The Jesuit Pope
All of this is a longish way of saying that, while obviously I've never met Pope Francis, I have some sense of his fellow members of the Jesuit order. If Pope Francis is anything like his brothers, and there is no reason to believe he is not, I think we can conclude a few things about the man.
One constant in all of the Jesuits I've met is that they are both very sincere in what they are doing and very conscious of the optics of what they are doing and how it is being interpreted. Thus, it is usually wrong to ask a question about a Jesuit along the lines of "does he really believe this, or is he doing it as part of a calculated move to make a point or promote some agenda?" The answer is such a question is almost always "both."
Take for example, Pope Francis's new car. In case you haven't heard the story, some Italian priest gave the Pope his old car, a 1984 Renault. Pope Francis took the car to tool around Vatican City, mostly so he wouldn't have to be chauffeured everywhere in a big motorcade. This isn't the first car-oriented story of Francis's pontificate--he ditched the armored Mercedes for a utilitarian Volkswagen Passat, and has made it clear that he disapproves of priests driving fancy new cars.
So, did the Pope do this because (a) he felt like he needed a car and this was available; (b) he wanted to make a point to his priests about what kind of car he thought they should drive; (c) so he could distance himself from the at times ostentatious (and unpopular) pontificate of Benedict XVI; or (d) to make a point to Catholics around the world about how they should live a more humble life? The smart money is on (e) all of the above.
Here's another observation about Jesuits--all of the ones I've met are really smart and careful people. Prior to being ordained a priest, a Jesuit completes a minimum of six years of graduate studies, and most do more than that--Pope Francis has a Masters in Chemistry, on top of all of the standard philosophical and theological education. All of this education, combined with the savvy about perceptions discussed above, leads to a very careful way of speaking.
Which makes the response to Pope Francis from the traditionalist wing of Catholicism all the more hilarious. The meme they are running with (well, the ones that are not in full freak-out mode) is that Francis's more "controversial" statements are the result of his unfortunate habit of making "off the cuff" comments that he really doesn't mean. Nothing to see here when Francis says he will not judge gays, these folks tell us. He doesn't really know what he is saying.
Clearly, these folks have never met any Jesuits. Jesuits don't make "off the cuff" statements--in my experience they make statements that (intentionally) seem to be off the cuff, but are actually carefully thought out. What Pope Francis is doing is very similar to the way Jesuits operated Old St. Joseph's in Philadelphia--they would "casually" stick things into the parish bulletin to "encourage discussion" on controversial topics. The m.o. seems to be to lob intellectual grenades into the mix and see what happens after they go off. Rather than telling people what to do or think, they prompt people to come to those conclusions on their own. That seems to be the simplest and best explanation for Francis's "off the cuff" comments.
As I have said in previously, I've been seriously considering my place in the Catholic Church. I've found an Episcopal parish I really like, with wonderful people. I have thought really seriously about whether I should leave and become and Episcopalian. But, right now, it is Pope Francis that is keeping me in Catholicism.
Pope Francis is my Pope. My Pope is practicing what he is preaching. My Pope is not afraid of intellectual inquiry and views that have previously seen as beyond the pale (as seen by his sit down with the founding father of great buggabo of both John Paul II and Benedict, Liberation Theology). My Pope is making the Catholic Taliban very nervous. My Pope is calling all of us, and especially me, to cut out the rhetoric and actually live the way Jesus wants us to live.
Most importantly, my Pope is not afraid take a selfie with some teenagers.
That's my Pope.
Update: I began the new version of this blog with a discussion of the obsessive focus on things like pre-marital co-habitation. Its seems that Pope Francis agrees with me.