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from John Lloyd:

Pope Francis and his season of struggle

Pope Francis celebrates a mass in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican

This month, Pope Francis had to come clean.

Time’s Man of the Year for 2013, the object of seemingly universal affection, is a liberal: and that means a season – perhaps a papacy – of struggle. His honeymoon as the Amiable Argentinian is over.

He’s not a simple liberal, to be sure. He believes, in a concrete, physical way, in bodies rising from the dead, and in the existence of the Devil. These are concepts with which evangelical Protestants – in the ascendant in the pope’s native Argentina – are both familiar, and in which they believe. His modern-thinking colleagues quietly squirm.

But he combines, in a way the world hasn’t seen for decades -- even centuries -- a belief in these manifestations while at the same time being a social liberal. In the Catholic hierarchy, to be a social liberal is to argue that while doctrine is all very well, it has to move with the times. This means recognizing that the times, and many Catholics, are closer to contemporary mores on the family and on sexual behaviour than they are to scriptural fundamentalism.

Thus the expectation, when Francis called the hierarchy of the Church together in Rome in the first half of this month in a synod devoted to the discussion of sex and the family, was that the outcome would be a much-liberalized Church. Catholic gays were especially hopeful of a significant shift, as were groups who want divorce to be made possible under certain conditions. All, when the synod ended last weekend, were disappointed.

from The Great Debate:

The uncanonized saints

The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, nearing the end of a long restoration, has a new mural over its main doors. Surrounding the Holy Spirit, in the form of an incandescent dove, is a gathering of women and men flanked by angels. Most have soft yellow halos, but three figures, including the pair closest to the dove, do not.

The three are local icons. Activist and writer Dorothy Day wears a hat with the inscription “NO WAR” and holds a stack of Catholic Worker newspapers, the publication she founded. Beside her is Bernard Quinn, a priest who served Brooklyn’s African American community at a church just blocks away, and whose Long Island orphanage was twice burned down by racists. Pierre Toussaint, who looks intently toward the dove, was a slave-turned-philanthropist who, on gaining his freedom in 1807, adopted his surname from the leader of the Haitian revolution.

from The Great Debate:

Tackling inequality: Where a president meets a pope

There has been much speculation about President Barack Obama’s meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday. One Catholic church authority asserted, “it is not the task of the pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality.” The pope got that message -- he wrote it himself in his first official “Papal Exhortation” last year.

Yet Francis has also asserted that his papacy has a “grave responsibility” to  “exhort all the communities to an ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times” -- particularly to know the face of the poor and outcast.

from Breakingviews:

Pope’s “authentic” economics make sense

By Edward Hadas

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, a Catholic order which has traditionally, among other things, served the rich and powerful as teachers and confessors. At its best, a Jesuit education inspires the mighty to serve the lowly. The Pope’s address to the business and political leaders assembled at the World Economic Forum at Davos fits right into that tradition.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

The pope’s divisions

The political roundups of 2013 make little mention of perhaps the most important event to alter the political landscape in the last 12 months. It was not the incompetence of the Obamacare rollout -- though that will resonate beyond the November midterms. Nor was it House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) finally snapping at the Tea Party hounds who have been nipping at his heels.

No, it was the March 13 election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a cardinal from Argentina, as pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

from The Great Debate:

Pope Francis: Beyond the compelling gestures

The most talked about person in the world -- no surprise there! -- is Pope Francis. Polls and Internet traffic confirm: No celebrity even comes close to him in fame or favor.

When it comes to “followers,” the pope does have an enormous head start, as leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church. He also inspires unmatched curiosity and attention globally among many millions from other faiths and no faiths.

from Breakingviews:

Give thanks for the pope’s anti-free market views

By Richard Beales
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Wall Street bigwigs often lean economically right and socially left. In what looks like a manifesto for his papacy, Pope Francis takes the opposite stance. He might not, however, object to the relatively uncommercialized American Thanksgiving holiday. And over their turkey on Thursday, the rich might ponder a financial system that the pope says “rules rather than serves.”

from The Great Debate:

Why Fellini’s films speak to the pope

La Strada may be almost 60 years old, but Federico Fellini's masterpiece is in the news. In an interview published late last week, Pope Francis called La Strada his favorite film.

Some might have expected a more church-friendly movie, like Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City -- which Fellini co-wrote -- about a priest helping the Italian Resistance fight Nazi occupiers during World War Two. While he also mentions it, the pontiff's favorite choice crystallizes his embrace of the fallible and the marginalized.

from John Lloyd:

The Church and organized labor’s new orthodoxy

Two of the western world's great organizations, the AFL-CIO and the Roman Catholic Church, decided last week to tackle two of the world's great problems differently than they had for decades before. This might just be another proof that they're getting weaker (they are). Or it might be a big, good shift.

The two groups are hardly alike. One is concerned with the material; the other occupied with things spiritual.  But last week they were united, as the leaders of both appeared ready to break with tradition and leave behind a history of exclusion. These moves haven’t attracted much notice: but if the two leaders follow through, the consequences will be enormous.

from Ian Bremmer:

The world leaders who are actually leading

Earlier this summer, as I watched the Pope attract millions as he toured Brazil, I noticed how rare the scene was. Here was a man in control of an embattled institution, and he had somehow rallied his troops. By going back to the basics of Catholic belief—embracing humility, supporting the downtrodden, asking for sacrifice— as well as pushing the envelope (with his more progressive stance on homosexuality, for example), Pope Francis had begun to rehabilitate the church. It was viable leadership: the kind that motivates, inspires, and unites.

This is becoming increasingly rare. We live in a world where no single country or group of countries can provide dominant, sustainable global leadership—G-Zero, as I call it—and that’s in large part because so many countries lack solid leadership at home. As I look around the world, I see only three leaders of major countries that, like the pope, are managing to squelch opposition, carve out a more impactful role for themselves, and undertake difficult reforms, all while leveraging their popularity and consolidating their strength.

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