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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Papal Foot Washing Controversy

pope francis feet

Liturgical traditionalists are increasingly expressing their dismay with the new Pope. They shutter in horror at online videos of his time as an Archbishop with his Misa de Ninos featuring dialogue with children, clapping and life-sized puppets.

Now, critics are decrying his washing the feet of youth at a retention facility, and among these are young women, one of whom was a Muslim.

A directive from the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1988 specified that “the washing of the feet of chosen men … represents the service and charity of Christ, who came ‘not to be served, but to serve.’” The rule in the West is that only the feet of men can be washed, with an associated sacramental meaning pointing to the priesthood of the apostles.

The current law does allow local bishops to dispense from the law, as is done here in the Archdiocese of Washington, and some are suggesting that the Pope merely acted as the Bishop or Patriarch of Rome and not as the universal shepherd. However, the papacy is not like a hat that one can put on or take off with ease. The Pope is the Roman Rite. The late Pope John Paul II regularly broke the rubric about raising the host over the paten, preferring the chalice instead. Now it is a legitimate option in the Roman Missal. We might not like it, but the Pope has indeed called into question the rubric regarding the washing of the feet. However, as an optional rite, I would not see it as a genuine cause for controversy. Further, while associated with the priesthood, certain Church fathers, like St. Augustine connected the ritual instead to Christian baptism. It may be that this somewhat suppressed tradition is again breaking the surface.

Having said this, what are we to make “theologically” of Pope Francis washing the feet of a Muslim girl? The solution comes with the Pope’s own words, if only we will listen. He says, “This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service. …Don’t lose hope, understand? With hope you can always go on.” When a boy asked why he had visited them, he simply responded that it was to “help me to be humble, as a bishop should be.” Pope Francis said this visit and the ceremonial gesture emerged “from my heart. Things from the heart don’t have an explanation.”

I suspect the Pope is expressing a theme which emerges immediately from the Scriptures. The one who would lead must be the servant of all. Our Lord did not minister only to Jews but to all who came to him. So too, in these perilous days, must the papacy be a vehicle for peace and charity in a world mad with intolerance and greed.

Liturgical traditionalists often celebrate beautiful liturgies. But dialogue with them is frequently difficult. The issue is deeper than anti-Semitism, but a belligerence with any and all, inside or outside the Church who disagree with them. The most rigid among them desire more than a place of their own in the universal Church; rather, they demand that all others surrender their places to them. This will not happen. Some of the traditionalists like the SSPX will probably not be coming home. The rhetoric will get nastier. The longer they remain juridically distinct, the more Sedevacantism will take hold.  The breakaway traditionalists really do not recognize either the priesthood or the Mass of what they call the Novus Ordo. Indeed, the use the term “Novus Ordo” as if it were a derogatory slur. If they did not like Pope Benedict XVI then the proverbial writing was certainly on the wall with Pope Francis. The washing of the feet on Holy Thursday has renewed cries of modernism on one side and the defense of his humility and simplicity on the other.

Here are a few of the messages I have received:

“If the SSPX are upset then it is entirely their fault. They could have regularized and bishops and maybe even an additional Cardinal or two from their alliance could have been added to the mix. Standing outside they forfeited their voice. Pope Benedict tried to help them, now they deserve what they get!”

“The SSPX can complain but refused to be part of the solution to liturgical abuses and excess. Maybe this is the Holy Spirit’s way of pushing their noses into what they see as a mess.”

“Did Jesus wash the feet of Catholics or Jews?”

“Who does this guy think he is? Oh wait, he is the Pope. Okay, I guess he can do as he pleases.”

“Some of you talk as if the SSPX were really part of the Church. They go through the motions, but have no standing and no say. They do not represent a legitimate option. Pope Francis is the Pope. Get used to it!”

“Could it be that this Pope Francis is what God wants and that we traditionalists have been wrong from the start?”

“Do you think the Pope was set up and someone slipped this Mohammedan gal into the mix without him knowing?”

