The Media’s Fictional Francis | John Paul Shimek | CWR
In the year since his election to the papacy, Pope Francis has received many accolades and honors. But will this acclaim further his efforts in the New Evangelization, or hinder them?
Last week, La Stampa’s Vatican Insider reported that Pope Francis has been nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. According to the news brief, other nominees include Vladimir Putin, Edward Snowden, and Malala Yousafzai. While the Norwegian Nobel Committee holds the details of nominations in secret for five decades after their submission, the committee did announce that 2014 saw the greatest number of candidates to date. In fact, the names of 278 candidates were forwarded to the committee for consideration, including the names of 47 organizations, topping the previous record of 259 nominations submitted last year. The winner will be announced in October.
While the nomination is itself an honor for Pope Francis, as well as for the universal Church, could winning the Nobel Peace Prize occasion an even higher level of misunderstanding about the Latin American pontiff’s principles and positions? Put another way, do such prizes provide platforms for the New Evangelization—something Francis has discussed often and at length—or do they further confuse both Catholics and others about the goals and priorities of the Holy Father?
In considering these questions, one needs to think about the larger context of the nomination. If Pope Francis’ Nobel nomination meets with success, the accolade will be added to a list of other honors. In 2013, Pope Francis was named Time’s“Person of the Year,” The Advocate’s “Person of the Year,” and Esquire’s “Best Dressed Man of the Year.” When Time announced its selection, it referenced Pope Francis’ humble, simple, and principled approach to papal politics, noting his willingness to work toward the reform of the Church. Howard Chua-Eoan, Time news director, and Elizabeth Dias, Time reporter on religion and politics, explained that Pope Francis “took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing,” adding that the “septuagenarian superstar is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century.”
To be sure, Time’s explanation is grounded in fact. Pope Francis has been working to bring reform to the Roman Curia. Prior to the papal election last spring, cardinals discussed the need to transform the Vatican’s central office structure. During pre-conclave general congregations, many cardinals expressed the need to make the Roman Curia less like a network of bureaucratic offices and more like the pope’s helping hand in the cause of the New Evangelization. The discussion resulted in concrete measures. Following his election on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis appointed an eight-member Council of Cardinal Advisers. In recent months, the Pontiff has introduced reforms of the Institute of Religious Works—the so-called Vatican Bank—and in just the last several weeks he has announced the creation of an economic secretariat to manage the Holy See’s assets with transparency and efficiency.
However, over the course of the past year, papal words and actions have been interpreted in wildly different ways, sometimes occasioning confusion about the direction in which the Pope wants to take the Church.