And you wanted a Pope to reform the Curia?

Pope Francis joked at his audience with the press corps that one of his brother cardinals suggested he should take the name “Adrian”, since he was going to be a reforming pope. I am pretty sure that one went over the heads of most who heard it (although they got the joke about taking the name Clement XV well enough).

Pope Adrian (or Hadrian) VI was the last non-Italian pope before John Paul II. He was pope from from 9 January, 1522, to 14 September, 1523. Not very long. Wikipedia contains a few bits of info I had not come across before (trust Wiki!) such as:

The pope was mocked by the people of Rome on the Pasquino, and the Romans, who had never taken a liking to a man they saw as a “barbarian”, rejoiced at his death.


Adrian, who had never before been to Rome, was so ignorant of affairs that he had written asking that some suitable lodgings be obtained for him in Rome whence he could discharge his duties as pope.

A bit of déjà vu going on now perhaps?

Anyway, if you note the years of his pontificate, you see that they were crucial ones for the history of the Catholic Church. Poor old Adrian got sandwiched between Leo X and Clement VII, whose combined papacies unfortunately left more of a mark upon the Church than Adrian’s.

Now is probably not the time for a full history lesson. Suffice it to say that had Adrian lived longer and been able to bring into reality more of his agenda for the Church, the entire Protestant Reformation could have been (if not “nipped in the bud”) greatly reduced in fervour, the Great Council (eventually to be held in Trent) called sooner, and the Counter-Reformation anticipated by a crucial forty years. The English Reformation may not have happened at all!

For those not familiar with Pope Adrian’s most (in)famous piece of magisterium, here is a taste:

”We freely acknowledge that God has allowed this chastisement to come upon His Church because of the sins of men and especially because of the sins of priests and prelates . . . We know well that for many years much that must be regarded with horror has come to pass in this Holy See: abuses in spiritual matters, transgressions against the Commandments; indeed, that everything has been gravely perverted.” [Nb. This quote can be found all over the internet, sourced from Karl Adam’s “One and Holy”, but this is only a snippet of the whole thing. I have read the full text somewhere else – could anyone please give a reference?]<>

It is that sort of acknowledgement that earned Pope Adrian the hatred of the people of Rome.

But, but…, you say, why should the people hate Pope Adrian when it was the Curia he was wanting to reform? Well, here is the point I am trying to make in this post: Don’t think that the Curia can reformed without the whole Church being reformed; and don’t think that the Church can be reformed without YOU (and me) being reformed.

Personally, I feel like I am going through a bit of reluctant reformation myself in these days. We have a new shepherd, Francis, and he is intent on taking the Church in a direction that some parts of the Church are not very happy to go. Every day, every moment since his election, Pope Francis has challenged everyone in the Church (from bishops and priests to youth and prisoners) to go “further in” to our faith and “further out” to our world. The things he does are one thing. The things he says only reinforce and make sense of what he is doing.

By now you should all be familiar with the notes of Cardinal Bergoglio’s address to the Conclave which Cardinal Ortega has made available . Essentially is the diagnosis of a doctor. He looks at the Church and sees a sickness. He names that sickness: “Self-referentialism”. He names the cure: Evangelisation. He proscribes the medicine:

The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographical, but also existential: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, those of ignorance and of the absence of faith, those of thought, those of every form of misery.

There are many who, like the Pharisees in the wheatfield (Mark 2:23-28 – what were they doing there, anyway?) have been watching Francis closely to see how he is “betraying the Church”. They do not seem to be listening so closely to what he is saying. Words like “cross”, “sin”, “devil” abound alongside other words like “forgiveness”, “mercy” and “joy”. His message to the priests at the Chrism mass , about the need for a shepherd to get “the smell of the sheep” apply as much to us would-be lay evangelisers as it does to the ordained ministers of the Church. I know what he is talking about. Believe me, I have been running from the smell of sheep ever since I left the farm at the age of 16. Probably coming from Argentina, the image is a vivid one for Pope Francis. I doubt if many in his audience would have the same direct contact with this image.

Some of the reaction to the foot washing ceremony at Casal del Marmo has turned my stomach, especially 99% of the comments on this post at Rorate Coeli Rorate Coeli. But note the comments by “Jason C.” and “Cosmos” – they understand what is at stake.
I guess there are many ways in which to define a “self-referential” Church, but one way would be this: a Church which is “self-referential” is one which believes the Gospel exists for it, rather than it for the Gospel.

