Pope Francis turns 78 today. He has had quite a year.

Despite criticism from some pockets within his church, Francis is widely acclaimed as a remarkable, courageous and revolutionary leader. His prophetic unpredictability has shocked and unsettled some factions in his hurch while delighting those who hope for a bold new witness from the church.

A remarkable interview with La nacion, published the weekend of December 6 and 7, gives a good illustration of the Pope’s willingness to speak the truth as he sees it and to call his church to be deeply self-reflective.

At one point the interviewer asked the Pope about the continuing decline in attendance at worship in the Roman Church in South America. While acknowledging that there are external forces at work that draw Catholics away from the church, Pope Francis immediately turned to examine the internal life of his church saying,

let’s leave out factors which are external to the Church. I wonder about ourselves, what is it that we ourselves do, what is within the Church that makes the faithful unhappy? It’s that people don’t feel we are close enough, it’s clericalism. Today , to be close means to reach out to Catholics, to seek people out and be close to them, to sympathize with their problems, with their reality. Clericalism, as I told the CELAM bishops in Río de Janeiro, stopped laypersons from maturing. Precisely, laypersons are more mature in Latin America when they express popular piety. Clericalism was always an issue for lay organizations. I spoke of it in Evangelii Gaudium.


“Voice of the Faithful” offers a helpful definition of the “clericalism” which Pope Francis sees at the centre of the church’s challenge, saying that “clericalism”,

is an overriding set of beliefs and behaviors in which the clergy view themselves as different, separate, and exempt from the norms, rules and consequences that apply to everyone else in society.


“Voice of the Faithful” goes on to say that clericalism represents

an impediment to the healing and reform essential to the Catholic Church today.

In place of clericalism Pope Francis suggests the church needs to have prophets.

When there is no prophecy amongst the people of God, the emptiness that is created gets filled by clericalism. All memory of the past and hope for the future are reduced only to the present: no past promise, no future hope. But when clericalism reigns supreme, Pope Francis said, the words of God are sorely missed, and true believers weep because they cannot find the Lord.


Pope Francis models the prophetic voice he wishes to hear in his church. Pope Francis speaks without fear the truth that he perceives.

But the most important thing in the Pope’s vision of truth-telling prophets, is that he does not confine this role to any particular class or office within the church. Pope Francis calls upon everyone in the church to fulfill the role of prophet:

As we prepare for the birth of the Lord, Pope Francis concluded, let us pray: “Lord, let us not lack prophets amongst your people!” All those who are baptised are prophets: let us not forget God’s promise, let us not tire of moving forward.

In a church of prophets, no voice will be silenced. No one will be sidelined. No genuine attempt to speak truthfully will be dismissed or ignored.

This is the radical reformation Pope Francis is calling for in his church. He is returning the truth to the people. He is validating the voice of every person in the church. He is encouraging his people to listen deeply to their own hearts and find there the strength to speak the truth they discover.

We might all do well to seize this vision and join Pope Francis in reforming the church in whatever way it is expressed in our lives by sharing the deep truth we find in our heart.


It is intriguing to speculate on the source of the Pope’s dynamic leadership.

In the Nacion interview Francis points towards one of the characteristics, apart from his obvious faith and trust in God, that may be the heart of his life as a leader in the church:

From the start I said to myself: “Jorge, don´t change, just keep on being yourself, because to change at your age would be to make a fool of yourself”. That´s why I´ve always kept on doing what I used to do in Buenos Aires. Perhaps even making my old mistakes. But I prefer it like this, to be myself. That evidently caused some changes in the protocols, not in the official protocols because I´m very careful about abiding by them. The thing is that I am who I am even where protocols are concerned, just as I was myself in Buenos Aires. You can see why “not changing” suited me so well.