As Vice - Chair of ACTA nationally, I recommend the following report by its Rome Correspondent, Robert Mickens, was published in the online edition of La Croix International (17 May, 2019). It is an account of a meeting the Bishop of Rome had with the priests of his diocese of Rome, in St John Lateran, the cathedral of his diocese.
I think that it will be of interest to ACTA members and to all Catholics who are concerned that the episcopal oversight in our country is not as Pope Francis expects in every diocese. There is little engagement with the people and little attention paid to the concerns that daily scald our hearts and challenge our minds. What Pope Francis proposes is, in this green and pleasant land more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
I commend it to you as a consummation devotedly to be wished.
Vice Chair and Scripture Advisor of ACTA
Priest of Nottingham diocese.
The weekly La Croix International is an excellent and fairly inexpensive way of keeping up with what is happening in the universal Church.
Pope Francis during the ecclesial conference of Rome's dioceses at Saint John Lateran's Basilica in Rome, Italy, June 19, 2017.
Most people who follow the happenings of the Catholic Church will vividly remember this date: March 13, 2013.
It was on that evening in Rome that a Jesuit cardinal from Argentina named Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica dressed in white. He was the newly elected pope and had taken the name Francis.
"You know that it was the duty of the conclave to give Rome a bishop. It seems that my brother cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one," he said in his very first words to the Church and the world.
"First of all, I would like to offer a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus, Benedict XVI," the new pope said. "Let us pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may keep him," Francis continued.
And then he said: "And now, we take up this journey: Bishop and People – this journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of fraternity, love and trust among us."
The first and most important title
Many commentators made much about the fact that Pope Francis identified himself immediately as "Bishop of Rome."
They misinterpreted this as an act of humility, saying the new pope referred to himself by using his most humble title.
In fact, Bishop of Rome is not the most humble. It is the first and most important of the eight official titles currently accorded to the man we address as Pope, Your Holiness or Holy Father.
The other seven titles, which are officially listed in the Annuario Pontificio, are the following:
- Vicar of Jesus Christ
- Successor of the Prince of the Apostles
- Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church
- Primate of Italy
- Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province
- Sovereign of Vatican City State
- Servant of the Servants of God
These are the titles of the pope for one reason and one reason alone. It is because he is the Bishop of Rome, pastor of the Church "which presides in charity over all the Churches."
Francis was not the first new pope to acknowledge this on the day of his election. In fact, he was only repeating, almost verbatim, the words of the man elected more than 34 years before him.
"The most eminent cardinals have named a new Bishop of Rome. They've called him from a far away land," said the Karol Wojtyla of Poland on Oct. 16, 1978. Taking the name John Paul II, he was the first pope ever to address the crowds at the presentation ceremony immediately following the conclave.
Joseph Ratzinger of Bavaria was the second. But in his very brief remarks – on April 19, 2005 – the newly elected Benedict XVI made no mention of titles. Instead, he said:
"After the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord."
More than just a title
Benedict showed his reverence for the title and role of the Bishop of Rome in other ways. A man very much aware of the importance of symbols, he broke with longstanding custom and removed the tiara (triple crown) from his papal coat of arms and replaced it with a bishop's miter.
Other popes emphasized the importance of the title in still other ways. For instance, Pope Paul VI signed all the documents of Second Vatican Council this way: "Ego Paulus, Catholicae Ecclesiae episcopus" (I, Paul, bishop of the Catholic Church). This was to demonstrate that the Bishop of Rome is a member of the entire college of bishops and not some super-bishop that is separated or above the others.
Pope Paul (and popes since him) also made regular visits to parishes, hospitals, prisons and other institutes within the Diocese of Rome. This was an ancient pastoral practice that had fallen into disuse. But it wasn't Paul who revived it. It was Angelo Roncalli, who was elected in 1958 and chose to be called John because that is the name of Rome's cathedral, St. John Lateran.
John took his role as Bishop of Rome extremely seriously. He become personally involved in matters pertaining to the diocese in ways popes had not done for hundreds of years. One of the first things he did was call a diocesan synod, which he shaped and followed very closely.
He also began a project to refurbish the papal apartments and administrative offices in the Lateran Palace with the intention, says an urban legend, to move his residence and the Roman Curia there next to the cathedral.
