National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

Pope Francis and a church that changes

The first months of any papacy are carefully scanned by many to see just what they say about how the new pope, who represents the world's some 1.2 billion Catholics, might change (or at least subtly alter) the direction of the church.

Pope Francis, of course, has already left many breadcrumbs for interpretation -- from feet washing to apparent reform of the so-called Vatican bank.

But over at the popular liturgy blog PrayTell Monday, noted liturgist Benedictine Fr. Anthony Ruff suggested the new pontiff may have offered a lens through which to view his entire papacy: a lens of complete renewal of the church.

Ruff draws on a sermon Francis gave during morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta on Saturday, in which the pope said there are "ancient structures" in the church that need reviewing.

"In the Christian life, even in the life of the Church, there are old structures, passing structures: it is necessary to renew them!" Vatican Radio quoted Francis as saying in the Mass. 

50-and-forward.jpgCheck out our anniversary page for special items, features and events.

"The Church always goes forward, giving space to the Holy Spirit that renews these structures, structures of the churches," Francis continued. "Don't be afraid of that! Don't be afraid of the newness of the Gospel! Don't be afraid of the newness that the Holy Spirit works in us! Don't be afraid of the renewal of structures!"

Contrast that, as Ruff does, with how Pope Francis' predecessor considered the possibility of change in the church.

Asking rhetorically in 2011 if the church must "adapt her offices and structures to the present day," Pope Benedict XVI replied: 

"Blessed Mother Teresa was once asked what in her opinion was the first thing that would have to change in the Church. Her answer was: you and I."

Ruff's conclusion:

"It seems clear that Francis stands in broad continuity with Benedict when it comes to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith. But when it comes to structural reform, I think we have a new hermeneutic at work – call it the "New Wine, New Wineskins" hermeneutic."

For those unfamiliar with talk of hermeneutics, for years theologians and prelates have used the concept to describe the evolution of the Catholic church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The reforms following the council, many have argued, can either been seen as a complete break from past tradition, or just a continuation of it. 

Either way you see it, Francis seems to say, more reforms are coming: "Don't be afraid of that!"

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.


Friends of NCR 300x80 web ad.jpg

NCR Email Alerts


In This Issue

March 27-April 9, 2015


Some articles are only available in the print newspaper and Kindle edition.