One of the world’s best-known commentators and authors on the Papacy is John Allen who is Associate Editor of the Boston Globe newspaper specializing in the Vatican and the Catholic Church. Susy Hodges spoke to him about the Pope's first year.
Asked what he believes is the most significant aspect of Pope Francis’ first year in office, Allen says he believes “the most significant point is that he’s accomplished far more than most of us could have reasonably expected … both in terms of style and in terms of sustenance.” “He’s invigorated the Church at the grass roots level” but as Allen goes on to point out, Pope Francis has also notched up some more concrete achievements. He says these include the Pope’s “deep structural reforms such as his most recent decision to create a new Secretariat for the Economy in the Vatican to impose fiscal discipline.”
But could there be too many unrealistic expectations surrounding Pope Francis and what reforms he is planning? Allen agrees that in some quarters there are “over-heated” and unrealistic expectations, especially concerning doctrinal issues. “If there is an expectation that Pope Francis will radically change the doctrine of the Catholic Church, it is destined to be disappointed.”
Allen goes on to say that in his view “the fundamental change” that is occurring during Francis’ papacy is that he’s reviving “the pastoral instinct.” “I think the cornerstone of that is that this is the Pope of mercy, a Pope who profoundly believes that mercy is the most important message that the world needs to hear from the Catholic Church at this time.”
As for the most surprising aspect of Pope Francis’ papacy, Allen says that for him as a long-time Vatican correspondent, it’s “the media’s love affair with this Pope.” He describes the “Pope’s “ability to win over the hearts and minds of the media business as nothing short of astonishing.”
Asked whether he believes Pope Francis has irrevocably changed the papacy, Allen is in no doubt about that, due to “many of the structural reforms” the Pope is promoting that are “intended to make the exercise of the papacy more collegial… to make the Vatican more transparent and accountable…. and to promote a new style of leadership.” Because so many of these reforms are already “institutionalized”, Allen believes Pope Francis “has fundamentally altered the way the powers of the papacy are exercised, not the content of that power, but the way it is exercised.”