The words and the silences of Francis, in private with religious superiors
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon of Friday 3rd of January “La Civiltà Cattolica” circulated a fifteen- page report of the three-hour meeting which Pope Francis held in the Vatican on the 29th of November with the Superior Generals of religious orders.Very little had leaked out of that meeting. But Father Antonio Spadaro, director of the Jesuit periodical in Rome, published with the imprimatur of Vatican authority, was among the 120 present and transcribed the Pope’s words, which were afterwards verified by him before publication.“When Pope Francis speaks off the cuff and holds a dialogue, his speech comes in successive waves and must be followed carefully as it is nourished through the personal interaction between him and his interlocutors.” This is how Father Spadaro’s report starts and opens the last issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica” now able to be downloaded in three languages – Italian, English and Spanish – from the magazine’s site.There is no lack of highly colourful expressions in Pope Francis’ language.For example, regarding the formation of novices: “We must form hearts. Otherwise we will form little monsters. And these little monsters will form the people of God. This really gives me the goose-bumps.”Or again, concerning what the priorities in the consecrated life are: “ It is the prophecy of the Kingdom, which is non-negotiable. The emphasis must fall upon being prophets, and not playing at being them. Naturally, the devil presents us with temptations, and this is one of them: playing at being prophet without [actually] being one, in taking on the pose [of one]. But you cannot play with these things. I, myself, have seen some very sad things with regard to this.”During the meeting, Pope Francis, let it be known that he was working on two documents: the first on the vocation of “brothers” that is, religious who are not priests, and the second on the relationship between bishops and religious, in substitution of a document from 1978 “ Mutuae relationes” , which he defined as “no longer relevant”Moreover, he announced that 2015 will be a year dedicated to the consecrated life. Father Spadaro recounts: “These words are received with a long applause. The pontiff smiling, looks at the Prefect and the Secretary of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, saying: ‘It is their fault, it is their proposal: when these two meet, they are dangerous,’ thus making the entire assembly laugh.”The Prefect and the Secretary in question are the Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Focolarin, and the Spaniard José Rodrìguez Carballo, Order of the Friars Minor; the latter nominated by Pope Francis and the former by the previous pontificate.
Both – and with them the Pope – were in the news recently regarding the harshness they employed with "an external commissioner” to one of the most flourishing religious congregations - the Franciscans of the Immaculate - and among other things prohibiting them from celebrating Mass according to the Old Roman Rite.
Nothing was mentioned about this issue at the meeting on November 29th. If not, perhaps implicitly, when Pope Francis said that “conflicts in communities are inevitable: in a certain sense they have to exist, if the community is truly living in loyal and sincere relationships.”
But seeing the destructive manner in which the external commissioning of the Franciscans of the Immaculate is proceeding – and considering how much has leaked out from the two conflicting sides - the net impression is that the Vatican medicine is worse than the fearful illness.