In a surprising move – just to show how quickly things are changing in Rome – there has been a lightning-fast reaction from the press office of the Holy See to this criticism. And if we were expecting an apology, or an explanation that would sooth our love of pedantry, we may be even more surprised to find that what we have been served up is a sharp rebuke:

To have excluded the young women from the ritual washing of feet on Holy Thursday night in this Roman prison, would have detracted our attention from the essence of the Holy Thursday Gospel, and the very beautiful and simple gesture of a father who desired to embrace those who were on the fringes of society; those who were not refined experts of liturgical rules.
That the Holy Father, Francis, washed the feet of young men and women on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy of the Bishop of Rome, more than to legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.

One is reminded of many passages in Scripture, starting with Matthew 9:13: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Moreover, note that this warning was issued by the English speaking press-officer, Fr Rosica – could this be just a thing that is affecting the Anglophone blogs?)

George Weigel, author of “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church” which I am reading right now, has recently also written:

The election of Pope Francis completes the Church’s turn from the Counter-Reformation Catholicism that brought the Gospel to America — and eventually produced Catholicism’s first American pope — to the Evangelical Catholicism that must replant the Gospel in those parts of the world that have grown spiritually bored, while planting it afresh in new fields of mission around the globe.

I think he is bang on the money here. The problem with the popular “left vs right” paradigm of the present divisions in the Catholic Church is that they do not get to the core of what is going on. I think Weigel, in his book, is right: it isn’t a “liberal vs conservative” thing, it is an “inward vs outward” thing. The Counter-Reformation was, of necessity, “inward”. But the time for “inward” is gone, and the time for “outward” – Evangelisation – is here. Yet a characterisation of both the old fashioned dyed-in-the-wool liberals and new Rad Trads is that they both share the view of an “inward looking”, aka, “self-referential” Church.

Francis is indeed a more appropriate name for our present Pope than Adrian. Adrian failed in his attempt to reform the Church. The radical message of St Francis on the other hand rescued the Church at the time of her greatest need and continues to bring the Gospel to the world today.

When I entered the Catholic Church, one of the most influential books I read was by Joyce Little, “The Church and the Culture War”. I still think it bears reading today. In the dedication, she writes:

To my mother, Josephine Fossett, from whom I first learned the Catholic faith, and from whom I inherited the good sense to heed her advice that even were the whole world to go against the Pope, I should stick with him, and Pope John Paul II whose faith and wisdom has made it easy to heed my mother’s advice…

Perhaps in 1995 when she wrote this book, it was “easy” to follow John Paul II. But many had difficulties with him in the first years of his pontificate, and towards the end, there were also many criticisms. Still, those of us who “stuck with the pope” know we have nothing to regret. For some of us, sticking with Papa Benny was even easier – so “easy” in fact that we became comfortable and smug in our own little zones confident in the fact that, as Rusty Reno recently declared on ABC Radio’s Religion and Ethics report, “We’ve won”.

Well, the battle’s not over, my friends. But the real battle, the real place where reform needs to take place, is not “out there”, in “the Curia”, or “in the Church”, but in me. For the sake of the Gospel, for God’s sake, let us follow Joyce Little’s mother’s advice and “stick with the pope”, even if we don’t find it “easy”.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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10 Responses to And you wanted a Pope to reform the Curia?

  1. marcel says:

    Many ‘conservative’ Catholics have discovered that rubrics don’t matter any more. The same ones who discovered a few years under Benedict that they might matter. Catholic conservatives and their ultra ultra montanism takes them up and down strange hills.

    You may like to criticise the traditionalist authors at Rorate, but they are one with the late great Cardinal Ottaviani; Semper Idem, always the same.

    • Schütz says:

      I am sorry if you were under the misapprehension that I am or feel any vocation to be “a conservative”, Marcel. I do believe i am called to be Catholic, and I certainly believe I am called to be evangelical. I am a bit bewildered by your thing about ultramontanism – perhaps ultramarist would be more accurate.

      I also have never heard that it was a Catholic’s duty to be inflexible or unchanging, and certainly I have never heard that to be a true Catholic one ought to be a true disciple of Cardinal Ottaviani. I thought Jesus first, pope next was the idea.

      • Stephen K says:

        David, I think you are absolutely right on the money when you say that reformation is and must be of oneself. What is the Church but a lot of “oneselves”? This is something that has struck me as the key to what Jesus preached for some time. Christ is not the Church, but the Church may be viewed as the collective search for and journey in the spirit of, Christ. Collectives are combinations of individuals.

