Pope Francis can be described as an "evangelical Catholic," theologian George Weigel told The Christian Post Tuesday.
Weigel is a Catholic theologian and distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He has written many books on Catholicism, including a biography of Pope John Paul II. His most recent book, published last month by Basic Books, is Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church.
In an email interview, Weigel talked about the new pope, Pope Francis, and how he compares to his predecessors. Here is a transcript of that interview.
CP: You wrote a book about evangelical Catholics. What is an evangelical Catholic and is Pope Francis one?
Weigel: An evangelical Catholic is a Catholic who has absorbed the deep reform of the Church that was begun in the late 19th century under Pope Leo XIII, a reform that was accelerated at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and given its authoritative interpretation for the 21st century by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Evangelical Catholics understand themselves as members of a communion of disciples, formed by friendship with Jesus, by Word, and by sacrament, for the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). By that definition, Pope Francis is most certainly an evangelical Catholic.
CP: MSNBC host Chris Matthews compared Pope Francis to a conservative Democrat in American politics, meaning he will be conservative on abortion and marriage and liberal on economic issues. Is that a helpful way to think about the new pope?
Weigel: No. It's a stupid way to think about this pope or any pope, but it's the way that people who can't think in anything other than political categories try to seem clever in discussing the Catholic Church. If Chris Matthews thinks that Pope Francis is going to be Paul Krugman in a white cassock, he is likely to be sorely disappointed. And, while we're at it, there's nothing "conservative" about the Catholic Church's settled teaching on the right to life (a deeply feminist position) or marriage (a true "liberal" position, in the sense that classic liberalism understood the limits of what states can do – and states can't decide that Adam can "marry" Steve any more than they can repeal the law of gravity).
CP: If we were to compare Pope Francis to his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in what ways is he similar, and in what ways is he different. Can you highlight some important similarities and differences?
Weigel: He's very much a John Paul II man in the sense of his dynamic orthodoxy, his evangelical fervor, and his social vision. Like Benedict XVI, he is steeped in the Bible and preaches a very richly biblical message. He's obviously less effervescent than John Paul II and no one in the Church is as theologically gifted as Benedict XVI, but Pope Francis has his own gifts as a pastor and leader and the world and the Church will, I think, come to appreciate those gifts for what they are.
CP: How do you think Pope Francis will be received by evangelical Protestants in the U.S.?
Weigel: I hope he's received warmly as a brother in Christ, a fellow-disciple, and a fellow witness to the truth of the Gospel.