Pope Francis had tongues wagging in Rome after he failed to appear at a gala concert of classical music where he was expected as the guest of honor. Just minutes before the music was to begin on the evening of June 22, an archbishop announced to the cardinals and Italian officials present that it was due to an “urgent commitment that cannot be postponed” that the pontiff was absent. Observers noted that many of the Vatican clerics present appeared somewhat confused.
According to Reuters, the Pope’s absence took the audience and prelates by surprise. The source said the Pope Francis “is still learning how to be pope and we are still learning how he wants to do it." The same source added that as an archbishop in his native Argentina, the Pope’s aides knew not to arrange such social events for him since he was not likely to attend.
Photos of the Pope’s empty chair appeared in numerous Italian journals. The June 25 edition of Rome’s Corriere della Sera labeled that the apparent snub is "a show of force" by the pontiff to again exemplify the simple style he wants his fellow bishops and priests to emulate. Pope Francis bears the name of one the most revered saints among Christians, Francis of Assisi, who himself sought to emulate the poverty of Christi and thus reform the medieval Catholic Church. The day before the concert, Pope Francis said that his fellow bishops should be "close to the people" and not have "the mentality of a prince".
Since being elected to the papacy on March 13, Pope Francis has yet to spend even a single night in the opulent papa apartments occupied by his predecessors, including the revered John XXIII and John Paul II. Instead, he has taken a suite at a guest house at the Vatican where he eats in a communal mess hall and celebrates the Mass in a house chapel rather than the private papal chapel located in the Apostolic Palace.
The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was known for riding the bus and railways on his own in his native Argentina.
There are reports that Pope Francis is working out new appointments to the Papal Curia, which is the Vatican’s troubled central administrative authority. Under the Pope’s predecessors, the Curia and the cardinals serving in it were held responsible for scandals and maladministration that brought disrepute on the worldwide Church during the time that Pope Benedict XVI sat on the see of St Peter. Issues ranging from the sexual abuse of children by priests and other religious, corruption within the Curia, and revelations about Vatican finances, has focused the ire of Catholic clergy and laity worldwide on what is perceived as worldliness on the part of the mostly-Italian members of the Curia. A report said to be left for Pope Francis by the now-retired former Pope Benedict is believed to be among the reasons why the first non-European in 13 centuries was selected as Pope. Reuters says that a Vatican official predicts major changes in the Curia by the end of the summer.
Among the members of the Curia is Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who is the former archbishop of St Louis MO. Burke currently serves at the Vatican as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. In that role, Burke sits on the court of final appeal for ecclesiastical law and rules on cases such as the stripping or restoration of priestly faculties. Burke has been described as conservative by outside observers because of statements he has made condemning Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.
A key assignment in the Curia that due to be filled by the Pope is to the Secretariat of State. The current secretary of state is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, an Italian who has been criticized during his term of office. Bertone gained notoriety in 2010 when he suggested that sexual abuse of children within the Catholic clergy could be attributed to infiltration by homosexuals.
In a June 24 homily, Pope Francis said "The Church exists to proclaim, to be a voice of a word, her husband who is the Word. The Church exists to proclaim this Word until martyrdom." He thus set the parameters of episcopal and priestly ministry on the day that the Church commemorates the birth of St John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus Christ, who was beheaded on the orders of the secular power of Judea before the Crucifixion.