“He doesn't fit into any pigeonhole”

Pope Francis © Paul Haring (KNA)

According to Catholic canon lawyer Thomas Schuller, progressive Catholics rub up against Pope Francis just as much as conservatives do. That's why the Holy Father doesn't fit into a "certain pigeonhole.".

For some, he does not go far enough in his decisions and actions, while others ask in horror how the pope "can allow so much freedom in the Catholic Church," the professor at the University of Munster told the Evangelical Press Service (epd) shortly before 80. Francis' birthday on 17. December.

Powerful exercise of office

Moreover, he said, since the First Vatican Council in 1870, "there has hardly been a pope who has exercised his power so powerfully". There have "never been so many bishops removed from office as under Pope Francis," Schuller said, referring to his barely four years in office so far. For example, he said, they had not investigated allegations of sexual abuse or behaved "like landlords" in matters of money.

Francis allows plurality, acts with "great inner independence" and "doesn't allow himself to be pigeonholed," said the director of the Institute for Canon Law at the Faculty of Catholic Theology at Westfalische Wilhelms University in Munster, Germany.

Francis can only be understood, he said, from within the tradition of the Jesuit order, to which he has belonged since 1958. As a Jesuit, Schuller said he is convinced that ies must be discussed from all sides, even those on which he or the church actually have a firm opinion.

Jesuit approach

For example, he said, the pope has appointed a commission to study the historical role of women deacons. On the other hand, he states unequivocally, "the Catholic Church sees itself unable to ordain women priests". This Jesuit approach of examining everything is indeed suitable for spiritual questions, the canon lawyer said. "But when this is combined with an absolutist elective monarchy such as the papacy, it leads to confusion."

It also serves neither progressives nor conservatives in the dispute over communion for remarried divorcees. In typical Jesuit fashion, he said: "For the time being, the existing doctrine remains, but I expect from you a new attitude of mind." Francis relied on the conscience of the individual. The latter should make a decision based on the Gospel and reason, he said.

But this basic principle is not popular in the Catholic Church, Schuller said. Many Catholics wanted clear guidelines. Pope Francis is undermining that expectation and is "so subversive in a positive sense," the canon lawyer said. That's why Francis is a "very strict and demanding pope, but intellectually very appealing".

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