        In your case, you have hit upon one framework and particular influences in which to understand this; in my case I think the penny dropped by another. Though I do not embrace all the details of Crossan’s theory of Christianity, he certainly was one of those who provided me with a vocabulary of the immanence of the kingdom.

        I don’t think marcel has grounds for criticising your readiness to see good in Francis (or Benedict for that matter): if a new Pope has nothing ‘new’ to say, what’s the point of it all? I know the world Rorate inhabits: one where the capacity to think something new, or see good outside of oneself is dulled if not extinguished.

        God is a mystery and so is faith. Or so I think. I welcome and endorse your sentiments in this post.

      • Schütz says:

        I note for the record, : Fr Z.’s post on Dr Peter’s post here. I don’t disagree with them. The law does need clarification, and I rather hope Papa Cisco issues a motu proprio to that effect soon – at least before next Triduum. I hope it is expressed in such a way as not to change the rubric itself but rather to give diocesan bishops the option of granting an indult for the washing of women’s feet as well as men’s. it will then be something like the issue of female altar servers – something that priests are free to adopt if they deem it pastorally helpful, but not required to adopt if they don’t.

    • adam says:

      Ah here we go again. They are all coming out of the woodwork now. I don’t remember ever seeing Jesus speak of ‘rubrics’ in any of the Gospels. And also no mention of ‘order’ that one leading priest blogger has referred to in the last day from the comfort of his laptop. And with all respect, what has Cardinal Ottaviani, go to do with this. There was a man who tried to block so many things during Vatican II and was rolled over by the vast majority of the attending bishops, not to mention Pope John XXIII. Have some people lost sight that it is the Pope who is the Vicar of Christ, not some priest commentators blogging when they could be out serving the poor? The pope can change Canon Law when and as often as he so wills. Canon law is not per se, infallible. It changes and all chnages have to have the approval of the Pope. He DOES NOT need to seek the approval of any one or hundreds of bishops if he so desires. Just as a pope can proclaim infallibly on matters of faith and morals when he speaks ‘ex cathedra’.
      I think some priests (yes, these bloggers are primarily priests and laypeople who have no episcopal role) ought just be loyal and show the ‘obedience and respect’ they promise publlicly at ordination, to the incumbent bishop of Rome and just retreat for a while into silence and look upon the face of the Lord.
      The paranoia about the pope washing the feet of two women is just beyond belief. That this presumes the coming ordination of women priests is just letting spiritual pigs fly over Sinai.
      About time people moved on from Ottaviani, lace and all that and back to the essential message of Easter, that Christ suffered, died and rose from the dead for us all. Isn’t that what its really all about and what Papa Francesco is trying to preach (in the last 17 days).

  2. Catherine says:

    Thank you for this dose of good sense!

    • Stephen K says:

      Dear Catherine, I am so glad you’ve posted. I don’t post much myself recently but I always look out for yours. I hope you are well and I want to wish you a very happy Easter, and convey my sincerest regards.

  3. adam says:

    Happy Easter David. Just to say that I thought this was a good comment on Pope Adrian and the new Francesco. More and more people, especially those who watch the Vatican at the time of an election and afterwards (and never again) ought look back into history to see just what a mosaic of popes we have had in 2000 years. And what heresies, troubles and scandals there have been. Alexander VI is a prime case in point as his reign would send shivers down anyone’s spine. People are getting upset over the colour of Francesco’s shoes, that he does not wear the red mozetta and heavy stole, or that he washed two girls feet at the Holy Thursday mass. Oh, and that he went and paid his hostel bill after becoming the Vicar of Christ.
    I say, get real and look at the real story – the overwhelming election of a new pope from South America, the first, a bishop who cared for a diocese of over 2 million Catholics by example, prayer and steadfast humility and simplicity. Jesus walks amongst us in the Helder Camaras, the Oscar Romeros and Mother Teresas of the Catholic faith.
    Oh, and sorry to make a little correction – the Cuban cardinal gained the notes of Cardinal Bergoglio’s presentation that he made to the cardinals BEFORE the conclave in the general congregations, not in the conclave.
    Thanks again for a good comment. The stone throwers will be out for sometime I guess, but they will be in the minority of the faithful who show their loyalty to the Successor of Peter.

  4. Matthias says:

    I agree David this is absolutely spot on. Just as a mark of needing to be outward and evangelising, and this Pope has the people I mix with ,many non Catholic Christians speaking favourably about him. Yes reform needs to take place in our own lives first-Lord Jesus Christ be Merciful to me a sinner-the Jesus prayer of orthodox and Eastern Catholics.

  5. Pingback: Reformation, like charity, begins at home | Joyful Papist

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