The attempt to portray Pope Francis as a cutting edge intellectual is remorseless.

Just when you thought the eleven booklets on ‘The Theology of Pope Francis’ had sunk without trace, they re-emerge as ‘The Theological Seeds of Francis’ – note the less-than-subtle difference.

The books were re-launched at a symposium, called “Theology and Magisterium in the Church with Pope Francis,” on May 8 at the Pontifical Gregorian University. It was, as you might expect, an occasion for sycophantic appreciation of the depth and originality of Francis’s thinking.

But, sotto voce, even the sycophancy had its reservations. “The ease with which the texts and documents of Pope Francis can be read must not fool people or lead them to hurried conclusions,” said Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference. Right on, Walter! But there is something we might otherwise have missed: “His thought is not at all improvised, but the fruit of a deep and lively theological reflection drawn from his experience as a pastor and theologian.”

Others saw the ‘improvisation’ as the beginnings of a revolutionary theological development.  Father Maurizio Gronchi, professor of Christology at the Urbaniana Pontifical University, the impact of Francis’s style could be compared to the 13th century introduction in Italy of the Dolce Stil Nuovo .“Francis’s approach is elliptic”, he went on, “and gravitates around two permanent hearts, the heart of man and the heart of the gospel.”

Recent critics of Francis came in for a blistering attack from Pierangelo Sequeri, one of the curators of the new books and Director of the Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II. “Those who always repeat the same old song don’t honour the revelation,” he said, in a hardly pellucid musical analogy, “but those who think that everything you play is music, are greatly mistaken….The world of ecclesiastical chatter is inhabited by weak nobodies who act as if they are Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventura.”

The last word in all this pretentious tosh must, however, go to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops (who else?):

“Pope Francis is the pope, and when he speaks it’s magisterium,”

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