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Theologian: How Church Might Reform Under New Pope

Faggioli delivered “Pope Francis and  Vatican II: Past, Present, Future” on  March 14. Photo by Dana Maxson

Faggioli delivered “Pope Francis and
Vatican II: Past, Present, Future” on
March 14.
Photo by Dana Maxson

A The election of Pope Francis last year represents an opportunity for the church to finally fulfill the goals of Vatican II and become a truly global church, a leading theologian told a group of religious leaders on Friday, March 14.

Massimo Faggioli, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, delivered “Pope Francis and Vatican II: Past, Present, Future” at Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus.

His talk was the keynote address of Franciscans, Jesuits, and a New Pope: Medieval Lessons for Modern Reform, a two-day conference sponsored by the Graduate School of Religion and Religions Education (GRE) and Paulist Press.

To illustrate how Francis, formerly the cardinal and archbishop of Buenos Aires, has the potential to institute real reform, Faggioli delved into history as far back as 1868, when Pope Pius IX convened the first Vatican Council.

Faggioli (who along with his wife, Sarah Christopher Faggioli, Ph.D., translated the Pope’s first interview with America Magazine) said that Pope Francis represents a new beginning for the church, as he “looks to the rest of the world with different eyes than those of an Italian, Polish, or German pope.”

This is key, he said, because the pontificates of the last 70 years have all been defined in different measures by historical-theological debates related to Vatican councils. From Pius XII’s failure to reconvene Vatican I, to Benedict XVI, whom Faggioli called the most important theological “reviewer” of the council and its interpretations, the heads of the church have all been consumed by struggles of the different factions within it.

“Since he was ordained a priest in 1969, Pope Francis [halts]this line of popes who were biographically involved in Vatican II,” Faggioli said.

“The Argentine Jesuit Bergoglio perceives the Vatican as a matter that should not be reinterpreted, but implemented.”

During the pontificate of John Paul II, Vatican II became interpreted through a political-cultural filter that was broken down into four trends, according to author Peter Steinfels, former co-director of Fordham’s Center for Religion and Culture, in A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America (New York, 2003):

• A tragic mistake or heresy

• A victim of erroneous and biased interpretations

• A necessary moment of change, reform, and reconciliation between the church and the modern world

• A betrayed revolution.

These interpretations lead to the politicization of factions within the church and its more traditional cultures. Because Francis hails from outside these traditions, Faggioli said he has the potential to effect great change.

“The change of pontificate between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis means a change of paradigm in the way the church frames the idea of reform in connection with the different interpretations of Vatican II,” he said.

“Political-ideological interpretations of Vatican II will linger, but the balance has shifted towards a more theological debate.”


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