One of the problems Jesus faced in his public ministry was being misunderstood – by his own disciples as well as the religious and secular authorities of the day. It prompted some of Jesus' most memorable rejoinders to the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees, and some caustic remarks to the apostles.
Pope Francis, like his predecessors, has the same problem, with constant media speculation that he is setting about a transformation of the papacy towards a collegiate model. This, it is said, is to attract the unchurched, Catholics who have stopped the practice of their faith, evangelical Protestants, our separated brethren of the Orthodox tradition, the homosexual lobby, the feminist network, and no doubt others.
These sentiments have been fuelled by widely-publicised comments by a retired US Cardinal, Cardinal John R. Quinn, in a progressive US Catholic journal, National Catholic Reporter, claiming that Pope Francis aims to abandon the distinctive authority exercised by the pope.
The clearest sign that this is not happening is that Cardinal Quinn traces this back to the Encyclical of Saint John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, which the retired Cardinal described as "clearly in rupture with the past and in many aspects revolutionary", when it was no such thing.
While each pope brings his own distinctive gifts to the papacy, the very clear signs are that Pope Francis is exercising the Petrine ministry in a way which confirms the distinctive and unique office.
While adopting a very open style emphasising his role as a servant of the church – to the delight of the international media – he has exercised his authority to convene an international synod of bishops to sharpen the Church's response to the crisis facing the modern family, commenced the most fundamental reform of the Vatican curia seen for years, and relaxed the rules on canonisations to declare Pope John XXIII a saint, and is about to do the same for Pope Paul VI.
In each of these decisions, he has exercised the full and unique authority exercised by successive popes since the dawn of history. He needs our prayers, and deserves our support.
– Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000.