Pope Francis says opponents of gay couples blessings are ‘small ideological groups’ and Africans

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer at the Vatican, Jan 7, 2024.

By Anugrah Kumar

Addressing the controversy surrounding the Vatican’s decision to allow blessings for same-sex couples, Pope Francis said the critics of the guidance, except for Africans, belong to “small ideological groups.”

The pontiff claimed that even in Africa, the resistance is more cultural, as homosexuality is generally not tolerated, Reuters quoted him as saying in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Francis was referring to the December 2023 document “Fiducia Supplicans” issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has sparked widespread debate within the Catholic Church. The guidance stated that priests may bless same-sex couples that approach them for blessings but distinguishes between liturgical blessings and pastoral blessings, which do not give approval to same-sex relationships.

“Those who protest vehemently belong to small ideological groups,” Francis was quoted as saying. “A special case are Africans: for them homosexuality is something ‘bad’ from a cultural point of view, they don’t tolerate it.”

“But in general, I trust that gradually everyone will be reassured by the spirit of the ‘Fiducia Supplicans’ declaration by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith: it aims to include, not divide,” the pope said.

He acknowledged the strong resistance from African bishops as there are harsh legal penalties for same-sex relationships in some African countries. The pope stressed the importance of context and sensitivity when blessing same-sex couples.

Pope Francis remains undeterred despite opposition from some theological conservatives. He advised focusing on moving forward rather than dwelling on talks of schism, which he believes are led by small groups.

“We must leave them to it and move on … and look forward,” he said.

In his remarks at the plenary session of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith last Friday, Pope Francis clarified that the Church’s teachings on homosexual practices and same-sex relationships remain unchanged. The “Fiducia Supplicans” declaration, while allowing blessings for same-sex couples, does not equate these blessings with marriage, nor does it validate relationships deemed irregular by the Church.

The Pope explained that these blessings are meant to demonstrate the Church’s closeness to those in various situations without demanding moral perfection. He emphasized that the blessings are for the individuals, not the union, and should consider the local context and sensitivities.

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, author of the declaration, released a statement earlier this month to clarify the document’s intent. He stated that the blessings, lasting no more than 15 seconds, are a pastoral response and do not justify anything morally unacceptable. The declaration has faced opposition from some bishops, like the leader of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan, who has prohibited these blessings in his diocese.

The Vatican’s guidance is part of a series of responses to questions from bishops worldwide. It includes clarifications on issues like the eligibility of single mothers who have confessed their sins to receive the eucharist.

Complete Article HERE!

To bless or not to bless?

— Rome’s move to allow LGBTQ couples to be blessed has been misunderstood by many, and misrepresented by others.

Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.


For Catholics who know about it, the church’s worldwide Synod on Synodality is bringing either hope or indigestion.

Now more than two years into its proposed process of gathering Catholics everywhere to pray and talk about the best means of spreading the Gospel, the synod’s topics and methods remain unknown to many Catholics, churchgoing or not.

Why? For starters, the project depends on the cooperation of bishops. But more and more bishops are turning away from Pope Francis’ non-judgmental, inclusive attitude.

In the United States, according to Papal Nuncio Cardinal Christophe Pierre, “Francis is now seen as the big sinner” by some U.S. bishops. There and elsewhere, many bishops are repudiating a recent Vatican document proposing that blessings may be given freely without an investigation of the recipient’s — or recipients’ — moral life.

The December 2023 document from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Fiducia Supplicans” — “Begging for confidence” — caused an immediate and ongoing uproar. The document’s purpose, to offer “a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings,” reviews the nature of blessings while reiterating the church’s ban on any liturgical recognition of gay marriages.

To be kind, the document is misunderstood by many and misrepresented by others. The controversy has been aided, too, by reports of a 1998 book, titled “Mystical Passion: Spirituality and Sensuality,” written by the dicastery’s new prefect, Cardinal Victor Fernández.

Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernandez, archbishop of La Plata, officiates Mass at the Cathedral in La Plata, Argentina, Sunday, July 9, 2023. Fernandez was appointed by Pope Francis to head the Holy See's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernández, archbishop of La Plata, officiates Mass at the Cathedral in La Plata, Argentina, Sunday, July 9, 2023. Fernandez was appointed by Pope Francis to head the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican.

