UPDATED: McShane Discusses First Jesuit Pope on “Charlie Rose,” Grimes Comments on Pope Francis


Father McShane at the President Address at Fordham College at Rose Hill on March 18, 2011. (L. Francois/Fordham Observer Archives)


Updated: 2:40 p.m.

Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, appeared as part of a panel on the “Charlie Rose” program on March 13 to discuss the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Father McShane at the President Address at Fordham College at Rose Hill on March 18, 2011. (L. Francois/Fordham Observer Archives)
Father McShane at the President Address at Fordham College at Rose Hill on March 18, 2011. (L. Francois/Fordham Observer Archives)

New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni, standing in for Charlie Rose who was on assignment in Rome, mediated the conversation between McShane, President of Georgetown University John J. DeGioia, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meachem, and Walter F. Modrys, S.J., who was the pastor of Saint Ignatius Loyola Parish in New York City for nineteen years.

The conversation covered many of the topics that newscasts throughout the day had touched on, namely the new pope’s age, nationality, and how his election would change, or not change, the church.

McShane began the conversation by relaying his reaction to the news.

“I was in my office, with my staff. I was walking across campus a little while before. I heard the church bells ringing, which had been silent since Benedict stepped down,” McShane said. “I knew we had somebody, so we all crowded in and watched and I was stunned. Everyone was. First Jesuit in the history of the church, and we didn’t believe it was possible.”

While not a panelist at the “Charlie Rose” discussion, Dean of FCLC Rev. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., spoke to The Observer, offering his opinions and insight to the recent announcement regarding the change in papacy for the Roman Catholic Church.

“As much as we were surprised by his election, I suspect he was even more surprised, especially at his age,” Grimes said. “He probably sat there thinking, ‘I’m pretty safe. I’m not going to get elected.’  When the first ballot was taken I suspect he began to realize that his name really was in contention for this.”

While McShane noted that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was mentioned prominently in the last conclave, which resulted in the election of Pope Benedict XVI, he was not mentioned as much in the speculation leading up to the conclave that followed after Benedict’s resignation.

Despite any qualms about his age, McShane said that Pope Francis’ qualities seemed to align themselves perfectly with what was to be expected a new pope.

“I think the humility, the brightness, the spirituality, the hard work, the directness; I think they looked past age and saw these things as many of qualities that were talked about during the run-up congregations and the American press briefings, these were the very things that were talked about.”

While Pope Francis may represent the beginning of a new papacy, the panelists were quick to note that this means little when it comes to major doctrinal changes, stating that the church’s positions on homosexual marriage, contraception, celibacy of clergy members, and female ordination will most likely remain static. The major shift McShane foresees is a focus on the poor and a turn of attention to social justice.

“It is clear that he is a bishop, archbishop and cardinal chosen by John Paul II,” McShane said. “Therefore he will be doctrinally conservative but socially far more liberal than most people would believe or understand. I think we see this very clearly in his very staunch and consistent […] championing, advocacy of the poorest of the poor, not only in Buenos Aires, but throughout Argentina and throughout Latin America. This would indicate that he is going to try to shift the church into a obviously more compassionate ministry to the poor.”

McShane and the other members of the panel commented heavily on Pope Francis’ sense of humility, saying he reminded him of Pope John XXIII.

“[Pope John XXIII] had the same kind of winning humility that I think we saw a glimpse of today [from Pope Francis]. Someone that the world could almost fall in love with because he was so unexpected and because he was so authentic and his devotion to the poor, which grew out of love, was simple captivating.”

This humility and devotion to the poor seemed apparent even before the papal inauguration. “We are told he moved out of the archbishop’s palace in Buenos Aires to a small apartment,” McShane said. “He gave up a chauffeured limousine and takes public transportation. He cooks his own meals and makes a point of visiting parishes in the poorest areas around Buenos Aires and then has made a bit of a reputation for himself for being a staunch advocate for the poorest of the poor and is taking on the economic powers that be in Argentina, saying that ‘you can’t forget the poor.’”

“Being a man, clearly, of great humility, asking for the crowds to bless him was no great surprise,” Grimes said.

When asked what this change in papacy means for the future of the church, Grimes said that, “God takes care of the church.” The major change Grimes foresees  at least personally, is his potential understanding of Pope Francis and his messages. “Having been formed in the same way that Pope Francis was, in the tradition of Jesuit spirituality, I suspect that I will understand things he says more readily, because we have been through many of the same spiritual experiences. They often say that Jesuits, regardless of how different the culture they come from, know one another almost immediately because they have had the same experiences of doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and that is the bond that brings Jesuits together.”

When asked what he would like to see from Pope Francis during his papacy, McShane said he would love to see another act of humility from the new pope.

“Holy Week is almost upon us. I would say to Pope Francis, on Holy Thursday, do not wash the feet of seminarians or priests. Bring into St. Peter’s the poor, the forgotten, the lonely, the outcast, the people that the world thinks little of and would turn away from. And on that day, wash their feet. I think that is exactly the sort of thing that […] would be very powerful and would come from his heart.”