lots of interesting examples in the book.
But it brought him into conflict with some in the Jesuits, and even his scholarly predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, went to Latin America and warned the bishops there against what he called “deviated forms of popular religiosity.” And he said, “Far from fermenting an active participation in the Church, they instead create confusion and can foster a merely exterior religious practice, detached from a well-rooted and interior living faith.”
Popular piety said Pope Benedict can incline towards the irrational. Now, this is something that Pope Francis does not agree with at all. He’s always been a good deal less suspicious of folk religion, and to him, the strength of Catholicism is the way simple people live their faith. And Grandma Rosa was a touchstone of that.
And now as pope, and throughout his life as a priest, the first thing he does in the morning and the last thing he does at night is turn to his prayer book, which priests called a breviary, and inside his breviary are two pieces of paper, both written by Grandma Rosa. One was a letter that she wrote to him when he became a priest, and she thought she might die before she saw that day, so she wrote down what she wanted to say to him. She didn’t die, fortunately. And the other was her kind of last will and testament, spiritually, to her grandchildren about how they should live their lives. And Bergoglio has remained faithful to the style of this spirituality with which she imbued him, and he thinks that the clever have something to learn from the simple and the poor.
So moving to the second area is leadership style. Bergoglio is sometimes said to be the first pope who was ordained a priest after the Second Vatican Council. That was the Great Revolution, which occurred in the Catholic Church in the ’60s and transformed the Church from a body which was turned in on its own in a sacramental life to one which was prepared to engage with the outside world and embrace what was good there and seek to change what was not.
But Bergoglio’s formation as a priest and as a Jesuit in the early ’70s was essentially pre-Vatican II in its style and content. And in his first interview as pope with Antonio Spadaro for a series of Jesuit publications, Francis reflected on this quite critically, and he said, “Unfortunately, I still need philosophy from textbooks, which came from decadent Thomism.” Thomism is the deep tradition, philosophical tradition growing from the work of Thomas Aquinas, who many think is the Church’s greatest philosopher, from the high point of the Middle Ages.
But at the time Francis was being formed and ordained, Jesuits, like many other priests in Latin America, and particularly in Argentina, were split between those who wanted to embrace the changes of the Vatican Council and those who wanted to preserve more traditional forms and attitudes.
In Argentina, the division went particularly deep, between those who wanted to embrace what was called liberation theology, the idea that the poor in the slums need an economic and a political liberation as much as a spiritual one — or as well as a spiritual one. And the other side of the divide was those Jesuits who wanted no change in the way they did things and in their primary work, which was educating the children of the country’s elite.
The traditionalists were backed by Argentina’s secular bishops outside the Jesuits. They were deeply conservative, and they feared that talk of a preferential option for the poor — a phrase from liberation theology — was a way of letting atheistic communism in through the back door. And this was the height of the Cold War, remember. And the Vatican also didn’t like liberation theology, because it essentially had a bottom-up methodology, and that challenged the top-down authority of Rome.
Now, at this time, the leader of the Jesuits in Argentina was called Father Ricardo O’Farrill. He was a sociologist who’d embraced the changes of Vatican II and of liberation theology, and he encouraged the Jesuits in Argentina to work with poor people in the slums, sometimes alongside Marxist activists. Many existing Jesuits were unhappy with the rapid change of pace under O’Farrill, and they lobbied the Jesuit Curia in Rome, the head office, to remove him from office. And Rome, fearful that a split was developing in the Argentinian province, agreed, and O’Farrill was removed in what was effectively an internal coup. And in his place, they put 36-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Bergoglio was a charismatic figure. From his very early years, he’d been really highly regarded by both his fellows and his superiors, so much so he was made novice master, in charge of the training of new Jesuits, even before he’d taken his final vows. And just three months after he’d taken those perpetual vows, he was made provincial.
He was an unflinching traditionalist at this point, and he set about reversing many of O’Farrill’s reforms. He made changes in the liturgy, replacing some of the modern Vatican II songs with preconciliar songs and psalms and plainchant, and he changed the curriculum in the seminary, removing Vatican II-inspired books from the reading list, and even taking them out of the library.
He brought in conservative lay professors to replace teachers he considered too progressive, and liberation theology was forbidden, and he banned his priests from working with political organizations, with unions, with cooperatives, even with Catholic NGOs in the slums.
And what was most unforgiveable to many Jesuits was he handed over control of one of their universities to a right-wing Peronist organization called the Iron Guard, to which he was the spiritual advisor. And to give you a measure, in those days, the man who later became known as the archbishop who took the subway was driven around in a chauffeur-driven car chauffeured by other priests.
So this new provincial, very dynamic, very strong figure. He had this clarity of purpose, but he was also very autocratic in his leadership, and that caused problems. One of his students told me, “If you liked him, and he liked you, you’d be in a good position, but if he didn’t like you, you’re in for some kind of trouble, and if you didn’t agree with him, you’d be relegated outside the circle of power.”
And Argentina’s Jesuits, which had already been divided, found that the division was deepened into those who loved the new man and those who loathed him. And Father Michael Campbell-Johnston, who was an assistant to the head Jesuit in Rome, was sent to Buenos Aires to try and bring Bergoglio into line with what was happening in Latin America elsewhere. And he told me it was felt that Father Bergoglio could bring the two sides together and unite them, but, in fact, he did the opposite. He made the divisions even worse.
And I’ll just say briefly that the most controversial episode of Bergoglio’s time as provincial came when two Jesuits, Orlando Yorio and Franz Jalics, were kidnapped by the military and tortured. And I examined in detail the allegations that Bergoglio betrayed them, and I conclude that these allegations are not true.
But what is clear is that Bergoglio was so reckless in his treatment of the men that the military saw it as a green light to snatch them. And there’s more I could say about this, but I don’t want to take up too much time on one incident. But his treatment of them epitomized — he’d locked horns with them over them refusing to leave the slums. They’d been his teachers. They felt in some ways that they needed to explain to him. He said to them, “No, you’re governed by a vow of obedience,” and they locked horns.
His treatment of them epitomized what the Pope said in the Spadaro lectures, was his abrupt and his authoritarian leadership style, which he said created problems. And looking back, he told Spadaro it was crazy that he was — and that was his word, crazy — that he was made a leader at such a young age. And as novice master, as provincial, and as rector, Bergoglio was head of the Jesuits in Argentina for a full 15 years.
But in this time, the world changed around him. The military junta collapsed after the war of the Falklands Malvinas, and democracy was restored in Argentina. The Cold War was warming. The changes of the Second Vatican Council, which had spread more rapidly through the rest of Latin America, began to seep through even to conservative Argentina. And the Jesuits in Argentina were still split into what they called the Bergoglianos and the anti-Bergoglianos, but the supporters of Bergoglio began to be outnumbered by his critics.
And the Jesuits in Rome decided they needed to get him out of the country and to put someone new in to begin healing this divide. He was sent to study in Germany, and then he was given a variety of positions within Buenos Aires. But he was living in Jesuit houses and in Jesuit communities, and he kept telling the people, who are now his superiors in the province, in the colleges where he taught and in the Jesuit houses where he lived, that they were doing this wrong, they were doing that wrong. He couldn’t let go of the fact that he wasn’t leader anymore.
And, eventually, fed up with his meddling, the provincial in Argentina and the Superior General in Rome sent him into exile into Argentina’s second city, the Jesuit community there, which is 400 miles away. And the man who’d been like the kingpin of the Jesuits for 15 years in the province felt he had been sidelined and belittled by this. And one of his closest aides told me, “Córdoba was, for Bergoglio, a place of humility and of humiliation,” and those who knew him there said — remember him saying, “’I’ve got nothing to do here. They give me no work. My letters are intercepted. They read my letters. I don’t get phone messages. I feel completely shunned.'”
But in Córdoba, something extraordinary happened. He underwent an amazing transformation, and in exile, the book suggests — and the Pope later went on to confirm this in that Spadaro interview — he had a profound spiritual metamorphosis, which transformed his politics and his leadership style entirely.
What changed him? I’ve got an idea, but it’s what I’m working on for the new edition for the book, so I’m not going to tell a roomful of journalists.
MR. CROMARTIE: When will the book be out?
MR. VALLELY: I’m hoping it will be out for when Pope Francis comes here in 2015.
MR. CROMARTIE: It won’t be out by tomorrow; will it?
MR. VALLELY: It certainly won’t, no.
But what I do say in the first edition is that it’s not possible to see into another person’s soul, but it’s pretty clear that, in exile, Bergoglio found a way to see deeper into his own soul. He’s always been a man of deep prayer. We know that from his schedule now that we see in the Vatican. But as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he used to rise early to spend two hours in silent prayer before the tabernacle before he began his working day. And it’s difficult to overstate the importance of prayer in Pope Francis’ life.
One of his closest aides, Father Guillermo Marco, told me, “He likes to wake at 4:30, 5 a.m. every morning to pray. Prayer is so important to him that, as archbishop, he would rarely accept invitations to dinner, because he knew if he went out to dinner, he wouldn’t get up that early, and he didn’t want to miss his prayer time. His relationship with God is very strong, and he makes his decisions while he prays.”
The other thing is that Jesuits spend 15 years in formation, and one of the standard techniques they use is the spiritual exercises devised by their founder, Ignatius of Loyola. And at the heart of these exercises is a process of discernment, is the word they use, which helps the practitioner to strip away his layers of self-justification and self-delusion and penetrate through to the inner core of his motivation and behavior.
And Bergoglio had two years in Córdoba of prayer and spiritual exercises in which to reflect on his divisive leadership of the Jesuits in Argentina, what he had done wrong or inadequately during the Dirty War.
And in 2010, he looked back on those early years in an interview with Sergio Rubin, from whom we’ll be hearing later tonight, and he told Rubin, “I don’t want to mislead anyone. The truth is, I’m a sinner who God, in his mercy, has chosen to love in a privileged manner. From a young age, life pushed me into leadership roles, and I had to learn from my errors along the way because, to tell you the truth, I made hundreds of errors. It would be wrong for me to say that, these days, I ask forgiveness for sins and offenses I might have committed. Today I ask forgiveness for the sins and offenses that I did indeed commit.”
And in the very first interview of that — very first sentence of that interview he did with Spadaro last year, asked to define himself, he said, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
And when a man is elected pope, he’s asked if he accepts the job in Latin, and the normal response in Latin is “accipio,” “I accept.” But Bergoglio, in a Jesuit phrase, replied, “I am a sinner. I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
So even at this greatest moment, you might say, in his personal history, that sense of his own frailty and need for atonement and the need for mercy, which is his great theme as pope, the need for mercy, was present. Now, Francis only spoke elliptically to Spadaro, saying — he said, “I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Córdoba.”
But what we do know is the radical extent of that crisis was evident in the change it produced in Bergoglio, when he was plucked from exile by the archbishop of Buenos Aires, who was called Cardinal Quarracino. Now, Quarracino had asked Bergoglio many years before to run a retreat for his priests, and Quarracino had been very impressed with the quality of Bergoglio’s teaching, and he thought, “This man is wasted out in Córdoba.” And he made him a bishop. Now, this is very unusual. Jesuits don’t usually get made bishops. The religious order and the diocese are kept very separate.
The change of heart that he’d undergone in his wilderness was manifested in a radical change of behavior. When he came back as bishop to the city of his birth, he turned from this conservative authoritarian figure to this icon of radical humility, and he developed a new model of leadership, one which involved consultation, participation, collegiality, listening. And he went to the slums and spent long hours with the poorest of the poor.
One of the priests in the slums who I spoke to for the book said that over his 18 years as bishop and archbishop in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio must have personally talked to at least half the people in his slum. He would just turn up, wander the alleyways, chat to the locals, drink mate, a local tea, with them.
And when drug dealers threatened to kill one of the slum priests, Padre Pepe, Bergoglio said quietly to him — and just the two of them there; it wasn’t ostentatious — “It will be better, if anyone was to die, if it was the archbishop.” And the next day, Bergoglio went to the slums, and he walked slowly through them, spending a lot of time stopping and talking to people and making his appearance very public, as though to say, “Here I am. Deal with me now.” And it was an act of extraordinary personal courage and an interesting reflection on the man who, earlier in his life had avoided confrontation and danger, was now putting himself in the firing line.
And he put himself in the firing line politically, too. He excoriated the president of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, to his face from the pulpit for his neglect to the poor, and a new openness was developing in Bergoglio, and the man who’d once seen the poor as objects of philanthropy — he’d been happy to run soup kitchens, but he didn’t want any political activity with the poor in his early phase of life. Now, he began to see himself as bishop of the slums and to make use of some of the insights of liberation theology, which he’d not been keen on in his analysis of Argentina’s economic woes as a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven.
He now quadrupled the number of priests serving in the slums and, going back to what we said earlier, he told his priests that they were there to learn from the poor and not just the other way around. He became concerned, one priest told me, not just with holy water, but with the water pressure in the pipes. He now backed these self-help groups and cooperatives and unions, and he helped the cartoneros, who are some of the poorest people in Buenos Aires, who make a living sorting out the recyclable materials from the garbage heaps, he helped them form a union to fight to protect their rights.
He rehabilitated the great figures of Argentina’s liberation theology, starting in 1999 with a public apology for what he called the Church’s complicit silence in the murder of Father Carlos Mugica, the first priest martyred in the Buenos Aires slums.
And he finished just months before he became pope at a ceremony at the Catholic University of Buenos Aires to honor the memory of one of the founders of liberation theology in Argentina, Rafael Tello. In his day, Tello had been silenced by the Church, but Bergoglio now conceded that Tello had made what he said was one of the most important contributions to the Church in Argentina, and he concluded rather rightly, “Nobody who has opened up new paths leaves without scars on his body.”
The most striking fruit of Bergoglio’s conversion was his humility. Now, humility’s a much misunderstood quality in the contemporary world, because humility isn’t the same as shyness or meekness or even modesty. Bergoglio lost none of his steely sense of purpose, but his style had changed. He felt that God wanted him to have a different style. He’d become consultative, delegatory, participative. His manner was distinctly different. He listened.
