by Sandro Magister
Outside of Argentina, very little had been published about Jorge Mario Bergoglio before his election as pope.
But now the translations of his writings, speeches, interviews are multiplying rapidly. And they are helping to make less surprising the actions of Pope Francis.
The following are some of these “surprises" small and large, which however no longer appear as such in the light of his autobiography, published in 2010 in Argentina in the book-length interview by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, entitled "El Jesuita," now on sale in other countries as well, including Italy.
A POPE WHO NEVER SINGS
It is true, Pope Francis loves to listen to music but does not sing, neither during solemn Masses nor in imparting the blessing. It is said that the Jesuits “non rubricant nec cantant," meaning that they do not love ceremonies or singing. But the explanation is simpler than that.
At the age of 21 he came down with a severe case of pneumonia and “three cysts were removed along with the upper portion of his right lung. That experience left him with a pulmonary deficiency that, while not influencing him significantly, makes him feel his own human limitation.”
Therefore he does not sing simply because he does not have sufficient breath to do so, as can also be intuited from how he speaks, with short breaths and in a subdued voice. In any case he has confessed: “I am completely tone deaf.”
A POPE WHO SPEAKS ONLY IN ITALIAN
In effect he speaks Italian well. And he also understands the Piedmontese dialect of his family of origin. But “as far as the other languages are concerned,” he admits in his autobiography, “I must say that I used to speak them but do not speak them, because of lack of practice. I used to speak French fairly well, and I got along in German. What has always caused the most problems for me has been English, especially the phonetics.”
The fact remains that, in refusing to speak in languages other than Italian, Bergoglio seems to have decided to sacrifice - in public - even his mother tongue, Spanish.
On Easter he even declined to give the greetings in 65 languages unfailingly recited by his predecessor pontiffs.
A POPE WHO WANTS TO DO EVERYTHING HIMSELF
At the Vatican he has had to take a secretary out of necessity, the Maltese Alfred Xuereb, formerly the second assistant to Benedict XVI. In Buenos Aires he also had a secretary, but he managed all of his own appointments, marking them out for himself in a pocket-sized organizer, which, he said, “it would be a true disaster to lose.”
He had a desk, “small but very well organized.” And his schedule was also organized: five hours of sleep at night, lights out at 11 pm, out of bed at 4 am “with no need for an alarm clock,” after lunch “a forty-minute nap.” He knows how to cook. He likes to listen to music and read, especially the classics of literature. He gets the news from the newspaper. He has never used the internet, not even for e-mail.
A POPE WHO DOES NOT WANT TO BE CALLED "POPE"
This has been noted about him. Bergoglio prefers for himself the simple title of “bishop of Rome,” and is silent about his power as head of the universal Church, in spite of the fact that this power has been confirmed very forcefully by Vatican Council II.
His autobiography states:
"When a pope or a teacher must say 'I am in charge here,' or 'I am the superior here,' it is because he has already lost authority and is seeking to attribute it to himself with words. Saying that one has the staff of command implies that one no longer has it. Having the staff of command does not mean giving orders and imposing, but serving.”
That is, it seems that Bergoglio does not want to proclaim but to exercise his supreme power as successor of Peter.
A POPE WHO DECIDES EVERYTHING HIMSELF
He also said in his autobiographical interview:
"I confess that in general, through the fault of my temperament, the first solution that comes to my mind is the wrong one. Because of this I have learned to distrust my first reaction. Once I am more tranquil, after I have passed through the crucible of solitude, I draw near to that which I must do. But no one can save me from the solitude of decisions. One can ask for advice but, in the end, one must decide alone.”
In practical action, it is in short to be expected that with Francis the decisional primacy of the pope will not be undermined, not even with a future more collegial body of Church governance.
A POPE WHO DODGES ISSUES OF CONFLICT
In effect, in the discourses and homilies from the beginning of his pontificate, Bergoglio has so far avoided touching upon the questions that see the Church most set against worldly powers.
In the discourse to the diplomatic corps he remained silent about the threats to religious freedom, just as in his other statements he has avoided any reference to the critical areas of birth, death, the family.
But in his autobiographical interview, Bergoglio recalls that Benedict XVI also decided to remain silent on one occasion:
"When Benedict XVI went to Spain in 2006, everyone thought that he would criticize the government of Rodriguez Zapatero because of its divergences with the Catholic Church on various issues. Someone even asked him if he had addressed the issue of homosexual marriage with the Spanish authorities. But the pope said no, he had only spoken about positive things and the rest would come later. He wanted to suggest that first of all one must emphasize the positive things, those that unite us, and not the negative ones that serve only to divide. The priority must be given to the encounter among persons, to making the journey together. In this way, afterward it will be easier to tackle the differences."
In another passage of the interview, Bergoglio criticizes those homilies “which should be 'kerygmatic' but end up speaking about everything that has a connection with sex. This can be done, this cannot be done. This is wrong, this is not. And so we end up forgetting the treasure of Jesus alive, the treasure of the Holy Spirit present in our hearts, the treasure of a project of Christian life that has many implications that go much further than mere sexual questions. We overlook a very rich catechesis, with the mysteries of the faith, the creed, and we end up concentrating on whether or not to participate in a demonstration against a draft law in favor of the use of condoms.”
"I am sincerely convinced that, at the present time, the fundamental choice that the Church must make is not that of diminishing or taking away precepts, of making this or that easier, but of going into the street in search of the people, of knowing persons by name. And not only because going to proclaim the Gospel is its mission, but because if it does not do so it harms itself. It is obvious that if one goes into the street it can also happen that one has an accident, but I prefer a thousand times over an accident-ridden Church to a sick Church."