A week of fixating on Pope Francis

The Pope’s first anniversary was examined by all,

There was much media reviewing of Pope Francis’ first year in office but much of it was predictable, characterised by commentary from usual suspects, with theologically ill-informed interviewers obsessed by women priests and homosexuality. And they give out about the Church obsessing over sex!

Through it all I felt Pope Benedict was getting a raw deal – never as conservative as the media made out, as Francis is not as liberal as portrayed… a sort of Bush/Obama vibe.

On last weekend’s Saturday Night Show (RTÉ 1) the singing monk, Friar Alessandro (pictured), in a most enjoyable and inspiring interview, showed himself to be a fan of both Popes. He thought Benedict was a humble man, a different personality to Francis, but the heart was what mattered. As a Franciscan he was also delighted that the new Pontiff had taken on the name Francis.

Last Thursday’s Tonight With Vincent Browne (TV3) had a good-humoured debate, though Browne was his usual hectoring self, sometimes more dogmatic than any bishop. He declared the Catholic Church to be “an agent for the subjugation of women”, one of the Browne dog’s latest bones he won’t let go of, and he wouldn’t entertain any opinion to the contrary (“that’s the way it is!”). He wasn’t challenged sufficiently on that, though Jacki Ascough of Spirit Radio (pictured right) did well articulating what might be called an orthodox Catholic view.

Browne expressed his disdain for the ‘shepherd’ image but Fr Gerry O’Connor of the Association of Catholic Priests countered with the positive pastoral meaning of the metaphor. Patsy McGarry of The Irish Times, another regular, was also on hand.

Sometimes it seems that media people feel every religious story has to be squeezed through the McGarry filter. All that being said I thought he was quite accurate on some points, e.g. that Pope Francis would be changing governance structures but not doctrine, and that Church teaching on issues like cohabitation was clear. 

On that evening’s Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1) Fr James Corkery, a Jesuit from the Milltown Institute agreed with the findings of journalist John Allen’s recent research among cardinals, feeling a mixture of ‘satisfaction and astonishment’ and thought that Francis was conservative on doctrine but open to exploring pastoral approaches.

Earlier in the day, on Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) the unsilenced and ubiquitous Fr Tony Flannery thought that reform of governance was the main concern in the Church. It was interesting to hear also from Gerard O’Connell, the journalist who predicted that Cardinal Bergoglio would get the job, and from Paul Vallely, who has written a book on Pope Francis.

Yet I felt I didn’t learn much that was new, except perhaps some insight into how the Pope has developed his attitudes since his days as Jesuit Provincial in Argentina.

Even earlier (I seem to be in reverse here) Newstalk’s Breakfast Show reviewed this papacy’s first year, with presenter Chris Donoghue (pictured above) astutely seeing a touch of the ‘Obamarama effect’ in relation to public perceptions, but it was no surprise when he used yet another occasion to squeeze in a mention of ‘full marriage access’, a one-sided plug, I think, as it’s exactly the terms on which the same-sex marraige advocates wish the debate to proceed. Fr Alan Hilliard, Coordinator of Chaplain Services at DIT, seemed energised by the leadership of the new Pope, liked the way he was a good priest and human being as well, while theologian Gina Menzies reckoned Pope Francis thought like a Jesuit and acted like a Franciscan.

Over on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) Fr Tony O’Riordan, a PP from Limerick, was enthusiastic because of the Pope’s commitment to the poor and thought Irish Church leadership could take a leaf from his book. In Ireland, he said, our focus was on giving the poor a slice of the cake, whereas maybe we should be thinking of taking over the bakery!

The previous evening on Today FM’s The Last Word there was a balanced and relaxed discussion, with David Quinn, Fr Brian D’Arcy and Soline Humbert, a campaigner for women priests. Fr D’Arcy admired Francis’ authenticy, Humbert thought Francis must be in place for a reason, and trusted that God was in charge of the Church, while Quinn saw ‘an entirely new attitude’ in the Church and thought the upcoming Synod on the family would be indicative of directions for the future.