Pope Francis and the Future of the Global Church
Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life
One year into his papacy, Pope Francis continues to surprise Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his dynamic leadership and focus on the poor. On February 25, the Boisi Center co-hosted a panel with the Church in the 21st Century Center that explored the Francis papacy thus far, and expectations for its future. Boston College theology professor M. Shawn Copeland moderated a panel of experts: Francesco Cesareo, president of Assumption College; María del Mar Muñoz-Visoso, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ executive director of cultural diversity; and BC professor Richard Gaillardetz, the Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology.
Addressing a packed room in Gasson Hall—as well as viewers of the live-broadcast on the Internet—the panel covered topics ranging from the pope’s cultural heritage to the historical context for understanding the continuity and change of Francis’s papacy. Cesareo pointed out that popes in the past hundred years have been remarkably consistent in advancing reform within the boundaries of tradition. Copeland cited Pope John Paul II in noting that the media hype around Francis is not without precedent. Gaillardetz argued that Francis provides a new lens for reading Catholic doctrine and the second Vatican Council. Munoz-Visoso explained that as the first pope from the global south and the first Jesuit pope, Francis brings a unique emphasis on mercy in action that reflects his education in liberation theology. His Latin American heritage is reflected in his desire to build a stronger community dialogue in the Church and have physical contact with the people he serves.
The panel expected that the pope’s biggest challenges ahead lie in reorienting the Church’s bureaucracy and clergy to better serve the people of the world, and reopening a dialogue with those who have been marginalized and distanced from the Church. They agreed that Francis’s emphasis on a greater acknowledgment of human dignity provides an important basis for addressing the Church’s challenges.