His critics claimed that there was something cynical in the change, and his political opponents in Argentina have seen many of the gestures he’s made since becoming pope, like paying his own hotel bill, carrying his own bags, and taking the bus with the other cardinals, as kind of gimmicky PR stunts, but that is a misreading, because humility is not, as his critics suggest, some kind of trick of his. It’s a distinct decision on how to behave.
For him, humility’s a kind of intellectual stance rather than a personal temperament. It’s a kind of audacious humility, and it’s a technique by which he seeks to impose on himself, on his own personality that he knows has a share of pride and a propensity to dogmatic and domineering behavior. Humility is a discipline for him. One of his priests in Buenos Aires said, “He’s worked out that to be a good shepherd, he needs to be humble. It’s calculated. That’s not to suggest it’s fake, but it’s thought through. It’s what deep prayer and spiritual exercises have taught him that God wants.”
Now, finally, the point I want to make briefly is about collegiality and what the book reveals about the relationship between Cardinal Bergoglio and the Vatican. Over his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he became increasingly disillusioned with the Roman Curia and the way it restrained the autonomy that local bishops should properly possess, and he was unhappy with Rome’s response to what he saw as his constructive criticism of Pope Benedict and his remarks about Islam at Regensburg.
He resented the Curia’s refusal to accept his nominations for who should be new bishops in Argentina, and he was irritated by the high-handed advice of what his former aid, Guillermo Marco, called “Italians with empty churches telling bishops and countries with full congregations what they should and should not be doing.” And he also resented the way that some in Rome colluded with ultra-traditionalists in the Argentinean church who went behind his back to complain about him constantly to the Vatican.
And all this instilled in him a sense of the importance of the Church being run more collegially, and so much so that he stuck to the principle of collegiality among the Argentinean bishops, even when they came out with a decision that he disagreed with, such as the one on civil unions for same-sex couples, which he favored as an alternative to same-sex marriage. They said, “No, we don’t want either,” so he went along with it.
When the cardinals converged on Rome for the conclave after Benedict’s resignation, they knew something of all of these things that I’ve been telling you about, but they didn’t know the detail, but they knew about the simplicity and the depth of his faith that he’d inherited from Grandma Rosa and his ability to communicate that simply and profoundly and intuitively.
And those who knew about his record on the Dirty War — and there had been a stock Bergoglio dossier sent ’round to cardinals at the previous election for the pope in 2005 by some of his enemies. They now knew his side of the story from Sergio Rubin’s book, and they also knew the stories of his simplicity and the humility of his lifestyle in Buenos Aires.
And they knew that, like many of them, he’d had his run-ins with the Vatican, which was behaving like the master of the Church rather than its servant. They were faced with three problems: a Church tarnished by the pedophile priests and bishops covering the scandal up; a church lumbered with a self-serving and self-seeking Vatican bureaucracy, which was beset by intrigue and infighting and arrogance and ambition; and a church, thirdly, which sought to control its people, priests, bishops, and cardinals, rather than working in a collegial way for spreading the mission of the Church. And the cardinals felt that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the man who had the inclination and the background and the skills to sort that out.
And I’ll hand over to John Allen now, who will tell you how he’s measuring up to that task.
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, thank you, Paul, very much. Ladies and gentlemen, before I introduce John Allen, let me just say welcome to Sergio Rubin, who has come all the way from Argentina to be with us. You will hear from him tonight. Welcome, sir. We’re glad to have you here.
I also want to quickly mention that we do have a hashtag, #faithangle14. Feel free to tweet, unless it’s off the record.
We are really honored and privileged to have John Allen with us. He’s a prizewinning Associate Editor of The Boston Globe. He’s a Senior Vatican Analyst at CNN. He’s the author of many bestselling books on the Vatican and the Catholic Church. He’s got a recent book out now called The Catholic Church: What Everyone Needs to Know. We’re really big on promoting books around here, so I will let you know that this just came out from Oxford University Press.
The veteran Newsweek religion reporter who’s been to the Faith Angle in the past, Ken Woodward, said that John Allen is “the journalist other reporters — and not a few cardinals — look to for the inside story on how all the pope’s men direct the world’s largest church.” So we are thrilled and honored and privileged to have the well-traveled and well-written John Allen with us. Thank you, John, for joining us.
JOHN L. ALLEN, JR.: Certainly, Michael. First of all, just picking up on what you just heard from Paul about Jesuit reactions, certainly what you described, Paul, tracks with everything I was hearing from Jesuits in the initial flush of reaction to Bergoglio.
Comical footnote is that I was on the CNN set at the end of the Via della Conciliazione in Rome, sort of narrating the story, when the Habemus Papam happened, and there were two Jesuits behind me who were doing Mexican TV, so when we got off air for a smoke break, these guys came down and started telling me, “Oh, my God. This is a disaster. Okay? This is going to end badly. Okay? First of all, Bergoglio was a flame-throwing archconservative, and secondly, they probably elected him to finish the crackdown on the Jesuits that started under John Paul II and never really got finished.”
I think the funniest — the most comedic bit of subtext to the Francis papacy is something that I’d never thought I would live to see, which is a corporate conversion in the Society of Jesus, because today, Jesuits are tripping over themselves, of course, to be the authorized exegetes and apostles for the Francis papacy. I can tell you that it’s not where these guys started. Okay? Because they were not aware, Paul, of the metanoia that happened at Cordoba in the same sense that your book lifts up for us.
Here’s what I thought I would do. Paul gave you the biographical background of Bergoglio in Argentina. I’m going to make just a few thematic comments about the papacy. So I’m going to start with what I would consider to be Francis’ most important accomplishment at the one-year mark, then I’ll lay out for you three what I consider to be bogus narratives that have emerged about — in other words, three ways to get wrong, I think, what’s going on. And then I’ll lay out, just very briefly, some storylines to watch for 2014, and then we’ll see what you want to talk about. Okay?
First, most important accomplishment. Travel with me now back in time to those days between the 11th of February, 2013, the day that Benedict’s resignation announcement was made — between the 11th of February and the 13th of March, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio is elected to the papacy, and ask yourself, what were the dominant storylines about the Catholic Church in that period of time? In other words, what were we talking about on air or in print?
I know everyone in this room remembers very well what we were talking about. What we were talking about was church in crisis. We were talking about an alleged gay mafia in the Vatican, the so-called gay lobby. We were talking about the Vatican leaks affair, this surreal meltdown in the Vatican that rolled out in 2011-2012, which, of course, reached its Hollywood-esque crescendo with the arrest of the Pope’s butler as the alleged mole at the heart of the affair.
We were doing crackdowns on nuns, and we were doing bruising political controversies and pedophile priests. Those were the dominant narratives about the Catholic Church at that moment in time. Now, clearly, those narratives have not gone away; those headaches are still around. But that is no longer the dominant global narrative about the Catholic Church. The dominant global narrative about the Catholic Church is: humble, simple people’s pope takes the world by storm. And if that’s not a revolution, at least at the level of perceptions, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen one. Okay? So in other words, he has changed the story about the Catholic Church.
And, — looked at through Catholic eyes — that is, the internal Catholic sort of take on that would be — the highest priority of the Catholic Church, beginning with John Paul II, running through the Benedict years, and still today, is supposed to be what Catholics call the New Evangelization, which is this effort to kind of reintroduce Catholicism to an often skeptical, jaded, even sometimes hostile secular world.
And, for 25 years, I think people have been trying to figure out how to go about that. I think what we’ve seen in the last year from Pope Francis is the most successful example of the New Evangelization in action that one could possibly have imagined.
Tom Reese just did an essay saying that what Francis has done during his first year could be taught in business schools as a successful example of rebranding, and I think he’s absolutely right. That’s, in effect, what’s happened.
All right. Three bogus narratives about the Francis papacy. Let me tick them off first, and then I’ll unpack them. First is no doctrine, no dice; second is Benedict bad, Francis good; and the third would be all sizzle and no steak. Okay?
Let’s start with no doctrine, no dice. On the one-year anniversary the big question that many of us were wrestling with — and I know this because I was doing phone calls all the time, including some people in this room. I know what the big question was. The $64,000 question was is Francis going to change doctrine? Are we ever going to see doctrinal changes on stuff like abortion, gay marriage, et cetera, et cetera?
And the implicit assumption there was that if he’s not changing doctrine, then this is really kind of all cosmetic; that it’s not as big a deal as maybe we thought if there are not going to be doctrinal changes. I would suggest that this rests on a profound misreading of the reality of Catholic life. Because in the Catholic Church, yeah, there’s doctrine. There’s the official teaching of the Church, but there’s also pastoral application of doctrine; that is, how we apply that doctrine in the day-to-day life of the Church. And for most ordinary Catholics, it’s actually pastoral application that is much more fundamental in their experience of the Church than the official teaching.
So, famously, when Bergoglio was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he condemned priests who refused to baptize the children who were born out of wedlock because he felt that that was uncompassionate; it was a failure in mercy. That’s not a question of doctrine. Nobody’s talking about changing the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, but we’re talking about how do we apply that teaching in the concrete pastoral decisions that people have to make every day? The Francis revolution is directed at pastoral application. Okay?
So, no, he is not going to change church teaching on — certainly not on the hot-button issues that we like to talk about: abortion, contraception, gay marriage. But take it from me, folks: the path to reform in the Catholic Church does not always run through the catechism. Okay? You can change the Catholic Church profoundly without changing a single comma in its official code of teaching.
So I think putting undue emphasis on whether Francis will or won’t make doctrinal changes is the wrong way to frame the importance of what’s happening. Basically, what he’s doing is creating a zone for the most merciful, compassionate, tolerant, possible application of official teaching, and that’s why the Catholic gut right now will tell you that this guy really is a change agent. Even though it has nothing to do with changing the official teaching. All right?
Second, the Benedict bad, Francis good narrative, you can think of this, if you like, as the Rolling Stone narrative, because this way of framing things shot through that Rolling Stone cover story. Words such as “disastrous” and “draconian” and so forth were used to characterize the Benedict years.
Look, no doubt, there are significant stylistic or differences between Benedict and Francis, and for that matter, with John Paul. I sometimes say you can capture this in terms of musical genre. John Paul was heavy metal, Benedict is classical, and Francis is folk. Or put it this way. John Paul was Metallica, and Francis is Simon and Garfunkel. Or if you want a contemporary reference, he’s like Taylor Swift or something like that. Right? It’s softer, gentler, but they sell just as many records.
So no doubt, there are stylistic differences between these two guys, and no doubt there’s a difference in points of emphasis. Paul is absolutely right that Benedict — the watchword of his papacy was reason and faith, the notion that reason and faith need one another to be healthy, whereas Francis, although he’s obviously not opposed to reason, does have a much more, if you like, popular faith. It’s rooted in popular piety, the popular religious experience of Latin America, in particular.
So there are differences, but here are the three signal facts as to why the Benedict bad, Francis good narrative doesn’t work. One, nobody is less inclined to buy that narrative than Francis himself. Okay? There is obviously a relationship of deep mutual respect and affection between these two guys. This came out in the recent interview Francis did with Corriere Della Sera when he was asked about his relationship with Benedict, and what he said was, “One thing, I’ve asked Benedict to get out more.” He said, “I don’t want him under lockdown. I don’t want him living in a bunker.” And his line was, “Benedict is not a fossil,” packed away in a museum someplace, but he’s someone who still has contributions to make to the Church.
So point one here is that clearly these two men believe that they have far more in common than anything that would divide them. Point two is that many of the reforms for which Francis is now drawing credit actually began under Benedict XVI. The finance stuff — Francis just recently rolled out a kind of financial earthquake in the Vatican, and, believe me, folks, I know that appointing a new finance czar does not have the same sex appeal as kissing a guy with boils or bringing three homeless guys up for breakfast. Okay? I get that. It doesn’t have the same iconic value. But at the level of substance, there is nothing he’s done during his first year that was seen as a more significant blow with the Vatican’s old guard than that, because the one way to really rock the world of the old guard is to take away their power of the purse, and, in effect, that’s what he’s done.
However, that process actually began with Benedict XVI. Okay? The cleanup of the Vatican Bank began under Benedict. The decision to open the Vatican, this unprecedented decision, for the very first time, to open the Vatican to outside secular inspection in the form of MONEYVAL, which is the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering agency, that decision was made under Benedict, to great internal resistance, by the way, because there were a lot of old guard types who would argue that over the centuries, the Vatican had paid in blood to protect itself, to protect its autonomy and its sovereignty, to keep these outside secular interlopers at bay, so the fact that Benedict rolled out the red carpet for them was, in its own way, quite revolutionary.
So the financial cleanup, the financial glasnost that Francis is getting credit for, began under Benedict, and, similarly, of course, just on Saturday, the Pope announced the first group of eight members for his new sex abuse commission, the Commission for the Protection of Minors. If you look at the people who are sitting on that commission, all of them — and they are all people who have been in the forefront of the Church’s efforts — they would be perceived as leaders of the Church’s reform wing on the sex abuse thing — they all rose to prominence as reformers during the Benedict years. Okay?
And it was the momentum that flowed first out of the Holy Office under then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and then the policies under Benedict, that gave the reformers the upper hand. They used to be the in-house opposition to the power structure which was in denial, and that was inverted during the Benedict years so that the reformers are now the status quo. They are now the establishment, and it’s the deniers that have been driven underground. And, again, that’s a process that began under Benedict. So that’s the second point, that, substantively speaking, the reforms that Francis is pursuing are reforms that began in the Benedict years.
And the third point, dare we not forget that Francis mania, the Francis revolution, would have been impossible in any event had it not been for that stunning decision on the 11th of February, 2013 by Benedict XVI to resign; in effect, unprecedented. Yes, there are a handful of popes that had to resign, but the circumstances were so wildly different as to make this basically sui generis; that is, basically unprecedented.
