A Christmas Letter to the Pope
First Week end of Advent 2013
Bishop of Rome
Vatican City State
Dear Pope Francis,
In my country, around this time of the year, people, especially children, write letters to Santa in which they express their Christmas wishes.
Francis, I am not a child but I like to write letters and thought I would write one to you with my Christmas wishes for our Catholic Church. You are six years older than I but I was thinking we were both in the seminary at the same time. I was a kid in Michigan and you a kid in Argentina, We certainly share some common background and ministerial ideals. You became a bishop and I became a married theologian. Most importantly, we are both still concerned about the church that nourished us; and we hope that church will nourish future generations when you and I are historic footnotes. (Your footnote will be bigger than mine of course; and I have no problem with that.)
So much for background.
You have written a lot of good things in Evangelii Gaudium. A lot of people like me are looking forward to the Synod in October 2014; but frankly Francis you need to be a bit more courageous. I write today to suggest exactly how.
I think you are a wonderfully pastorally minded pope. Indeed I think you are much better at that than the Polish Pope or the Bavarian Pope. Deo gratias, as we used to say, and some fundamentalists still say. But frankly Francis your theology is locked in the nineteenth century and your understanding of church history is terribly deficient. (I know what I am talking about because I am a pretty good historical theologian.) These professional deficiencies can be corrected of course. All professional people — even Bishops of Rome — need continuing education. For more than twenty years I directed continuing or on-going education programs for men and women in ministry…
Francis, I have often thought that bishops should be required to get theological certification at least every five years. Perhaps they should be mandated to acquire twenty continuing theological education credits or lose their appointment as bishop of a diocese. I sure wish my bishop would go back to school! He is much worse than you and totally lacks your kind of humility. HE is an unfortunate old fellow…. Anyway. You see I really do like you!
My main point….
Francis you need to call a special synod to study ordained ministry. In fact I will give you the title: MINISTERII GAUDIUM: ROMAN CATHOLIC MINISTRY FOR TODAY NOT THE MIDDLE AGES. You see, like you, I kind of like that little bit of Latin because in college in Detroit I was also a classics major.
Now to specifics.
Francis I suggest a four day synod; and here are the topics for each day, with a bit of explanation.
Day One: Ministry in the Apostolic and Early Post-Apostolic Church
Here we will have some of our best and brightest biblical scholars and historical theologians — men and women of course, but I am sure you already thought about that.
They will explore Christian ministry before the Christian community had ordination. And of course they will explore the phenomenon of men and women presiding at Eucharist as heads of households.
Day Two: Apostolic Succession
Frankly Francis you may have to bite your lip on this one. You see Francis, the historic Jesus did not ordain anyone and the notion of “apostolic succession” as an unbroken line of imposition of hands from the apostles down to my parish priest just doesn’t hold water. I don’t know how you say this in Argentina; but in my country we would say the notion leaks like a sieve.
Apostolic Succession means succession in the faith, witness, and ministry of the apostles. No small thing. But……the Lutheran ordained minister who lives down the street from me has that as well. So does the woman ordained minister who lives about twenty miles from me. Lots of discussion material here Francis,
Day Three: The Experience of Other Christian Churches
Frankly Francis (I like the ring of “frankly Francis”) we need to listen, look, and learn frpm our sister churches. There married ordained men and ordained women minister happily and very effectively. The Church of Rome really needs to get with it. Our other Christian sisters and brothers can help us as we make the big step forward. Remember Jesus told us where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there as well. We have nothing to fear!
Day Four: Goodnews Ordinations
Francis this is the crowning moment. I am so excited about the possibility that I may book a flight to Rome for my wife and me….YOU AS BISHOP OF ROME can gather a large group in St Peter’s and personally ordain (great symbol and we Catholics love symbols) twelve women and twelve married men. In your homily you can tell the world (CNN and BBC will have all their cameras on you….) that the theme of your papal administration will now be “Tradition AND Renewal”……i.e. Change in the Roman Catholic Church is not only possible but absolutely necessary.
Dear Pope Francis, thank you for your attention to my note. What I write about is no small matter. I am happy to discuss details with you and if you send me an email at email@example.com I will send you my mobile phone number so we can discuss and work out the details. By the way I am also very good at organizing international conferences…..and I have some friends with money who might help pay for it. I don’t know that Opus Dei would warm up to this. And frankly they don’t like me.Their problem of course….
My very best wishes, Pope Francis, for the holiday season and….I do want to hear from you!
PS …..I though about calling you “Frank” but don’t know if you like that. I am officially “John” but prefer “Jack.” Americans like their nicknames but I don’t know what Argentineans, even Rome-based, like….