“This Pope has taken the name of a deacon, not a priest. He has embraced the mendicant Francis. He is on the record that the Church should be reduced to poverty. Priests get ready to see your rectories exchanged for roach-filled apartments and bus tickets for the cars you once owned. Here is a man who takes seriously the charge of Jesus to the rich man!”

“One of the boys at the feet washing had a foot covered in gang-related and possibly obscene tattoos. I can see that photograph being splashed around the world. Here is the Vicar of Christ, bowing down and kissing the foot of a vulgar criminal. This makes me so mad. There hasn’t been something as scandalous as this since Jesus allowed his feet to be washed and dried in a prostitute’s hair!”

“This matter of the new Pope has merely unveiled the unyielding disobedience and disrespect that has been hiding behind traditionalist intransigence all along!”

Anointing & Faith Healing

JOANA:  Father, my question is about faith healers and quack doctors.  Are they considered genuine or given the power to anoint a sick person?


Only Catholic bishops and priests have the authority to offer the official Anointing of the Sick. It is a sacrament of the Church and very closely connected to the priestly charge over the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. It is an element of the priest’s power to forgive sins or function as a minister of reconciliation. God is at liberty to grant or to facilitate physical restoration and yet the most important element is spiritual healing.

The definition of a “quack doctor” is that he is a fraud. There are too many of those around.

The issue of “faith healers” is more complicated as they include both Catholics and Protestants. There might be an anointing or just the laying on of hands and prayer. God can use whomever he wills. A constant theme of mine is that we should not seek to stifle or ridicule where the Holy Spirit might be active. We can discern something of the truth by the fruits but must be ever on our guard against deception.

I recall an expose several years ago where a minister used a portable receiver in his ear to learn about attendees at the revival or meeting.  The information was whispered to him from a pre-show interview with volunteers. It gave the appearance that the minister was somehow clairvoyant and knew their ills before they came forward. Some of those healed were plants and others had been sent to a special hospital where they were treated but told to keep quiet about the medical intervention. Others got caught up in the euphoria of the moment, claimed healing, only to find themselves still belabored by pain or crippled when the meeting was over and the cameras were off. There was one minister who used to berate those not healed, saying that it was their own fault and that they did not have sufficient faith.  Of course, the organizers were still very quick to pass the money basket to the assembled throng. 

However, with all this said, the miraculous sometimes happens. Miracles of healing are often reported and investigated in the process of canonizing saints. The late Fr. John Lubey here in Washington, DC, (and the priest who married my parents and baptized me), regularly offered healing services along with Mass. People would sometimes collapse (sleeping in the Spirit) when he placed his hands on their heads. He told me that the ministry started in the late 1950’s when he blessed a woman who suffered from a disintegrated hip.  She returned a week later walking with ease and holding x-rays that showed a perfectly formed hip. He was a very humble man and regarded ALL priests as “healing” priests.  He gave all credit to our Lord and never asked for any money for his services.

Another Upset Woman About Married Priests, WHY?

CATHY: It is impossible to make such assumption that having a wife and children would be distraction to priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope when they were never allowed to have a family in the first place and many have fooled around anyway. To make people choose against a holy sacrament of marriage is to break the first commandment in the bible which is to be fruitful and multiply. You would take away some of the supposed scandal from the church if you would allow for men and women (nuns) to serve and be married. How can ministers of the word even begin to identify with parishoners if they have not lived through some of their circumstances especially since ministry begins in the home. Sex is not vile if done within marriage. It is a God sanctioned act. This not being married is a man sanctioned decree. Every prophet and most of the apostles including St. Peter were married. Their trials were due to the times they were living in. Now, unless you are living in pagan or atheist parts of the world, no one is trying to burn or stone you for being Catholic.


You assert several serious falsehoods:

First, the Church in the West once had a married clergy and determined that celibate clergy best served the Lord and the Church. In other words, we have “been there and done that.”

Second, most Catholic ministers are faithful to their promises and do not “fool around” as you put it. You malign me and many good priests. How dare you do this?

