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Retired Jesuit author critiques Pope Francis’ first 4 years

February 9, 2017
Christina Gray
Catholic San Francisco

new 05 Eagan THUMB 100x125Retired Jesuit Father Joe Eagan presented a four-year scorecard of Pope Francis’ achievements and shortfalls Jan. 30 at St. Anselm Parish in Ross.

“We have an extraordinary pope and the right person to lead our church and to exercise a strong voice in our very complex world today,” said Father Eagan in summing up an hour-long talk: “Four Years and Counting: The Achievements and Disappointments of Pope Francis.”

The 94-year-old priest presented a balanced assessment of the pope’s strengths and weaknesses. But it was clear that both he and his Marin County audience are fans.

“He is totally authentic to people and that means a lot,” said Father Eagan, who was inspired by Francis to write a book in retirement. “Vatican II Renewal: Path to the Future of the Church” was published in 2013, a follow up to his 1995 book, “Restoration and Renewal, the Church in the Third Millennium.”

Father Eagan entered the Society of Jesus in 1940. Before what he called his “second career as a parish priest” at four archdiocesan parishes, he taught theology at the University of San Francisco and headed campus ministry at Creighton University.

He described four broad categories of success for Pope Francis, including the “Francis effect” – a name that’s been used to describe his popularity and esteem among those inside and outside of the faith, his missionary vision of the church and his restructuring of Vatican governance.

“He’s brought joy back to the church,” said Father Eagan. He described what attracts so many to this pope: his humility and simple lifestyle, his genuine love for people, his commitment to the poor and marginalized and his living example of Gospel values.

Pope Francis entered his role “with the radical idea of renewing the Catholic Church according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Father Eagan. The pope detailed this vision in the 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Guadium,” the “Joy of the Gospel.”

Francis made major changes to achieve that vision, including the choice of cardinals and bishops that represent the universality of the church. He deliberately passed over expected choices from traditional “cardinal cities” like Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and picked “pastoral men,” many from countries with relatively few Catholics. Eight such cardinals serve as his advisors.

Pope Francis has worked to reform the Roman Curia with a new spirit of openness, encouraging bishops to speak openly and frankly. “That happened” in the synods of 2014 and 2015, said Father Eagan.

In 2014 the pope made public “15 spiritual ailments” of Vatican bureaucrats and followed it with a catalog of virtues and values that should guide each office’s sense of mission which is nothing short of “carrying the Gospel to the ends of the world.”

Pope Francis is “unafraid to take unpopular stands,” said Father Eagan. He took on climate change, immigration, economic inequality and the global market economy in 2015 with his first papal encyclical, “Laudato Si’.” In 2016 his apostolic exhortation on love and marriage, “Amoris Laetitia,” seemed to some to create an opening for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. This caused “a tremendous flap,” said Father Eagan, “beyond what it deserved.”

Father Eagan admitted that his view of the pope’s failures and shortcoming would be “different for progressive Catholics than for strongly conservative ones.”

He said the pope has largely failed to elevate the status of women in the church who have “rightly called attention to the gap between their huge service to the church and their almost total absence in church decision-making.”

Father Eagan also believes Pope Francis has not strongly enough addressed priest abuse and the harm it has caused to victims and the church itself.

The pope’s greatest fault to some, said Father Eagan, is his “alleged compromising of Catholic doctrine” and the perceived downplay of issues like abortion and contraception.

“Many Catholics, although not those who see the bigger picture, feel he has let us down in that regard,” he said.

Despite critics who have become bolder and more vocal, Father Eagan says Pope Francis remains serene and peaceful.

“He is above all, a man of profound prayer and great trust in the Holy Spirit guiding him and the church,” he said.

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