If you want the single most revolutionary act by a pope in the last 13 months, it’s not anything that Francis did. Okay? It was Benedict’s resignation that paved the way for all of this. So I would suggest to you Benedict bad, Francis good just doesn’t hold water.
And the third narrative, all sizzle and no steak. And this narrative basically is to say that, yes, Francis is making magnificent, beguiling, impressive changes at the level of style and tone, but it’s basically all theater without any real substance. Okay? And here again, I will tell you that this for sure is not the case. Aside from what I said about pastoral application, let me just say a couple more things about this new finance structure that Francis has created, because I would suggest this is by far the most substantive structural institutional change, and it is a real earthquake.
Now, I know that when I start describing what this is about — it’s about quarterly reviews to make sure that spending is staying within budget. It’s about annual certified independent audits. It’s about two sets of eyes on everything. It’s about building a set of checks and balances. But the typical American reaction to that is it’s a complete no-brainer. It doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary. But, folks, I will tell you, in the world of the Vatican, this is an earthquake, because in the Vatican, each of these little departments — the technical term for it is a dicastery — but each one of these little outfits has been accustomed for centuries to being an independent little fiefdom, and in terms of how it spends money, they believed themselves to be accountable only to God and the pope, and in both cases, very nominally.
So the notion of being held accountable for how much you spend and of there being consequences for being reckless is quite a revolution.
And, further, the real problem when it comes to Vatican finances is not these occasional spectacular cases of corruption which — of overt, explicit, self-conscious corruption. You do get them from time to time, of course. In June, we had the Scarano case, which is still playing out. You all know this story? Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who’s known as Monsignor 500 in Rome because he would flash around these 500 euro bank notes everywhere. When he’d pay a dinner check, he’d be the guy to pull out this wad of 500 euro bank notes and cover the bill and so on.
He was arrested in June for participating in a plot that, honest to God, is worthy of like Tom Clancy or John le Carré. He was accused of trying to smuggle $30 million in cash into Italy from Switzerland on a private jet, with the collaboration of an agent of the Italian equivalent of the CIA at the behest of an Italian family of shipping magnates, because he was buddy-buddy with a lot of fat cats in Italy, and Italy has laws on repatriation of cash and all of that, and so it’s difficult to bring cash into the country. They apparently turned to their monsignor friend, who agreed to carry this suitcase with $30 million in cash into the country for them.
MR. CROMARTIE: That’s a big suitcase.
MR. ALLEN: It’s a big suitcase, although if you have 500 euros you can be economical in your use of space. He was rearrested, by the way — he was under house arrest for that — he was rearrested in December, Scarano, because he also had this separate plot going where some of his fat cat buddies were giving him gifts of cash, and he didn’t have a paper trail for them to explain where this money was coming from.
So he had this deal where he would pay his friends $10,000 in cash to write him 10,000 euro checks so he could put that in the bank to explain where the money was coming from. And he was using his Vatican bank accounts to do that. That sort of thing is just obviously — assuming the facts as described are correct, that sort of thing is just obviously corrupt, and he knew what he was doing was corrupt. Scarano’s the kind of guy who allegedly was making 40,000 euros in his Vatican salary, yet he owned an extensive network of real estate in Salerno, and he had a private art collection that included originals by van Gogh and Chagall. I don’t think it took an MBA to realize something here did not add up.
Now, that sort of thing is — the good news is that sort of thing is relatively easy to fix. You just need vigilance and enforcement mechanisms, and you need to take them seriously. The real problem when it comes to dollars and cents in the Vatican is you’ve got to break the grip of the culture in which things that you and I would see — most ordinary people would see — as corrupt are not even perceived that way.
Case in point, you’ve got an allegedly competitive bidding procedure, but you end up steering the contract to your cousin. Okay? Many Italians of a certain generation would just — that’s what you do when you get into positions of power. You take care of your friends. You take care of your family.
Another case in point, a monsignor in a cassock shows up at the Vatican Bank with a pocketful of cash. You don’t ask him where he got the money. It’s just — the guy is della famiglia. He’s of the family. It’s just — it’s not done. And so that culture has to be fixed.
And if you had asked me in the abstract who is the one cardinal in the — because you’ve got to put a cardinal in charge of this project, or people won’t take it seriously. All right? So if you had asked me in the abstract who was the one cardinal in the Catholic world that might actually be able to break the grip of that culture, I would have said to you, “It probably would be Cardinal George Pell of Sydney in Australia,” and that is exactly the guy that Francis put in charge of this project.
Here’s what you need to know about George Pell. When he was a teenager, he was an up-and-coming Australian rules football player. A lot of people thought he was going to go pro until he blew his knee out. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an Australian rules football game, but it’s basically NFL-style hits with no pads. In a normal game, at least a couple guys get carted off on a stretcher. And back in the day, it was normally George Pell putting them on that stretcher. Okay? That’s where he’s coming from.
I wrote when he was appointed this was a guy with the mind of a theologian and the instincts of a linebacker. This is basically Brian Urlacher in a cassock we’re talking about. And the fact that Francis put him in this gig tells you everything you need to know about how serious he is.
Now, the whole story is not Pell. It’s a bigger structure than that. There’s a council of — basically, Francis abolished a council of 15 cardinals who used to oversee the Vatican finances. Now there’s a council of eight cardinals and seven laypeople — first time at such a senior level in the Vatican, by the way, that cardinals and laity have had full equality as members of a supervisory commission. They have equal voting rights.
And this is not an advisory committee. This is a decision-making committee, so it’s actual power being wielded in the Holy See by laity. That’s one piece of the puzzle. The Secretariat of the Economy, which is the outfit that Pell now runs — he’s basically the new finance minister. A finance czar is the second. Third, there’s now an independent auditor who is independent of these two outfits, who reports directly to the Pope, who is providing checks and balances on the work of these other two things.
This is a comprehensive, soup-to-nuts reform of the way the Vatican handles money, and it’s important for three reasons. One, as I say, it breaks the grip of the old guard because they no longer have the power of the purse. That power is now invested in another outfit. Second, it sets an example, not simply for the Vatican, but for the entire Catholic Church, because, let’s face it, it’s not like the only outfit in the Church that has had money problems is the Holy See. You probably know there was a study at Villanova a few years ago that found that 80 percent of American dioceses had reported at least one case of embezzlement in the previous 15 years.
So money management is a chronic problem at every level in the Church. Basically, this is intended to convert the Vatican from being an example of what not to do to becoming an example of best practices.
And what this does, it hands a club to critics of the Church’s record on money at every level to go to their local bishop and say, “If the Pope is doing this, why aren’t you?” So there’s a kind of moral suasion going on there to promote the whole — to nudge the whole church in the direction of transparency and accountability.
And, third, it’s important because if this works right, then you should have no more Monsigno r500 euro cases; you should have no more Scarano cases, which means that bishops around the world won’t have to get out of bed every morning in a cold sweat wondering what the latest Vatican bomb to go off is going to be. So there is — my point, there is steak beneath the sizzle.
Finally, just some storylines to watch for in 2014. First of all, you probably know this Thursday, Obama is going to have his first meeting with Francis. It’s the standard drill for when the Pope encounters a head of state, which means that there will be a private one-on-one between Obama and the Pope. I’m assuming that Peter Wells, Monsignor Peter Wells, who is the highest-ranking American in the Secretary of State, will be the translator. He was when Obama came to see Benedict in 2009, and Peter’s still there. So it’ll be the two of them and a translator.
Then afterwards, the president will meet with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and that’s usually where the diplomatic heavy lifting gets done, so usually a conversation between the pope and the head of state is a broad, panoramic, getting-to-know-you session. The detail stuff typically comes up in the meeting with the Secretary of State. And in terms of what to watch for from that session, first, obviously, areas of agreement, so solidarity with the poor, protection of the environment. Basically, there’s a lot in terms of Francis’ social agenda and the social agenda of the Obama Administration, where the two dovetail.
In terms of points of conflict, look for any reference to religious freedom or religious liberty. That is a Vatican coded Catholic way of raising the issue of the contraception mandates and reminding the White House that they’ve got a problem with the local bishops and with people of faith in the country on that issue.
The other potential flashpoint would be Syria. You probably know that the Obama Administration and the Vatican under Pope Francis have a slightly different diagnosis of the Syrian conflict. Basically speaking, the White House wants regime change, and the Vatican is leery of applying pressure intentionally to try to bring down Assad, because what they hear from the local Christians in Syria, both at the top and bottom of the Church, is however bad Assad is, what comes next is likely to be worse. From their point of view, the choice is not between a police state and a thriving democracy. It’s between a police state and annihilation.
So in September, when Francis called that day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, that was, in effect, breaking with Washington and with London and with Paris, who, at the time, were preparing to drop bombs in an attempt to bring down Assad. Substantively speaking, the Vatican, under Francis, its position on Syria has been closer to Russia and China than that of the United States. So it will be interesting to see to what extent that surfaces as well at this meeting.
Bottom line, I would suggest that Obama needs this meeting a hell of a lot more than Francis does. Francis has got much better poll numbers in the United States right now than Obama does, and Obama has midterm elections. Popes don’t have to run for reelection. So, the political calculus would be if there are concessions to be made, it would be more in Obama’s interest to make them. We’ll see how it plays out.
Second storyline, the trip to the Middle East, May 24 — oh, sorry, I’m skipping over the double-barreled canonizations. April 27th, canonizations of Pope John Paul II and John XXIII. Another flash of Francis’ maverick style, because this is the first time that two popes have been declared saints in the same ceremony, so it’s a historical first.
It’s a clear political statement from Francis about unity in the Church because everybody knows, in terms of church politics, John XXIII is the hero of the Catholic left, John Paul II is the hero of the Catholic right, so by putting these two figures together, it’s obvious Francis wants to make a statement that he wants left and right to act in concert rather than constantly be fighting with one another.
The over-under in Rome, by the way, in terms of crowd size that day, is around five million. Five million is what John Paul II got for the funeral Mass in April 2005. To date, it’s the largest public event ever in Rome. Some people think this could be bigger. If you do the math, if it were John XXIII by himself, you’d have a million screaming Italians. If it were John Paul II by himself, you’d have two million Poles and then others. And then you’d have to add in the Francis multiplier effect, because his crowds have been two to three times bigger than they were during the Benedict years, so you add all that up, and then you can get to five million pretty quickly, so we’ll see. Big day, is what I’m saying.
And, by the way, Catholic footnote, April 27th is Divine Mercy Sunday. It’s the first Sunday after Easter. That’s a feast that was put on the Church’s calendar by John Paul II. It comes from his devotion to a Polish mystic nun by the name of Saint Faustina Kowalska, and it’s important to Francis, I think, (a) because this was a feast near and dear to John Paul II, but as Paul said — and I would certainly echo it — mercy is Francis’ core, his spiritual cornerstone. I have predicted, actually, that at the end of the day, he’s going to be remembered as the Pope of Mercy, so the fact that he would use a feast of mercy to do this event, I think, is significant as well.
All right. Then the trip to the Middle East, May 24, 25, 26, Francis is going to be in Amman, Jordan. Then he’s going to be in Bethlehem, which is in the Palestinian territories, and then he’s going to be in Jerusalem. The ostensible purpose of the visit — well, not ostensible. The official purpose of the visit is to meet the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, commemorating a historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964 in Jerusalem, which led to the repeal of the excommunications of 1054, and was seen as kind of a pivot point in the modern ecumenical movement. So this is another way Francis is confirming that he wants to be a pope of Christian unity, and he wants to begin that process with the Orthodox, because that’s the primordial schism.
So there’s that dimension to the trip, but, obviously, no world leader can go to the Middle East without there being political subtext. So Francis will meet Abbas when he’s in Palestine. He will meet Netanyahu when he’s in Israel. It’s going to be fascinating to see if he can spend some of this enormous reservoir of political capital he’s put in the bank to try to shame the Israelis and the Palestinians into talking to one another.
A further subtext to that visit, of course, is going to be the fade of Christianity in the Middle East. You all know the stories, that Christians a generation ago were 20 percent of the population of what we call the Holy Land; that is, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. Today, they’re about 5 percent. The patriarch, the Latin Rite Patriarch of Jerusalem, says the danger is the Holy Land is going to become a Christian Disneyland; that is, it’ll have plenty of glittering attractions for people to visit, but there won’t be any actual flesh-and-blood Christians left in it.
So, clearly, Francis is also going to want to try to give a shot in the arm to that struggling community and see if he can lend them some of his popularity and some of his acclaim to act as a kind of buffer against the pressures that face them.
Last thing in 2014 I’ll flag for you, the Synod of Bishops in October. If you don’t know a synod, S-Y-N-O-D. Synod of Bishops, this is a global meeting of Catholic bishops and other leaders in the Catholic Church that meets periodically in Rome to advise the pope on some important topic. It has met 21 times since it was instituted by Pope Paul VI right after the Second Vatican Council. This will be the first under Francis, and it’s going to be devoted to issues of the family.
Just a couple things to say about that. One, Paul mentioned this pope’s commitment to collegiality and participatory governance. Clearly, you can see that in the way that he has reconfigured the process of the Synod of Bishops. As you know, the Vatican sent out a questionnaire in advance of the synod to try to take the temperature of the grassroots. The Pope has changed the process of the synod to make it more conversational and less about speech-making. For this synod, he has also pointedly asked that the bishops’ conferences of the world send their elected presidents so that there’s an idea that the people who are going to be in the synod represent the consensus among the bishops in the parts of the world that they come from.
He’s also reconfigured the process, so this is now a play in two acts. There’s going to be a synod in 2014. Then people will go home and ponder what they heard, and they will come back in 2015 for another synod before they make final recommendations to the Pope. So he’s provided this window, this year-long window of time for grassroots consultation to the first round of results.
So procedurally, it clearly does reflect a pope who is committed to shared decision-making to authentic participation, to participation that’s more than notional.