Fernández’s book, which he withdrew nearly immediately on publication, includes as its sixth chapter a 16-year-old girl’s imaginary encounter with Jesus as he is held by his mother in the style of the Pieta. Related in the style of the Bible’s poetic Song of Songs, she imagines Jesus resurrected. Those unfamiliar with Spanish mystical tradition and those who are quick to criticize anyone associated with Francis, can find the book, and especially this section, salacious.

The outer edges of Catholic media, seemingly fixated on sexual matters anyway, have been reduced to a bunch of sniggering teenaged boys by the fact that a Catholic cardinal dares to explain the analogies of mystical experience in sexual terms.

Which brings us back to the responses to blessing “same-sex couples,” or “a couple in an irregular situation,” as “Fiducia Supplicans” describes those who may ask to be blessed. It says “an exhaustive moral analysis” should not be a precondition; there is no requirement for “prior moral perfection.” (One thinks of the thousands of persons crowding Saint Peter’s Square each Sunday to receive Francis’ blessing following the Angelus. Imagine personal interviews by some sort of morality police!)

This is not to say there are not difficulties with the document. One problem is that the writer buried the lede. Church groups in Germany and elsewhere have pushed for church acknowledgement and ceremonial ratification of gay marriage and of remarried divorced men and women. But only near its end does the document affirm that liturgical blessings of gay marriages and any rites in conjunction with a civil ceremony are not permitted.

Bishops in large swaths of Africa, all of Russia and the Balkan States have made it clear they will resist performing blessings. In the United States, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy and even Argentina, among other countries, the reaction is mixed. Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Malawi led the African dissent with a withering Christmas Eve homily. He flatly refused to accept the doctrine office’s teaching (it was apparent from some of his talk that he had missed its flat-out ban on gay marriage).

Another problem with the document is that it was released as the Vatican was already winding down for Christmas, and the Vatican’s attempt at damage control — a clarification by Fernández — only appeared Jan. 4.

There do not seem to have been any earlier attempts at spin control. That is, it appears that no friendly bishops received talking points in advance, and many — if not most — were caught off guard amid Christmas preparations and festivities when the document first appeared.

Even with a clarification, the Roman Catholic bishops of Africa and Madagascar voted to ignore “Fiducia Supplicans.”

All this involves the question of synodality. Individual blessings are freely given for animals, buildings, meals, rosary beads and all manner of things and people. The misunderstanding here, propelled by some media, is rooted in a rejection of both synodality and the beauty of the human person.

Synodality requires listening, and the objecting bishops are reading more into the statement than it intends. The beauty of the human person is the bedrock of Christian belief, and by refusing a blessing on anyone, the objecting bishops are denying that beauty.

Even so, no matter how bumpy the road to synodality may be, Francis is determined to keep trying to move the church forward.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church

— The most important stories from the Vatican in 2023


In a year that began with the funeral of his predecessor, Pope Francis, who marked the 10th anniversary of his own election in March, stepped up his reforms of the Catholic Church, and by year’s end he could point to a series of wins in shoring up Vatican finances, reducing corruption and enacting his plan for a more welcoming and inclusive church. He had also marginalised several outspoken critics.

But 2023 also exposed the weaknesses of this pontificate. Under Francis, the church continued to stumble in dealing with sexual abuse, extending the perception the hierarchy still doesn’t take the problem seriously. Despite concerted diplomatic efforts, the Pope failed to project real influence over foreign affairs, especially in the major conflicts in Ukraine and the Mideast. His age and his medical scares, meanwhile, had many Vatican players considering a church under Francis’ own successor.

Vatican St Peters Synod 291023
Pope Francis presides over a Mass for the closing of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, on 29th October, 2023.


But as the following top stories of 2023 from the Vatican show, Francis steadily made news by pushing his vision for the church despite the challenges.

1. Pope Francis strengthens his position inside the Vatican and beyond
For much the first 10 years as pontiff, Pope Francis lived in the shadow of the previous pope living inside the Vatican. With Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral on 5th January, Francis was finally able to move past the Benedict era, cementing his legacy while eliminating opposition in and outside the Vatican.

In early January, papal critic Cardinal George Pell died in a Roman hospital due to complications from hip replacement surgery. Pell had issued memos to fellow prelates calling Francis’ pontificate “a catastrophe.”

