Publication Year: 2014
Amy Levad: What was your inspiration for this project?
Massimo Faggioli: I was lucky enough to witness the transition from Benedict XVI to Francis while teaching theology and giving talks and lectures about Vatican II. So, I had a privileged standpoint to understand what was happening. For a scholar of Vatican II like me, what pope Francis was doing – since the very first day – was clearly an embodiment of the Second Vatican Council. It was easy to be inspired, not just as a faithful Catholic, but also as a scholar.
Why should the general public be interested in this work?
Because it offers a historical-theological perspective of Pope Francis: it is not a biography or a chronicle of the pontificate, but an analysis of the deep changes happening in the Church thanks to and through Pope Francis. Moreover, in the last chapter there is a section on “Francis and America” where I try to unpack the “American problem” of Pope Francis—the opposition to Francis coming especially from some Catholic circles in the United States. It is a good read to get ready for Francis’ trip to the US next September and the Synod of October 2015 in the Vatican.
How has the American reception of Pope Francis varied from other contexts? How will Pope Francis’s papacy affect the church in the United States in the coming years?
There are many reasons for my interest in the reception of Francis in the United States, especially two. The first reason is that the Catholic Church here is more divided than anywhere else—divided politically but also culturally, a legacy of the “culture war.” Also the reception of the pope is subject to this divisiveness.
The second reason is that Pope Francis is the pope that, in the last 50 years, is the least familiar with North America, with the English language, and with North American Catholicism—especially if compared with John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In this sense, it is an unprecedented test in the history of the papacy and of American Catholicism.
In what ways has Pope Francis been misunderstood, in your estimation? What are some key insights needed to understand the beginning of his papacy?
The usual ideological labels do not fit Pope Francis—that is even more true than it was for his predecessors. Pope Francis is not a liberal because his emphasis on the common good does not fit the liberal emphasis on the individual. Francis is not a conservative because in no way has he ever expressed nostalgia for the past. The Catholic Church is a powerful agent—moral, social, cultural—in the world of today and it is intellectually important not to project our desires on the papacy.
What is one question that you wish someone would ask you about your work, and how would you answer?
I would want someone to ask, “Why be a theologian?” Because it is part of the process of building the Christian theological tradition and the way it interacts with history. It is also an exercise in having multiple loyalties.
Massimo Faggioli received his Ph.D. from the University of Turin in 2002 and moved to the US in 2008, where he was visiting fellow at the Jesuit Institute at Boston College between 2008 and 2009. He is associate professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas where he is also director of the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship. His publications include Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning (Paulist 2012), True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Liturgical, 2012), Sorting Out Catholicism. Brief History of the New Ecclesial Movements (Liturgical, 2014), and Pope Francis: Tradition in Transition (Paulist, 2015).