Substantively, a lot of issues are going to be in the mix of this thing, but, obviously, the hot-button issue that a lot of people have their eyeballs on is the question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics — that is, Catholics who divorce and remarry civilly without obtaining an annulment, which is a declaration from a church court that their first marriage was invalid — whether divorced and remarried Catholics are going to be able to participate in the sacraments; that is, whether they can come up for communion and the other sacraments of the Church. Under current church rules, they’re not supposed to.
Francis said on that plane ride coming back from Rio de Janeiro to Rome during that famous hour and 20 minute, no-holds-barred, impromptu presser he did with us on that plane — by the way, folks, I was on the plane, and let me tell you this. In many ways —
MR. CROMARTIE: Anne Thompson was there also.
MR. ALLEN: So was Anne. You were with me. You remember. Alitalia Flight 4001 that day, in many ways, was nothing to write home about. The seats were uncomfortable, the food was awful, but I will give it this: the in-flight entertainment was spectacular. Right? Unbelievable.
And he said during that presser — one of the points he made is that he wanted to open a conversation about the divorced and remarried, and he certainly has done that, because we have seen the unusual — not unprecedented, but unusual — spectacle of cardinals going after one another publicly on this issue, so the cardinal who’s the Vatican’s doctrinal czar has said, “No, that door is closed.” The cardinal who is the coordinator of the Pope’s G8 council of cardinal advisors has said, “Lighten up. We need to be more flexible.”
More recently, a German cardinal — the Pope asked to speak to all the cardinals of the world — in February argued in favor of a more flexible approach to this, prompting Cardinal Caffarra of Bologna, who was John Paul’s big family values guy, to come out and say, “That’s absolutely wrong. If we approve communion for divorced and remarried, we might as well approve gay marriage, bestiality,” all kinds of things.
So obviously what you have is a robust discussion. Which makes handicapping how that synod is going to come out difficult to do. If you want the politics of it, my read is that most of the American cardinals are going to be against change; not all of them, most of them. The Europeans, I think, are going to be split about 50/50. The Africans are going to be largely against change; again, not all of them, but that would be the majority. Asians and Latin Americans would be more open to it.
So, you add all that up, I don’t think the synod is going to be able to reach an easy consensus on this question, so my own prediction is that they’re going to have a very interesting debate. They’re going to go home for a year, and it’s going to be debated more. They’ll come back in 2015, and at the end of it, my prediction is they will say, “Holy Father, we cannot reach consensus on this point, and, therefore, it’s up to you.” And so at the end of the day, I think the ball is going to be in Bergoglio’s court.
Footnote, if you want to know why the Africans are against it — this is kind of counterintuitive for Americans — but the big reason Africans are against it is polygamy, because what they’ll tell you when you ask them is that we’ve been trying to tell our people for two generations that polygamy is wrong because the Church says marriage is one man, one woman, for life, and that if we weaken that stand, then what our people are going to say is, “Well, if you’re going to make a deal for the divorced and remarried, why can’t you make a deal for me, because I’ve got two wives?” So their concern is pastoral clarity and the potential for confusion. This is a lesson, ladies and gentlemen, in the complexity of a global church. The pope has to make policy, not just for the United States, but for everywhere, and so those voices are going to be part of the mix.
So at the moment, I would say those are your four major papal storylines for 2014, at least things to keep your eyeballs on, and that’s it.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, John. I’ve got a long list already, and Nina Easton —
MR. VALLELY: Can I — Michael, can I just add one very small thing?
MR. CROMARTIE: Please go ahead, and then, Nina.
MR. VALLELY: Yeah. On the trip to the Middle East, a good storyline to watch out for is — and as far as I’m aware, John, this hasn’t become public yet — but the Israelis are very unhappy with the fact that the Pope is going to Jordan first. They feel that people who do these multinational visits should do Israel first, and then go across to the occupied territories and to Jordan, and he’s insisting on doing it the other way around. That could cause a stir yet.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah, although that’s also how Benedict and John Paul did it. The standard itinerary is you do Jordan first, and then you go — and then — Benedict went Jordan, Israel, and then Palestinian territories. John Paul did three trips, and I think on two of them, he started in the Palestinian territories. What the Israelis are actually really upset about is that the only public event where people can come on the Pope’s itinerary is going to be in the Palestinian territories. He’s doing a mass in Bethlehem. In Jerusalem, he’s going to the Western Wall, and he’s going to Yad Vashem, but he’s not doing any public event, and some of the Israelis think this is a dis.
MR. CROMARTIE: Nina Easton, and then Ross, and Kirsten and William and Dan and Michael and Robert.
MR. ALLEN: And a partridge in a pear tree.
MR. CROMARTIE: Yes. You’re on.
NINA EASTON, Fortune: Well, first of all, I just want to, I think on behalf of all of us, thank you both. That was absolutely tremendous and insightful and things I think a lot of us have never heard.
Paul, I wanted to ask you about the Pope’s economic views, because you went a long way towards that, but he also — he became archbishop in, what, 1998, when the Argentinean economy — and, by the way, I wanted to ask this largely because of his controversial critique of capitalism and the fact that political leaders here, like Obama, want to bask in that sunshine. So — and that’ll come up on Thursday.
But it’s interesting to me that he became archbishop at a time when the Argentinean economy collapsed into this depression, throwing half the country into poverty, a quarter of the country out of work, and I wonder if that helped solidify his view about inequality and about free markets, first of all.
And, secondly, would you label him as an adherent of liberation theology?
MR. VALLELY: In 2001, Argentina underwent the biggest debt default of any nation in history, and it was absolutely cataclysmic, the effect it had on the economy. He definitely saw the working of the capitalist system in a more skeptical light after that. He’s very much in line with Catholic social teaching, which, starting from Pope Leo XIII in 1891, tried to find a middle way between capitalism and communism, and it’s had a few blind alleys on the way, but there is a standard tradition of Catholic social teaching, which takes a dim view of unbridled capitalism, what Pope John Paul called savage capitalism.
So he’s pretty much in line with that. He’s not — previous popes have been called Marxists by The Wall Street Journal. It’s not unusual. But, certainly, what happened there solidified his view, and he felt very much that the Peronist governments were not on the side of the poor and were indulging themselves and were corrupt.
I’ve just made the obituary film, an hour-long documentary of Pope Francis for BBC — not the kind of thing you can talk about outside a room of journalists, but we’ve done the obit already, and we were looking at the footage of him talking to Kirchner, and it is absolutely excoriating. He just really rips into him, and Kirchner just has to sit there and listen to it. It’s an extraordinary moment, worth trying to find on YouTube. I’m sure you could turn it up. So he’s very much in Catholic social teaching tradition, but his language, as with everything else about this pope, is more down-to-earth, more direct, more fruity than other people have been.
On liberation theology, the Argentineans say that they have a different liberation theology. They have a theology of the people rather than a theology of liberation. It’s very similar, but it doesn’t have the same — there’s a lot of parody caricature views of liberation theology as being Marxist. A lot of liberation theology wasn’t Marxist, but it was very leftist.
The liberation theology in Argentina was one of the foremost exponents — there’s a chap called Scannone, who was one of the Pope’s teachers, and he was still teaching at the same seminary where the Pope went. And he nuances the liberation theology slightly, but essentially, yes. In the book, I catalog the changes that he made while he was archbishop and the way that he rehabilitated liberation theology.
In Rome now, even the doctrinal watchdog that John mentioned has welcomed in liberation theology from the cold, and L’Osservatore Romano, the official voice of the Vatican, has said it’s time that it came out of the shadows. So it has been rehabilitated. Of course, the context has changed, so we’re not in a cold war anymore. It’s not seen as a kind of stalking horse for communism, so it doesn’t feel the same kind of threat that it did.
So is he a liberation theologian? I think he’s a kind of liberation theologian.
MR. CROMARTIE: John?
MR. ALLEN: Just very quickly. On the subject of rehabilitation, I was in Rome a couple weeks ago when Cardinal Muller, who is the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, went across the street to a Vatican audience hall to wrap Gustavo Gutierrez — the Peruvian father of liberation theology, who’s a good friend of Muller from years back — to wrap him in a kind of big, wet, sloppy kiss. Muller actually had a Peruvian poncho on, and there were like mariachis and so on.
And so there was this like historic healing with Muller and Gustavo Gutierrez and Oscar Rodriguez from Tegucigalpa. And, obviously, the whole thing was scripted and calculated to send the signal that the liberation theologians are back in from the cold.
Honestly, those of us who were there thought we were witnessing the end of history. If you think about the relationship between German-speaking doctrinal czars and Peruvian liberation theologians over recent decades, it was a pretty remarkable scene to behold.
MR. VALLELY: And I think we may see the canonization of Oscar Romero, which will be the cherry on the cake for that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Ross, you’re up, and then Kirsten Powers.
ROSS DOUTHAT, The New York Times: Okay. I guess I’ll just frame this as a very general question for both of you, since this has been a — like most events that I’ve appeared at, participated in, and witnessed about Pope Francis, a very optimistic event. I would just ask both of you about things that you think might go wrong with this pontificate over the next few years. And I’ll make one specific example to what — a line John had that struck me. I think Kirsten has already tweeted it — the idea that you can change the Roman Catholic Church profoundly without changing the catechism, basically.
And I think one of the interesting issues in Western Catholicism over the last 30 or 40 years has been, in certain ways, precisely the gap that has often opened up between what the catechism actually says and Catholic practice and so on in churches and so on.
And I think it’s an open question whether that can be deeply problematic in certain ways for the Church, that you can have a certain — a level of social change and practical change that isn’t reflected at the dogmatic level, and this creates both — in certain ways, that’s been a driver of Catholic right versus Catholic left debate in the U.S. and Europe over the last couple generations, with the right saying, “Look what the catechism says. What’s going on over here?” and the left saying, “Well, why aren’t you dealing more with the realities on the ground?” and so on.
That would be one place where I’d be curious for you to elaborate, but, really, anything that makes you worried, doubtful, or pessimistic would be interesting.
MR. VALLELY: Well, I go around, and I know John does as well, giving talks about the Pope, and the extraordinary mood in the audiences. There has been a revitalization and a sense of joy and a lifting of any sense of there are things we can’t talk about. All of that is gone. So, yeah, you’re right. There is a euphoria.
The danger is that there will be disappointed expectations, and the process that John set out about, say, this totemic issue of communion for remarried Catholics, if that is not actually delivered in the way that people are projecting, then you could see a repetition of the Humanae Vitae situation, where the Church was led, and it was the Grand Old Duke of York. They marched him over the top of the hill, and they marched him down again. People were led to expect change, and it didn’t come, and that’s a real risk.
Having said that, there are lots of different ways of managing these situations, and in the Spadaro interview, the Pope quotes John Paul II about seeing everything, turning a blind eye to a lot, and talking about a little. And I think we’re going to see the blind eye, that kind of don’t ask, don’t tell, as the Church’s position on contraception, which is widely ignored throughout the world. And I don’t sense any feeling within the Church that they want to actually prod the sleeping dog on that, so I think there will be some blind eyes turned.
On the issue of sex abuse, I was worried, when we had the Corriere Della Sera interview last week, that the Pope seemed to be reading from last year’s script, and he was saying, “Oh, the Church has done a lot,” which is true, “and nobody gives us any credit,” which is true, but just because it’s the truth doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to say. Put in PR terms, it was not the right thing to say.
Having had that setback, he now has announced the membership of this commission, and it sends out lots of the right signals, so we just have to hope that he achieves that kind of balance. As John says, he’s on a very difficult tightrope because he’s talking to lots of different constituencies at the same time.
And then the other thing is that people talk about style and no substance — it is the English equivalent of the steak and sizzle — and I always say, in that situation, that you have to remember that the Catholic Church is an organization which is about sacrament, and it understands that the outward signs are substantial. So just changing the mood music is important.
And when he said, “Who am I to judge on gays?” People said, “Oh, yes, but he hasn’t changed the teaching, has he?” And the Pope made reference to what the catechism said, and people said, “Oh, yeah, well, other popes have said what the catechism said.” But the tone in which he said it was entirely different. There was a warmth and an understanding, which typifies this pope’s approach.
And lots of the things the Church said in the past which sounded fair and compassionate were said with a thinly veiled hostility towards homosexuals. And, he’s the first pope ever to use the word “gay,” for instance. So those changes of tone, I think, are, as John suggested, more important than people sometimes think.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah. Well, Ross, you and I had this conversation before. Fundamentally, at least at the PR level, I’m not too worried about some big implosion, because I know how invested we in the media are in narratives, how narratives tend to drive everything. And the narrative about this guy is he’s the new Nelson Mandela. And I’m not sure, conceptually, what I could see that would actually drive that off the rails. I’m not saying it’s impossible; I just have a hard time, today, anticipating what that cataclysm might be.
Now, that said, let me just tick off two or three things that I think could go wrong. Okay? One —
MR. CROMARTIE: That’s what he was looking for, yeah.
MR. ALLEN: — women. Women. The Pope — okay, he’s taken women priests and women cardinals off the table. He’s said no to both of those, but he has repeatedly said that “I want to boost the role of women in the Church.” Now, the first time he had a chance to do that was when he filled out the lineup card for this new Finance Council. Seven laity, not a single woman.
Now, he got back in the game with this sex abuse commission, because of the eight members of that commission, four of them are women, but, as opposed to the Finance Council, which has actual decision-making power, the sex abuse commission is advisory. Okay?
So I think he’s got to show us what those concrete, visible, meaningful leadership roles for women are going to look like, in ways that don’t require ordination to the priesthood. Right? Because, at a certain stage, this rhetoric turns stale. If you keep saying “I want to boost the roles of women in the Church,” but people don’t see you doing it, then at a certain stage, I think there’s going to be some backlash.
Second, on the subject of backlash, despite the fact that this pope’s poll numbers are terrific and all of that, the truth of it is he is not universally beloved. There are some circles inside and outside the Church that have reservations about him.
