The Church of England - - SUNDAY/BOOKS - Paul Richard­son

Un­ty­ing the Knots Paul Val­lely Bloomsbury, hb, £16.99

Books on Pope Fran­cis (Jorge Ber­goglio) are ap­pear­ing thick and fast. Paul Val­lely was an early en­try into the field with Un­ty­ing the Knots, first pub­lished in 2013. His book won wide praise but its story of how Ber­goglio, a young con­ser­va­tive Je­suit, un­der­went a con­ver­sion dur­ing the pe­riod when he was ex­iled to Cor­doba to stop him interfering in the af­fairs of the Ar­gen­tine Je­suit province was chal­lenged by Austin Ivereigh’s The

Great Re­former.

Ac­cord­ing to Ivereigh, Ber­goglio did not change his fun­da­men­tal be­liefs, only an au­thor­i­tar­ian style that was prob­a­bly the re­sult of him be­ing given too much re­spon­si­bil­ity too early in his min­istry. The op­tion for the poor al­ways meant a great deal to him but he was op­posed to Marx­ism and thought some of his Je­suit col­leagues more in­ter­ested in po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy than prac­ti­cal ac­tion.

Linked to the ar­gu­ment about the ex­tent of Ber­goglio’s early con­ser­vatism is a dis­pute about how far he was re­spon­si­ble for the fate of two Je­suits ar­rested by the mil­i­tary. Val­lely raises more ques­tions about this than Ivereigh, ar­gu­ing that while Ber­goglio did not in­tend to harm the Je­suits and acted to save them when they were in dan­ger he nonethe­less did put them in a per­ilous sit­u­a­tion by seek­ing to ex­clude them from the or­der and even dis­suad­ing a bishop from of­fer­ing a po­si­tion to one of them.

The prob­lem was that the two Je­suits dis­obeyed Ber­goglio’s or­der to leave the slums and cease work that ex­posed them to dan­ger.

Set be­sides the two well-re­searched books of Val­lely and Ivereigh is a slim book by an Ar­gen­tinian jour­nal­ist who knows the Pope well, El­iz­a­beth Pique. The Pope told Pique that he was never a con­ser­va­tive and the jour­nal­ist her­self thinks one of the big con­ver­sions in his life was to a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the charis­matic move­ment.

Jorge Ber­goglio is a com­plex per­son and it is dif­fi­cult to de­cide where the truth lies. Pique quotes one Ar­gen­tinian jour­nal­ist de­scrib­ing him as a ‘man of power’. Such a per­son is al­ways go­ing to make en­e­mies.

Ber­goglio was a charis­matic leader of the Je­suits who had many sup­port­ers but also many op­po­nents. Val­lely has lis­tened to the crit­ics as well as the friends and they have a case. Ivereigh, who has a much greater knowl­edge of Ar­gen­tine pol­i­tics, tends to lis­ten more to the friends and comes across more as an apol­o­gist for the Pope than Val­lely. All that can be said with cer­tainty is that the fi­nal ac­count has not yet been writ­ten.

In this new edi­tion of Un­ty­ing the Knots, Val­lely fleshes out the pic­ture of the ear­lier Ber­goglio he of­fered in the ear­lier work but he also adds nine new chap­ters on Fran­cis as Pope. His ac­count is ba­si­cally pos­i­tive but he does not hide the crit­i­cisms that are com­ing from the left as well as the right.

Mark­ing his re­port card, Val­lely says that he has done well on re­form­ing the Vat­i­can bank, made a start with the curia, been slow to see the need to take ac­tion on abuse and has dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing the is­sues raised by women. His pri­or­i­ties are re­form of church gov­er­nance, the Synod of bish­ops, and the Vat­i­can fi­nances.

Crit­ics say he has dragged his feet over abuse but, as one psy­chi­a­trist who has worked with vic­tims and is a mem­ber of the Vat­i­can com­mis­sion tells Val­lely, it is a com­plex is­sue that can’t be rushed.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant moves made by Fran­cis has been to give more power to the Synod of Bish­ops and to set up a coun­cil of eight car­di­nal ad­vis­ers. He is try­ing to move away from a cen­tralised Church in which all de­ci­sions are made by the Pope or by the Ro­man curia act­ing in his name. This has big ec­u­meni­cal im­pli­ca­tions, not least for re­la­tions with the Ortho­dox, and it is sig­nif­i­cant that Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew was present at Fran­cis’ in­stal­la­tion as Pope.

It may seem para­dox­i­cal that a ‘man of power’ is us­ing his power to de­cen­tralise the Church but given the pow­er­ful and en­trenched con­ser­vatism of the curia it needs a man of power to push the Church in this di­rec­tion.

Will the changes sur­vive Fran­cis’s de­par­ture? John Wilkins is quoted warn­ing that if the curia could nul­lify Vat­i­can II in 10 years they can nul­lify Fran­cis’ legacy in 10 days. Je­suit his­to­rian John O’Malley agrees the re­forms could be re­versed but ar­gues that Fran­cis’ legacy will sur­vive as a dan­ger­ous mem­ory that will be used to judge his suc­ces­sors.

Val­lely rightly de­scribes Fran­cis as ortho­dox in his be­liefs but rad­i­cal in his ap­pli­ca­tion of the gospel. With com­ments such as ‘Who am I to judge?’ he has opened up the pos­si­bil­ity of dis­agree­ment and de­bate in the Catholic Church. Iron­i­cally his con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents such as Car­di­nal Bourke are con­tribut­ing to this by voic­ing tren­chant op­po­si­tion to him. It will be dif­fi­cult in fu­ture dur­ing a con­ser­va­tive pa­pacy for tra­di­tion­al­ists to say there is no place of dis­sent in the Church af­ter the ex­am­ple they are set­ting in this pa­pacy.

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