Defending the Pope’s pastoral approach
In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, Gerry Whelan SJ, professor of fundamental theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, talks about writing his new book on Pope Francis. He outlines the ‘method’ of the late philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan SJ, which he has used as a lens for interpreting Pope Francis’ way of proceeding. The Irish Jesuit, who is on holiday in Ireland says that the aim of the publication is to try to provide an academic defence to the pastoral dimension of Pope Francis’ pontificate.
“A certain mentality central to my book,” says Gerry, “is Lonergan’s assertion that the key challenge in theology today is a transition from classical mindedness to historical consciousness.” The professor explains that classical mindedness is formulaic in nature and not dependent on time or place. Historical consciousness on the other hand, pays heed to the particularities of a culture that evolves and changes over time.
Regarding Pope Francis’ own exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Gerry says the work is “an example of this shift from classicist thinking to historically conscious thinking in the area of what we call moral theology, therefore sexuality and marriage”. Pope Francis is expected to attend the World Meeting of Families, that will be held in Dublin, Ireland next year, 22 – 26 August. Gerry believes he will be a sensitive presence, attentive to the pastoral realities on the ground. This would include, for example, the situation of divorced or remarried couples. However, he also points out that Francis is still relatively conservative in doctrine and in ideals. It is thought that he may use the World Meeting of Families as a platform to give a challenging message on abortion.
In this interview with Pat Coyle, Gerry also points to Pope Francis’ past in trying to provide an academic defence to his pastoral leanings. He notes that the Pope, as a Jesuit in Argentina, was very worried about potentially harmful interpretations of the preferential option for the poor. Some had interpreted this option from a purely Marxist standpoint. Nonetheless, he himself had a great love and concern for the poor, then and now, as is evidenced in his many public pronouncements. His critique of the situation of the poor is rooted in the Gospel, not Marxist-based. “He is also very alert to cultures that make the preaching of the Word of the Christian Gospel very difficult.” Gerry Whelan SJ’s book is due out next year.