I know we typically think of this in terms of left and right, and the conventional wisdom is that it’s the liberals who are doing handstands and the conservatives who are having heartburn. I’m not sure, in the long run, that’s how it’s going to play out because, as you say, if he doesn’t give us changes on birth control and abortion and so on, I think there are going to be some liberals who are not going to be satisfied with that.
But, in any event, I think the more immediate form of backlash I would be worried about would be if we look at the American context. I think there are some self-identified conservative Catholics who feel that they have been carrying water for the Church for an awful long time, fighting its battles, often at personal costs, who just wonder about where this pope is taking things.
Concrete story — I was in Oakland a couple days ago speaking on a different subject. I was speaking on anti-Christian persecution around the world, and I ran into a guy I know from an American diocese who runs their speaker series, and it’s a fairly conservative place. He was saying that they have decided not to do any public events on the Pope right now because they fear that their audience would come in a not-good place. And they were worried about where the conversation might go if they did this in full public view.
So I do think there is some festering — right now, I think it’s expressed as ambivalence or confusion among, again, quote, unquote, more conservative or traditional Catholics.
MR. CROMARTIE: Like —
MR. ALLEN: I would be worried about where that’s going to go, because those people are an extraordinarily important piece of the Church, among other things. They’re the Church’s last line of defense. When the Church is under assault, they typically are the ones who are going to step up and be there for you.
And if they are not on board, and if they become progressively less on board, if they feel alienated — in other words, the question would be are we going to be in the John Paul years in reverse, where the conservatives felt like they had the upper hand and the liberals felt alienated and marginalized and became the kind of in-house opposition? Are we just in for that, only with the shoe being on the other foot?
Third thing to be worried about —
MR. CROMARTIE: Wait a minute. On that second one — and the answer is?
MR. ALLEN: I think there’s a danger. I think there’s a realistic danger of that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay.
MR. ALLEN: Yes. Now, listen. Bergoglio is — Paul will tell you that a lot of Argentines think he may actually be the smartest political mind their country ever produced. He’s well aware that that backlash is out there, and he’s going to do things along the way.
You probably know the other day, he called up an Italian traditionalist by the name of Mario Palumbo. Palumbo had written a story for Il Foglio, Ferrara’s newspaper, for Il Foglio in September, the headline of which was, “Perche’ questo papa non ci piace,” “Why we don’t like this pope.” That was his essay in September.
Flash forward to December, Palumbo is in the hospital. Francis calls him up. And, by the way, I’m feeling a little ticked off because I’m the last guy I know who has not gotten a phone call from the Pope. Anyway —
The Italian equipment of Jon Stewart is a guy by the name of Beppe Severgnini, who did an essay on “Ten rules for etiquette — what to do when the Pope calls you.” Because that’s how common this has become.
Anyway, he calls up Palumbo, and he says, “Look, I understand you’re in the hospital; I wanted you to know I’m going to be praying for you and I’m going to remember you in my Mass tomorrow morning,” and Palumbo said, “Well, that’s especially nice, given what I wrote about you.”
And Francis said, “No, no, no, no. I know you wrote that out of love, and these were things I needed to hear.” So, he’s going to do what he can to try to reach out to these folks, but I just put that on the table as a trajectory that I think is plausible and worth being concerned about.
The third and final thing would be the future of Vatican reform on his watch. Here’s something that I’m a little concerned about. The Vatican presently — I don’t think that there is a consulting firm left on Earth that does not have a contract with the Holy See right now to advise it on some project of reform. Ernst & Young, McKenzie, Promontory. Frankly, Ross, I think you and I ought to open our own consulting firm. We could probably have a contract this afternoon and fund our retirements that way.
My concern is there are too many cooks in the kitchen and that relatively simple fixes might become unduly complicated and unduly ponderous, and in the end, this dies the death of a thousand cuts because there are simply too many blueprints. And what you end up with on the other end of it is a hodgepodge of competing reform agendas so the bureaucracy looks different, but it’s just as dysfunctional as it was at the beginning.
MR. CROMARTIE: Quickly, Paul, and then we’re going to go to a break.
MR. VALLELY: Just on John’s second point, on the conservative backlash, my reading of Bergoglio from Argentina is that he is a very, very sophisticated, very wily politician, and that he does know — he’s very aware of that. He sorted out exactly the same kind of problem the Vatican Bank had with a church bank there, where you had corrupt people fiddling things, and the cardinal’s credit card being paid by the bankers, and he’s dealt with that, and he brought in outside people, and he closed the church bank, and he moved the money to a conventional bank. He’s done this kind of stuff before.
On the politics, I think it’s very significant that he’s letting a thousand flowers bloom with all these different cardinals saying different things. He’s allowing everyone to speak. He’s not reprimanding anybody. People like Cardinal Burke have been removed from offices, but other fairly conservative figures have been either confirmed or appointed under him, and I think — my reading of him is that the one thing he’s concerned about is that the Church doesn’t make decisions in the right way, and that is more important to him than what the decisions are.
So with this we’ve seen a questionnaire to the laity, bishops around the world, the first meeting, the second meeting, and previous popes have said, “We don’t want to know what commissions — what questionnaires from the laity think. This pope’s actually asked for it.” And I think it’s more important to him that the decision is reached in this kind of way than what the decision is.
And that’s why I do — I think he’s alive to the John Paul II in reverse problem. He doesn’t want, when he dies, to be replaced by Benedict XVII, or however you want to caricature it. He wants the system to have changed, and I think he’s trying to let a genie out of a bottle, and he wants to institutionalize change in a way that it won’t be possible for an individual to flick the reverse switch.
MR. CROMARTIE: Kirsten Powers and then Will Saletan.
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA Today, Fox News, The Daily Beast: Okay, good. So I have a question for each person. I guess, John, I wanted to ask you when the papal conclave chose Pope Francis, what kind of pope were they expecting, and did they get what they expected?
And then I wanted to ask Paul — I was really intrigued by what you were talking about, about how humble the Pope is and how he has such a sense of a need for mercy, and I was wondering, was there some formative event that happened to him that made more like this, even though, of course, this is obviously what the Gospel teaches, but it is something we often don’t see in a lot of Christian leaders, this sense of real humility and talking about his simpleness. Is there something that happened along the way that really imprinted that on him?
MR. ALLEN: Okay. On the cardinals, what you’re basically asking, I guess, is the buyer’s remorse question and are they experiencing any buyer’s remorse? I’ve obviously talked to a lot of these guys about that very question. I’ve probably — since the conclave of 2013 — I’ve probably interviewed, on or off the record, let’s say, 40 cardinals, so we’re talking maybe a third, because there were 115 who went in.
So take this for what it’s worth, but — and, of course, that 40 is top-heavy with Italians and Americans, so this isn’t necessarily universal. But my read would be, when you ask them this question, “Is he what you expected?” They’re going to say, “In some ways, yes; in some ways, no.” The yes: they knew the rep on him being this humble, simple bishop of the villa, which is the Argentine word for a slum, the villa miseria. So they knew that. They knew he was a man of the Social Gospel. They knew about the personal simplicity, so that tracks.
Second, they had heard that he was a good manager, good governor. Much like Paul was saying, they didn’t know at the level of detail, but they knew there had been some problem when he was the Jesuit superior, and he seemed to have learned from that, and the read was he had a good run as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, one of the world’s most complex archdiocese. It’s actually got a bigger human infrastructure than the Vatican does, in terms of the number of people who are on the payroll and so on. And their read was that he had done a good job running all of that.
And let’s remember, the difference between 2005 and 2013 is that in 2005, the dominant voting issue in that conclave was continuity. The cardinals felt they had just witnessed the end of a historically successful papacy in John Paul II. They wanted to keep the momentum going.
In 2013, the voting issue was discontinuity. It was the most anti-establishment conclave of the last hundred years; not in the sense that they were voting against the teaching of Benedict, but they were voting against the business management. The feeling was that the Italian old guard that used to be able to make the trains run on time had just broken down and gone off the rails, and that’s how you got the Williamson scandal, and that’s how you got Vatileaks, and that’s how you got the bungled response to the sex abuse crisis, and all of that. And they wanted someone who was going to come in and clean house, and they believed Bergoglio could pull that off.
Now, the surprises would be, one, he’s turned out to be much more moderate than many of them thought he was. The book on him in Argentina was that he was basically a conservative. Many saw him as a kind of JP II bishop. Nobody thought of him as an ideologue, or as a fire-breathing archconservative, but I think the overall moderate tenor of his papacy and moving the Church into the center is not something that many of them necessarily anticipated. Pleasant surprise for some, not so pleasant for others, but in any event, a surprise.
The other surprise — and I think the cardinals could be forgiven for this — let me quote Tim Dolan of New York. When you ask Tim this question, he will say, “We knew we were electing a pope of the poor. We knew we were electing a good manager. We did not know we were electing a rock star.” So his success on the public stage, I think, has been surprising. And, frankly, they can be forgiven because I think this has been a surprise to virtually everyone.
Sergio, I remember we had this conversation when I was in Argentina. I talked to a number of other people who covered Bergoglio in Argentina, and what they will tell you is that he did not like to appear in public, and when he did, he often came off as a little stiff, a little reserved. The critical word for that would be a little boring.
His own sister — I went to visit Maria Elena, who lives in this modest home about an hour outside Buenos Aires, and I asked her, “Are you surprised at the transformation that’s come over your brother?” And her answer was, “I don’t recognize this guy. I don’t know who this is.” She was kidding, but she went on to say, “Obviously, this was inside him all along, but now the world can see it.” So I think that has been a revolution.
And let me come to the buyer’s remorse question. Look, I certainly know some cardinals who voted in that conclave who are a little concerned about what they would see as some of the loosey-goosey elements of the Pope’s rhetoric, who wish that he would be a little bit more careful.
Some of them are a little concerned about the groups that seem most emboldened by this pope because they’re not necessarily the groups that they would see as the ones that they’re closest to.
So around the edges, there would be some concern, but fundamentally, honest to God, I don’t pick up any real regret; that is, I don’t pick up any cardinal who would actually want to roll the clock back to March 12th, 2013. And the reason is, aside from the lofty thing that they believe this to be the action of the Spirit and the life of the Church and divine providence and so on, the more prosaic reason they don’t want to roll the clock back is because, to be honest with you, having a popular pope makes their lives much easier. If a cardinal needs to get a favor from a legislature today, it is much easier to get it, because no politician in the world wants to be seen as on the wrong side of this pope.
When they go on TV, the questions are softer and friendlier. They’re not getting asked about pedophile priests. They’re not getting asked about crackdowns on nuns. They’re being asked, “Isn’t it great to have such a wonderful pope?” When they go to the Catholic grassroots, people aren’t mad anymore. They’re excited and they’re enthusiastic. The cardinals will tell you the number one thing that they hear when they go into parishes these days is “Thank you. Thank you for electing this guy.” It’s a completely different reaction.
And in circles outside the Church, cardinals will tell you that when they go into ecumenical meetings, evangelicals and mainline Protestants and so forth are tripping over themselves talking about how great the Pope is and “Why can’t we get a guy like that?” So forth and so on. They can’t go into bars or restaurants or receptions without tasting the euphoria and it just completely recalibrates their daily experience.
So do some of them have concerns of the level of detail about which way things are going? Are some of them privately saying that we’re going to have to hold the line on some things? Of course they are. Do any of them want to go back? No.
MR. CROMARTIE: Do you want to add to that, Paul?
MR. VALLELY: Yes. I’ll just add that I think one of the big differences was that at this conclave, the previous pope was alive, and I think that changed the dynamic enormously. I think that people didn’t feel they had to be as respectful to his legacy because he was still with us. So I think that enabled a slightly more critical atmosphere.
I think also that a lot of people had felt that there were problems in the Vatican, and they thought that it needed an insider to clean it up, and that was — Benedict XVI was the ultimate insider, Cardinal Ratzinger, and he had not succeeded in doing that. So the sense was, as John said, the shift to discontinuity, to an outsider — we need an outsider, someone who’s not part of all this. So I think that was really important.
I think the other thing that’s noticeable — and, again, Sergio will be able to talk about this more — is the change in Bergoglio’s own personality. When he left Buenos Aires, he was kind of getting ready to retire. He’d chosen his room in the retirement home. He’d given his books away. He was kind of slightly depressed and down, and now he’s this happy, exuberant, energetic figure. So the papacy has changed him. So I think the cardinals couldn’t have known that that would happen. So I think he is definitely surprised, but I’ve not detected any sense at all that he’s anything other than a good thing, for the reasons that John said.
On the humility, I think something did happen in Córdoba. We’re not sure what it was. He’s made this very oblique reference to it, saying it was a time of inner spiritual crisis. I got a couple of leads when I was writing the book on what it might be, but I wasn’t convinced enough about them to put them in, so that’s something I’m going to follow up, but I think there was an event.
But I think the other thing about the humility is that he sees it as a device to control the part of his personality which he felt failed previously, and he’s repeatedly talked about having been abrupt and authoritarian and making quick decisions.
And elsewhere, he — I think he told Sergio in his book that “When I make a decision, my first thought is almost always the wrong one, and I have to reflect on it.” So I think he’s definitely scarred by that, but he’s turned that into a positive rather than a negative. And I think all of this talk about forgiveness and atonement and mercy is not theological. It’s autobiographical, and it grows out of some experience that he’s had. And it will be really interesting to know what it was.
When I was putting the book together, I said to one of the others here earlier on that it was like a jigsaw, and you put all the pieces in place except for the final one, and you knew from the shape there what it must be, but you don’t really know the detail or the color. We’ve had a little flicker of that from what he’s said to Spadaro, but we still really don’t know, so there’s a story there for people to find.
MR. CROMARTIE: Will Saletan, you’re up next.
WILL SALETAN, Slate: Okay. So I’d like to throw two questions at you. You can answer neither, both, or either — whichever one you like. Paul, I just wanted to pick up, first of all, on what you were just saying to Kirsten’s question about humility. You used the phrase in your presentation “audacious humility,” which I thought was really interesting, and I guess my question here is how much of it is about the humility, and how much of it is about the audacity?
