James A. Beverley is professor of Christian
thought and ethics at Tyndale, an
evangelical seminary in Toronto. His PhD is from
the Catholic University of Saint Michael’s College
The election of Pope Francis on March 13, 2013 involved a string of firsts – first pontiff from the Americas,
first Jesuit pope, first non-European
pope since the 8th century and the
first to be named Francis. His remarkable election followed the
stunning resignation of Benedict
XVI, and soon after Pope Francis
moved quickly into two more firsts
– including women in the rite of
foot washing and visiting an Anglican church in Rome.
Born Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos
Aires in 1936, he became a priest in
1969, a Jesuit in 1973, a bishop in
1992, archbishop in 1998 and then
cardinal in 2001.
Most of us hear universal acclaim
for Pope Francis. Secular magazines
recognize his power and influence.
Forbes ranked him fifth in their
2016 list of the world’s most powerful people. He is often featured
positively in The New York Times,
Washington Post, The Globe and Mail
and other major newspapers.
Like Pope John Paul II, Francis is
given star status on television.
When Pope Francis visited the
United States in 2015, Vanity Fair
called him the “people’s pontiff”
and said he is one of “the most beloved people on the planet.” His
recent TED talk made all kinds of
One popular reason for admiration of Pope Francis has to do with
his decision not to live in the papal
palace, but in the Vatican guesthouse
known as the Casa Santa Marta, a far
humbler abode. His lack of pomp
extends as well to his choice of vehicles, clothes and, most famously,
his donning of a clown’s red nose
while visiting a children’s charity.
His outward humility is matched
by his care for the poor and his
outreach to those marginalized
from the Catholic mainstream. In
this regard, Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau asked the Pope to apologize for Catholic mistreatment of
Indigenous people in Canadian
Given his fame it’s hard to imagine Pope Francis could avoid being a target for intense critique.
From the left, both Catholic and
otherwise, there is anger Pope
Francis is antiabortion, not supportive of women for the priesthood and not open to homosexuality as a moral path.
The most important attacks,
however, come from leading conservative cardinals, bishops, priests
and scholars who argue the Pope
has broken or is in danger of breaking fundamental Catholic doctrine.
These critics believe the Catholic
Church is in danger of schism due
to Pope Francis.
The most strife in his four years
as Pope involves a document he
released in April 2016. Critics allege Amoris Laetitia (Latin for The
Joy of Love) reverses official teaching that divorced Catholics who
remarry can take Communion.
There was instant objection over
the document from 45 Catholic
scholars, calls for clarification from
hundreds of bishops and priests
and, most significantly, in late 2016
four cardinals (led by American
Cardinal Raymond Burke) wrote
the Pope privately about five dubia
(Latin for doubts) they had over his
statements and asked for yes or no
answers. They went public when he
refused to answer, igniting new
levels of controversy and intrigue.
The mainstream media, who
love Francis, have even targeted
Cardinal Burke for alleged contact
with Trump aide Steve Bannon.
Burke claims in an interview he
doesn’t remember meeting Bannon.
Political machinations aside, this
debate is monumentally important
to Catholics, given their theological belief about the Eucharist. It’s
also significant since it represents
questioning about the unity of the
Catholic Church, the infallibility of
papal teaching, and (according to
Burke) basic doctrinal integrity.
Burke is on record as stating, “The
Church is like a ship without a
rudder,” and that there might have
to be a “formal public correction”
of Pope Francis.
While Burke has been the object
of the Pope’s discipline (mainly
through demotion and avoidance),
evangelical Christians have been
recipients of the gentle and open
side of Francis. When he was an
archbishop in Argentina, he had
regular meetings with evangelical
pastors and asked repeatedly for
prayer from them. He has some
intense friendships with evangelical leaders and has invited Evangelicals of all stripes to the Vatican,
most recently a group of Pentecostal leaders.
For Pope Francis, his positive
engagements with non-Catholics
(Protestants, Orthodox, Jewish,
Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist)
must serve as a welcome relief to
the tempest inside the Catholic
unity of the
JAMES A. BEVERLEY
You can’t please everyone
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has his hands full
CRI TICS BELIEVE THE
IS IN DANGER OF
SCHISM DUE TO POPE