Views on the Vat­i­can

Los Angeles Times - - SUNDAY CALENDAR - By Tre’vell An­der­son trev­ell.an­der­son@latimes.com

Pope Fran­cis con­tin­u­ally makes head­lines for his pro­gres­sive ap­proach to rul­ing. Since be­ing elected in 2013, many have taken is­sue with a num­ber of changes he’s made, like opt­ing not to live in the pa­pal apart­ments and his thoughts on the gay com­mu­nity, con­tra­cep­tion and, as he showed this month, the en­vi­ron­ment.

But to Pulitzer Prize-win­ning au­thor Garry Wills, change is nec­es­sary.

Wills has writ­ten a num­ber of best­sellers on the Catholic Church, in­clud­ing “Why I Am Catholic” and “Why Priests?: A Failed Tra­di­tion.”

In his latest book, “The Fu­ture of the Catholic Church with Pope Fran­cis,” the Chicago-based jour­nal­ist and his­to­rian touts Fran­cis as the best man to take the church into a new era.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, he says, the Catholic Church is one with change in its DNA.

You wrote that “Pope Fran­cis heart­ens some Catholics and fright­ens oth­ers.” How so?

The author­i­ties are al­ways fixed and de­fen­sive about how they’ve com­mit­ted them­selves, whereas the faith­ful of­ten just walk away from what the author­i­ties are say­ing. We Catholics pay no at­ten­tion to the pope when he’s not in touch with us. This pope threat­ens peo­ple be­cause he seems to be in touch with or­di­nary peo­ple.

What do you think sep­a­rates Pope Fran­cis from those that came be­fore him?

He’s been break­ing down the bar­ri­ers that sep­a­rated au­thor­ity. He doesn’t live in the palace. He doesn’t dress like a supreme au­thor­ity. He calls him­self “bishop of Rome” rather than “pope” when­ever he can. He seems to be more a voice for the poor than for the es­tab­lished author­i­ties.

How would you de­scribe Pope Fran­cis’ legacy thus far com­pared with the history of church lead­er­ship?

It’s kind of a con­tin­ual ten­sion rather than a sin­gle dra­matic mo­ment.

The pre­vi­ous popes had a lit­mus test for be­ing a bishop or arch­bishop or a car­di­nal. You couldn’t dis­agree with pa­pal teach­ing on con­tra­cep­tives, abor­tion, mar­ried priests, women priests, so they all sub­scribed to that. But a lot of times the Catholic peo­ple re­al­ize that what the pope is say­ing is not in touch with their be­liefs. On con­tra­cep­tion, for in­stance, 80 to 90% of Catholics, in ev­ery poll, prac­tice con­tra­cep­tion. The priests know that and are against that. The bish­ops know, but they have had to con­vince those in Rome that they are still ad­her­ing to that teach­ing in or­der for their ca­reers to ad­vance.

The last two popes were re­ally good at ig­nor­ing what was go­ing on at the ac­tual be­liever level, en­clos­ing them­selves in a lit­tle bub­ble of rit­ual re­as­sur­ance that au­thor­ity never changes, can’t change and never even con­tem­plates chang­ing. This pope has been dif­fer­ent.

Much of the book out­lines the history of the church. Why did you choose to ex­plain its history as a way to en­dorse Pope Fran­cis as a con­duit to the fu­ture?

Be­cause of the myth that has spread among Catholics and non-Catholics that all the things that are in the church now were al­ways there. The gov­ern­ment mech­a­nisms of the church have un­der­gone dras­tic changes over and over, but peo­ple are suc­cumb­ing to the myth that it never hap­pened. It’s very im­por­tant to point out the sim­ple fact that this myth of a change­less church has no ba­sis in history or rea­son or the Gospel.

What is it that makes Pope Fran­cis or this time and place par­tic­u­larly ripe for change in the Catholic Church?

The pa­pacy has pro­gres­sively been get­ting more out of touch with the lives of the faith­ful and that has sped up un­der the last two popes.

Count­less stud­ies re­port that younger gen­er­a­tions are less re­li­gious. Does the church need to welcome change to re­main rel­e­vant?

Def­i­nitely. It’s the so-called main­line re­li­gions that are de­clin­ing. The evan­gel­i­cal is not, and there is some­thing very evan­gel­i­cal about this pope. Evan­gel­i­cals, they stress com­mu­nity, not hav­ing a hi­er­ar­chy, the dig­nity of all in­di­vid­u­als and the im­por­tance of the ex­pe­ri­ence of Je­sus. Pope Fran­cis [was well re­ceived] among evan­gel­i­cals in Ar­gentina and con­tin­ued it af­ter. If the suc­cess of evan­gel­i­cals around the world is any in­di­ca­tor, then he is tak­ing the church into a re­ally fruit­ful era.

What do you hope peo­ple take away from read­ing your book?

I wake up ev­ery morn­ing want­ing to be sur­prised be­cause God is a God of sur­prises. That’s the mes­sage I would like to im­part. Pre­pare to be sur­prised and ac­cept the sur­prises when they come.

Nuccio DiNuzzo Chicago Tri­bune

AU­THOR GARRY WILLS is op­ti­mistic in “Fu­ture of the Catholic Church with Pope Fran­cis.”

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