by Jorge Costadoat, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristianismo en Construcción Blog
February 6, 2014
Why is Latin America celebrating the appointment of Francis? Because it's natural to be somewhat childish. Chauvinism is childish. We're happy because one of ours has "won". But there's a more important reason. With Francis, whether or not we're considered adults and no longer children is at stake. We Latin Americans are tired of being treated like minors. After 500 years of history, we think we can do things our way. The time has come. Just when our adolescence threatened a fatal break with European parenthood.
Until recently -- and still in good part -- we have endured the Holy See as absolute monarchy. Recent popes squared off the Church with doctrine. Episcopal appointments, for the most part, fell on people who were unobjectionable from a doctrinal point of view but not very bold, without any of the necessary gospel courage. Pressure and control from the Roman Curia have made quite a few of them seem like skittish bishops. Many of them came to the Roman offices cowed, asking permission and forgiveness, as if they weren't shepherds in possession of their dioceses. They had to be doctrinally orthodox because orthopraxis -- discerning what to do in face of the signs of the times in Latin America, creating and imagining alternatives, and running the risk of implementing them -- seemed dangerous to them.
The dizziness of freedom that Vatican II created has probably been the cause of the constriction of our churches. Just when we were beginning to forge a truly Latin American Church, with our own theology, communities and liturgies appropriate to our cultural reality, they clipped our wings. They punished our theologians. They locked the seminarians in cloisters that protected them from their contemporaries, if not from their own humanity. Everything really had to conform to one view alone, to the only possible way of thinking -- the Curia's -- which exploited the pope's name to such a degree that it eventually corrupted the prestige of the Holy See. In pursuit of unity, we all had to be the same. We were forced to close ranks against an adverse world and against pluralism. Thus, we had to neutralize our own diversity. We had been excited by the Council, since it responded to our deepest longing for the Catholic Church. By force of fear, however, we were made to go back to pre-Vatican II. The pontiffs didn't seem to owe anything to anyone. By contrast, the rest had to consider themselves indebted to their good pleasure.
Francis, on the other hand, took power asking for the blessing of the people of God. He doesn't quote himself. He quotes the bishops' conferences of all the ecclesiastical regions of the planet. The difference is radical. As "Bishop of Rome", restricting himself to his diocese will enable the other bishops of the world to be able to breathe and take charge of their own without fear of making a mistake. He, the Pope, speaks without notes. He can make mistakes. The improvisations and spontaneous gestures are opportunities for mistakes, God knows. But thus he gives a counterexample. A fallible Pope frees the Christians, hierarchy, and clergy of the need to be infallible and the curse of feigning it. Francis is not afraid to put on a clown nose to identify with those who transmit the Gospel through playing, bringing joy to the lives of children and people eaten up by sorrow. A pope who plays, with a red ball on his face, is infallible. Because he hits the mark with Christian freedom, when the ultimate criterion of his actions is love. Gospel infallibility lies in love. It finds a way to liberate others so they too can take responsibility for their lives and others' with inventiveness, with more insight than anathemas.
Francis lacks only one thing -- to disappear. Up to now he has done well since because of his daring he has probably committed more than one error. His errors authorize us to test things and make mistakes. Will his successor have to be like him? Let's hope he will be himself and not an imitator of Francis. What's crucial is for Francis to wane in importance so that the churches throughout the world thrive. That he do it now, that he leave the trend in place. So that his successor won't be anxious to "save" the Church instead of inventing, with all the churches, a new, better, more beautiful, and more free world.