BY Peter Diamond | March 16 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Media analysis of Francis’ papacy is ‘nonsense’, historian says

Scotland’s leading historian has said that most media analysis of Pope Francis’ papacy is ‘nonsense’

Sir Tom Devine’s comments come on the five-year anniversary of the Holy Father’s election to the papacy and in a week in which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rejected the ‘foolish prejudice’ that sees division between the two popes.

“It is often asked by the media whether the Pope is ‘progressive’ or ‘conservative,’ the unspoken assumption being that ‘progressives’ are good and ‘conservatives’ bad; this is simplistic nonsense and an example of the current mediocre intellectual standard of public discussion,” Mr Devine said.

In a February 7 letter to Mgr Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, Pope Benedict rejected the simplistic view of his and Pope Francis’ papacies.

Writing on the release of a new series of books on Pope Francis’ theology, he said: “I applaud this initiative which is intended to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice according to which Pope Francis would be only a practical man devoid of particular theological or philosophical formation, while I would be solely a theoretician of theology who could understand little of the concrete life of a Christian today.

“The little volumes demonstrate, rightly so, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help in seeing the interior continuity between the two pontificates, albeit with all the differences of style and temperament.”

On March 13, 2013, a South American cardinal from ‘the New World’ would take on the role of the papacy in a style and purpose that was unknown. Five years later, Pope Francis, now 81 years old, has received praise from many Catholic Scots including historian Sir Tom Devine (right), the Archbishop of Glasgow and the Scottish Government.

Mr Devine, the professor emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, believes Pope Francis has given the world a ‘matchless moral steer’ during a time of materialistic individualism and relativism, when some of the traditional elements of society appear to be under grave threat.

“I admire Pope Francis as a pastor, leader of the Church and as a man,” Sir Tom Devine said. “He has tried to make Catholicism adopt a more compassionate, caring and understanding approach to some of the intractable problems of the human condition.”

Mr Devine said Pope Francis ‘scores highly on humility and human concern.’

“In effect, he is a remarkable example of ‘the good pastor,’ urging his priests, for instance, to be ‘shepherds living with the smell of the sheep,’” he said. “Francis’ interventions on the plight of immigrants, the marginalised, world economic inequality and the many dangers to the environment—as shown most eloquently in the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si—have made me proud to be a Catholic.”

Pope Francis has played a key role in a number of global powder kegs, cooling a decades-long conflict between Cuba and the USA and speaking out for Palestine to be recognised as a state.

Mr Devine said no global leader is more respected in the world. “Without fear or favour he has stepped into some of the world’s most challenging conflicts and given his view within the tenets of the Faith,” he said. “Furthermore, during Francis’ papacy relations with the world of Islam have changed for the better and he has also been an enthusiastic ecumenist.”



 The leading historian also argued that ‘since Francis was elected to the papacy, there have been no significant changes’ in Church teaching or discipline, saying the fundamentals remain.

“Some ‘flexibility’ has taken place around the margins, such as on the issue of whether the divorced should receive Communion, which has not received universal approbation. This is consistent with his emphasis on compassion for people rather than adhering exclusively to the letter of the law in all cases.”

Critics within the mainstream media’s ‘progressive’ stance have said that Pope Francis should have done more to address child abuse and reform the Roman Curia within the first five years, while those portrayed by the media as the ‘conservative’ wing of the Church have said Pope Francis is wrong to encourage priests to allow Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Addressing criticism of the Holy Father in recent months, Mr Devine said the Pope is a ‘great man’ but ‘not a miracle worker.’

Mr Devine said ‘a growing number of Catholic women’ have also ‘complained that precious little has changed in their status within the Church during his papacy.’

However, he pointed out that much of the Pope’s work ‘remains unfinished,’ including the huge task of Vatican reform, and that ‘polls suggest that the Pope retains an extraordinary popularity among the laity, which politicians could only dream [of].’ A recent survey of American Catholics showed 84 per cent of those interviewed had the same favourable view of the Pope as they did at the end of his first year in office.


Scottish bishops

In recognition of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis being elevated to the papacy, Scotland’s Catholic bishops offered their congratulations and good wishes to the Pope.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said: “On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference, I offer my congratulations to His Holiness Pope Francis on the fifth anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome. We assure the Pope of our continued prayers for his health and intentions.”

Asked to comment on the anniversary, the Scottish Government didn’t acknowledge the Pope directly but said they ‘welcome the positive contribution that faith leaders can provide when it comes to achieving common goals and international cooperation.’


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