The Business of Being Pope

Pope Francis has continued to encourage my pope-crush today as he chided Vatican bureaucracy of a catalog of illnesses, including

  • Feeling immortal or essential; lacking self-criticism
  • Susceptibility to worldly profit
  • Rivalry and vainglory
  • Mental and spiritual petrification
  • Disease of over-planning
  • Spiritual Alzheimer’s
  • Existential schizophrenia
  • Gossip and chatter
  • Deifying the leaders; focusing on superiors in the hopes of promotion
  • Indifference to others
  • Hoarding
  • Closed circles

Once more the pope’s actions have gone viral as people from a variety of walks of life applaud the maverick pope, both because many see the necessity of a Vatican clearing house and because, quite frankly, a pope so critical of his own organization entertains and amuses.

Personally, I love his creative verbiage.  Spiritual Alzheimer’s indeed.

The Friendly Face of the Papacy

The current pope is seen, I think, less as a leader and more as a friend.  The featured image above is a screen shot of a Google images search for “Pope Francis.” Lots of smiles, lots of waves to the crowd, lack of formality, and a notable lack of ornamentation, which becomes more obvious if you google any other pope, even another popular and friendly one such as John Paul II.

Spiritual and Moral Business of the Pope

Will he ultimately be seen as a good pope or bad pope? It’s going to be interesting to watch it play out, particularly after his death. The problem is the complexity of the position and how you define “good.” The common person sees the pope primarily as a spiritual and leader, so when he walks the walk rather than just talking the talk, he’s recognized as a good pope.

He’s also a moral leader, and when he goes to bat against what people see as excesses, he also wins them over. However, it’s important to note he has a worldwide following, not just an American one. Americans are, on average, overjoyed at his more open approach to homosexuals, for example. But in other parts of the word, homosexuality is still seen by the majority as a terrible sin, and the pope’s words may be falling flat in these communities. There are conservative Catholics even in America who continue to be alarmed at the pope’s reforms, seeing his overall words and actions as betraying the foundations of their faith.

Popes with reputations for spiritual and moral bankruptcy quickly go down in history as being bad popes, even if they’re competent in other aspects of their job.

As an Aside: Granted, I’m talking about guys who bribed their way into the papacy, had children out of wedlock, frequented brothels, engaged in assassination, and periodically dug up predecessors to put them on trial. No one remembers if they were actually good and running the papacy.

Administrative Duties of the Pope

Popes are also administrators. They are the governmental head of Vatican City and are ultimately responsible for the organization of the entire Church, which services one billion Catholics. To be an administrator, one needs to be in tune with the world, including its politics.

Which is exactly why the best administrative popes don’t get canonized as saints, even if they are also very spiritual and moral people. Administrators need to be of the world, not above it. They need to dabble in things that aren’t particularly…pope-y.

Pope Innocent III
Innocent III, elected at the age of 38 and ruling for 18 years.

Today’s History Lesson: Innocent III

The 12th century Innocent III is one of history’s most powerful popes. He engaged in complex diplomacy and politicking. He brought monarchs to heal. He put the entire country of England under interdict (meaning the clergy would not perform the sacraments, thus threatening the salvation of every Englishman) in order to convince King John to recognize Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. He influenced the election of Holy Roman Emperors. He overhauled canon law.

And there is not a chance in hell of Innocent III ever being canonized. He was, you might say, too good at his job.

Legacy of Francis

After the dust settles, I have no idea how history is going to remember Francis. He’s definitely popular in the Western world, although I suspect not as much in other places (although his advocacy for the poor wins him plenty of positive sentiment). Is he moral? Depends who you ask. Is he a capable administrator? Is anyone even paying attention?

What Francis is winning on right now is his novelty. He’s not acting the way we expect a pope to act. Whether that will ultimately be seen as a good or bad thing has yet to be seen, and really won’t play out until in retrospect after his death.

1 Comment

  1. Let me just point out, that no pope was ever canonized for being powerful, a good administrator, or generally good at his job. In fact, canonization of a pope is a rather rare occurance. Until recently, there only four saints among them. Now there’s two more, but that’s still very little, considering. Popes are held to the same standarts as all other people when it comes to becoming a saint – piusness, miracle-making, martydom and so on.

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