During The Future of Christianity online summit, Father Richard spoke about discovering wisdom for Christianity’s future through the inspiration of those who led courageous lives in Christianity’s past:
One of the things that the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) taught us in the religious orders, and this was certainly from the Holy Spirit, is that we were each to go back to our founders and say, “What did Catherine McAuley found the Sisters of Mercy for? What did Francis form the Franciscans for? What did Ignatius do with the Jesuits?”. . .
So as much as we experienced a renewal in scripture [in Vatican II, asking] “What did Jesus really teach?,” we were simultaneously doing the same thing—in our case with Francis of Assisi. We’re an alternative orthodoxy. We’re quite eager to remain in the Catholic or universal church, but some of the things it does are not very universal, not very Catholic at all! And that has shaken us to our foundations. So it did for me, too. We were founded by a prophet, Francis, who wasn’t the usual pious saint, but he didn’t accuse the system of being inferior. He just went out and did it better. That’s still one of our CAC principles: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
I was in Rome a couple of months ago, as some of you know, to visit the Holy Father [Pope Francis]. We took a little side trip to the church of Saint John Lateran; that’s where the pope lived in the thirteenth century. St. Peter’s wasn’t built yet. Out in the courtyard, there’s this marvelous, rather large set of statues, and it’s Francis in the thirteenth century approaching this top-heavy Roman church. He’s smiling, and his hand is raised in blessing, but it’s also raised in confrontation. That’s the history we’ve all been dealing with. How do we return to our sources, and discover that almost all our sources were critical of [their current] Roman Catholicism? . . .
It was such good news! That all the legalism and ritualism I had been taught really weren’t Franciscan at all. For example, I know you, even at the Center, call me “Father Richard,” but Francis didn’t want us to be fathers. He rejected any title of domination over another person. We were all to be called brothers, in Latin fratres, or friars in English. So we were friars, not monks. Our job was not to be priests, but to live among the people as brothers. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Francis dies, they’re laying hands on us, and we’re getting happily ordained as priests. Even when I was ordained in 1970, I didn’t fully know that history. I’m not saying those people weren’t sincere. Many of them are holier than I am. But it wasn’t Franciscanism.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Richard Rohr,” in The Future of Christianity: A Virtual Summit, Center for Action and Contemplation, streamed live on August 23, 2022, YouTube video, 1:56:18.