Third, the command in Genesis is given to the species, not to every individual. Otherwise, you would have to force people to get married and mandate that all fertile females get pregnant. Such would be absolutely silly. Our Lord did not get married and neither did St. Paul. Deacons represent both married and unmarried clergy in the Catholic Church. Most priests and all bishops are celibate. We did not “choose against marriage” but rather “chose a spiritual marriage to Christ’s Church.” You minimize the sacrifice and the value of such single-hearted love. You should be ashamed of yourself for that.

Fourth, please, do not be silly; sick and unfaithful people are still sick and unfaithful if they are married. A majority of men who left priesthood for marriage subsequently divorced. Protestant churches may not have their dirty laundry paraded on the news, but they have their own scandals with married clergy. A Methodist minister and friend of mine had a large and vibrant church in Washington, DC. He had an affair with a lady in the choir and got himself fired and defrocked. A married clergy would only amplify the possibility of scandal, albeit with divorce, abuse, incest, etc. There is nothing unnatural or wrong with celibacy. The answer to our problems is not a married priesthood. Allowing nuns to marry violates the very nature of their calling.

Fifth, the family may be the little Church but there is no requirement that every man be an ordained priest. Priests deal with many families. There is marriage preparation, counseling, and confession. We see and hear it all. We know the plight of our people. Our celibacy makes us available to them. We might not have our own wives and families, but we belong to our many parish families. Priests are not fools.

Sixth, a celibate priesthood is no condemnation of human sexuality and marriage. Do you know nothing about Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body? The marital act must remain within marriage as the consummation and renewal of the marital covenant. But there is no requirement that we collect as many sacraments as possible. Most men will never be priests. Most Western priests will never be married. I will never have a child. But few men can stand at the altar and make Christ present with the words of consecration. The Priesthood with Mass and Confession are enough for me.

Seventh, celibacy is a discipline of the Church. But our Lord gave such authority to his Church and it is not for you or me to impugn or spurn it. The Church has the mind of Christ in this matter.

Eighth, the Jewish and Christian view of marriage was not the same. Jews tended to see God’s blessings in progeny, wealth and land. Christians are urged to embrace a poverty of spirit. It is in this light that St. Paul recommends celibacy as the better way. You would be hard-pressed to show a married background for all the prophets. St. Paul and certain others were not married. There is evidence that the early Church had a preference for perfect continence on the part of married men who became priests. Strict celibacy would relieve the tension caused by such a situation.

Nine, while I not entirely sure how this fits into the debate about priesthood and marriage, we are facing terrible trials today, too. I have parishioners with family members suffering violence and death in Asia and Africa. Churches are being bombed and Christians are being martyred. The news here at home is filled with daily assaults upon the Church and our religious liberty. Indeed, the government is seeking to shut us down or compromise our moral message. Sorry, but you really do not know what you are talking about. Not having a wife and family might free a priest from fears of retaliation against them or intimidation through them.  Men often feel that they must make compromises to secure their families.  Are you married Cathy? Does your husband agree with you about mandating married priests?

Cathy, you really know very little about men as priests or what matters to us. We have men and women friends but we save our intimacy for God. Marriage is a wonderful thing, but so is celibate love. Do you find that hard to believe? We do not need to be married. We do not want to be married. We are happy. Why is it that people like yourself want to mess with our lives? If a man is called to holy orders then God will give him the graces for this state of life.