In June, Francis sent a delegation to investigate the diocese of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, a vocal opponent of Francis’ pontificate, and in August rapped his American conservative critics for, he said, replacing faith with ideology. By November, Strickland had been fired from his post, and soon after the Pope removed Cardinal Raymond Burke, who had replaced Pell as the de facto leader of conservative opposition, from his Vatican apartment and took away the cardinal’s stipend.

The Pope also solidified his position at the Vatican by appointing a close friend and fellow Argentine, Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernández, to lead the Discastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. Francis later made Fernández a cardinal, along with 20 others. The Pope has now appointed a majority of the cardinals who will elect his successor.

Pope Francis adjusts his skull cap at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican, on Wednesday, 15th March, 2023
Pope Francis adjusts his skullcap at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on 15th March, 2023. Francis passed his 10th anniversary as Pope on 13th March.


2. The Synod on Synodality shows a new way to govern the church
The month of October saw a major summit of Catholic bishops and lay individuals at the Vatican, called the Synod on Synodality, convened by Francis to address issues raised by worldwide listening sessions in local dioceses. The gathering considered questions ranging from LGBTQ inclusion to female ordination to church structure.

Ahead of the summit, in April, Francis made an unprecedented decision to allow lay Catholics, including women, to have a vote at the synod. Its lively discussions were for the most part kept under wraps at the Pope’s urging, but reports showed that the most time was spent on the roles of women and laypeople.

The final document emerging from the synod did not usher in the sweeping changes some had hoped for – and others had feared. Instead, it suggested that synodality, a way of governing the church through dialogue, was the church’s future. While the Catholic world waits for the second part of the summit, scheduled to take place next fall, it’s up to the Pope to discern and guide its impact.

3. The church moves toward LGBTQ acceptance
Beginning with his famous 2013 response to a question about LGBTQ Catholics – “Who am I to judge?” – Francis has signaled a new acceptance despite church teaching about homosexuality. In an interview with The Associated Press in January, the Pope stated that “being homosexual isn’t a crime.”

A June document summarising the discussions at the synod called for the “radical inclusion” of LGBTQ Catholics, underscoring the importance of this topic to many Catholics around the world. Francis had invited Rev James Martin, a prominent advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the church, to take part in the gathering.

In a written response to a series of questions by five conservative cardinals in October, Francis opened the door for the blessing of same-sex couples. In December, a declaration by the Vatican’s department for doctrine sanctioned priests to bless same-sex and “irregular” couples, provided the practice not resemble a wedding.

In another document by the doctrinal department, the Vatican approved trans individuals for baptism and to act as godparents. A trans community from the outskirts of Rome was invited to join the Pope for his yearly lunch for the poor at the Vatican.

Russian Orthodox clergy and Patriarch Kirill, right side of table, meet with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi and Roman Cathoic delegates at the Patriarchal Residence in Danilov Monastery, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, 29th June, 2023
Russian Orthodox clergy and Patriarch Kirill, right side of table, meet with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi and Roman Catholic delegates at the patriarchal residence in Danilov Monastery, in Moscow, on 29th June, 2023.

4. A Pope between two wars
Francis has been active in his efforts to promote peace in Ukraine and the Holy Land. In May, he appointed the president of the Italian bishops conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to act as peace envoy in Ukraine. The cardinal visited Kyiv, Moscow, Washington and Beijing to offer mediation in the conflict and joined with other religious representatives to make an appeal for peace.

But Francis was harshly criticised for praising the imperial past of the tsars while speaking to Russian students in August, and his refusal to assign blame to one side or the other in the Ukraine war caused backlash and frustrated his diplomatic outreach. Meanwhile, his use of the term “terrorism” to describe the activities of both Israel and Hamas in the Middle East was met with anger and dismay by some.

5. The shadow of sexual abuse in the Rupnick case
Rev Marko Rupnik, a Jesuit artist who was expelled from his congregation after credible accusations of sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse of adult women,deeply divided the church and underlined the challenges that remain in the institution’s handling of sex abuse cases. The Diocese of Rome, led by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, had to issue a formal apology for allowing the priest to remain active in his parish despite the accusations against him.

6. A historic sentence for a historic Vatican trial
Closing the year, a Vatican tribunal sentenced nine individuals – including Cardinal Angelo Becciu – with punishments ranging from fines to significant prison time for their various roles in a controversial real estate deal that had cost the Vatican millions. It was the first time a cardinal was tried and convicted of financial crimes in the church, signaling a new era in the Vatican’s financial reform efforts.

