Francis’ Fifth: A Pontificate of Footnotes


National Catholic Register, 26 February 2018

The heart of the current pontificate is understood more in the footnotes than the main text.

Pope Francis marks the fifth anniversary of his election as pope March 13, and while five years is not yet a long pontificate, it is long enough to begin to consider how it will be remembered.

After five years of covering the Holy Father, I have begun to think of his as the “footnote pontificate.” I don’t mean by that that it will be remembered as only a footnote in history, but, rather, that the action in this pontificate takes place, as it were, in the footnotes rather than the main text.

On the Holy Father’s 80th birthday, I listed in the Register eight reasons to be grateful for his Petrine ministry.

Similarly, here are five ways in which the footnotes have proven more important than the main text.

Amoris Laetitia

It still remains, nearing Amoris’ second anniversary, that so much confusion reigns about what Footnote 351 means. To count just the enthusiastic supporters of the apostolic exhortation, there is no complete agreement about what Footnote 351 means for sacramental theology and discipline between the bishops of Buenos Aires and the bishops of Malta, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Cardinal Rheinhard Marx.

All have said differing things about that footnote. And that is to ignore what has been said by those who are deeply concerned about what it might mean.

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