How Pope Francis handles the issues raised in two events, one internal and one external, reveal how comfortable he will sit in the Chair of St. Peter.
As the first pope from the Society of Jesus, his elevation should be a step towards reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jesuits, who are now the dissenters inside the Church they were founded to defend.
That spirit of reconciliation was not yet strong enough to prevent the Jesuit’s Boston College from presenting the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny an honorary law degree at its May 20 commencement. Kenny, a professed Catholic, leads the effort in Ireland to legalize abortion.
In 2013, Catholic schools do not accidently invite pro-abortion politicians to campus.
Boston’s archbishop Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a fixture at the Catholic university’s graduations in his full scarlet regalia, announced that he would not witness the school celebrating Kenny.
“I am sure that the invitation was made in good faith, long before it came to the attention of the leadership of Boston College that Mr. Kenny is aggressively promoting abortion legislation,” the cardinal said.
“It is my ardent hope that Boston College will work to redress the confusion, disappointment and harm caused by not adhering to the Bishops’ directives,” said the Capuchin, whose phrasing is itself homage to the Jesuits, who once taught William J. Clinton the meaning of “is.”
Francis did not weigh in on the conflict involving Ireland and Boston, both long passed their days as bastions of orthodoxy and loyalty to the Vatican. But, he cannot avoid them indefinitely.
The second event speaks to the uneasiness between the Holy See and the Muslim world.
Tensions between the Catholic Church and Islam have been worse, say during the crusades; but as Pope Francis begins his own papacy without the missteps that ruined his predecessor’s attempt to improve the Holy See’s relations with the Muslim world.
Less than three months into his reign, it is too early to judge the damage if any done when Francis canonized 813 Italians, who were beheaded by Muslim raiders because they refused to convert to Islam.
The canonizing of these martyrs to the faith recalls the misstep that hurt Benedict XVI’s relationship with the Muslim world. The occasion was the pope’s Sept. 12, 2006 return to University of Regensberg, the Bavarian college, where he was once a professor.
In a lecture setting, Benedict quoted one the last of the Byzantines, Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos: Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The Vatican apologized and explained, but the damage was done. With the war in Iraq raging towards chaos and Ground Zero still an open pit, it was easy for Muslims to read Benedict’s choice of that quote as a knock.
If Francis honoring Italians martyrs, who kept the faith when threatened with the sword of Muhammad, seemed to echo Benedict at Regensberg, there is a good reason. All the paperwork for these martyrs, as well as the other saints canonized that day, was processed and signed off by Benedict.
The teaching authority of the Church is called its magisterium, and each pope develops his own personal magesterium that characterizes his own reign and administration.
The heavy lift for Francis is he is burdened, rightly or wrongly, with developing his magesterium and the one Benedict left undone.
Benedict ascended to the throne of St. Peter with anticipation that he was ready to reform and restrain Vatican bureaucracy. He did not.
As Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, he forged the peace treaty between Rome and the Lutherans, but he stumbled badly trying to reconcile the Holy See with the Society of Pope Pius X, the post-Vatican II splinter church. More tragically, his attempt to resolve the situation with the Underground Church in China and the Communist-sponsored church left things worse than when he started.
As the Western world struggles to reach accommodation with Islam and its extreme and violent elements, Catholics and non-Catholics will look to the Roman pontiff, who leads the institution that created the Western world.
More pressing for Catholics concerned for their Church will be how these Jesuit pope reins in his brother Jesuits and other dissenters, who really threaten the unity of his reign.