Columnists > St Ignatius mistrusted one-size-fits-all solutions. So does the Pope

31 May 2017 | by Richard Leonard

St Ignatius mistrusted one-size-fits-all solutions. So does the Pope


These days, in marketing, buzzwords and taglines are everything: short, immediate disclosures that pique interest or point to a larger message. Whether it is intentional or not, Pope Francis is a master of this communication. 

When people inside and outside the Church think about Francis, words such as mercy, joy, compassion, care for the environment, a church of the poor for the poor, and possibly even reform immediately come to mind. In recent weeks, however, it struck me that there is another buzzword that he mentions just as much as these others: rigidity. This theme as an overarching narrative of this pontificate is, at this stage, one of the least explored. 

When Francis addresses himself to this topic it is with passion. He has told bishops, priests, seminarians, religious, young Catholics, liturgists, canon lawyers and ecumenists, among many others, to stop being rigid. While calling everyone in the Church to be faithful to the Gospels and the best of our received Catholic tradition, the Pope rails against those who interpret, teach or apply that tradition “with hostile inflexibility”. 

Confronting rigidity is not necessarily partisan. It attends to ideology. I know people on the liberal and traditional extremes of our Catholic community who are equally rigid. As one example I know priests who cannot wear clerical dress under any circumstances, and others who cannot not wear it. In their lives, context, custom and appropriateness count for nothing. 

They are equally unfree. Almost every time Pope Francis raises the “illness of rigidity” he also speaks about freedom, and this holds the Ignatian key to the very traditional and Catholic point he is making. The founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius Loyola, was given to scruples.


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