By: Andrea Tornielli
Reviewed by Brian Monro
I’ve just finished reading Andrea Tornielli’s book on Pope Francis. Perhaps you too have read this first –for me – biography of the Argentine Cardinal who became Pope. I found it quite a readable translation from what I guess was the original Italian by the Roman journalist. Perhaps a bit ‘flowery’ in its style –c’est la vie Italienne! And at times a bit ‘hagiographical’, but then no journalist so soon in the life of a new Pope is going to look for warts in this new man yet.
What emerges from Tornielli’s work is a picture of a genuine priest, bishop and cardinal deeply committed to a simple pious way of life dedicated to dialogue and to the poor and disadvantaged around him. The ‘Office’ may alter him, but he has a life time of intelligent leadership, a disdain of showy power, and a record of service to all, and to those in need especially, to resist the attractions of Curial enticements and machinations. Here’s hoping!
At the same time I had no feeling that Vatican II had influenced his life. Rather his spirituality seemed to me to be soundly based on 19th century piety. His favorite saint is The Little Flower, St Therese of Lisieux; he speaks often of sin, the need for forgiveness, and Divine Mercy; the devil is at work as an evil agent in the world from which one must withdraw if one is to find Jesus at the center of our lives. Salvation is through the Church and its non worldly holy priests and sacraments working to rescue poor sinners from their miseries, save them from hell and bring them to heaven. This was the kind of spirituality I was familiar with in the Novitiate of the early 1950’s.
I found no hint from Tornielli that Cardinal Bergoglio was concerned with those ideas from the Council which emerged into First World and Western thinking. Concepts like the laity as Church too, or the primacy of conscience, or that God may be found in the world, or that women have a ministerial role in Church affairs appear to be nonexistent in Bergoglio’s world. I gained the impression that he is most preoccupied with Third World needs and spirituality, leaving aside many of those cultural changes that we who lived through the Council know well. Of course had he been an obvious Vatican II person he would never have been chosen as a Bishop and a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II.
One of your American Presidents wisely noted that the ‘Office’ changes people who can grow into the job, and develop skills they never had before taking up the Office. My hope is that Cardinal Bergoglio will become such a person for the greater good of the Church; my belief after reading Tornielli is that Pope Francis will not bring to fruition those hopes and desires for change liberated by the Second Vatican Council. I hope I am wrong.