Though many of the accused will appeal, the sentences, after a trial that lasted almost three years, were interpreted as a decisive win for the Pope and his reforms of the Vatican’s notoriously corrupt and mismanaged finances.

7. Health scares curb papal visits
In March, Francis was admitted to the hospital for a respiratory infection that caused him to skip liturgical functions and celebrations. In June, Francis underwent a hernia surgery and had to stay at the hospital for nine days. He was sick again in November with an inflammation of the lungs, which kept him from attending the COP28 summit for the environment in Dubai. But despite his ailments, Francis, who turned 87 in December, shows few signs of slowing down.

Complete Article HERE!

Is door opening for women in the Catholic Church?

— Miami woman leading the call has new hope

Ellie Hidalgo, fourth from right, accompanied young adults from the United States traveling to Rome to participate in the public activities of the first general assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality in October 2023.

By Lauren Costantino

For more than a decade, Ellie Hidalgo has been campaigning to expand the role of women in the Catholic Church.

The Miami woman is co-director of a nonprofit, Discerning Deacons, which invites other Catholics to consider ordaining women as deacons — a clergy role that has already been opened to married men. That would allow women for the first time in centuries to preach the Gospel, preside at baptisms, direct charitable services and perform other duties long confined to males.

From her past work, she knows the value women can add to the church. As a pastoral associate at a Jesuit parish near downtown Los Angeles, she worked with immigrant women from Mexico and Central America. In times of need, Hidalgo, who is trained in pastoral theology and fluent in Spanish, was called on to preach, assisting a priest who had trouble communicating with congregants. She’s also met with Catholic indigenous women in the Amazon region of Brazil who are on the front lines of defending human and land rights.

Hildago, who now attends Our Lady of the Divine Providence in Sweetwater, knows her devout Cuban grandmothers would never question why only men could serve pastoral roles. But that’s definitely not the case in conversations with her own nieces — they want to hear someone with “their own lived experience, from somebody who’s a sister or a daughter or a mother.“

Now, for the first time in years, Hidalgo can envision a day when the church might actually open some leadership doors to women.

Her hope springs from attending the Synod of Bishops, a monthlong assembly of church leaders in Rome that can shape future policy for the Catholic Church. The question of involving women in church leadership was widely discussed during the October gatherings, with a culminating report sending favorable signals for lifting some gender barriers in the future.

Although no concrete decisions were made this year, the tenor of discussions encouraged Hildago and others who share her goal for a more inclusive church. On the issue of ordaining women as deacons, the report called for continued research and discussion to be taken up at next year’s session.

“We were very pleased that that made it in there,” Hidalgo said. “It’s a very big step forward.”

The synod included 480 members appointed by Pope Francis from all continents. They participated in a process the church calls “conversations in the spirit.” It involved listening, praying and drawing up recommendations for the pope.

“What is the Holy Spirit asking of the church in the third millennium? What are the needs?” said Hidalgo. “In these times where we see a lot of profound woundedness in the world, more wars, and famine and drought and tons of migration — these were some of the topics that were being taken up. What is causing all that and how is the church to respond?”

Synod signals a possible shift

A synthesis report released by the pope appears to reflect a significant shift in centuries of resistance to putting women in leadership roles: “It is urgent to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry.”

Along with considering making women deacons, other proposals called for the expansion of theological study and seminary programs to women. The report also said cases of labor injustice within the church need to be addressed, as women “are too often treated as cheap labour.” It also proposes expanding the responsibilities of a lector — someone who reads Scriptures during Mass — “to become a fuller ministry in the Word of God,” which in some contexts could include a woman preaching.

The role of women in the church has long been a divisive issue. But Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said that on many fronts, voting delegates agreed. Every paragraph included in the report must be approved by at least two-thirds of voting members — meaning the majority felt strongly about expanding women’s roles.

“There were many points of convergence – and so the Synod participants were not as divided as some looking in from the outside imagine,” Wenski wrote in an email to the Herald.

He said that many of the proposals involving women are already implemented in the United States.

“Our seminaries have women teaching on their faculties, some are involved in supervising seminarians in the pastoral assignments,” he said. “And they vote as other faculty members do … Our chanceries and our parishes do have women in roles of great responsibilities.”