Or to put it another way, how much of it is about, as you were just saying, a device to control himself, or perhaps — what you said about the Córdoba period was quite interesting to me, because it suggests that if he’s someone who believes more in ritual than in reason or emphasizes ritual more than reason, does he see the practice of humility, even in things that other people would call gimmicks, the driving oneself or carrying one’s bags, as a way of influencing one’s own behavior, one’s own character, or to what extent does he do it — I think, John, you used the word “rebranding”? To what extent is it as an example to others? And if it’s an example to others, is it to the public? Is it to the Catholic laypeople? Is it to Mr. 500, people in the hierarchy of the Church? So that’s one question.
The other question is I’m curious about what you guys were talking about divorce and remarriage and what might happen with that at the synod, and some of the clues that we’ve got so far from Francis, what he’s done procedurally and what he’s said.
I’d like to get a little bit of a sense of how you think this might play out with the issue of homosexuality, which might be a longer-term project, but there were two clues, John, that you — two things that you talked about that I thought might be helpful in thinking about this. One was you were talking about pastoral application, and I think the words you used were “merciful, tolerant, and compassionate.” So that made me wonder, does something like civil unions fit into that way of thinking about pastoral application, or is pastoral application something that is more particular, not at the level of state policy?
And the other thing you were talking about was the reaction of Africa about the genuine problem of polygamy there, and so the church says the position is one man, one woman, for life. If you open up to divorce and remarriage, that somehow can undermine that ethic and give way to polygamy, but in some ways, one could argue that homosexuality is less of a threat, from that standpoint. So I don’t know — you would still have the for life aspect. You would still have the one and one, but, on the other hand, in Africa, you have a very deep-seated antipathy to homosexuality, perhaps more so than to divorce and remarriage, and maybe that’s the bottom line and not anything doctrinal.
MR. CROMARTIE: Who wants to go first?
MR. VALLELY: I think he sees divorce and remarried communion as the low-hanging fruit. It’s the easiest thing to do. That’s why he’s tackled it first. And he’s taken it — and as we’ve already said, we’ve seen the process, the questionnaire, the bishops’ conference, the reconsultation, the coming back. It’s the process that’s important there, and he thinks this is the easiest thing to deal with. I think homosexuality is much more difficult, for a whole raft of theological reasons.
One of the interesting things about the Pope, a cardinal said to me, “He plays for the same team, but he kicks the ball in a different direction.” And we were talking last night at dinner about how he says things like — on contraception, adoption, same-sex marriage — “What do you think about that?” And he says, “I think we talk about it too much.” He doesn’t say, “Yeah, I’m in favor of it. I’m against it.” He says, “Let’s talk about something else.” So he’s changing the subject.
Interestingly, he’s given signals here, and certainly in Argentina, he was in favor of civil unions. Now, some people said he was in favor of civil unions as a kind of tactic to make a concession on that so he didn’t have to make a concession on same-sex marriage, but I don’t think that’s correct. I think he sees that as a human rights issue, and he’s big on human rights.
So, for instance, on gay adoption, he sees that as a human rights issue as well. He thinks that children have a right to a parent of each gender, and so he doesn’t see it from the point of view of the rights of the adults, rights to have a family. He sees it from the point of view of the child. So again, he’s coming at it from a different area.
And on communion for the remarried, it is a big subject for him. A friend of mine got an email from him the other day, personal email, and said, “Come and see me,” and the first thing he said when he went was, “Right, let’s talk about this communion for the remarried issue.” And it’s right at the top of his agenda, and it may well be that if the process goes through, which John outlined, and the outcome is no decision, that he will make the decision, and I suspect he will lean towards change.
On your other question about humility, it’s all very thought through. Wise as serpents, innocent as doves. This man is a wise serpent. He’s not a holy fool. He thinks these things through. So if you look at, say, taking the subway, he takes the subway because it sends out the right signal, it keeps him in touch with people, but anybody who’s been to Buenos Aires will tell you it’s quicker than going in a chauffeur-driven car.
And it’s the same with rejecting the Apostolic Palace to live in Casa Santa Marta. It’s not about — and some of his friends in Argentina say it’s so that the Vatican can’t poison him, like they allege happened to a previous pope. He eats the food in the canteen. But it’s much more — and from his point of view, if he’s in Casa Santa Marta, he can meet people. There are no gatekeepers. There’s no one to stop him sitting down next to someone. Again, another friend of mine was in there, having breakfast, and the Pope just came and sat next to him. Now, there was no way that he would have got through the gatekeeping — what Francis has called the funnel of the narrow doorway to the large Apostolic Palace.
So there again, you see he’s doing something which is symbolic, which sends out the right messages to everybody, but which has a very practical reason. So he’s a very clever, sophisticated operator, and his humility is extremely thought through. That first appearance on the balcony, all of that was not kind of instinct. It was knowing what the right thing to do was and having thought about it. Some of it, because he’d already done it in Buenos Aires, and we should not underestimate how much what he did in Buenos Aires is what he’s doing now in Rome. But some of it is very definitely consciously clever.
MR. CROMARTIE: Have you received an email from him yet?
MR. ALLEN: I’ve received a couple of emails from Pedacchio, who’s the Argentine priest who’s kind of his personal guy. Just to echo what Paul said, I recently wrote — and I think this is, if you want one takeaway about Pope Francis, something you dare never forget, it’s this: that beneath that humble, simple exterior lies the mind of an incredibly crafty and savvy Jesuit politician. The guy knows what he’s doing. So, these gestures are not just spontaneous, and they’re not one-off. They’re a program of governance in miniature.
I think everything Paul said is right, so let me just very quickly — a couple of the specific things you asked. On civil unions, Francis just addressed this in his interview with Corriere Della Sera, because Italy is getting ready for a civil unions debate. The new Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi — and, by the way, I am stunned every morning I get out of bed to realize I am now 12 years older than the Prime Minister of Italy. I need no further proof that I’m becoming a dinosaur.
But anyway, Renzi has indicated that he wants to open a debate about civil unions in Italy, so this is going to be in the Pope’s backyard, so the question came up in the Corriere Della Sera interview, and basically, what Francis said, marriage is between a man and a woman, but how the State regulates other relationships, things like inheritance and health insurance and all of that stuff, they’re — basically, what he said was that has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. And the takeaway from this was openness to civil unions.
Now, in places like Italy that might have some relevance. Frankly, in most parts of the West, though, I would suggest that the boat on civil unions has already sailed. That is to say I think the press in most parts of the West is full marriage equality or nothing. So the period in which civil unions might have worked as a compromise solution — that period is probably gone. I think it is interesting to know that Francis was open to it, and there are places where it will be relevant, but I don’t think it’s going to solve the political problem, say, in the United States or most parts of Western Europe.
As far as homosexuality goes, Paul is quite right. That’s a much more complicated theological discussion, but it’s also a much more complicated cultural discussion. You look at poll numbers, and the Pew Forum has good, in-depth surveys about popular attitudes in various parts of the world to these hot-button moral questions.
You will find majorities, in Sub-Saharan Africa, that surpass 90 percent, opposed to the legalization of gay marriage. And in Asia and in most parts of Latin America, you’re talking 60, 70, 80 percent. Truth of it is, the Catholic Church has got 1.2 billion members. There are 67 million in the United States, which means that the American Catholic population is 6 percent of the global Catholic population.
Put another way, 94 percent of the Catholics in the world, in important respects, ain’t like us. And on this particular question, if you put yes or no to gay marriage up for a Catholic plus de sade, among those 1.2 billion Catholics, it would lose, and it would lose huge.
Now, where the Church is going to be in the future, who knows? But, for today, that’s the reality. So even if you could somehow cut past the theological problems, the cultural and political reality is the Catholic Church just isn’t there.
MR. CROMARTIE: Dan Harris?
DAN HARRIS, ABC News: Hi. Good morning. So I’ve been coming to these things for a while, and this is absolutely one of, if not the best, set of presentations I’ve seen in a long time, so thank you, and good job. Really appreciate it.
Paul, a question for you, and this amplifies a bit what Will was saying. I’m interested in humility as — and this is the word you used — as a discipline. What do you think this pope has to teach ambitious people?
MR. VALLELY: The ex-Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, calls humility the orphaned virtue of our age, and he sees humility as something which is essential to the business of living in community. And Pope Francis has said that it’s not possible to be a Christian in isolation. It’s about being in community. So humility is a key part of that.
He’s sending out clear messages on that. I met someone who’s a trainee papal diplomat, and the Pope had been in to see them, and he’d given them a very clear indication of what kind of lives he expected from them. He said things like, “My heart sinks every time I see a priest driving the latest model of a car.”
He’s told the people responsible for the choice of bishops that he wants a shepherd who will smell of his sheep and who has the concerns of the flock; that when you pray, you’re in there, fighting God for your people. It’s about servanthood, and humility is part of servanthood, and he’s pressing that on every front, so I think humility is absolutely key. And I think it comes from his sense that it’s a lesson he’s learned.
MR. ALLEN: And, by the way, to prove the point that this isn’t just rhetoric would be the Pope’s intervention in Limburg in Germany. You all know the story of the “Bling Bishop”? This is Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. The name itself just like reeks of aristocracy. And, truth of it is, the guy actually comes from a family of poor farmers, but the name didn’t help him. This is the guy who got in trouble for spending more than $40 million remodeling his residence.
MR. CROMARTIE: Could you say his name again?
MR. ALLEN: Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who — and, by the way, that $40 million bill included more than a million for landscaping, and I think the most staggering sum of all, $25,000 for a bathtub. I don’t even know what kind of bathtub you can buy. When this story broke, I hit a couple of Home Depots, and I couldn’t find anything. Right? But apparently, the bishop found one. And so, when this story broke, Francis dispatched Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, who’s the Vatican’s former foreign minister, a very senior guy, to ascertain the facts of the case. That was September. And then in October, he brings the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Zollitsch, in for a consultation and basically scripted a soft landing for the bishop; he basically said, “You’re going to have a period of unspecified sabbatical outside of the diocese.” In the meantime, he appointed interim leadership. And the leading theory now is that this residence is going to be turned into either a center for refugees or some kind of soup kitchen. But in any event, it will no longer be where the bishop lives.
Now, the political effect of that was it was the shot heard ’round the world, because what this told the other 5,000 plus Catholic bishops of the world is that the Pope actually means it. This isn’t just nice rhetoric, and it’s not about PR, but this is something he’s willing to use the powers of his office to stand behind. And a pope doesn’t have to do that very often. You do it once, and everybody else gets the memo.
MR. VALLELY: And another important symbolic thing he did was he’s abolished the title of monsignor in most cases. Monsignor, “my lord,” it comes from a kind of medieval view of papal monarchy. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he refused to put people forward for this honorific title, and, again, when he was in Buenos Aires, he had a very different attitude to the way that priests were moved around the diocese.
And the old model was that you started off in a small, poor parish, and then you got promoted to a medium-sized, middle-class one, and then you eventually got a good parish when you got to the top of your career ladder. He said, “No, we want the best priests in the poor parishes, and that’s where they’ll stay. There won’t be progression.”
Priests who were caught in the middle of this ladder felt that they were stuck in the wrong place. There’s a lot of resistance, you see, within the clergy to this kind of thing, but he was quite clear that it had to be done, even if it made him unpopular amongst his clergy. And as John says, the Bishop of Bling is a high point example of that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Michael Paulson and then Robert Draper’s next.
MICHAEL PAULSON, The New York Times: I also have two questions. I’ll ask them quickly. The first is you’ve talked a lot about what is surprising or not surprising about what Francis has done. I wonder if there are things that surprise you about the way we have responded to him; we being the media, Catholics, the global culture. Do you think that the receptivity to a rebranded Catholicism is startling or not? Does it say something about us that we’re open to seeing Catholicism in a different way than we did just a few moments ago?
And, secondly, I wanted to ask you to reflect on precedent. He’s not a young man. If he were to drop dead or to retire, resign, do you think that his successor can move into the Apostolic Palace, can — what happens next? Are there other Bergoglios in the College of Cardinals, even if they wanted to choose another one? So those are my two questions for each of you.
MR. CROMARTIE: Addressed to?
MR. PAULSON: Either. Both.
MR. VALLELY: Well, if I can put my cynical journalist hat on, I think that one of the dynamics that governs journalism is novelty, and we’ve had that story. We need a new story. And so people are very receptive to the idea of a different story about the Pope. So as John has indicated, it could all slip back. There could be a honeymoon period, and when people say, “Well, he said he was going to do this, and he hasn’t done it” on a whole range of things, then you could have exactly that situation.
I think there will be enough progress in enough areas to stop that happening, but there will be areas, as John has said, like the role of women in the Church and the issue of how do you — or whether you — discipline bishops who cover up sex abuse. Those kinds of things are not — it’s not clear what he’s going to do on that yet, and when that happens, then we could see a backlash within the media as well.
The question of his successor, at the moment — I think a new pope could just go back to March the 12th, as John said, and he could move into the Apostolic Palace. I don’t think there’s been enough of that — there’s a fashion. It’s a kind of culture change, but it could shift back.
If he can institutionalize some of these changes through this Council of Cardinals and through the precedent that he establishes on the Synod of Bishops, if he could perhaps change the way that bishops are appointed so they’re not appointed by Rome exclusively, but that there’s some kind of input locally from the diocese and some kind of recommendation from their fellow bishops in the national conferences and that Rome is part of a process, rather than the complete arbiter of it, if he can institutionalize that, then there will be a change of culture which it will be hard to roll back from. But I think we’re some years off that, yet, and he’s said a couple of times that institutional — cultural change is a long process.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah. Well, I — surprised? Yeah. Listen, I just did an interview with Cardinal Don Wuerl. All right? He was one of the guys that I asked the buyer’s remorse question. And so I asked him, “On March 12th” —
MR. CROMARTIE: Of Washington, D.C.
