Radical historian likes Francis’s soft power

An eminent American historian has written that Pope Francis is making change in the Church by yielding his power.

In an interview with Macleans.ca, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills said Francis hasn’t asserted his power and to do so would be a “weakening” thing for him.

“Instead, he’s yielding power constantly,” Mr Wills said.

“He’s trying to share power, which is really a way to keep it and a way to make change happen.”

The historian cited the case of last year’s extraordinary synod on the family, which, he said, Francis handled brilliantly.

“The marriage and family synod last fall seemed like a setback to a lot of people, but I think he handled it very well.

“Other synods didn’t publish their results, their procedures or anything, and popes could just totally ignore what they said.

“Francis undercut the whole thing by saying, ‘Publish’.”

Mr Wills said this sort of openness is reason for hope.

“That’s not letting the Curia play its game of secrecy and backhanded action,” he said.

“Secrecy was always a terrible aspect of the Church.”

Mr Wills sees hope for the Church because he sees this Pope favouring change coming from the “bottom up”, from the people.

“He’s very similar to John XXIII, who called together the bishops at Vatican II, but issued no marching orders,” Mr Wills said.

“He intervened only to prevent some bishops from being frozen out.”

Mr Wills, who is Catholic himself, has just written a book called “The future of the Church under Pope Francis”.

The book is aimed at Catholics who hold that the Church is immutable.

“It helps, in holding such a position,” Mr Wills wrote, “not to know much history.”

He cites a former Church ban on usury and attacks on democratic government, which were never formally renounced.

But the Church simply stopped talking about them after it saw the People of God had moved on.

Mr Wills sees the same process underway for contraception and confession.

Other recent books of his include “Papal Sin:  Structures of Deceit” and “Why Priests?  A Failed Tradition”.


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