A new leadership
Pope Francis opens the way to profound change in the Church’s relationship with society
Through both his gestures and words, it is becoming clearer every day that Pope Francis is determined to throw open the windows of the Church and provide a new kind of religious leadership. Any remaining doubts in this sense were surely dispelled by the six-hour-long interview the Argentinean pope gave to the Italian Jesuit magazine Civilità Cattolica, which was reproduced in a further 16 of the religious order's publications worldwide. The fact that the pope agreed to undergo such public examination of this kind is in itself a revolution. He answered all types of questions — including some of a very personal nature — candidly and without any restrictions. Far from displaying a hieratic image of a leader on his throne, this pope is happy to bring himself down to street level, with the rest of us mortals, showing his humanity and humility, with his virtues and defects.
Some traditionalists will see in this a loss of pontifical authority, a sign of weakness and even a betrayal. But those believers who are concerned about the slow but inexorable loss of contact between the Church and society's everyday problems can only see this initiative as an opportunity. Through his modernist behavior, Pope Francis is sending out an invitation to build a new approach in the heart of the Catholic Church; an unpretentious, more creative and warmer style, with the capacity for self-criticism and an openness to change.
Without departing from the central evangelical tenets, the pope is thus at the head of a new kind of religious guidance that is far closer to the needs of a plural society with its many and different sensibilities. It is a leadership that contrasts greatly with that of his immediate predecessors: the charismatic and popular style of John Paul II, and the scholastic reserve of Benedict XVI — both products of a Church model closed in upon itself and incapable of facing up to the necessary changes to allow the institution to regenerate and retain its influence. True, all change implies risk, but without risks there can be no opportunities.
From Pope Francis's words, we can envisage a Church conceived more as a service and a shelter for the faithful, rather than a judge of individual morals; one that is more inclined to comprehend than to condemn. And this approach includes avoiding that the papal message should be exclusively associated with certain belligerent political stances. This seems the most obvious way to interpret the pope's statement that he has never been a right-winger.
In the same way that demand comes from secular quarters to keep religion out of politics, it is quite an innovation for a religious leader to proclaim his desire to free himself from any ties to the secular political battlefield. We can now hope that in the coming months this new leadership can deepen the structural changes that have already been proposed and which lay the groundwork for a transformation of the Church. We can also hope that these changes also make themselves felt in Spain.