You may have seen on Monday evening (12/22) PBS’s brief discussion of Pope Francis' admonition to the curia. The commentator seemed not to be Roman Catholic. He thought one big reason why Francis scorched the curia is that he's a Jesuit and there’s historically tension between Jesuits and popes. May be some truth in that but there are two other things to note.
First, the pope did not scorch the curia – not the way someone feels who has never been given a strong admonition or personal advice. And not the way this group of men listens to its leaders. The pope read an admonition that could be a page out of The Imitation of Christ or out of one of the prophets. I suppose you can consider that a scorching if you don’t read the Imitation regularly – or Jeremiah.
A second thing to note: this admonition could be added to his book of homilies to his priests in Buenos Aires, just another chapter in that book. Pope Francis is a man who takes his examen very, very seriously. He has names for all his failings because he keeps looking into the Imitation of Christ, which presents an extensive vocabulary of human failings. He knows Gaudium et Spes and the rest of Vatican II, and he knows the papal encyclicals from Leon XIII in the way a lawyer knows the law.
Pope Francis is not doing something new when he reads this kind of admonition to his immediate collaborators - he's been doing it since he was provincial. So maybe it is because he's a Jesuit. But that reason has less to do with Rome than with himself. Remember his self-admonition when he knew the votes would add up: "Jorge, be yourself, don't try to change at your age, just be yourself." Being himself, he is inviting, enveigling, almost forcing other cardinals to be themselves – very visibly.
Still and all – and nonetheless! – who ever heard a pope speak this way to the cardinals? Some may have done it but we wouldn’t hear about it. And who would have bet on the text of his talk being handed out to the press?
Austen Ivereigh lived in Argentina along with the pope. In his new book on him, Ivereigh argues that there has been within the whole hierarchy a roiling undercurrent of anger with the roman curia, disappointment with upper government, determination to change Rome. It has been kept silent for a longish time and now it is erupting. See Psalm 32.
I think Ivereigh’s correct. And an astute pope could hardly summon all the cardinals to Rome next February if he felt anything but confidence that he has plenty of support among them, probably a quite large majority.
Only time will tell but I feel we are correct to hope that “the Roman captivity” of the Church is coming to an end. We should pray to God that it is. Then the freedom that we know in the Holy Spirit will be shared by those who govern the Church, too. And that’s a good thing – to be prayed for.