No sooner was he elected, according to Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, than Pope Francis showed his intention to work very much in the spirit of Vatican II. Writing in the Irish Times, Gerry noted that the new pope referred several times to himself as bishop of Rome rather than as pope or Supreme Pontiff.
“I would suggest that this was not accidental. I am supposing that he wanted to locate himself among, and not apart from, his fellow cardinals and bishops. This is of huge significance: could we be seeing here the first concrete steps towards a re-imagining of the papacy in a more collegial manner, true to the inspiration of the Second Vatican Council? The days of absolute monarchy should be well and truly over.”
There was another poignant sign of Pope Francis’s commitment to the spirit of the Council during his first Urbi et Orbi address. Before giving his blessing he paused and asked the gathered crowd for their blessing, and he bowed in silence to receive it.
“Here he was situating himself among the people of God,” says Gerry, ” the description used by the Second Vatican Council to express the mystery of the church. The baptised first, then priests, bishops, pope in service of the people.”
With this act, as with his reported condemnation of ‘clericalism’ when in Argentina, the Pope takes up “the teaching of Vatican II that the faithful share in the role of Jesus Christ as prophet (teacher), priest (the common priesthood of the faithful) and king (a share in decision-making). It respects the notion of the “sense of the faithful” as a source of church teaching.”
It is Gerry’s hope that Pope Francis will be able to effect deep changes so as to put the implementation of the spirit of the Council on a sure footing.
“It will be so interesting to see if the new Bishop of Rome can begin, with the help of others, to devise structures and institutions by which this kind of collegiality at all levels of the church can be made effective and the vision of Vatican II implemented. I am thinking of regular synods and councils – even, eventually an Ecumenical Council which another elderly and seemingly “caretaker” pope, John XXIII called – which could feed into church teaching and decision-making. I am thinking of the learning we can experience from our Protestant and Orthodox brothers and sisters in this respect. I am thinking of the reform of canon law to allow for effective episcopal collegiality and decision-making powers to laity, thus empowering parish councils.”