I came across a recent review of a Pope Francis biography published in November. I was struck by a few of the comments.
Peter Smith reviewed The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh. According to Smith, the biography is generally sympathetic to the work of Pope Francis, but Smith makes some somewhat surprising remarks.
Smith candidly notes that Francis' "desire to speak to the heart can sometimes cause Francis to err." He goes on to say that Francis is blind to power politics and the need to avoid compromise but to stand one's ground in opposition to some ideas and actions. Smith is specifically critical of the work of Francis as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina on the issue of same-sex marriage.
That Francis has erred seems pretty strong and direct language for a conservative Catholic. I am trying to imagine that language being used of Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI.
Also, it is interesting to see Francis' error as being tied in to seeking compromise. Francis is criticized for not being absolute enough in his opposition to certain values or beliefs that must be resisted in no uncertain terms. Yet that has been the way the church has operated for as long as most of us can remember. Has it accomplished all that we would wish it to? Would it not make sense to try a different way?
Smith also makes the point that Pope Francis puts love, mercy and healing before rules and doctrines. He labels Francis' behavior dangerous and proclaims that the pope's role is to coordinate among the various parts of the church so that it can grow and act in concert. He doubts this can be done without rules.
I'm pretty sure Pope Francis is not advocating for a church without rules, but again, the language of "dangerous" in describing the pope is quite strong. Also, it just might be a little presumptuous of Smith to confidently put forth what the role of the pope should be.
Most importantly, however, it seems counterintuitive to me to say that one needs to be doctrinaire in order to serve as a coordinating force for growth within the church. It rather would appear that such a role would require the ability to listen, to seek the worth and value of what each participant has to say, and, yes, to compromise. It also appears to be what Francis hopes to accomplish through the synod on the family.