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From John L Allen on the Francis Revolution, who should not I think be slammed because of his association with NCR. He is VERY different from the rest of their stuff. Some white space and bold added.

Francis as Deng Xiaoping

Since we're already talking geopolitics, I'll hazard an analogy from world affairs for grasping the nature of the Francis revolution in Catholicism.

The collapse of communism in the late 20th century illustrates two different ways revolutions can unfold. In Europe, the system came down suddenly and dramatically, driven by massive popular uprisings and the sudden construction of a new political order.

In China, the transition has been more subtle and piecemeal, leaving the old apparatus largely intact, but the result is similar. Marxism as the basis of social life is basically dead and buried, replaced by a frenzy of buying and selling.

The contrast comes to mind in light of the popular tendency these days to wonder when Francis' revolution is going to begin -- when the dazzling new tone set by this pope will be matched by equally dramatic changes in structures and policies. (The recent arrival of the new Secretary of State, Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, after recovering from a surgery has set off another bout of speculation.)

The assumption seems to be that Francis is destined to follow the European model, wiping away the past in a single cataclysm.

What if, however, he's more Deng Xiaoping than Václav Havel, revolutionizing things in pieces rather than one fell swoop?

If so, two such pieces may have fallen into place this week.

On Tuesday, Francis named Mariano Crociata, formerly the secretary of the Italian bishops' conference (CEI), as the new bishop of the diocese of Latina.

It raised eyebrows in church circles because the last four secretaries of CEI were all named to major archdioceses that put them in line to become princes of the church and heavy-hitters of the first order -- Cardinals Camillo Ruini, Dionigi Tettamanzi, Ennio Antonelli and Giuseppe Betori. (If you don't know those names, you haven't been paying attention.)

Francis also has made it clear he'd like to change the statutes for CEI to allow the bishops to choose their own president and secretary rather than being the only conference in the world where those jobs are assigned directly by the pope.

Taken together, these are moves away from careerism -- with Crociata, Francis has signaled that serving as secretary of a bishops' conference is no guarantee of a cardinal's red hat -- and toward greater collegiality.

Given that CEI is the largest and arguably most important bishops' conference in the world, rivaling if not surpassing the Germans' and the Americans', these two bits of reform carry some real weight.

Also on Tuesday, the Vatican released a motu proprio, or legal document, from Francis regarding the Financial Information Authority (known as "AIF"), a watchdog unit erected by Benedict XVI in 2010, along with a communique from the government of the Vatican City State.

The new AIF law allows its president to be a layperson rather than a cardinal, specifying only that the chief executive should be "chosen among people of proven honor, without conflicts of interest and with recognized competence in the juridical, economic, financial fields."

The motu proprio creates two branches within AIF, one for financial information and the other for vigilance and regulation, reflecting an enhanced set of powers for the watchdog unit, enabling it not merely to track transactions but also to approve and monitor anyone wanting to do business with the Vatican.

The communique from the City State, one of the Vatican's most significant financial operations, says Ernst and Young has been hired to conduct an assessment of its operations and will provide the results to an eight-member commission erected by Francis to study the Vatican's economic and administrative structures.

Notably, only one member of that group is a cleric, and it's led by a lay Maltese economist.

In tandem, the motu proprio and communique represent concrete moves toward greater reliance on lay expertise and greater financial accountability.

Perhaps it's time to stop wondering when the revolution will get here, in other words, and start watching it unfold.


To me, the more interesting part of the article was about the Pope's dealing with witchcraft:

From article Wrote:If the NCR website could be rigged to flash a red alert upon opening a link, I'd probably suggest one for the following segment of this column, because it comes close to naked self-congratulation. To take the edge off, let me note that the prophecy I describe below hasn't come true in quite the way I forecasted, though it's probably close enough for government work.

In my 2009 book The Future Church, I included a section on the powerful hold that witchcraft and the occult has on the popular religious imagination across much of the world, and wrote the following lines: "It does not tax the imagination to picture a future pope from the global South issuing an encyclical presenting Jesus Christ as the definitive answer to the 'spirits of this world' ... A document from the Vatican along these lines would arguably stand a better chance of finding an audience at the global Catholic grassroots than virtually any other subject that Western theological elites might desire a future pope to address."

Flash forward to last Sunday, Nov. 17, with the first pope from the developing world delivering his usual Sunday Angelus address.

That day, Francis took the unusual step of handing out a door prize to the crowd in St. Peter's Square -- a small prayer card designed to look like a medical prescription one might pick up at a pharmacy. It carries an image of a heart, evoking the Sacred Heart of Christ, surrounded by thorns under the heading Misericordina, or "little mercy." The instructions for the prayer come in Italian, English, Polish and Spanish and are inspired by the Divine Mercy devotion of Polish St. Faustina Kowalska.

In recommending the prayer for wide use, Francis referred to the prayer as a form of spiritual medicine useful for "prevention against the false saviors, the would-be saints, [and] the magicians and the witches of the world."

The effectiveness of the cure, Francis said, is guaranteed by the words of Jesus. He asked the crowd in St. Peter's Square to spread the prayer cards "everywhere," quipping that he recommends the cure even though "the pope is not a pharmacist." (As a biographical point, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio studied chemistry before opting for the priesthood.)

As a veteran churchman from the developing world, Francis knows that the pull of witchcraft and other occult practices is no laughing matter.

In Nigeria in 2007, an elderly woman was beheaded after being accused of placing a member of another tribe under a curse. Her murder triggered a spate of killing that left 80 dead. In the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico in 2005, a mob severely beat six people, suspecting them of casting spells. In Kokrajhar in India, five members of two families were killed in August 2006, accused of issuing curses that had caused several locals to come down with viral fever and jaundice. One elderly couple was hacked to death with machetes and spears.

In that light, offering the spiritual traditions of the church as an antidote makes perfect pastoral sense, however quaint or puzzling it might seem to a certain Western sensibility.

One of Italy's leading sociologists of religion, Massimo Introvigne, offered this take on the pope's gesture: "Bergoglio does not allow himself to be entrapped by the outdated distinction between progressives and conservatives," he said. "He's promoting the popular religiosity to which he was devoted in Argentina."

Granted, a prayer card isn't quite the encyclical I predicted four years ago. But still, given that I once forecast Joseph Ratzinger would never be elected to the papacy, I finally feel like I got something right.

A footnote: The prayer cards were recommended to Francis by Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, a former official in the Master of Ceremonies office who was recently named the Papal Almoner, responsible for the pontiff's personal charitable initiatives. Francis picked Krajewski in part because of his reputation for strolling the Via della Conciliazione at night after work, making sure the homeless people who take shelter along the broad street leading up to St. Peter's Square were OK.

It's a further reminder that only to a secular Western mind would taking care of the poor and fighting spiritual battles against witchcraft seem an odd combination. For Francis and the kind of people he wants around him, they go together like peaches and cream because they both speak to the real concerns of ordinary people all over the world. 

And more interesting than that are the comments in the comments section. How utterly sad and scary that there are people out there who think that way and who still consider themselves "Catholic" and who are allowed to get away with what they do -- inside the structures.