The synod report also touched — often cautiously — on other lightning-rod issues, including immigration crises across the globe.

“In the face of increasingly hostile attitudes toward migrants, we are called to practice an open welcome, to accompany them in the construction of a new life and to build a true intercultural communion among peoples,” the report read.

There was a call to “to eradicate the sin of racism,” including within the church, though not much detail was given on how to do it.

And although there were discussions about LGBTQ people — Jesuit priest Father James Martin, for instance, was chosen as a synod delegate because of his commitment ministering LGBTQ Catholics — there were no official recommendations in the report.

Synod firsts for women

Still, the changes in this synod were significant. While past meetings consisted of solely bishops and cardinals, this year’s participants included priests, deacons, religious women and men, laymen and women and three young adults — the youngest was a 19-year-old student from the University of Wyoming. Out of the 363 voting members, 54 were women, a first in synod history.

“One of Pope Francis’ strong beliefs, and a belief of the synod process, is that the Holy Spirit can speak through anyone,” Hidalgo said. “We know that when Jesus chose his apostles, he didn’t go to the people you would expect. He went to fisherman.”

To ensure synod members heard each other’s perspectives, delegates were seated at round tables composed of clergy and lay people — a stark difference from the usual theater-style set-up more akin to lectures than discussions.

The changes reflected a papal mission to create a more unified church.

“Why do I insist on this?” Pope Francis said in 2021. “Because sometimes there can be a certain elitism … the priest ultimately becomes more a ‘landlord’ than a pastor of a whole community as it moves forward.”

Leading up to the assembly, millions of Catholics also participated in meetings at local parishes, praying together and discussing issues. It was the first time during a Synod of Bishops that everyone on all levels of the church was asked to participate.

In Miami’s listening sessions, people were concerned about declining membership, young people becoming less engaged in their faith and the lingering fallout of past clergy abuse scandals. Many wanted clearer answers on controversial issues that have divided the church.

There was positive feedback, too: the church providing a sense of belonging, admiration for priests dedicated to their mission and appreciation for the church’s ongoing commitment to charitable causes.

“Our own synodal process here locally has helped us look to the future with great hope,” Archbishop Wenski said. ‘”The Church in Miami is alive – we are concerned about many of the same issues that concerned the Synod members in Rome, but like them we acknowledge that God is in charge and we want to follow the Spirit’s lead.”

‘There is room for everyone’

Although Hidalgo was not a synod delegate, she traveled to Rome for associated public activities, spending a lot of time listening to the group of young adults who traveled with her organization.

“Young people I have listened to worry about their LGBTQ friends and family members, their divorced and remarried parents, the poor, migrants who face a hostile welcome, war-torn places, and our common home, the natural world,” she said. “They also want women to have more of a voice and to be at decision-making tables.”

At the opening Mass of the Synod in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Hidalgo and the group of young adults donned T-shirts that read “En la iglesia hay lugar para todos!” It’s a reference to World Youth Day in Portugal when Pope Francis told the youth in Spanish, “In the Church there is room for everyone. Everyone, everyone, everyone.”

The words resonated with the 20-to 30-year-old Catholics, she said. They understand the struggles of those who feel like they don’t belong. In Rome, they listened to Pope Francis share this same message during his homily, this time in Italian.

“Come, you who are weary and oppressed, come, you who have lost your way or feel far away, come, you who have closed the doors to hope: the Church is here for you! The doors of the Church are open to everyone, everyone, everyone!”

Every Saturday night during the month-long synod, thousands of people gathered for a rosary prayer. The war between Israel and Hamas was top of mind for attendees, and the mood was somber, Hidalgo said. The bombing and mounting human deaths a reminder of the problems plaguing the world around them.

“We realized there’s so much at stake, not just for the church, but for the world. Our ability to figure out how to be peacemakers and how to resolve conflicts, and how to be able to dialogue about very difficult problems. Human lives are at stake.”

Complete Article HERE!

After global summit, Pope Francis injects synodality into Vatican theology

by Religion News Service

After a massive consultation of Catholics around the world and a Vatican summit to discuss the future of the church, Pope Francis has directed theologians to tread new paths, shift paradigms and embrace synodality.

In a decree issued Nov. 1, Pope Francis challenged the Pontifical Theological Academy — the body tasked with instructing Catholic theologians — to embrace an evolving theology that cannot be limited to “abstractly rehashing formulas and patterns from the past.”