MR. ALLEN: A cardinal of Washington, D.C., right. And I asked him, “Okay, on March 12th, 2013, would you have predicted that, within 72 hours, the new pope would become the most popular human being on the planet?” You know Wuerl’s answer? “No, no, no, and definitely no.” Well, that’s my answer too.
Am I surprised at how quickly Francis emerged as the new Mandela? Yeah. And does that say something about us? I agree with Paul. It says something about the media business that we had created a narrative about Benedict that was unrelievedly bleak, and so there was a novelty factor to creating a new narrative about the new pope that was completely positive.
I also think it probably says something about the culture, that there is a hunger for credible, moral leadership out there that somehow Francis responds to, and not so much because he’s the Bishop of Rome or the Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. That’s simply what introduced him to us. Right? But it’s the perception of the personal credibility of the man, the kind of charismatic authority, to use the traditional word, as opposed to institutional authority, and that there is a desire for that out there that he taps into.
What would happen if he dropped dead? Are there other potential Bergoglios in the College of Cardinals today? Sure. Listen, if we had election of the popes, like we used to in the old days, by acclimation — that is people in the streets of Rome just shouting, “That’s the guy we want right now” — Sean O’Malley would be sitting on the Throne of Peter. He was easily the crowd favorite, because when Italians look at him, what they see is Padre Pio. Right? This bearded Franciscan, wearing the brown robes and all of that.
And stylistically, in terms of a broad outlook on the church, O’Malley and Bergoglio would very much be in sync, which is why O’Malley is on the G8 council of cardinal advisors. And O’Malley is not the only case. My point is, there are other guys in the College who, both substantively and stylistically, I think would be capable and would be inclined to move in much the same direction.
That said, I would agree with Paul. I think, right now, it is difficult to say how deeply rooted the Francis revolution actually is and, therefore, how reversible or not it actually is. Bear in mind, John Paul was pope for 26 years, and I think a lot of people would say that he was only half successful at institutionalizing his own vision. It is a long-term project. It takes time. But if you’re asking, would the College of Cardinals, if they had to meet for a conclave today, would they be going shopping for somebody like Bergoglio? In other words, would they be voting for continuity or discontinuity? If they had to come back together right now, I’m telling you the vast majority of them would be voting for continuity.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you. Okay. We have Robert Draper next.
ROBERT DRAPER, The New York Times Magazine: All right. Okay. I’ve heard some familiar terms — narrative, branding — and, John, you’re referring — as you did, I think, in your column you wrote last month in The Boston Globe — referring to Bergoglio as a wily politician and, Paul, calling him a clever, sophisticated operator, so I take all that as an invitation to ask you a standard-issue beltway question pertaining to process, and specifically having, John, to do with financial reform; not so much the content of it, but the means by which it’s been done and if there’s anything that we can learn, anything that we can glean from the means by which these were instituted, since, after all, they were presumably not done so out of consensus, but, rather, through a canny awareness of his own popularity, of timing, and of the maybe dogged authoritarian streak, perhaps, for which Bergoglio was known in Argentina.
And as a corollary question, Paul, it’s been — John had mentioned before that if there’s any real surprise, it’s been his success on stage, and I wondered, though, given your knowledge of Bergoglio in Argentina, if, looking back on it, we should be so surprised; if there were, in fact, any clues back then that he had a sense of timing, a sense of theatre, that sort of thing.
MR. ALLEN: Well, first of all, on the finance stuff, bear in mind, this didn’t just spring fully formed out of the head of Bergoglio. This was actually worked out at the level of some detail during those general congregation meetings of cardinals before the conclave last March; that is, the need for comprehensive Vatican reform, beginning with the finances, was basically part of the mandate that emerged from that conclave, and even some of the details about what this new structure might look like; that is, the need for an independent auditor, the need for there being a centralized finance ministry, so that was, in that sense, a product of consensus among the cardinals. Bergoglio knows that he was elected on a reform mandate, and this was what these guys had in mind. So, in that sense, there is a collegial back story to it.
Now, that said, if your point is that this is — despite, his commitment to consulting widely and listening to people and being participatory — this is not a guy who is at all shy about pulling the trigger on a decision. And when he feels like he’s reached a point where he’s got all the information he needs, he’s willing to do it, and sometimes, out of the clear blue sky, in a sense that the people you would think would have been concocting this didn’t even know it was coming. The five interviews he’s done since becoming pope are a classic example. I will tell you for sure the people who were paid to be the Vatican’s communications czars had no idea any of this was coming and were totally stunned by it.
Or the other day, he had to name a new president for what’s known as the AIF, the Financial Information Authority in the Vatican, which is its money-laundering watchdog unit. He picked a guy who worked in the government of the Vatican City State, Giorgio Corbellini, who was known there to be an ally of Carlo Maria Vigano, who is the current Nuncio in the United States who got exiled for kind of being a whistleblower.
Now, I will tell you for sure that day, the Secretary of State, which is the Vatican’s kind of uber-ministry — it’s like the White House Chief of Staff Office, which thinks everything ought to be funneled through it. I was in the Secretary of State the morning this appointment came through. These guys had no idea it was happening. Okay?
So my point — and it was a very smart move, by the way. So my point is that there’s no timidity about command and no hesitance about making decisions. When he reaches a point where he feels he’s gotten the information he needs, he’s perfectly prepared to act, and often to act in ways that work around, rather than through, the kind of established structures.
So, yeah, you had a second point, but I can’t —
MR. DRAPER: I think that’s a question —
MR. ALLEN: Okay.
MR. DRAPER: — for Paul.
MR. VALLELY: Both. There were clues of what he was going to be like, and there were counterindications. The counterindications were if you look at him — go on YouTube. Look at him being interviewed as a witness at the ESMA trial. ESMA was the torture facility during the Dirty War. And the Church had a murky record in lots of ways with priests and nuns being involved in taking the babies of women who’d been incarcerated and having them adopted and complicit in confessions, and it was a very, very dark time for the Church.
He was not accused of anything. He was there as a witness. He was being asked about it. And when you look at his body language, you look at his answers, he looks like a cautious politician stonewalling, giving as little information as possible. He looks like a different kind of person than the person you see now.
In terms of his facing with the outside world — Sergio’s book is very, very unusual. He didn’t give interviews. He gave a couple of interviews to — one to Horacio Verbitsky, who was his greatest critic later on, and one to an English journalist, where he kind of said, “I’ll talk to you, but the understanding is that this is a deniable interview, and if you say I’ve said this, then I’ll say I haven’t.”
Once a year, he would do a press conference at the end of the Holy Thursday service, just before Easter, but essentially, he avoided the press. Now we see this different person, this transformed person, open to the press, phoning people up. That feels very different. In some ways, though, there are points of comparison. He used to keep his own diary, his own agenda. His secretary didn’t know about it. He’s doing that now in the Vatican.
When he went to Lampedusa, the Vatican officials found out about it because they heard he’d been on to a travel agent, trying to book himself a flight on the plane, and they were saying, “No, no, you can’t do that,” but he can do things that you’re not supposed to do.
So there’s that kind of direct activity, controlling situations personally and not letting other people in on it. That was something that was there in Buenos Aires, even though he would meet with his assistant bishops, and there would be consultations on big issues, stuff like that, he would keep very close to his chest. So that, we see here.
Again, if you go on YouTube, and you look at him saying Mass for the children in the annual diocesan Mass, you’ll see that he’s — there are large clowns with stilts, walking across the alter, and that he’s talking to the kids like –in England, we could call a pantomime, where it’s call and response, and shouting back, and — “Are you? Yes. No. Come on, come on.”
So that kind of populism was there, but it feels technical. It doesn’t feel exuberant, like it does now. He’s definitely personally been utterly invigorated, and the people who I spoke to in Buenos Aires who still got phone calls from him on a weekly basis say that there’s this fiery energy about him now. So, yes, in some ways, he’s recognizable, and there were some clues, but in other ways, he’s a different person.
MR. CROMARTIE: Do you have a follow-up, Robert?
MR. DRAPER: Well, only to say what we’ve come to see as a kind of political sense of theatre, presumably, then, is connected to his metamorphosis and was not a skillset, as best as we can tell, that at least was ever manifest during his time in Buenos Aires, right?
MR. VALLELY: No, I don’t quite follow that. So —
MR. DRAPER: Well, what you’re saying is that — it was technical, as you say. It was not an exuberance. And so, presumably, that sense of theatre, as opposed to the caginess you would see, say, when he was on the witness stand — the risk aversiveness, perhaps — that sense of theatricality presumably emanates from his metamorphosis and the exuberance that perhaps took place —
MR. VALLELY: No, I don’t think so. I think that he had a calculated intellectual sense of how it was that he needed to change, and he changed in that way.
MR. DRAPER: Yeah.
MR. VALLELY: His secretary said to me, “He’s not a man who has a lot of friends. People think that they’re his friends, but he doesn’t think they’re his friends.” So he’s got a kind of list of people that he phones at two o’clock, three o’clock on a Sunday, and people are very thrilled when it’s their birthday and they get a phone call from him or a card or whatever, but that’s a mechanical diaristic process, in one sense. And he was doing that in Buenos Aires, and that’s what you saw in the Masses, where he was doing the call and response. He knows what the thing to do is.
Now he’s pope. He’s doing that with meaning and vigor and vim and exuberance. So something has changed, but the techniques — what I call this kind of conscious humility, that’s something that he adopted after Córdoba.
MR. ALLEN: Just to underline your point about the surprise dimension of it, I was talking with a cardinal who has known Bergoglio for a long time who told me that he had been in to see Francis recently. He had about an hour with him in the Domus Santa Marta in his room. And he told me that in the course of the conversation, he said to him, “You are not the same guy that I knew in Buenos Aires, so what’s going on? What’s happened?”
And he said that — meaning that his exuberance, his theatricality, his command of the public stage — and he said that Bergoglio’s answer was that “The night that I was elected, I had an experience of the nearness of God that left me with an interior freedom and peace that has never left me.” So there is a, I think, mystical dimension to that —
MR. DRAPER: Wow.
MR. ALLEN: — that you can’t gainsay.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Anne?
ANNE THOMPSON, NBC News: This is for both Paul and John. This incredible global popularity that Pope Francis enjoys, has that strengthened his mandate for change? Can he leverage that in the Curia, or does the Curia look at that and go, “Those are just the people. They really don’t matter. What matters is what’s going on here.” And is the reaction in the Curia — is he being stonewalled, or are they receptive to change, or do they look at him and think, “He’ll be gone in five years. We’ll still be here, so we’ll just ride this out,” and could the change be so great that we would see laypeople running some of the departments in the Curia?
MR. ALLEN: Well, in terms of the attitude in the Curia, you know, Anne, that the Curia’s a complex bureaucracy. There’s a little bit of everything. There are a lot of people who work in that system who have been more frustrated with it than anyone else because they understand its dysfunctionality and who are anxious for the change. There are others who are more invested in the status quo who I don’t perceive them actively trying to stonewall.
I do perceive a little bit of that attitude of “We’ll just ride this out.” Bear in mind, there have been previous cycles of Curial reform. There was a major reform under John Paul II with the ’88 document “Pastor Bonus” and so forth, and you look at it, and you would say there was some tinkering around the edges, but it didn’t really fundamentally change the culture of the place. And I think there are some who believe that this too shall pass.
But if you’re asking does his popularity strengthen his — the most important strength for his reform mandate is that he has one. In other words, more than two-thirds of the cardinals who elected him to the papacy did so on the basis that they expected him to make profound changes in the operation of the Vatican. And that’s clear to everyone, because those guys, after the election, said that. So everyone inside the system knows that the College of Cardinals handed him a reform mandate.
And so, what you get is less like overt resistance. What you get now is people trying to become the architects of that reform. Right? So everybody’s got their own blueprint. Everybody’s got their own vision for what the — because they all know the shakeup is coming. So the smart thing to do is to try to get on the train, rather than be left behind in the station. That’s what you’re getting.
But if the question is does the popularity help? Of course it helps. If the perception were that this pope were a disaster, that people didn’t like him, that you’ve got to be careful about where you put him on the road because you’re worried about blowback, that things were falling apart, if that were the perception, then it would be much easier to say now is not the time to make significant internal changes.
On the other hand, when you have the pope who has taken the world by storm and has these phenomenal poll numbers, gets these huge crowds — for God’s sake, the Wednesday general audience and the Sunday Angelus has basically turned into a canonization ceremony in terms of the number of people who are out there. They’ve got to block off the Via della Conciliazione halfway down, which is something you generally only do for major sainthood ceremonies. We’re now doing that twice a week.
Now, when these guys in the system look at that, it is obvious to them, I think, that this pope is riding high, has enormous support, and, therefore, any temptation there might be to try to engage in some kind of over-resistance is significantly undercut.
MS. THOMPSON: But, back when Benedict was elected, the thought was then that they were willing to go to a smaller, purer Church. Has that gone away now? Has that wing of the Church stepped back and said, “We are going to embrace all of this”? Or are they still sort of standing in the background, going, “Our time will come back”?
MR. ALLEN: Well, and, first of all, I’m not confident that the vote for Benedict was explicitly a vote for a small, purer Church. I think the vote for Ratzinger was a continuity vote after John Paul II, fundamentally. And John Paul was not about a smaller Church. However, is there a remnant crowd in Catholicism that thinks it would be better to be smaller and to be more compact? Sure, that crowd is still there. And what are they making of all of this?
What I pick up is I think there would be one wing of that remnant crowd that would say, “The world is in love with this pope for all the wrong reasons, and once they figure out what he’s really about, the love affair will end.” So they’re assuming that this is a transitory phenomenon, and that once they understand that he’s not going to repeal our teaching on gay marriage and he’s not going to repeal our teaching on abortion and so on, that the world will fall out of love with him. I’m not convinced of that myself, but that’s what some of this remnant crowd would say.
