Yvonne Abraham

New pope goes ‘old school’

Pope Francis emerged from the door of the Jesus church in Rome on Friday.
Pope Francis emerged from the door of the Jesus church in Rome on Friday.

So, Pope Francis is making some wealthy Catholics uncomfortable?


I don’t know how this guy got past a college of cardinals stacked by his two reactionary predecessors. Maybe they thought he was different from the man he’s revealed himself to be. Maybe they finally saw a church in crisis, and a dire need for radical change.


Either way, Francis feels like a bit of a miracle from where this lapsed Catholic sits. In focusing almost solely on our obligations to the poor and powerless, and actually living what he preaches, he conjures the church of my childhood. Its doors flung open by Vatican II, that Catholic church — and those of us who belonged to it — existed to make the world more just.

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What joy it was to read his November comments calling trickle-down economics the illusion it is, and speaking of a “deified market” which devours all that stands in the way of profits, including the environment. It’s just the kind of thing that ultimate revolutionary Jesus — remember that camels and needles thing? — might have said if he walked the earth today. The fact that the rising tide has lifted a few boats and capsized most others isn’t exactly news. But hearing the pope say it — in such pointed terms — is a very big deal.

Of course, not everybody is thrilled. From Home Depot founder Ken Langone comes the news that rich Catholic donors like him are balking at the pope’s call for economic justice.

Boo hoo. More whining from poor, persecuted, richer-than-actual-God job-creators. What Francis is preaching is the guts of the faith. The church hierarchy — and most of the rest of us, Catholic or not — lost sight of those values over the last generation. If Francis is making some people uncomfortable about that, then bless him. That’s his job.

And plenty of prominent Catholics of means around here get that.


“He’s not making me uncomfortable,” says Jack Connors, the advertising and health care magnate. “He’s making me proud.” Like so many of us, Connors is amazed at the Argentinian Jesuit’s ascension.

“What he is really saying is, ‘Come on, let’s play fair here,’ ” Connors says, “that maybe we’re not as concerned and as charitable a world or a nation as we pretend to be. That’s leadership.” Francis’s jarring humility, his willingness to embrace those who might repulse others, is “old school,” Connors says. “That is why we signed up for this religion. That is why I go to Mass three or four times a week.”

Construction titan John Fish, vice chairman of the board at Boston College, believes Francis’s installment is “the most important event in the Catholic Church of the past 100 years, and maybe beyond.”

“His message is sorely needed,” Fish continues. “He’s saying we need to talk less about the pelvis, and more about the kindness of people . . . That is a breath of fresh air . . . This isn’t about rich or poor, it’s about how we instill a sense of kindness.”

Developer Thomas N. O’Brien says nobody should be surprised at Francis’s rhetoric. “It may sound revolutionary to people, but to me it sounds very logical and pretty appropriate for our pope to say that.” He hears a challenge in Francis’s words: “Here are the specific things Jesus said, and you should reflect on whether you’re living up to those ideas.” O’Brien says he and his wife ask themselves every day if they’ve done enough, and many times, they come up short.


“It’s pretty powerful and humbling — and scary, frankly,” O’Brien says.

We could use more of that kind of fear. There are so many other things I want to see from this pope: A real reckoning for clergy sexual abuse, an embrace of women at every level of the church, a further acceptance of gays and lesbians. But what a start, making men like Langone and his friends uncomfortable. To those of us who have longed for the church of our remembering, their whiny chorus is like a heavenly choir.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at