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The latest blog post at “Another Voice” reminds us of some basic historical truths about the papacy that very few Catholics seem to know, and very few Church officials would be comfortable admitting. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Pope Frances gave a statement on the history of the hierarchy that incorporated these facts.

When thinking about the history of the papacy in the Roman Catholic Church, we need to be clear about a few historic realities.

The historic Jesus did not appoint anyone pope. He did not appoint anyone a bishop nor did he ordain anyone. Contrary to what one often hears, flowing unctuously from episcopal lips, no one at the Last Supper was ordained by Jesus nor designated a bishop. Ordination came much later in the early Jesus Movement as a kind of quality control mechanism: to protect Christian communities from incompetent or deceptive leaders. So the plan, anyway…..

And Peter? Contemporary biblical scholars and historians give us a rather clear picture of the young man. Peter and his wife belonged to the group of young men and women (probably in their late teens or early twenties) who were Jesus’ close disciples. Jesus recognized Peter’s leadership qualities and designated him as the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Peter could also be stubborn and head-strong. Jesus and his friends called Peter by his nickname “Rocky.”

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According to the research of NCR columnist Jamie Manson, Pope Francis’ apparent penchant for simplicity in dress, and for rejecting certain aspects of Vatican ceremonial tradition that emphasized his superiority over the other Cardinals, should not be mistaken for a desire for a more collegial view of authority. Far from it! As a long standing supporter of the movement, Comunione e Liberazione, or Communion and Liberation (CL), Francis apparently favors the view that the Church’s authority is the authority of God and cannot be wrong, rather like the view held by fundamentalist Protestants regarding the Bible. And, moreover, this authority, which is best expressed by the pope, is binding not only on the consciences of Catholics but on all of society. Doctrinal fundamentalism at a whole new level.

This new information is unsettling; comparisons of CL to Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ are chilling. But let’s not mourn the future of the Church just yet. A commitment to evangelization is not in itself a bad thing and neither, certainly, is a commitment to the poor. But anyone expecting a broader commitment to collegiality, equality, and justice, or a decentralizing of authority, may have to wait for another papacy.

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