I think there’s another wing of that remnant crowd that would say, “You know, net-net, having the pope as the most popular person on the planet, there are worse possibilities.”
MR. VALLELY: And I think to be fair to Benedict, when he said that — he talked about a smaller, purer Church — that was a kind of prediction. That was kind of almost something that he not feared, but he thought would come to pass, rather than something he was actually aiming for. There are people in the Church who — the remnant crowd, as John called them — who do want that, but I don’t think that Benedict was in that particular category.
And I think what strengthens the mandate in your question is that, with that huge crowd that John was talking about, Benedict would have gone out quarter of an hour, 20 minutes beforehand. Francis goes out an hour beforehand, and he spends an hour touring the crowd. And there’s a huge warmth and authenticity about him which people respond to. And when you shake his hand, for a few minutes, he looks in your eyes, and you are the person on the planet that he’s concerned with at that moment.
And there’s an extraordinary softness and gentleness about — not the gentleness that Benedict had, which is kind of shyness, but this is some kind of embracing warmth. And people can just feel that. You can see that when you’re in St. Peter’s Square and there are people around there shouting and trying to attract his attention, there is this kind of really warm love.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Byron, you’re up. Let’s all be concise.
BYRON YORK, Washington Examiner: I wanted to ask Paul about the transformation in the context of the Cold War. So there’s this giant Cold War going on. He’s locked in opposition to this liberation theology, and then later, after the Cold War is over and it doesn’t have this terrible threat underlying the whole thing with global communism, he decides he’d been wrong. And so the question is does he decide that he was really fundamentally wrong about these people, that he should have been on their side, or does he think, “Well, I was just too harsh in opposing them at the time”?
MR. VALLELY: I don’t know. That is a really good question, and the only person who could tell us that is him, probably. He certainly came to feel that he’d been too harsh with people. There’s no doubt about that. But the way that he talked about liberation theology people like Tello, when he was in Buenos Aires, suggested that his ideological framework softened in his opposition. He could see the virtue of some of the methodology of liberation theology as a useful tool for furthering Catholic social teaching.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Napp Nazworth.
NAPP NAZWORTH, The Christian Post: When you talk about his political instincts, does that include the media as well, when you look at the positive press coverage that you’re talking about? Is he media-savvy in the sense of understanding, when he gives an interview with a reporter, what the headline’s going to be?
MR. ALLEN: My read would be yes. Bear in mind, as Paul said, the guy, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, for 15 years, in terms of sit-down, one-on-one interviews, gave fewer than five. He’s already given five as pope, and they’ve all been blockbusters. And I think if you look at them, he is very clear that there’s a kind of instinct about what the headline is going to be.
On the papal plane, the very last question was the question that got us the “Who am I to judge?” line. And the question actually had nothing to do with gays, really. It had to do with a guy that the Pope had appointed to be the prelate of the Vatican Bank, Monsignor Gianbattista Ricca, who had been accused by a very prominent Italian journalist of engaging in gay shenanigans when he had been the Vatican diplomat in Uruguay in the late ’90s.
So the question was, “Are you going to do anything about Ricca?” It wasn’t “your attitudes about gays,” right? So Francis answers the question. He says, “We’ve looked into these charges. I haven’t found anything to confirm them.” But then he said, “Now, let me go on to say something else. And what I want to tell you is what my attitude is when I meet a gay person,” and that’s where “Who am I to judge?” came from.
My takeaway was he expected the Ricca question, he knew exactly what he wanted to say about it, and he was waiting to deliver this line. So I do think there — yes, to answer your question. Yes, I think there is a savvy there.
MR. CROMARTIE: And of the few interviews he did in Argentina, he did most of them with Mr. Rubin —
MR. ALLEN: Yes.
MR. CROMARTIE: — who we’ll hear from tonight. Clare Duffy, you’re up next.
MR. VALLELY: Could I just say on that — when he was in Argentina, his press secretary said that the reason he didn’t give interviews was because he was fed up of being asked about the Church’s message for Easter, and then the headline would be, “Cardinal attacks president.” And so he was wary and resistant. Now, that seems to have gone, and he seems to be happier in himself, which is interesting in the light of what John said earlier.
MR. ALLEN: Although it should be said that he gave very few on-the-record interviews, but he had regular conversation with a lot of journalists —
MR. VALLELY: Yeah.
MR. ALLEN: — and he still does. It’s not that his only exchanges with the press are the ones that end up in Q&As. There’s a lot of background stuff that goes on as well.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Clare?
CLARE DUFFY, NBC News: Well, I actually wanted to follow up on Napp’s question. I think everybody in this room has probably been asked by the people they work for, “Hey, let’s book the Pope. Okay? Let’s really work on that.”
Has there been any fallout from some of these blockbuster interviews, perhaps the Scalfari interview, number one on the hit parade, of the wisdom of giving an interview to an 89-year-old who doesn’t take notes? If you are a media-savvy person, that would seem — and then become subject to all kinds of crazy interpretation. That seems, actually, not terribly media-savvy, but is there a method to that madness?
MR. ALLEN: See, I think there is, Clare. I think there is. If you don’t know the story, what she’s talking about, one of the interviews that Francis has given was to an 89-year-old, non-believing, leftist journalist in Italy by the name of Eugenio Scalfari, founder of La Repubblica, which is like the left-wing paper of record in Italy and a classic example of how working around the existing structure is — because what had happened is Scalfari had published an essay in Repubblica, basically saying, “Here are the questions I’d love to ask the Pope.”
So Francis picks up the phone and says, “Why don’t you come by, and we’ll talk about this?” Lombardi and Burke and all those guys had no idea this was happening. So he says it — and down to the level of detail — Francis told Scalfari what door he needed to come into and who to ask for and stuff like that. So, he trundles up to the Santa Marta. They have this two-and-a-half-hour conversation, and you’re absolutely right. Scalfari did not tape-record it and did not take notes. Two days later, he goes back to his office and reconstructs this from memory. And this is where we get “God is not a Catholic.” So that sound bite. We get the leprosy of the Royal Court in the Vatican. The truth of it is it’s impossible to know where Scalfari ends and where Francis begins in that interview.
The way we knew — the way those of us in the press corps knew this, the first part of the house of cards that started to fall was Scalfari has this scene where he has Francis saying that after he was elected to the papacy, but before he accepted, he left the Sistine Chapel and went into the hall where the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square is and went into a small room to pray, and then, only then, did he come back to accept.
Now, the problem with that — first of all, by that stage, we had interviewed dozens of cardinals, and, of course, when the election is over their vow of secrecy is over, so they can talk about it and none of them had ever said anything about the new pope leaving the Sistine. But the other point is if you know the Apostolic Palace, you know that there is no small room next to the balcony. It’s in the middle of a long hallway, and there’s nothing on either side of it. So we all knew something was up.
So when this happened, as it happened, the G8 was meeting in Rome, the Pope’s council of cardinal advisors. The G8 was meeting at the same time that this interview came out. And I was in the Santa Marta, and I asked a cardinal, “Well, what’s the deal with the Scalfari interview?” “I asked the Pope the same thing.” All right? He said, “I went to the Pope, and I said, ‘What’s the deal? Because we all know this is not right.'”
He said Francis’ answer was — it’s better in Italian. He said —
MR. CROMARTIE: Try it.
MR. ALLEN: Here it is. He said —
MS. DUFFY: Most things are.
MR. ALLEN: — “Si, si, e’ un po’ fantasioso, ma lui e’ vecchio, dobbiamo essere gentili,” which means, “Yeah, yeah, I know it was kind of made up, but, you know, we have to be gentle with this guy. He’s kind of old.”
Bottom line, there is a strategy here, and the strategy is Francis has made the strategic choice that he is going to open himself up, including opening himself up to some improbable venues and in ways, in the short term, might lead to misunderstanding or mischaracterization or just silliness, but I think he has decided that it’s the price of doing business, because if he wants to lead a church in dialogue, a church that gets out of the sacristy and into the streets, then he has to be willing to pay that short-term price.
I think he believes — and, long-term, what he’s about — he’s going to be completely clear, and there might be a couple of news cycles where there’s some bogus stuff out there, but the dust will settle, and in the end, what he buys by opening himself up to that kind of silliness is he buys the perception that this is a church that wants to talk to the world.
MR. VALLELY: And also, I think he’s quite canny in that he knows that he can float stuff, and he’s got deniability, as politicians would see it, because this stuff is all getting out there, and then he can say, “Well…” And there’s that sense that — like when he went to the South American religious group, and he said, “Oh, yeah, the CDF might come after you, but just ignore them,” and then they went and put it on their website. Not what he intended, but I don’t think he’s actually bothered about it, because it’s part of this culture of allowing debate and encouraging debate in the Church.
MR. CROMARTIE: Doyle, you get to get the last question before lunch.
DOYLE MCMANUS, Los Angeles Times: I will try and be both concise and humble. One more follow-up on institutional reform. It seems to me you’ve been talking about two levels, two kinds of institutional reform. There’s the financial management reform, on which there’s a deep consensus that went back to Benedict, and you have to deal with the Curia, but there’s a consensus. And then there’s the one that Paul opened up, the idea of reforming decision-making, including the appointment of bishops. That, if extended, is really a much deeper constitutional change, if you like, in the way the Church is running. Is the same consensus there — is it — how fast do you expect that to move, and is it possible that that issue could end up being the future crisis of this papacy?
MR. ALLEN: Well, there’s no doubt that appointment of bishops is the single most important thing any pope ever does to shape culture in the Catholic Church. And so in many ways, the success or failure of the Francis revolution will rest on his ability to be able to elevate like-minded bishops around the world. He clearly understands that. Paul quoted, absolutely accurately, from the speech that Francis gave to the Nuncios on the 22nd of June — the Nuncios are the papal ambassadors in the various countries who play a lead role in picking bishops — in which he said, “What we do not want are people with the psychology of a prince.” He said, “Instead what we want are pastors who carry the smell of their sheep because they’re close to the ordinary people they’re called to serve.”
He has begun making some changes to steer the process in that direction. Of course, there was a shakeup at the Congregation for Bishops, which is the all-important department in Rome that vets candidates, that makes recommendations for candidates to the pope. In the English-speaking world, what really rang a bell was that he moved Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was known for being a fairly hardline figure, off of that body and put Cardinal Donald Wuerl, known for being more moderate, onto it.
He did the same thing, by the way, with the Italians. He took Piacenza off the Congregation for Bishops, who was sort of the Ray Burke of Italy, and so on. So I think he’s begun moving things in that direction, but you’re quite — it’s early to say. Certainly, if we’re talking about the English-speaking world, I think there’s been only one bishop’s appointment so far in the English-speaking world in which Francis was personally engaged, and that was the choice of the new Archbishop of Edinburgh in Scotland because of the crisis that had surrounded Cardinal O’Brien and his choice to send, basically, a Vatican diplomat.
And, by the way, if you want to know who’s up and who’s down on the Francis watch, the theologians and canon lawyers are down; the diplomats and pastors are up. Clearly, the diplomats are in favor. Many of his key appointments have been guys who come out of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps — one thing to watch for, therefore, in terms of his ability to institutionalize in the sense of elevating personnel who share his vision, watch for his choice of the new Archbishop of Chicago. That’s probably going to be the first major American episcopal appointment that gets to the Pope’s desk. And if the takeaway is that this is a Bergoglioista — okay, that is, he’s found a guy who shares his vision of church — then that will tell you one thing, and if the take is that it isn’t, that would tell you something else. So that’s going to be a bellwether appointment.
Finally, you asked is this the level at which resistance to his agenda may manifest itself? Yes and no. I think if the definition of a Bergoglio bishop is a moderate, rather than a conservative, then obviously there will be some conservatives who are concerned with that, including some conservatives in the episcopacy. If the definition of a Bergoglio bishop, however, is somebody who is pastoral, believes in the Social Gospel, lives a simple life, and is close to the poor, there, I think you would get overwhelming support that those are good things.
MR. VALLELY: And I think in the case of Cardinal Burke, the fact that he like to wear the cappa magna, which is a good 30-feet-long red cape, probably went against him. The Pope is not not appointing conservatives. He is appointing conservatives, but he’s not appointing people who are really hardliners or people who don’t share the Social Gospel values. So expect —
MR. ALLEN: Correct.
MR. VALLELY: Expect a mixed bag. And, you talk about bellwether, John. It could be that he might go for somebody conservative for Chicago, but because he wants to create a mixed slate, in political terms.
I think the key thing, to go back to the beginning of your question, is that this — what John calls G8, what we call the C8 in the UK, I don’t know why — is the key body. It is looking at long-term constitutional reform of the Vatican. It’s had, I think, three meetings so far, which is fast-moving for this.
Very interestingly, the Pope doesn’t chair them. He sits around the table with the others, and somebody else chairs them, so, again, very typical of his stance. And they’ve been charged with bringing forward proposals for constitutional reform, and that could include changing the way bishops are appointed. It could include institutionalizing the C8 as part of the new Vatican apparatus. They’ve got —
MR. ALLEN: Yeah, it actually has been institutionalized. He’s issued a Motu Proprio, making this a permanent and ongoing body. And I — one other thing that Paul hints at. It’s also striking that if you look at the — when Francis created his first batch of new cardinals, these 19 new guys in February — if you look at the order of precedence, it was the Secretary of State first, but then next came the President of the Synod of Bishops, and then the other Vatican guys, which is his way of saying that the Vatican is subordinate to the bishops of the world, and not the other way around.
So, clearly, that commitment to a kind of collegial and participatory style, that’s also in the mix in terms of the kind of bishop he’s looking for. And there again, I would say that’s something you’d get pretty strong support for. If we’re done —
MR. VALLELY: That’s the big, warp and weft, undergirding change that he could bring about.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah.
MR. VALLELY: Yeah.
MR. ALLEN: So if we’re done, let me just — let’s end on this note. Cari fratelli e sorelle, buon pranzo.
MR. CROMARTIE: Join me in thanking both of our presenters.