Father James Martin on the New Pope


BOB ABERNETHY, host: Now for more on Pope Francis, we turn to Rev. James Martin. He’s a Jesuit priest, contributing editor at America, a national Catholic magazine, and author of several books including The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything. Father Jim, welcome, and congratulations to you and all Jesuits on having one of your own become pope. Does it make any difference to the Jesuit order, I mean, aside from being proud, will it make any difference, as you see it, to how life goes for you?

REV. JAMES MARTIN, S.J. (America Magazine): I think it will. We’re all very excited and very joyful to have one of our own as pope. I think it will help a lot in terms of Jesuit vocations. There have more articles on the web and in print about what’s a Jesuit in the last few days than I think in the last five years so it’s a great shot in the arm in terms of Jesuit vocations, I think.

ABERNETHY: Vocations meaning people wanting, young men wanting to become Jesuits.

MARTIN: That’s right. You know, more interest in the Jesuits means more young men will consider joining.

ABERNETHY: What about the Pope himself? What can we say about how being a Jesuit might affect him as pope?

MARTIN: Well I think it’s very important. Jesuit training, the formation program is very long. He’s had a lot of different kinds of experiences in terms of working with the poor for example, living the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, living in community and we can see that by his simple lifestyle and the way that so much of his ministry already as pope has been by focusing on the poor by for example taking the name of Francis, you know, recalling Francis of Assisi so I think the Jesuit spirituality and also his Jesuit experience will really help inform what he does as pope.

ABERNETHY: And what does it mean for American Catholics as a whole? Many of them have left the church. What can the pope do to help bring them back?

MARTIN: Well I think the most important thing that the pope can do is really just preach the Gospel clearly and boldly. I think, rescinding from some of the hot button topics, what brings more people back to the church is inviting them into a relationship with God and a relationship with Jesus Christ and so the better he can do that, the more people will come back.

ABERNETHY: But there’s no possibility as you see it of any change on those hot button issues, like priestly celibacy and women priests, that kind of thing.

MARTIN: Yeah, I don’t think so. Not from Pope Francis. He is very much along the lines of Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict in adhering to all of those church traditions.

ABERNETHY: What about giving more authority to local bishops? Might that make possible, if, if he could do that, or if that were done, might that make possible certain things being OK in one place but not necessarily in another?

MARTIN: Well it could. I think there have been some early signs by the way he’s worked with the bishops and treated the cardinals. You know, when he was coming back after his election, he got in the same bus that all of the other cardinals got in. So he’s very much a man of the people and that may mean a little more, what Catholics call, collegiality, giving more authority to local bishops. So, it could. I think time will tell.

ABERNETHY: And what about his relationship with the Vatican bureaucracy? Many people think the curia, the bureaucracy, needs a lot of change and a lot of reform. Is he tough enough to bring that about?

MARTIN: I can say as a Jesuit and, having heard from my Jesuit brothers what he was like as the provincial or regional superior of Argentina, he is certainly a man who can make tough decisions. He is definitely not afraid to ruffle feathers. And so, for those people who are asking does he have a backbone, the answer is yes. So he may be the very guy to come in and reform a lot of the problems that are going on in the Vatican curia right now. And that may be one thing that the cardinals saw that led to his election.

ABERNETHY: And, very quickly, the sex abuse scandal and cover–ups seem to continue indefinitely. Do you think there’s something that a new pope, this pope, can do to kind of get over that?

MARTIN: Well, I think that’s the number one problem facing the church, frankly. We can’t preach the Gospel if people see us as not addressing those problems. So one of the things he can do is follow the pattern of the US bishops in terms of putting in safe environment programs and really trying to just change the church, removing anyone who is credibly accused with a crime so I really think he needs to focus on this, laser like, in the first few months, if not days, of his papacy. So, I’m hoping that he really focuses on that really important issue.

ABERNETHY: Father James Martin. Many thanks.

MARTIN: My pleasure.