Ever since Pope Francis, the first Latin American Pope, was elected, Protestants everywhere have been turning their ears and eyes to the Vatican to see what exactly was going to happen, and for good reason, too. This is the first pope EVER who wasn’t some European white guy, the first pope to wash the feet of female Muslim prisoners at Easter (far as I know), and the second pope to launch a calculated offensive against the corruption in the Vatican Bank. He also says some crazy things, like, “if someone is gay and seeking the Lord, who am I to judge?”
Naturally, he has my attention as well.
Now, I’m sure you all know by now I’m not a Catholic. I don’t think Jesus likes hierarchy, I believe in a universal priesthood (including women preachers), and I don’t think any human being can say anything that’s infallible (sorry, human nature sucks!). All the same, between my deep love of liberation theology (yeah, I said it) and Francis’ very audacity to acknowledge God’s preference for the poor in the face of a very, very rich and exploitative RCC government have my interests piqued to say the least. So when my beloved Speak Easy friends send me an email about an entire book that some ex-Dominican turned Episcopalian priest has written direct at the new pope, how could I possibly refuse the opportunity to hear what they have to say?
Matthew Fox, the aforementioned Episcopalian priest, has a pretty rough history with the RCC, particularly cardinal-turned Pope Josef Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), mostly because of his theology known as creation spirituality, which draws heavily from Catholic mystics as well as other religious traditions (he’s also been likened to a 21st century Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). Ratzinger didn’t care for his rejection of original sin and “deep ecumenism,” so he suspended him for year, then kicked him out of the Dominican order.
Anyway, Letters to Pope Francis is written in the same vein as some other theological texts of this nature (Letters to an American Lady, Letters to a Young Evangelical, Letters to a Young Calvinist, etc.), meant to encourage the recipient in a personal way with applicable truths throughout the letters enclosed. The difference here, though, is they’re written to an established authority figure (though Fox treats Francis like an equal in this text), encouraging him to 1) continue in the projects he’s undertaken (rooting out corruption, care for the poor, etc.) and 2) to take up new problems that have plagued the church for centures (oppression of women, priest pedophilia, exclusion of LGBT brothers and sisters, etc.). Fox’s dominant call is for church overhaul in all these areas and others, and he calls on Pope Francis’ name sake, St. Francis of Assisi.
I think I most enjoyed Fox’s encouraging tone toward Francis. Most people critical of the church, especially the RCC, are quick to point out faults and shortcomings in leadership, but Fox spends more time encouraging Francis to live up to the name he’s chosen, especially in areas where Francis has made some great leaps and bounds. He’s never shy about pointing Francis to other areas that need the new Pope’s attention, but he does so in a loving way, as if to say that Francis is well on his way to fixing these issues and has the ability to bring the church back to what Jesus envisioned for her.
The one criticism I have to offer here is how often Fox plugs Creation Spirituality. I’m all for people acting as apologists for their theology, but there were a couple chapters where I think Fox spent more time extolling CS’ greatness rather than talking about issues Francis would be up against in the papacy. This isn’t to say I don’t think CS has anything to offer the RCC…I just think it would have been ink better spent encouraging/critiquing Pope Francis and the papacy.
Definitely an interesting read. Go check it out!