Catholics need to move beyond Pope’s personality for genuine reform – call

Conference hears warning against ‘cult of the papal personality’

Staff Reporter

Catholics’ fascination with the personality of Pope Francis could be a barrier to Church reform and renewal, Limerick-based theologian Dr Eugene Duffy has warned during a conference at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick. Identifying decentralisation as a key objective for Pope Francis, Fr Duffy cautioned against an unhealthy “cult of the papal personality” which can play into a centralising agenda. This ill-served the Church in the past and was a source of dysfunction, he said. 

Dr Duffy was speaking at a conference entitled ‘Pope Francis: the man and the message’ which was convened on behalf of the college’s theology department.

The annual event was opened by Bishop Brendan Leahy and addressed by the internationally-acclaimed journalist, Paul Vallely, author of Untying the Knots.  Mr Vallely spoke about the Damascene-like dramatic conversion which Jorge Bergoglio underwent following his very contentious period as provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina.

The Pope is painfully aware, Mr Vallely said, of the mistakes he made as a young Jesuit and has learned from them, and we see this clearly now in how he is governing the Church.

According to the canon lawyer and moral theologian, Dr Patrick Connolly, who gave a paper on Pope Francis’ options in regard to the divorced and remarried, the only real way forward seems to be the so-called ‘German solution’ proposed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, but he stressed that there are serious and as yet unresolved theological dilemmas on both sides of the argument. He added that Pope Francis is very keen to allow time between the proposed two synods for greater involvement of the laity in the discernment process.

Prof. Eamonn Conway highlighted how influenced Francis is by Paul VI’s 1974 document Evangelii nuntiandi. Under Pope Francis, he said, the ‘new evangelisation’, is not to be seen as exclusively or even primarily concerned with re-evangelsing non-practising Catholics. “Pope Francis does not want us to hang around as if waiting for some magic moment to arrive when we as Church have our act together: he wants us to get out and about, down and dirty, sharing our joy both with those who have never known Christ as much as with those who have known him and rejected him,” Fr Conway said.

For Pope Francis, he added, the Church will become healed in the very act of evangelising, which in any case belongs to the Church’s very nature.