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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word


For the first event of the 2018-2019 academic year, the Boisi Center welcomed Peter Folan, S.J. (Boston College), Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM (Boston College), and Theresa O’Keefe (Boston College STM) for a screening of Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, a 2018 documentary by German filmmaker Wim Wenders. Following the screening, Interim Assistant to the Director Jack Nuelle guided the panelists through a discussion which alternated between reviewing the film and discussing Pope Francis’ papacy more broadly. Each panelist gave their initial reactions, with Hinsdale commenting on how Francis seemed to be a Catholic particularly formed by the Second Vatican Council and its messages of love, service, dialogue, and difference. O’Keefe echoed Hinsdale’s sentiment, remarking on the changing role of the Papacy as it becomes a platform increasingly suited to speak about issues of a global nature. She stressed the courage Francis exhibits by speaking up about issues like poverty and climate change when addressing world leaders with tremendous authority. Folan and Hinsdale both initially commented on the exhaustive nature of the film, in its scope of Francis’ activities as well as the length of the film itself.

The discussion moved to the topics Francis addressed and those left unsaid. Panelists noted that not only was this film released before recent allegations against Francis, but also that Francis’ interviews were subject to editing and directorial review. With this in mind, all three panelists expressed their satisfaction with the breadth of topics the film portrayed, while questioning the depth and specifics of Francis’ answers, particularly regarding the role of women and the problem of clerical abuse. Hinsdale noted that we may be too early to judge if Pope Francis is “A Man of His Word,” adding her unease at the manner in which the Pope answered the question of the role of women. O’Keefe agreed, saying it was clear the director chose to focus on other issues as the core of the piece and position the Church in a listening stance, but it left these remaining topics to seem like “cameo appearances”. Folan concluded that while he appreciated that they were at least addressed, he disliked the specific phrasing of the Francis’ answers on the importance of dialogue and the response to clerical abuse. He characterized Francis’ response on this last issue as viewing the problem as episodic, not systemic.

That issue was the topic of the final section of the night, first with the final question asking if the film should be viewed differently now, post-allegations, returning later with audience questions. Folan stressed that Francis showed authentic anger at the problem, but it is difficult to translate that into direct action. Hinsdale agreed, mentioning that the Pope’s emphasis on discernment leads often to careful but slow action. O’Keefe, responding to these critiques, highlighted that the film focused on showing Francis as human more than as bureaucratic leader. As Hinsdale mentioned, the film was almost hagiographic in its style. The evening concluded with our panelists discussing the roles of subsidiarity and authority in Church accountability and reform, agreeing that we have and want to retain an ordered church, but wondering if that order needs to be quite so hierarchical.