Thursday, 12 September 2013

Talking to nuns about Pope Francis

Pope Francis is quite interesting. He has refused to move into the papal apartments and instead lives in the rooms in the Domus S. Marthae which he had before he was elected. The Domus S. Marthae is a residence/hotel which was built by Pope John-Paul II so that cardinals could have somewhere to stay while electing popes. It's generally used as a nice enough hotel but it's not that fancy -- I know because I stayed there in Spring 2010. Looking at how I described it at the time, I said that the rooms upstairs were straightforward and plain but the downstairs reception rooms quite fancy. (Though the view was pretty impressive.) By staying there he is avoiding the control which the Vatican system could otherwise have over who has access to him, and dodging the civil servants.

He has an interesting past too, in a bad way. Several decades ago his withdrawal of support for some priests in the slums of Argentina led to their arrest and torture. These priests were proponents of liberation theology, which takes the view that priests must live and work alongside the poor, and which has been viewed with suspicion by church authorities because of its links with Marxism. According to some readings of Francis' life since he has been increasingly filled with guilt over this, and moved more and more towards the liberation theology way of thinking. The idea that the church is for the poor doesn't seem in the least controversial to me, but the Roman Catholic church has a complicated history to work from.

So what will happen as a result of this, who knows? It might be something good. The nuns felt positive about it. I don't myself quite understand how you can have a pope. Pope Francis has responded to a series of reflections in an Italian newspaper by an interested non-believer in what seems to me, given that my Italian is basic, to be quite friendly language. (There is a not-very-good English translation here.) He has suggested that of course atheists must abide by their own consciences. (Which may not be a papal statement that leaves most atheists overjoyed and relieved but then he is responding to specific questions in a particular series of articles so it's not something which he has come out with from thin air.) But what about Roman Catholics, are they also supposed to abide by their own conscience? I honestly don't know how it works.

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