Vatican analyst explores ‘The Francis Miracle’ in new book

John L. Allen Jr. with Pope Francis. Photo Courtesy of John Allen Jr.

 Rome, Italy, Mar 17, 2015 / 02:28 am (CNA).- Pope Francis is the subject of a new book by noted Vatican analyst and author John Allen, Jr. From the Pope’s Argentinian roots to his journey to the papacy and view to the future, “The Francis Miracle” seeks to offer a definitive resource on the Roman Pontiff and the legacy he will leave behind. CNA spoke with Allen about “The Francis Miracle,” which is available this month from TIME Books. The text of the interview is below.

CNA: What motivated you to write this book?
Allen: I’m a journalist who covers the Vatican and the papacy, so honestly I didn’t need a lot of motivation. Pope Francis is an undeniably compelling story, and the question of exactly where he’s taking the Catholic Church is one that fascinates people everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. I knew I wasn’t in a position to write a conventional biography of this pope, because I don’t have the background in Argentina. What I could offer, however, is a book that’s not so much about the pope as it is the papacy. It’s obviously a moving picture, but two years in it seemed time for a preliminary assessment of where things stand. In part, that’s because two years under Francis is like twenty under other leaders in terms of the amount of drama and upheaval we’ve seen!

CNA: When did you decide to write it and how did that process come about?
Allen: I was first approached by the people at Time over Christmas of 2013. We finalized the details of a contract, and I set to work. Most of the writing was done over the summer of 2014, with adjustments and updates all the way up to just before release of the book in March 2015. A good deal of the content is drawn from my regular reporting and analysis on the pope, though some of it is based on interviews done exclusively for the book. I should also acknowledge my Crux/Boston Globe colleague Inés San Martín, an Argentinian and a terrific journalist who provided invaluable assistance.

CNA: Did you have your own “miracle” or “aha” moment that led you to write it?
Allen: I didn’t experience anything that I’d call divine intervention. However, as a journalist who makes his living as a Vatican analyst, and whose income therefore tends to rise and fall depending on how interested people are in the pope, I’d certainly call Francis a miracle on that basis alone!
CNA: What misconceptions about Pope Francis do you think your book will help clarify?
Allen: One misconception is the media hype that Pope Francis is a radical leftist, or, as I put, “Che Guevara in a cassock.” That’s clearly not the case. He’s been in office two full years now and has yet to adjust a single comma in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Instead, if there’s a “revolution” underway it’s at the level of pastoral application of doctrine, not revisions to that doctrine itself.
Another is the idea that there’s something unique or unprecedented about the resistance Francis has encountered. It’s a sexy narrative to speculate about arch-conservative cardinals huddled in a Vatican basement somewhere plotting their revenge, but the truth is that whatever “opposition” exists is far more disorganized and episodic than that. Moreover, there is nothing whatsoever new about the idea that some senior members of the hierarchy may have a different vision on some matters than the current pope. St. John Paul II ran into internal opposition, as did Benedict XVI. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that Francis is the 266th pope, and he’s the 266th pope to have trouble sometimes bringing all of his bishops along.

CNA: Do you think it is possible to talk about a “Francis effect”? Are there any important changes beyond a much better perception of the Pontificate in the secular world?
Allen: Statistically, it’s too early to talk about a measurable “Francis effect” if we mean by that, for instance, increases in Mass attendance or self-identification as Catholic. Some time back the Pew Forum found no such bump in the United States, though (Italian sociologist) Massimo Introvigne found that half of Italy’s pastors reported an up-tick in Mass attendance and demand for the sacrament of confession that they attributed to Francis.
Anecdotally, however, my impression moving in and out of various Catholic venues is that people do believe that Francis has improved Catholic fortunes. They realize that because of the public fascination with this pope, the eyes of the world are upon him and therefore they’re upon the Church. That gives Catholic evangelists what we’d traditionally call a “teaching moment,” and the shrewder among them are doing their best to take advantage.

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