The following comes from a Feb. 1 email sent by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix to one of the recent participants in the Jan. 22-24 conference called by Cardinal Baldisseri in Rome.

I don’t know if my reflections will be of help or not, but let me offer just a few thoughts with the hope that they will.

First, I recommend a biography of Pope Francis that recently was published, The Great Reformer, by Austen Ivereigh. He contends that to understand Pope Francis, one must be mindful of his formation as a Jesuit, especially through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and his rules for discernment. His modus operandi as pope is one of discernment where the voices of all are allowed to be heard; he trusts that this process of broad discernment, not on his part alone but by all those engaged in the synod, will be directed by the Holy Spirit and lead to a greater appreciation of the pastoral problems facing families today, and the best way to address them pastorally.

Second, not every voice in the synod can be right, since there were opposing views being put forth. But Pope Francis thinks that we can best arrive at a balanced pastoral plan by hearing all the voices in the synodal process, and not being afraid to listen and study them.

Third, A number of Cardinals and bishops strongly defended the Church’s teaching on marriage and family, especially when some voices seemed to be moving in a way that could be misleading or even wrong. Among these were Cardinal Mueller, whom Pope Francis confirmed as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Fourth, Pope Francis has given some strong statements in support of traditional marriage, masculinity and femininity, especially in talks given after the extra-ordinary synod last October.

Fifth, on January 26, in an address to participants in a conference of canon lawyers, he affirmed the Church’s canonical discipline for marriage, while at the same time expressing his desire that the nullity process be less lengthy if possible. He has established a commission of canon lawyers from around the world to study the process and to come back with recommendations. The Church has always held that its laws are in support of Church teaching and holiness; and can, indeed should, be reformed when needed.

Hope these few thoughts are helpful. It seems good, to me, to trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in Pope Francis, and that his style of governing the Church, while different from popes from Europe, will bring its own good fruits. His style is especially personal, focused on the poorest and most distant in society, and animated by the Gospel. It is a style that has been good for my ongoing conversion as a follower of Jesus and as a bishop.

Grace and peace in Christ,
Bishop Olmsted