Getting inside Pope Francis’s head

November 26, 2013

Andrew Medichini/Associated Press - Pope Francis celebrates a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013.

The most widely cited quotes from Pope Francis's "apostolic exhortation," a mission statement for his papacy that was released Tuesday, are sure to be his critique of the "new tyranny" of unfettered capitalism and his call for the faithful to say "no to the new idolatry of money." Of inequality, he said: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

But the wide-ranging, lengthy document, the first major publication Pope Francis has authored alone, includes the Pope's musing not only on capitalism but on the church's structure, the role for women and young people in the church, and the kind of religious and political leaders the world needs today. The document, draws from the remarks and sermons he has made since he was elected in March and in some cases even expands on them, forming an official platform of sorts for his papacy. Here, a few selected quotes from the document about the leadership of the Catholic Church:

ON REFORM OF THE CHURCH:

"Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization."

"Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach."

"Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: 'We have always done it this way.' I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities."

ON WOMEN:

"The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. ... I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because 'the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace' and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures."

"Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power 'we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness.'"

ON POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS:

"We have politicians – and even religious leaders – who wonder why people do not understand and follow them, since their proposals are so clear and logical. Perhaps it is because they are stuck in the realm of pure ideas and end up reducing politics or faith to rhetoric. Others have left simplicity behind and have imported a rationality foreign to most people."

"Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: 'Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.'"

"I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare."

ON YOUNG LEADERS:

"Even if it is not always easy to approach young people, progress has been made in two areas: the awareness that the entire community is called to evangelize and educate the young, and the urgent need for the young to exercise greater leadership. We should recognize that despite the present crisis of commitment and communal relationships, many young people are making common cause before the problems of our world and are taking up various forms of activism and volunteer work."

ON OPTIMISM, CONFIDENCE, AND HELPING OTHERS:

"One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, 'sourpusses.' Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents."

"If I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life."

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Pope Francis and the power of five words

Pope Francis on what leadership should look like in the Catholic Church

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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