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WOUNDED SHEPHERD by Austen Ivereigh


Pope Francis and His Struggle To Convert the Catholic Church

by Austen Ivereigh

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-250-11938-4
Publisher: Henry Holt

A praiseful portrait of Pope Francis.

British journalist Ivereigh (Fellow, Contemporary Church History/Campion Hall, Univ. of Oxford; The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, 2014) presents a hagiographic biography of the Francis papacy to date. In a detailed study packed with insider tidbits, the author examines various overarching issues that have affected and defined the Francis era. In addition to the inescapable issue of priestly abuse, Ivereigh also discusses such topics as Vatican finances, rehabilitation of divorced Catholics, human rights crises, and gender and sexuality controversies. An overarching theme is the problem of clericalism, which the author defines as “the perverse idea that clerics of any sort—bishops, priests, consecrated persons—are superior to non-clerics, who are treated as inferiors.” Clericalism, writes Ivereigh, has pervaded Catholicism for years and tainted it in countless ways, leading to many of the problems the church faces today. Whereas clericalism leads to a distance from those the church is meant to love, Francis is consistent in promoting “closeness” in every possible way. Ivereigh presents Francis as a nearly flawless figure, “an old Jesuit spiritual master” with “native cunning” who “truly imitates Christ.” The closest the author comes to criticizing Francis is in the chapter on the abuse crisis, in which he admits that Francis made certain missteps in his handling of specific cases. Francis’ critics, on the other hand, are “Pharisaical” examples of “naked legalism.” He even goes so far as to call them “neo-Donatists,” referring to an ancient heresy marked by a lack of mercy. Francis, “the master bridgemaker in an era of angry wall builders,” is presented as standing nearly alone against a moribund church and a misguided world. Ivereigh’s connections with church insiders—connections he does not hesitate to highlight—make for an interesting read. His lack of objectivity, however, detracts from an otherwise intriguing study.

A good read for Francis devotees but far from unbiased journalism.