Photo from America Magazine
Yesterday I wrote about John Cornwell's article, wherein he deliberately chose to ignore the real reason that Pope Francis chose not to live in the papal apartment. One of my readers then suggested I read Gunther Simmermacher’s theory of why Pope Francis chose to live at St Martha’s instead of the papal apartment.
Simmermacher writes in his editorial entitled “A Revolution Of Mission”: “Pope Francis reportedly has acknowledged that by living in a guesthouse instead of the papal apartment — which itself isn’t particularly palatial — he is hoping to encourage in others more modest lifestyles.”
I have to say that I find what Simmermacher writes in his editorial exceptionally difficult to believe. It is completely inconsistent with what Pope Francis has said publicly on the subject during two well-reported interviews.
The fact that Simmermacher provides no sources at all and relies completely on an allegation to make his case, doesn’t make it any easier to take his editorial seriously.
The question I have to ask myself is this: Why would Pope Francis allegedly acknowledge, as Simmermacher claims, that he is “hoping to encourage in others more modest lifestyles” by not living in the papal apartment, when he has categorically stated that austerity had absolutely nothing to do with his decision to live at St Martha’s.
Are we dealing with a pope who says different things to different audiences? I don't think so, in fact I reject the idea of a duplicitous pope!
During Pope Francis’ press conference, on his way home from World Youth Day 2013, he said the following on the subject:
“You mentioned the fact that I remained at Santa Marta. But I could not live alone in the Palace, and it is not luxurious. The Papal apartment is not particularly luxurious! It is a fair size, but it is not luxurious. But I cannot live alone or with just a few people! I need people, I need to meet people, to talk to people. And that’s why when the children from the Jesuit schools asked me: ‘Why did you do that? For austerity, for poverty?’ No, it was for psychological reasons, simply, because psychologically I can’t do otherwise.”
Pope Francis’ statement, when he is asked if his choice to live at St Martha’s was about austerity, is quite categorical: “No, it was for psychological reasons, simply, because psychologically I can’t do otherwise.” [My emphases]
Then consider what Pope Francis had to say during the recent and highly talked about interview with Antonio Spadaro S.J.:
“The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.” [My emphases]
Again Pope Francis emphasises that his decision to live at St Martha’s was because he needs to live with other people rather than in a secluded environment. He painstakingly makes the point that his choice of residence has absolutely nothing to do with austerity because the papal apartment, the pope says, is itself “not luxurious”.
Simmermacher is clearly expecting his readers to believe the allegations of why Pope Francis chose St Martha’s, ahead of Pope Francis’ own stated reasons for doing so? That seems to me to be completely bizarre, especially from the editor of a Catholic publication.
Let’s also not forget that Pope Francis was specifically asked: “Would you like your collaborators, including the Cardinals, to follow this example”?
To this question of what Pope Francis expected of others, he replied: “Everyone has to lead his own life, everyone has his own way of living and being. The Cardinals who work in the Curia do not live wealthy, opulent lives: they live in small apartments, they are austere, they really are, austere.” [My emphases]
I don’t believe it can be stated more plainly. Pope Francis was not trying to “encourage in others more modest lifestyles” when he chose St Martha’s. He was simply choosing the place where he would be among the most people. That’s it! It’s that simple!
There is undoubtedly currently a definite struggle between liberal and conservative Catholics to make Pope Francis their own. It is clear that both liberal and conservatives will use every opportunity to communicate a pope that supports their agenda.
Simmermacher’s editorial is, in my opinion, an example of this desperate need to portray Pope Francis in a particular way. This editor clearly wants to tip the scales so that his readers perceive Pope Francis as he wants them to perceive the pope.
It is sad that both the liberal and conservative Catholics feel the need to do this, instead of just leaving Pope Francis’ actions and words to speak for themselves.
If the pope's choice of residence leads some to choose more austere lifestyles, then so be it. If it leads some priests to decide to live in communities rather than alone in each of their parish homes, then so be it.
What is important is that we let Pope Francis speak, instead of 'speaking' for him, especially not when we make claims that he said what he quite clearly did not say!