Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Winds of Change Blowing Over the Vatican
UENO Kagefumi / Professor (non-tenured), Kyorin University

June 17, 2013
Winds of Change Blowing Over the Vatican

UENO Kagefumi Professor (non-tenured), Kyorin University

Two months have passed since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the first Latin American to assume the papacy. The series of processes that took place before and after the ascension of Pope Francis, the 266th head of the Roman Catholic Church, defied conventions, and has already set off a chemical reaction that may eventually turn the tide in the Catholic world.

In March this year, the Papal Conclave astonished the world by entrusting the future of the Catholic Church to the “least Vaticanistic” man from Argentina.

The Catholic Church is said to have two cultures - the “culture of splendor” as exemplified by the Vatican and the “frontier culture” of monks and nuns who have taken the vow of poverty, humility and devotion. And it is largely thanks to the latter that the Church has retained people’s respect over the centuries. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis embodies this latter culture, standing antipodal vis-à-vis the Vatican culture.

Francis, who had for decades stood by the poor people and lived a life of simplicity and humility, has started to introduce “frontier culture” to the Vatican by simplifying the official functions and the papal environments. Together with his personality of preferring direct conversations with people, Francis is generating sympathy within the Catholic world and could change the very culture of the Vatican.

The Vatican is predominantly Euro-centric, giving little say to non-European regions such as the Americas and Asia, which account for three quarters of the world’s Catholic population. The full voice of each continent does not reach the Vatican. Will the new pope from Latin America seek a break from the past to create a pluralistic Catholic Church that better reflects the realities of each continent by attempting to decentralize the existing structure that is yet centralized around Rome? How will he counter those who resist the “de-Europeanizing” process? We should watch closely.

Previous Pope Benedict 16th never visited Asia during his regime, and, besides, Japan has been kept devoid of a cardinal for the past three years. I do hope that Pope Francis, who had once upon a time volunteered to work in Japan, will give proper weight to Japan and Asia. I also expect the Catholic Church of Japan to make an effort to realize a papal visit to Japan.

Besides, the Vatican is plagued with a number of institutional maladies, such as sexual abuses by clergymen, which are characterized by the cover-up mentality and lack of self-corrective capability that are rather common among giant organizations, having thus unnecessarily discredited the Catholics. The fact that a “Vatican outsider” was deliberately chosen to steer the Church is also an indication of the severity of the situation in which the Catholics find themselves. Francis has moved swiftly, selecting eight cardinals to his “Advisory Council,” whose members includes only one from the Vatican bureaucracy, while three were chosen from English- and German-speaking countries where churches are deemed to be more reform-minded. The next important step will be the appointment of a State Secretary, or the No.2 man in the Roman Curia.

In addition, Francis is expected to make vigorous appeals to the entire world. He will impress the world by his presence through the Church’s expanded dialogues with Jews and Islam, and through extending papal messages on such themes as poverty, environment and human rights.

Pope Francis has thus brought with him the winds of change. We will see with endless interest whether he will transform the cultures and traits of the entire Catholic world as his reform of the Vatican gathers full momentum. He will inevitably encounter resistance from the Vatican bureaucracy and the Europeans. However, propelled by typical energy of times of change, Pope Francis is, as an “autocrat” with both authority and absolute power, in a position to make history.

Kagefumi Ueno is a civilizational essayist and former Ambassador to the Holy See. The article first appeared in the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper dated May 16, 2013.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

上野景文 / 杏林大学客員教授

2013年 6月 17日









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