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Fri Mar 18, 2016, 10:05 AM


Pope Francis and his predecessors

Michael Sean Winters | Mar. 18, 2016

Two items caught my attention yesterday, the first an interview Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave to Avvenire and a talk by Cardinal Peter Turkson at a Catholic University conference on Catholic social teaching and business. Both demonstrate the fallacy of seeing Pope Francis’ papacy as one of sheer discontinuity with the papacies of his predecessors. Obviously, there are differences, and significant differences. But, as Pope Benedict said in his 2005 address to the Roman Curia regarding the interpretation of Vatican II, so might we say regarding the relationship of Francis to his predecessors: One needs a "hermeneutic of reform" with elements of both continuity and discontinuity.

In the Vatican News account of the interview with Benedict, we read:

(T)he interview focuses on two highly controversial issues in the post-Conciliar era: the right understanding of Christ’s unique and universal act of salvation with respect to those who do not profess Christian faith; and the right understanding of the primacy of mission in the life of the Church with respect to dialogue.

At the core of the two distinct, though related questions, says Pope Benedict, is the need to recover a sense of the Divine mercy - something Pope Francis has understood and placed at the center of his pastoral solicitude.

“Only where there is mercy does cruelty end,” said the Pope-emeritus in the interview.

“Pope Francis is totally in accord with this line: his pastoral practice expresses itself precisely through the fact that he continually speaks to us of God's mercy. It is mercy that moves us towards God, while justice frightens us before him.”

“In my view,” continued Pope Benedict, “this sets in relief the fact that, beneath the veneer of confidence in himself and [human] justice, contemporary man hides a deep knowledge of his injuries and his unworthiness before God: he is waiting for mercy,” said Pope Benedict.

I cannot think of a better curtain-raiser to Pope Francis’s exhortation on the family, which is expected almost any day now, and how I anticipate he will relate the themes related to the topic of the family to the Holy Year of Mercy.

As well, Benedict’s observation about contemporary man and his “deep knowledge” shows us a side of Benedict that his would-be acolytes tended to miss: Yes, he was concerned about the “dictatorship of relativism” and all that, but there was a deep and abiding trust in the Providence of God in all of his writings and sermons. He did not simply offer a cultural critique but, in the manner of the Old Testament prophets, offered the critique to call us to what is best and truest about ourselves, our selves which are made in the image and likeness of a God who has revealed Himself as Mercy itself.




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