Pope Francis has called for a ceasefire in Gaza but he and other Vatican officials are “very aware” of the rising anti-Semitism in far right and far left pockets of the Catholic Church, according to visiting American journalist Christopher White.
In Sydney on Thursday, the Vatican correspondent for the US-based National Catholic Reporter said the Pope’s language had shifted since the Hamas murders on October 7.
“In his initial comments, he effectively just, condemned the violence,” White said.
“A few days later, we saw him say Israel had a right to defend itself, and he called for the release of hostages. His concern now seems to be a ceasefire.
“As the humanitarian situation has worsened, I think he feels the need to specifically speak to those deteriorating conditions inside of Gaza. Almost daily if not daily, the Pope has called the local parish priest in Gaza.
“In terms of where he sees ways to use his moral authority, I don’t think he sees himself as getting everyone around the table to sort of hash out some sort of agreement, but to continue to act with that call and to do so as loudly as possible.”
White, who has been brought to Australia by the Parramatta Diocese for a series of talks, said that it was only 60 years since the Second Vatican Council when the church “did an about face in terms of its relationships with the Jewish people”.
“I think most scholars of Christian-Jewish relations would say the way in which these two faiths have worked together in that time has been pretty remarkable,” he said.
White has covered church affairs for a decade and has been based in Rome since 2021. He said the “Holy Land” was considered “priority number one for the Vatican’s diplomatic concerns”.
He said the church synod held in Rome last month had been historic because women and lay people attended but the meeting had generated a “mixed bag” of decisions and had “dodged” the question of the LGBTQI community.
The fact the final synthesis document “couldn’t even mention the acronym LGBTQI was seen by many, and certainly by myself, as a bit disingenuous because we know that it was discussed (and) was hotly debated”, White said. “The fact it didn’t make it into the document … was a real dodge.”
Two other key issues – women deacons and married priests – were mentioned but with no change to church practice.
White said, however, that numbers were trending towards allowing women deacons (who can preach but not say Mass) with a strong view that the Vatican could not “keep kicking it down the road”.
There was resistance from Africa but also the US, Britain and Australia with some believing it would “a slippery slope toward women’s ordination”.
He said that it appeared the Pope wanted to deal with the question of married priests on a “case-by-case” basis, given there were already many married priests in some countries.
Having travelled around the world with the Pope, White said his papacy would be remembered “as an effort to recall and revitalise many of the aims of the Second Vatican Council to listen to all the people of God, not just the priests and bishops, and to reform the church’s structures to better reflect that”.
He said the Pope seemed happiest “when he gets out of the Vatican”.
“I think immediately when he steps on that plane and comes to the back to chat with the journalists …. you see him at ease, happy to be away, happy to be on his way to people. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina, he shied away from the press but the minute he was elected he realised he was elected with a reform agenda and he had to get the message out.”
The Pope has just announced he will attend the COP28 summit in Dubai – the first Pope to attend the climate summit. It was a move, White said, that could upset those who criticised Francis as a “globalist”.
“But … he looks around and he sees a world where there are raging wildfires and flooding and he feels this is what he has to do in order to put a spotlight on it,” he said.
As for early retirement, White believed Francis was likely to “end his papacy through natural causes” because he was just getting started on his reform agenda after 10 years in the post.
Thanks to The Australian where this article originally appeared.
Helen Trinca is a highly experienced reporter, commentator and editor with a special interest in workplace and broad cultural issues.