- While the points of emphasis might be different, nothing Francis has said contradicts long-standing Church teachings; Leo XIII was saying essentially the same things in Rerum Novarum, an encyclical that dates back to 1891.
- Francis is a reformer and some of the most important work he's doing is behind the scenes, including cleaning up the Curia. Walter Russell Mead has noticed and there's more about the particulars here.
- While stipulating that it's a gross simplification of the larger theological questions involved, Catholics are taught that salvation requires more than faith and that good works are needed as well. From what I can tell, Francis isn't particularly fond of checkbook salvation and that he's particularly concerned about the propensity of some Catholics to eschew the hard work involved in saving souls. Although I'm wrenching it out of context, this concern was well stated by, of all people, the longtime music critic of the Village Voice, Robert Christgau, who once observed that the Police song "Spirits in the Material World" missed the obvious point that we are also matter in the material world. Francis never loses sight of that.
- While I believe that Francis is a consequential figure, I still think he's a transitional figure. The real story within the Church remains the next generation of leaders, who came of age under John Paul II. The next Pope will be the one to watch.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
I have a lot of thoughts about Pope Francis, but I've struggled with sorting them out. He's been getting showered with all manner of media hosannas lately, including being named Person of the Year by Time Magazine. Much of that praise stems from the rhetorical flourishes that Francis has delivered concerning things that the media don't like very much, especially the chimerical scourge of unfettered capitalism, which exists precisely nowhere in the world right now. As I think about Francis and his remarkable first year, here are my tentative conclusions: