The last pope?

Some time ago, I had a rather interesting conversation with a conservative Catholic, who was disturbed with the direction the Church was heading under the Bishop of Rome, Francis.

Oct 21, 2015

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
Some time ago, I had a rather interesting conversation with a conservative Catholic, who was disturbed with the direction the Church was heading under the Bishop of Rome, Francis.

He was upset with the proposal on the table to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.

He pointed to an alleged vision of the 12th Century Irish saint Malachy. The Propechy of the Popes, a document discovered and published in 1590, which is (erroneously?) attributed to Malachy, predicts there would be 112 future popes until the Last Judgement.

The 112th and last pope in the ‘prophecy’ is ‘Peter the Roman,’ and some believe this refers to Francis, who is of Italian descent. Adding to the intrigue, the original name of St Francis of Assisi, after whom the present pope is named, is Giovanni di Pietro (or Peter) di Bernardone.

Many scholars, however, believe the document is nothing but a hoax.

The other issue that some conservatives have pointed to is that Francis’ rapprochement with other Christian denominations and those of other faiths indicates that he is trying to create some kind of alarming “one world religion.” Worse, some even see him as the anti-Christ who would destroy the Church with the new direction he is taking the Church towards!

But there is another way of looking at all this.

This “new path” that Francis is taking the Church towards is not something new.

In fact, Francis is deliberately and consciously following the vision of the Second Vatican Council, the watershed Council convened by Pope John XXIII half a centurgy ago. Many believe the Holy Spirit was at work guiding the Council in making the Church more relevant to the modern world and in prompting it to discern and reflect on what it means to be a Christian in our world today.

The preferential option for the poor, the path towards ecumenism and the vision of decentralisation of the Church were all given an impetus by this great Council.

The de-concentration of power in the Curia, a greater emphasis on the collegiality and Synod of Bishops, including a shift towards the regional and national levels, and a greater emphasis on the role of the laity, can all be traced to the vision of the Second Vatican Council.

Francis has deliberately preferred to use the term Bishop of Rome in his speeches. And as we should know by now, every gesture that Francis makes is to make a point and to reveal something deeper.

What’s in a name anyway? The word ‘pope’ come from the Greek term for ‘father’ as a form of affection. Though the term was already in use by other bishops as early as the Third Century, it was only from the 11th Century that Pope Gregory VII formally decided that no other bishop in the Church could use that title.

Francis’ current preference for the use of the term Bishop of Rome itself suggests he has something deeper in mind — trying to generate a shift in mindset towards the aspirations of the Second Vatican Council. Some observers believe his use of ‘Bishop of Rome’ is to reflect solidarity with bishops everywhere. In a way, it also reflects his desire to shift the balance of power away from the Curia towards a more realistic balance with the Synod of Bishops and the laity — to give real meaning to the collegiality of bishops.

This decentralisation of power could have far-reaching implications for ecumenism and Christian unity, for which an overly powerful and highly authoritarian papacy was a stumbling block. If anything, Francis has been moving us closer to the day the Church can live up to the vision and desire of its founder, Jesus, that they may all be One.

As for the role of the laity — the distribution of questionnaires to the laity ahead of the Synod of the Family to get feedback from the ground reflects his desire to live up to Second Vatican Council’s vision for the laity to be given a greater role.

All said, unwittingly the so-called “Propechy of the Popes” may have been on to something — but not in the way the alarmists would have us believe.

If Francis gets his way, the very papacy and the Church itself may be transformed and led by the Spirit to be more authentic and true to its Gospel calling.

In words which could explain his preference for the term ‘Bishop of Rome,’ Francis says: “The pope is not, all by himself, above the Church, but rather inside it as a baptised Catholic among other baptised Catholics, and inside the episcopal college as a bishop among bishops,” he said. At the same time, he added, the role of the bishop of Rome, he believes, is to “guide the Church of Rome that presides in the love of all the churches.”

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