Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church, Austen Ivereigh. New York: Henry Holt, 2019.
Summary: An account of the papacy of Francis into 2019, focusing on his efforts to convert the Catholic Church to a church with Christ at the center showing compassion for those on the margins from one focused more on preservation of an institution, law, and doctrine.
The first pope to come from Latin America has been both a breath of fresh air, and a lightning rod for controversy. This biography focuses on Pope Francis, and how he handles controversy. Ivereigh presents a pope utterly at peace with himself, shaped by Ignatian practices that center around the life and ministry of Christ. Francis understands that controversy is necessary if he is to bring Christ to the center of a church that too often has been more concerned about self-protection–of the Vatican, of abusing priests, of law and theology.
A frugal man, he cleans up the finances of the Vatican, turning a middleman appropriating funds for itself to a mediator, using the church’s resources for the poor. He instills serving into a clerical church, modeling it in the washing of a Muslim woman prisoner’s feet. Rather that fire people, he seeks their conversion, if possible (although resistant bishops are retired at 75). He releases a blockbuster encyclical, Laudato Si, connecting environmental concerns with justice for the poor.
As he wades into the sexual abuse scandals, he meets with the victims. In a meeting with three Chileans, he begins, “I was part of the problem! I caused this. I am very sorry, and I ask your forgiveness.” One of the victims, a gay man, Juan Carlos Cruz described a lengthy meeting discussing his life, with Francis telling him, “Juan Carlos, it doesn’t matter that you are gay. God made you that way, and I’m fine with it. The Pope loves you as you are, you have to be happy with who you are.”
At the heart of all this is a passion for evangelization, recognizing that the Church is no longer in an era where it enjoys the support of law and culture. Ivereigh helps us understand the roots of this vision at the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) at Aparecida. “Aparecida” becomes synonymous with the humble, loving, serving approach that enters the barrios. It is not merely the conversions of the poor but the conversion of an institutional church into a priesthood of missionary disciples.
One can see how controversy can swirl around such actions and how the pope’s compassion toward Muslims, gays, and the divorced (for whom he provided ways to take communion) would arouse the ire of many. What was striking in this account was how much of the opposition came from the church in the United States. I found this a surprising turn, having often thought the church in US progressive in comparison with that in other parts of the world. But this has changed. Ivereigh chronicle the opposition faced from American cardinal Raymond Burke, among others, and the conservative Catholic movement in the US.
It is clear that Ivereigh loves this pope, recounting numerous instances where he extends deep mercy and understanding to people. He describes a pope who understands that to follow Christ is to share the wounds of Christ. Living in the U.S., I’ve seen more critique than praise of Francis. This book redresses that balances and helps the reader understand the wellsprings of Francis’s actions, particularly in his missionary efforts in Argentinian barrios. Whether the reader agrees or not with the policies and programs of Francis, understanding his passion to put Christ at the heart of the Church stands as a challenge for us all. Has something other than Christ been the focus of the lives of our churches, whether money, sex, or power? Francis’s papacy has addressed all three. Little wonder that “wounded shepherd” describes him.