View From Rome
15 June 2017
Christopher Lamb in Rome
View from Rome
It had been a long, emotionally draining visit taking in three countries in Africa, one of them a war zone. On the plane back from Bangui in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis had just finished his customary in-flight press conference and pulled his then press aide Fr Federico Lombardi to one side.
From my seat at the back of the plane I could see the Pope leaning in and speaking to Fr Lombardi in an intense and frank manner. Quickly the curtain separating economy and the rest of the plane was pulled across, but in those few moments I captured a glimpse of a different Francis.
This was the former Jesuit religious superior in action, someone who, when he sees fit, will move swiftly and decisively to exert his authority. His tough side is largely hidden from public view, but recently three incidents have demonstrated a willingness to use papal muscle.
The first was his stinging rebuke to priests of the Diocese of Ahiara in Nigeria, who have stubbornly refused to accept a bishop from a different clan. Francis has ordered each of them to write to him to apologise, and to pledge their “total obedience” to the papacy and accept whoever he appoints to lead them. For good measure, he added they must send the letter within 30 days or they’ll be suspended. As tellings off go, it doesn’t get much tougher than that.
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