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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyWhen the pope gets tough

June 29 is the traditional date when newly appointed archbishops meet in Rome to celebrate mass with Pope Francis and receive their signature pallium on the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul.

In addition, this year five new cardinals will join them after they are created cardinals by Pope Francis at their June 28 consistory.

Pope Francis comes from an experience of pastoral ministry rather than from academia, the background of recent popes. This has helped him create a new model of leadership in church circles.

As a pastor Pope Francis is a people-person, reaching out to those on the peripheries of church and society. This has created tensions among some church groups. He has been labelled as too soft and compassionate by emphasizing the mercy of Jesus within the limits of church law and morality.

As a pastor, he has also been called upon to keep order “in the house.” His experience as a young Jesuit provincial in Argentina taught him that sometimes tough decisions have to be made for the common good.

One example is his current move to reform the Roman curia. His international council of cardinals is tackling some issues that have festered for decades and that his predecessors weren’t able to address adequately. The council met last week for the 20th time.

More recently, Pope Francis has shown that the common good of the church also requires some strong actions.

As reported in last week’s Prairie Messenger, the pope told priests from the Diocese of Ahiara in Nigeria to shape up. The priests have refused to accept the 2012 appointment by Pope Benedict XVI of a bishop from a different tribe.

The pope ordered each priest to apologize to him in writing, pledge their “total obedience” to the papacy and accept whomever he appoints to lead the diocese. The deadline is 30 days.

“As papal disciplining goes, it doesn’t get much tougher,” notes Vatican commentator Christopher Lamb. “The pope was furious clan differences were being put before the church’s unity and mission,” he added. “If there is one thing Francis really dislikes, it’s the church being used for political, sectarian or tribal agendas.”

Another tough move Pope Francis made was his involvement with the Knights of Malta. When their leader, Matthew Festing, was accused of improperly dismissing a senior aide over a delicate issue of working with organizations distributing condoms to the poor, Pope Francis announced an investigation into the matter. It didn’t help that Cardinal Raymond Burke, a vocal critic of Pope Francis, is the Vatican liaison with the order. In the end, Festing resigned and a new leader has since been chosen.

Another policy, seen by commentators as a clampdown, is a recent letter asking cardinals living in Rome to inform the pope when they are out of town and where they are going.

The letter was written by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. It says that the policy revives “a noble tradition” of informing the papacy and the Vatican of their movements, especially if they are gone for a long time.

Lamb suggests a motive for the policy: “It shows the pope wants accountability from those who are his closest advisers. It is also tactically savvy, as it ensures the pope knows if a cardinal is about to deliver a major talk or address that might be critical of his papacy.”

Pope Francis has also come out strongly against sexual abuse of children. At their recent meeting in Indianapolis, the U.S. bishops celebrated a liturgy the last evening in response to a call from Pope Francis to episcopal conferences around the world to observe a “Day of Prayer and Penance” for survivors of sexual abuse within the church.

The Scriptures often link mercy with justice. Sometimes justice requires a firm hand. And justice is better served when a leader listens to good advisers.