“A synodal, missional and ‘outgoing’ church can only correspond to an ‘outgoing’ theology,” Francis wrote in the decree, also known as a motu proprio. “Theological reflections are hence called to a turning point, a paradigm shift, ‘a brave cultural revolution,’” the pope added, emphasizing such a theology must meet people in the concrete reality of their lives, culture and environment.

According to the theologian Leonardo Paris, who teaches philosophy at the Romano Guardini Institute of Religious Sciences, the new papal bull is asking theologians to help realize Francis’ vision for a church that is open to today’s realities.

“In the document we can see that the pope is aware of the need for theological tools that will ensure that synodality, and new questions that arise, are properly addressed,” Paris told Religion News Service on Tuesday (Nov. 7).

Pope Francis recently concluded the so-called Synod on Synodality, a monthlong (Oct. 4-29) gathering of Catholic bishops and lay Catholic faithful at the Vatican to discuss some of the most hot-button issues in the church. The lively conversations that occurred touched on LGBTQ inclusion, female ordination and the possibility of married priesthood, as laid out in a synthesis document published Oct. 28.

On many issues the synthesis called for continued study by experts and theologians, taking into account other disciplines, including science and psychology. Specifically, on the issue of whether women can be ordained deacons — who can preach at Mass but not hear confessions or celebrate the Eucharist — the synod assembly called for more theological research ahead of their next meeting in the fall of 2024.

In an interview with the Italian news channel TG1, Francis asked for a theology that could recognize that “the power of the Woman Church and of women in the church is greater and more important than that of male ministers. Mary is more important than Peter, because the Church is woman.” This aspect cannot be reduced to a simple question of ordination, the pope stated.

“I think the pope is being sincere,” Paris said. “It’s a complicated issue and the pope wants to offer an answer that isn’t simply cultural or emotional, but also theological.”

Pope Francis’ approach to theology has evolved over the years. When he was an archbishop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he criticized theologians for being more concerned with abstract ideas than the real lives of people. In his 10 years as pope, Francis has often remarked that the “pueblo fiel,” Spanish for the faithful, have an infallible intuition on Catholic teaching.

Pope Francis delivers a blessing during the Angelus noon prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.

“To know what to believe one must look to the authority, but to know how to believe one must look to the faithful,” explained Massimo Borghesi, a philosopher at the University of Perugia and author of “The Mind of Pope Francis: Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s Intellectual Journey.”

According to Pope Francis, when authority becomes separated from the faith of the people it falls into clericalism, the belief that clergy hold a higher status within the church. “The church breathes through two lungs, the institution and charisms, the people and the authority,” Borghesi said, laying out the pope’s views.

Francis’ answer to the separation between the hierarchy and the faithful is synodality — an openness to dialogue and encounter with those of differing experiences and perspectives — which he is attempting to inject into every aspect of the church, including theology.

Theology is called to be “a transcendent knowledge, which is at the same time attentive to the voice of the people, hence a ‘popular theology,’” Francis wrote in his decree. To do this, theologians must embrace dialogue with different traditions and religions, “openly engaging with everyone, believers and non-believers,” he added.

This is nothing new, according to Paris, who said this understanding of theology was already enshrined in “Lumen Gentium,” Latin for “Light of Nations,” the final document emerging from the Second Vatican Council in 1964. “Following the council, this is the direction that theology has undertaken, or at least attempted to,” he said.

Of course, he added, engaging with literature is easier for theologians than engaging with highly specialized sciences. “Understanding quantum mechanics is not exactly a walk in the park,” Paris said.

There is some pushback against Francis’ vision for a “theologian who smells of the flock,” Paris admitted. “Lately in the church there is a polarization that seems to suggest that engaging in contextual dialogue is something new,” he said, pointing to “theological, but also ideological and cultural tensions.”

In the interview, Pope Francis criticized reactionaries “who don’t accept that the church moves forward.” Instead, the church must grow “like the fruit of the tree, but always attached to its roots,” the pope said.

Francis has often quoted fifth-century St. Vincent of Lérins, who laid out a vision for the harmonious development of Catholic teaching that is “consolidated through the years, developed over time, refined by age.” On the death penalty, on slavery and even on atomic weapons, doctrine has changed, the pope said, suggesting there is no reason why it shouldn’t change some more.