Grace Urankar, Staff Writer

Theologians Discuss Pope’s Recent Remarks, Legacy

Notre Dame’s Campus Ministry hosted a panel discussion on October 8 entitled, “What Did He Just Say?!  Pope Francis Unfiltered.”  The discussion addressed the Pope’s recent interview, which was  published in Jesuit magazines on September 19.

Brett Perkins, Campus Ministry’s Assistant Director for Sacramental Preparation, explained he witnessed “a lot of clamor” at the article’s release, particularly because of soundbite-driven responses by news outlets.  “People came to me and asked if the Church was changing its positions.  There was a lot of misinformation—we wanted to provide the opportunity for clarification,” said Perkins.

“We wanted to encourage people to actually read [the article],” added Bree Haler, Assistant Director for Evangelization.  “Those who had could unpack it with experts.”

Panelists included Reverend Brian Daley, SJ, professor of theology; Kathleen Cummings, Director of the Cushwa Center for American Catholicism; and Tim O’Malley, Director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.

Rev. Daley was in Rome for the conclave and the election of José Mario Bergoglio as Bishop of Rome.  In a room with other Jesuits, he did not recall cheers, but rather “stunned silence,” noting that “Jesuits are brought up thinking that there will never be a Jesuit pope!”

Rev. Daley shared that Francis’ self-identification as a sinner at the opening of the interview is in line with the Ignatian spiritual exercises, where one must begin by acknowledging one’s sins.  He also noted that Francis is hesitant about academia and intellectuals, unlike his predecessor Benedict.  This and other factors contribute to a general “change in style” within the new papacy.

Cummings found the interview to be “inspiring,” and often refers back to the article in personal prayer.  However, she highlighted an important misstep in the translation of the English edition: two sentences from Francis’ discussion on women were accidentally eliminated.  Cummings argued that those two sentences gave a more positive interpretation of the pope’s vision for women in the church.

O’Malley was particularly drawn to Francis’ discussion of the “healing of the wounds.”  He understood Francis to be “uninterested in proclaiming dogmatic dictums”—instead, the Church should “use them for healing.”  He found the pope’s illustration of the Church as field hospital to be “fascinating” and “something to explore.”

O’Malley interpreted Francis’ discussion of the value of art to affirm the liberal arts education, “where we discover what it means to be human.”  Finally, O’Malley realistically noted that “interviews don’t renew the Church”—rather, we must use Francis’ words as motivation to “go to the margins” of our communities to reach others.  According to O’Malley, “the renewal of the Church for Francis is the renewal of humanity.”

All of the panelists were optimistic about Francis’ papacy.  Rev. Daley noted that “it is an exciting time in the Catholic Church,” where “things develop rapidly without any clear idea of where they’re going.”  However, he hopes to see Francis’ media storm subside soon, quipping that “someone needs to tell him, ‘why don’t you cool it, Holy Father?’”  Cummings emphasized the pope’s call for a “more profound theology of women” as a new openness to dialogue and collaboration.  When asked about any mistakes that might be made by the pontiff, O’Malley responded, “I’m not afraid of the mistakes, simply because I know they will come.”

Attendees were drawn to the event from a number of sources.  Thom Behrens, a sophomore studying computer engineering, found out about the event on Facebook.  “I remembered liking other people’s Facebook statuses when the article came out,” he said, and was interested to learn more.

“I was impressed by the pope’s interview and surprised to see such a lengthy dialogue,” said Christopher Lushis, Hall Director and Campus Ministry Associate at Holy Cross College.  “I enjoyed following the comments online, but I wanted to see what other people in the Church are saying.”

During the question-and-answer portion, Lushis asked about Francis’ comments about the Latin Mass.  Through the presentation, Lushis gained a better understanding of the connection between the pope and his predecessor, Benedict XVI: “Though at different times, they were saying the same thing—that Jesus Christ must be at the center of our religion.”

Others in attendance found the faculty’s comments to be very insightful.  “I liked what Tim [O’Malley] said about going to the margins of the Church,” Behrens said.  “The Church grows through individual members rather than through the institution.”

“It’s about being more active where you are rather than waiting for the Church to change something,” agreed Calla Couch, a senior sociology student at Indiana University-South Bend.

Perkins highlighted that this event marks a turning point in Campus Ministry, where the office responds promptly to current events in the Church.  “We will have more [events like this one] going forward,” said Perkins, prioritizing “how people can bring their faith to life.”

Haler reiterated this goal of Campus Ministry to form people in the faith, and then invite them to go forth.  “It’s a priority for Francis, too,” she concluded.

Grace Urankar is a senior Religious Studies major at Saint Mary’s College.  Like Pope Francis, she likes to listen to Wagner, but not all the time.  Discover more of her musical tastes or similarities with the Holy Father by contacting