The pope and the machine

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., now Pope Francis, has been on St. Peter’s chair for nine months. Many of us in the progressive Catholic movement still wonder who he is.

He refuses ornate vestments. He drives himself sans chauffeur in a fixed-up rust bucket. He has claimed a permanent room in a guesthouse. He has appointed a reform advisory committee. He gives candid interviews to one journalist after another. He reputedly slips out of the Vatican at night to minister with the poor. He sternly takes the rich to task in the first teaching document, Evangelii Gaudium, for which he is the principal author. (Francis’ now-retired neighbor, Benedict XVI, did most of the work for Lumen Fidei.)

Yet Francis declares women’s ordination a closed book. And, as is relentlessly and justly pointed out, neither the Catechism nor canon law have changed, with every “t” still crossed and every “i” yet dotted. Some suspect a P.R. machine is snowing them and they have said so. Is he style, they ask, or is he substance?

But perhaps a more fruitful question is: what can a pope do and what can’t a pope do? I don’t mean what a pope morally or theologically ought to do. I mean practically speaking.

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