His personal secretary, the late Cardinal Loris Capovilla, revealed just a few years before he died in 2016 that Good Pope John had a burning desire that his final resting place would be in St. John Lateran.
The cardinal said John left a hand-written note from 1962, saying he had "accepted" that initially he would be entombed in the crypt at St. Peter's Basilica. But Capovilla said the pope, who died a year later, expressed the hope that by "an act of charity and the work of mercy" his remains would eventually be moved to the Lateran.
John obviously believed it was most fitting for a bishop to be entombed in his cathedral.
Francis, Bishop of Rome
This is all a rather long preface to the May 9 visit Pope Francis made to St. John Lateran, where he gave an important – but somewhat overlooked – address to Rome's diocesan assembly. Unfortunately, the Vatican has not yet made available any translations from the original Italian.
It really is a pity. Because this was another one of those talks where the pope spoke freely and prophetically about his vision for a renewed, missionary Church.
First, he listened to several people involved with pastoral work in the Diocese of Rome. He took notes as they told him about the many difficult issues and problems people of the diocese are facing.
Then, after the people spoke, it was the bishop's turn.
Francis' words, which were mostly unscripted, probably upset more than a few people in the assembly (and further afield) – especially those who are "professional" clerics and efficient organizers.
"The first temptation one can face after hearing about so many difficulties, so many problems and so many things that are lacking is to say: 'No, we must fix the city, fix the diocese, put everything right, get it all in order,'" he said.
But he said this was too inward-looking and would only lead to "domesticating" people and their hearts. "Yes, things would be fixed and we will have tidied up the 'museum,' the ecclesiastical museum of the city, everything will be squared away," he said.
But Francis warned that this would be the "greatest sin of worldliness" and "anti-evangelicalism." Rather, he said, people of the Church needed to deal with "disequilibrium" present in the city, in young people, the elderly and in families, rather than try to "domesticate" or tidy up the problems.
Francis used the word squilibrio, which can have other meanings besides disequilibrium – such as insanity or craziness.
"We cannot do something good and evangelical if we are afraid of the squilibrio. We must take it in our hands: that's what the Lord tells us, because the Gospel – I think you'll understand this – is 'crazy teaching' (dottrina squilibrata)," he said.
"Take the Beatitudes: they merit a Nobel Prize for craziness! That's how the Gospel is!" he exclaimed.
The dictatorship of functionalism
Pope Francis said the penchant that many priests and Church workers have to try to "fix things" rather than embrace the imbalances often leads to something he called the "dictatorship of functionalism," which he also said is a form of clericalism.
He said there's a diocese in Italy – which, "out of charity," he refused to name – that had fallen into the trap of functionalism.
"There is a department for this, that and the other thing; and each department has four, five or six specialists that study things… That diocese has more employees than the Vatican! And each day that diocese strays further away from Jesus Christ because it has begun to worship 'harmony'; not the harmony of beauty, but of functional worldliness," the pope said.
Everyone in the cathedral had a pretty good idea which Italian diocese he was talking about. It sure seemed to be Milan under the direction of the recently retired Cardinal Angelo Scola.
Runner-up to Francis in the last conclave, Scola is famous for having been a bricks-and-mortar bishop who spent a lot of cash on trying to revive old structures and setting up lots of new committees and research institutes.
But Francis said this form of functionalism is a "new ideological colonization that tries to convince people that the Gospel is a type of wisdom or doctrine, but not a proclamation or kerygma."
"And there are many who leave behind the kerygma, inventing synods and counter-synods… which are not really synods at all, but just 'fixes.' Why? Because a synod requires the presences of the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirits kicks over the table and starts all over," he said.
Francis said in order to really listen to the cry of the people of the diocese it's not enough to "live with ideas, pastoral plans and pre-established solutions." Instead, he said, "We must live with the heart."
There were many other important things the Bishop of Rome told his people. One of them was that there are two very important texts that they should mediate on and put in practice: the speech he gave in Florence in 2015 during the Fifth National Convention of the Italian Church and his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
"Here is the plan for the Church in Italy and the plan for the Church of Rome," he said of the two texts.
But what Francis spelled out in his address in Florence, as well as in Evangelii Gaudium, is actually valid for Churches in every place.
When the Bishop of Rome speaks to his diocese, he often says things that can be applied to Catholics in other parts of the world, too. In this most recent case, the message was aimed at those everywhere who are tempted by functionalism.