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Experts discuss Pope’s impact

Jack Rooney and Rachel Rahal | Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In light of Pope Francis’s recent, extensive interview in “America” magazine, groups at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s hosted separate panel discussions Monday to discuss the pope’s comments and their impact on the Catholic Church and on the faith lives of students.


The Notre Dame discussion was hosted by Campus Ministry and titled “What did he just say?! Pope Francis Unfiltered” The panel featured Theology Professor Fr. Brian Daley, S.J., Kathleen Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and Tim O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.


The Saint Mary’s panel featured Sr. Veronique Wiedower, vice president for mission, Phyllis Kaminski, professor of Religious Studies, sophomore Sofia Piecuch and senior Haley Koth.


At the Notre Dame panel, the group offered general thoughts on the impact of Pope Francis’s interview before opening the discussion to audience members, giving particular focus to the role of the media in the Church and Francis’s papacy.


Daley, a Jesuit priest, said he thought Francis’ mission as Pope would not be centered on doing such interviews.


“I think giving interviews will not be the way to [accomplish Francis’s goals]. Some of these have been good, but it’s time now to kind of quiet down and do some other things,” Daley said.


O’Malley said interviews are still important, but they do not play as large a role as the media seems to believe they do.


“Interviews don’t renew the Church. If interviews changed everything, necessarily, then Barack Obama would have solved the Congressional problem by now. [But] I’m not saying that interviews aren’t important,” he said.


O’Malley said the renewal of the Church occurs at the “existential margins” of the Church, an idea which he said Pope Francis continually expresses.


“What he’s saying is stop worrying about how I’m going to change the Curia, and if you want the renewal of the Church, go to the existential margins,” O’Malley said. “The renewal of the Church doesn’t occur, as Francis is very clear in this interview, solely through hierarchical structures.”


Cummings cited a direct quote from the interview in “America” in which Pope Francis said, “We should not even think … that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”


Cummings said she believed the interview marked the beginning of a reform movement led by Pope Francis.


“I think my biggest takeaway from it, as someone who is interested in what this portends for the future of the Church, is that Pope Francis has made pretty clear … that he is preparing the faithful for a fairly significant program of reform, and he’s tipped his hand in the interview toward that in a variety of ways,” Cummings said.


Cummings said one of the ways in which Pope Francis suggested this reform in the interview was with regard to the role of women in the Church.


“He did talk about the need for a profound theology of womanhood that the Church does not yet have,” Cummings said.


At the Saint Mary’s panel, Piecuch said it is valuable to think of the Church as a field hospital, taking care of all.


“This is a call to take time to truly listen to people,” she said. “The Church is meant to bring us together rather than divide.”


“Pope Francis’ message is very uplifting, one that calls for healing and seeks love and refuge.”


Wiedower said Francis’ vision of the Church emphasizes solidarity with the poor and marginalized.


“My initial feeling about this interview was one of hope, ‘mustard seed’-type hope,” Wiedower said.


Daley closed the Notre Dame panel by saying the interview must be understood in a context of love, and that while Pope Francis still believes in the rules and doctrine of the Church, these rules and beliefs must be grounded in a position of love.


“The important thing about them is not that they’re rules, but that they embody a love that God has given to us,” Daley said. “And so I think getting your priorities straight is really part of the rhetoric of this and what [Pope Francis] wants to communicate.”