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Pope Signals A New Direction For The Church


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Pope Francis issued what's called an apostolic exhortation this week called The Joy of Gospel. And in his exhortation, he upheld church teachings while signaling a new openness to conversation about change. Maybe most notably the pope criticized the way much of the world, including the United States, does business. He warned against what he called an economy of exclusion, arguing that the very structural causes of poverty must be addressed. We turn now to Father James Martin, a noted Jesuit and culture editor of the Jesuit magazine America. He joins us from Philadelphia today. Father Jim, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: What's the pope exhorting his church to do?

MARTIN: Well, I would say in this document he's asking us to do three things. Number one, remember the importance of joy. When we preach the Gospel, he inveighs against sourpusses - that's the English translation.

SIMON: He actually uses that word, doesn't he?

MARTIN: Yeah. The English translation says sourpusses, which I thought was pretty great. Number two, not be afraid of change. He says we can no longer in the church use the excuse we've always done things this way as a way not to move ahead. And number three, as you pointed out, he focuses a great deal on the poor and in what he calls the tyranny of unfettered capitalism. So, it's a very wide-ranging document, but to me those are the three main points.

SIMON: You know, I think a lot of people, Father Jim, who read you, who hear you on our show or, for that matter, the Colbert Report, may not know that you have a background in business. You went to the Wharton School, you were a GE executive. When the pope says the structures of poverty must be addressed, what would this mean for American business?

MARTIN: Well, I think it's important to remember, you know, as you say, I went to Wharton, I like the capitalist system, I think it's the most efficient way of distributing goods, but it is not perfect. And he is reminding people that there are those who are excluded, and we have to look at the poor when we consider, you know, how the economies work. So, you know, as the church has done for many years in its Catholic social teaching, he is pointing us once again to look at the poor first when we make decisions. And he has done that since the first day of his papacy. He took the name Francis, he asked for a church that is poor and that is for the poor...

SIMON: And is this true - I believe he doesn't wear those red shoes?

MARTIN: He doesn't wear the red shoes, he doesn't live in the apostolic palace, he drives a crummy 1984 Renault, and he lives very simply. He's done this ever since he took his first vows as a Jesuit many years ago.

SIMON: Help us understand what the pontiff might have meant when he said imagine the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the church's life. Does that signal something?

MARTIN: Well, that's a good question. What does he mean? He, you know, shut off the possibility for discussion of women's ordination, which is the topic on everybody's mind. But, you know, how can we have women who are at the highest levels of decision-making in the Vatican? You know, certain possibilities would be, you know, having women run Vatican offices or congregations. You know, you don't need to be ordained to run, you know, the Congregation for the Family, for example. You know, having women cardinals is something that people have been talking about. So, I think the pope, you know, who is telling us that we can't rely on the way that things have been done before is asking us to think creatively about ways of including women in decision-making roles, and I think that's fantastic.

SIMON: Forgive my naivety, but you can have a woman cardinal even if you can't have a woman priest?

MARTIN: Well, that is a source of a great deal of debate right now. There are some that say that you can, some that say that you can't. So, I think the pope's going to have the final word. But I think what he definitely wants to do, you know, at minimum, is make sure that women are involved in positions where they actually have authority and real authority in the church.

SIMON: Father Jim, who would you expect might object to the pope's exhortation?

MARTIN: Well, I think people that are overly tied to capitalism and who think that capitalism - and, once again, I speak as a Wharton grad, is the be all and end all of economic systems and that people who are uncomfortable looking at the poor. And there are, you know, not a few Catholics who are like that.

SIMON: Jim, did the College of Cardinals expect this from the man they chose to be pope?


MARTIN: I don't think so. I think that they expected a person who's holy and came make tough decisions and live simply, but I don't think they expected someone who would shake things up quite this way. And, you know, frankly, most Jesuits who knew him didn't expect this either. But, you know, it shows you once again the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does what the Holy Spirit wants to do.

SIMON: Father James Martin, who's culture editor of the Jesuit magazine America. Thanks so much. Good holiday to you, Jim.

MARTIN: Thank you. Same to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.