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A view from Rome

Pope Francis hit the headlines again recently with comments he made in an Italian documentary endorsing civil unions for same-sex partnerships. Gerry Whelan SJ is an Irish Jesuit theologian and philosopher teaching at the Gregorian University in Rome. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, he explains the background to the Pope’s remarks (tracing them back to his time as a Cardinal in Argentina) as well as their significance.

Gerry notes that Pope Francis is more at ease now when speaking out on controversial topics that he would have been at the beginning of his papacy. He senses that the Pope somehow ‘has the measure’ of his critics and will not be silenced by them.

When talking about the Pope’s latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti Gerry says the Pope was more optimistic about the global future when he started writing it in pre-Covid-19 times. But after the pandemic came, he says, Francis grew increasingly worried about the worldwide response to it, a response, which the pontiff believes has left the poor even more vulnerable and sidelined.

Pope Francis wants more debate on the economic response to the crisis. And he wants that debate to expose the philosophy underpinning that response which favours the wealthy at the expense of the less well off.

Aligned to that debate and also of crucial importance to the Pope is the ecology crisis. Gerry himself is involved with an interdisciplinary group of professors at the Gregorian University who are working to promote Francis’ agenda as outlined in Laudato Sí. He talks about their group –the Laudato Sí Observatory –which networks with other ecological groups and influencers like the well known political group the ‘Club of Rome’. Their aim is to try and mobilise culture to deepen its response to the pressing ecological issues of our age.

They also host international seminars and events via Zoom. At a recent gathering, Gerry recalls that Ciara Murphy of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice presented a paper on the mobilisation of the grassroots in Ireland in favour of ecological issues. He also explains how the work of the Laudato Sí Observatory is informally fed back to the Pope.

Listen to the full interview above.