Pope Francis: Right and Wrong

I will give Pope Francis a tip of the biretta for his latest act on behalf of some of the poorest of the poor in Rome, or as he refers to them “society’s rejects, victims of today’s throwaway culture.”

He has turned the Palazzo Migliori, a 19th palace named for the family who donated it to the Roman Catholic Church, into a “homeless sanctuary.” The building had, for 70 years, served as headquarters to the Calasanziane, an order of nuns dedicated to the care of single, young mothers. When they vacated the building last year, Vatican officials wanted to turn it into a high-end hotel, but Pope Francis had different ideas.

According to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli, Francis presided at the opening of the shelter in early November 2019, sharing a meal with the men and women, no longer homeless, who share 16 rooms with two or three beds in each, 13 bathrooms with showers and two hot meals a day, prepared by volunteers who run this “Palace of The Poor.” In addition, they are provided “medical assistance and psychological counselling for alcoholism.”

Pope Francis shares a meal with guests and volunteers of the "Palace of the Poor."

Pope Francis shares a meal with guests and volunteers of the “Palace of the Poor.”
(Source: Community of Sant’Egidio)

Writing for CRUX in November 2019, Paulina Guzik noted that once the home for mothers had been closed, Pope Francis called on his “Pastoral Almoner,” Polish Cardinal Konrad Krejeweski, to preside over the renovations required to create the shelter and if possible to have some of the homeless workers do the work. The renovated palace, with its “carved wooden ceilings, fresco-ed walls and tiled floors” serving as “evidence of its aristocratic origins” is obviously unlike any other homeless shelter in the world — or elsewhere in Rome, where more Spartan facilities are run either by the municipality or the Church.

Within a few months, Krejeweski had “arranged a complete reno” and indeed, the contractor did allow some of the homeless to help with the job, as a result of which, many were subsequently hired by the company. The shelter boasts an elevator for those residents who are elderly or handicapped in addition to a beautiful chapel. Guzik identifies the volunteers who manage the shelter as members of Sant’Egidio Community, a “lay movement famous for its peace initiatives and working for the poor.”

Poggioli describes the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica ringing out on a “chilly January evening” as a “few people huddled in shabby clothes” waiting to enter the former palace. Scraps of conversations among the guests revealed to reporter Poggioli “the pain and grief – lost jobs, marriage break-ups or mental health issues” which had brought many of them to this sad point in their lives. Livia, an Italian woman who had been living on the streets of Rome since early December and who would not give her surname, told Poggioli that, as a resident of the shelter, she comes in the evening for dinner, served from 7-9 with breakfast from 7-8 a.m. and added that she was “out during the day,” and that her life had taken a radical turn since being welcomed into the shelter. (Although guests are not given a “deadline to leave,” it’s not clear if they can remain at the shelter during the day. One would hope so.)

The recent shelter for the homeless in Sydney can’t compare with the luxury of the “Palace for the Poor” in Rome, but in offering the homeless a place to sleep that is warm and not a “bed” in some doorway or abandoned car where they must guard their belongings from being stolen, many generous souls in our area have put their money into an attempt to assist at least some of those who find themselves in such dire straits.


Although he deserves kudos for the amazing gesture described above, Pope Francis made another, less encouraging, decision recently, rejecting a call by South American bishops for the ordination of married men to address the shortage of priests across the Amazon.

The Pope’s response was contained in a 94-page booklet entitled, Querida Amazonia  or Beloved Amazon, in which he addressed the issues raised in the final document of the Synod of the Amazon, a gathering of 180 bishops from nine South American countries held in Rome last October.

Pilgrims take part in a river procession in the Amazon Jungle.

Pilgrims take part in a river procession in the Amazon Jungle. (Source: Vatican News)

While he delves deeply into issues like climate change, poverty and the plight of the region’s Indigenous peoples, Francis “set aside” the ordination proposal, which, as Jason Horowitz explained in the New York Times, would “lift a roughly 1,000-year-old restriction and potentially revolutionize the priesthood.”

The Amazonian bishops made the case for ordaining “suitable and respected men of the community” who had served as deacons, arguing that:

Many of the Church communities in the Amazonian territory have enormous difficulties in attending the Eucharist. Sometimes it takes not just months but even several years before a priest can return to a community to celebrate the Eucharist, offer the sacrament of reconciliation or anoint the sick in the community.

But as Horowitz noted, while the ordination of married men would be limited to “remote areas of South America where there is a scarcity of priests” [as there is here, says I], the move to ordain married men would create:

…a laboratory for a Catholic Church looking to the global south for its future, with married priests and indigenous rites mixing with traditional liturgy.

He also noted that in remarks made in January, Pope Francis cited the books of the retired bishop, Fritz Lobinger, now 90, who:

…spent his career in remote areas of South Africa. In January, Francis cited Bishop Lobinger’s books arguing for married priests, while acknowledging “it will be a step of enormous proportions” and would naturally lead to a discussion of ordaining women.

(God forbid!)

The ordination of women was not discussed at the Synod, although their possible ordination as deacons was; however, (surprise, surprise) the bishops voted against it. Instead, Francis said the Vatican would “continue to study the role of women in the early years of the church,” adding:

We still haven’t grasped the significance of women in the Church. Their role must go well beyond questions of function.

In January (while he was working on Beloved Amazon?), Pope Francis appointed Francesca Di Giovanni to a high-ranking position in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State — the first woman to hold such a position. (She was not appointed to replace a man, but to fill a position created for her). Was this an attempt to portray himself as a champion of women?

If so, I can think of a better way to achieve that end.



Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.