What Pope Francis might mean for the Church of England
Journalists all over the world will have spent the night poring over the actions, writings and pronouncements of His Eminence Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, SJ, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Taking the name Pope Francis, he has sent a signal (or two) that his pontificate will focus on the missiological priorities of St Francis of Assisi and/or St Francis Xavier. The former is known for his humility and veneration of poverty; the latter for his intolerance of 'repulsive and grotesque' Hindu teachings and the need for Holy Inquisition against the 'Mohammedan Sect'.
But, unlike Benedict XVI, who dismissed the Church of England as a mere 'ecclesial community', Pope Francis appears altogether more latitudinal toward Anglicanism.
1) He is vigorously anti-clerical. He has condemned the refusal of holier-than-thou priests to baptise children born out of wedlock as 'hypocritical clericalism', 'pharisaical Gnosticism' and 'sacramental blackmail'.
After the haughty judgmentalism and self-righteous arrogance of certain Roman Catholics in response to yesterday's post on the Lord's Supper, one wonders what Pope Francis might say to them. He is manifestly opposed to the 'hijacking' of sacraments by those who deem themselves superior. He condemns the hypocrites and those who deflect from their own failings and graceless shortcomings by hiding beneath the shroud of clericalism. He is tolerant of imperfection and he understands fragility. Our communion may be imperfect, but he sets his face sternly against those who supposedly do not fulfil rigid doctrinal 'requirements'. Not only is such moral judgmentalism damaging to the Church, it is a distortion and corruption of Christ’s incarnation. By condemning those who emphasise legal strictures and the letter of the law, he skilfully refutes those Roman Catholics who reduce a sacrament to a doctrinal slogan to serve the interests of religious power. “Jesus did not preach his own politics: he accompanied others. The conversions he inspired took place precisely because of his willingness to accompany, which makes us all brothers and children and not members of an NGO or proselytes of some multinational company.”
2) In a spirit of ecumenism he permitted his Cathedral to host services led by Protestants, Muslims and Jews. He participates in common acts of worship with Protestants and is content to be blessed by them, perceptibly validating their beliefs. It is widely acknowledged that he is a Vatican II modernist; a progressive when it comes to the 'separated brethren'. He understands the need for an understanding of the Church as a communion of local Churches, each sharing a common faith but manifesting diversity in accordance with the mores and traditions of society.
3) The Anglican Bishop of Argentina, the Most Rev Greg Venables, has written that Pope Francis is a 'friend to Anglicans':
"..He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him.”4) If the Ordinariate is 'quite unnecessary', we will see no further emphasis upon it from the Roman Catholic Bishops in England and Wales (not that we were seeing much anyway). They didn't entirely ignore Pope Benedict's ecclesial innovation, but they were consistently obstructive, doubtless waiting for him to go and praying for a successor who would revive the spirit of ecumenism, mutual cooperation and respect. Perhaps, as Cardinal Walter Kasper might wish, we will see a return to a promotion of Christian unity based upon a Roman Catholic 'self-critical examination of conscience'.
5) We will see a drawing back from the arrogant assertion that the Roman Catholic Church is the 'one true church of Christ'. There will be a focus instead upon papal 'primacy' but an undoubted acknowledgment that the Church of England is a valid constituent part of the Catholic Church. Unlike Benedict XVI, he will at least consult his Anglican brothers (and sisters) before initiating further schemes to lure the disaffected into the Roman Catholic fold.
6) Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby have considerable knowledge of and interest in the worlds of finance, banking and welfare. Both grasp the value of free markets, liberal economies and the production of wealth. But both also understand the need for an ethical framework which recognises the dignity and freedom of the individual. They are both concerned with excessive inequality and know of the dangers to society posed by unregulated banking and unrestrained finance. They are likely to work together toward a moral economic framework. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate: 'Every economic decision has a moral consequence'; 'The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak.'
7) Expect a swift invitation from Pope Francis for Archbishop Justin to visit the Holy See for a coffee and a chat. And that's precisely what it will be: no pomp, no formality, no banquet, no flunkies. Just two princes of the Church talking and praying as equals, with just a hint of primus inter pares.