Pope Francis: The Sinner – A Would You Believe? Special
View the whole programme here:
POPE FRANCIS – THE SINNER
Monday, 16 March at 9.30pm on RTÉ One
The Pope who calls himself ‘a sinner’ is, certainly, a man of contradictions. But who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio? How did the man who was loved and loathed by his fellow Jesuits back in Argentina become Pope and can he hold the Roman Catholic Church together and reform it at the same time? In a Would You Believe special, Pope Francis – The Sinner airing on Monday, 16 March 9.30pm on RTÉ One looks at the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and what shaped him into the Pope he is today.
In just two years Pope Francis has put Roman Catholicism back on the map as a faith that has something to offer a troubled world and is beginning to revolutionise a church that was in crisis and losing its way. “Francis has crystallised a new vision of the church that includes everybody” says Paul Vallely, the Pope’s early biographer. However, not everyone agrees and Mary McAleese, while she likes the new Pope, feels he just doesn’t get women: “there’s a blind side here…that leaves good men…like Francis still carrying a residual element of misogyny that closes them off…”
Pope Francis’ simplicity, down to earth style and concern for those on the margins, have roused affection from believers and non believers alike. But he wasn’t always as popular as he is today. According to his Argentinean biographer, Elisabetta Pique “He was almost hated by some Jesuits…” and this is echoed by Fr Michael Petty, a contemporary of Bergoglio’s who says that “he provoked tremendous division” when he was Provincial in Argentina. While his friend and former Provincial Fr Andres Swinnen says “there’s something very unhealthy about the thirst for leadership that he has.” But that was the 1980’s and Bergoglio changed his leadership style when he became a bishop.
It has been alleged that Bergoglio was complicit with the military during Argentina’s Dirty War when two of his Jesuits were kidnapped and tortured for five months in 1976. A sister of one of those Jesuits, Graciela Yorio still believes Bergoglio has questions to answer: “He put them in a position of being completely unprotected”. However another contemporary and friend of Bergoglio, Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone says “the phones were tapped… and the military thought they were unprotected.”
Hearing from Argentinean Jesuits who lived with him, the programme explores his reputation as a hard-line authoritarian Provincial who divided the Jesuits. Friends, contemporaries and students of Fr Bergoglio give their first hand experience of the man they knew, and categorically deny his complicity in Argentina’s Dirty War. Fr Guillermo Marco, his former press secretary when he was Archbisop of Buenos Aires, offers some interesting insights into the mind of Bergoglio: “his head is like a game of thrones, in a good way.” Fr Petty says that “He can deal with the Vatican with his little finger!”
Jorge Mario Bergoglio provoked division when he was in Argentina and he’s doing the same today as Pope. He’s rattling the complacent and narrow mindset in the Church by addressing issues like the Vatican Bank, the Roman Curia and how decisions are made in the Church. “The genius of the man is if you’re going to make changes that stick you’ve got to put structures in place that are going to make those changes carry through regardless of who’s in the seat” says Cardinal Napier who is on the Pope’s new Council for Economic Affairs.
The Pope’s support for sacraments, for the divorced remarried, for cohabiting couples and gay people is creating disquiet among Catholics who fear that Church teaching and practice may change. “There really just is growing confusion about what the Church teaches” says Cardinal Burke who was recently demoted by Pope Francis from the most senior post in the Church’s equivalent of the Supreme Court. While some fear the Pope’s reforms lack discipline and direction others like Fr Timothy Radcliffe, former Superior General of the Dominicans, believes that the Pope trusts in the Holy Spirit: “A very important part of Pope Francis’ spirituality is daring not to be in control.”
Behind the simple exterior hides a man of deep complexity and a Jesuit through and through. But can Pope Francis do what Bergoglio, the Jesuit Provincial couldn’t do and hold the differences in the Church together and reform it at the same time? Signs are that he’s making a good stab at it and he’s doing so not despite his failings but because of them.
Pope Francis – The Sinner airs on Monday, 16 March at 9.30pm on RTÉ One