Faith Formation: The Challenge Ahead of Us

Sharing a few personal thoughts…

We must not fool ourselves. The challenges we face are tremendous. Too long have we allowed the parameters of religious debates or the understanding of the Church, herself, to be defined by those who either hate the Church or who have a greater love for the world. Our voyeuristic society is enamored with  the shocking, scandalous and inordinate pleasure. Look at all the nonsense and analysis that was given to the Pope’s resignation. It did not matter that the Pope had a bad heart, was blind in one eye and was having mobility issues common to 85 year old men. The news anchors gave long discourses on the pedophile scandals that devastated the Church. They pointed fingers to the document leaks in the Vatican and problems with finances. Others closed their eyes to his many incredible accomplishments and argued that his was a failed papacy because he refused to bend on married priests or women priests or same-sex marriage, or divorce and remarriage, or on contraception and abortion, or because millions of Muslims still want holy war, or on what have you. They droned on and on. They are the blind who say they see but are really blind. Indeed, they are the blind leading the blind. We cannot surrender the formation of our people’s faith and values to these fools! We are surrounded by all sorts of voices. Many of these voices are shouting. Most of them are lying or have mixed truth and falsehood to the point that they cannot be unraveled. We have to do all we can to open the ears of our people to the whispering of Christ, the real Christ, not the popular false portrait of a passive and tolerant “wimp Jesus” who makes no demands and has no power to save. We have to help our people to see beyond the false presentations and rationalizations to the perennial faith and values which emerge from the sacred deposit. This is the challenge we face in every element of faith formation through proclamation, catechesis, evangelization and witness. We must fight to reclaim the reins of faith— defining for ourselves by the light of God’s grace and the apostolic legacy— the faith and the real issues that confront us.

We need more than a catechetical policy that would give prudential and organizational guidance. Rather, the proposed policy and much else during this Year of Faith should reach beyond a failed “business as usual” mentality to make something old ever new again, the message of mercy, life and unity in Christ. We need a manifesto for faith formation that will reach beyond rules and administration in becoming a clarion call for the New Evangelization?

Faith Formation: Getting the Right Media to our People

Sharing a few personal thoughts…

When media products on faith topics first started appearing, there were often the questions of distribution and cost. There are very few Catholic bookstores and gift shops. Unless the catalogue came in the mail or something was offered in the back of church, people had little access to sacramental and Catholic reading materials. When I was a boy, the parish kept good Catholic books near the entryway that you could acquire with a small donation and take home. We need to make every church a place where bibles, prayer books, personal missals, catechisms, and sacramental like rosaries, religious medals, scapulars, holy cards and crucifixes are available. Plaques with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary should adorn every Catholic home, preferably as part of a house blessing.

Audio cassettes and videotapes have given way to CDs and DVDs and these in turn are being slowly replaced by downloaded digital videos and mp3s. When Catholic media products first came into the market, it was somewhat staggering what they cost. A tape with a 15 minute video might cost thirty to forty dollars. Things are somewhat cheaper today but Protestant resources are often less expensive as our own. While real costs must be paid by someone, I think we need to give more emphasis upon the free nature of the faith. If the legal rights for certain programs and talks might be surrendered, cheap cd-r and dvd-r discs can be stocked in churches for parishioners to watch at home or listen in the car while driving the road. Mp3s can be burned to CDs or placed on flash memory for easy playback. There are already companies like Lighthouse Catholic Media (http://www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org/) which are trying to make a difference with cheaper CDs on the faith, available in bundles of 20 or 50 or 100. The Archdiocese has so many teaching avenues that we could probably end up giving CDs away. At 20 cents a CD, we could give an hour talk by the Cardinal for every parishioner to take home with the request to pass it on afterwards. Many people take an hour or more driving to or from work. Such an program would quickly bring the Church’s message to people who would otherwise be listening to questionable music or angry politicized talk-radio.

Faith Formation: Correlation & Permeation of Religious Formation

Sharing a few personal thoughts…

The revised policies should address a plan for religious formation that would entail a correlation of the various areas of Church life focusing both on the content of Christian faith and morals as well as the various means for its promulgation or transmission. Every parish committee should be grounded in the Christian kerygma. We educate children on many subjects, but religious education is the reason we have parish programs and schools. We want to help the poor, protect human life, promote justice and defend human rights. But we are not social workers, philosophers or secular humanists. The faith is the axis around which everything else rotates. Looking to the Archdiocese, the faith and its formation should permeate our various departments and operations: Communications (online communications, computers, television, radio, phone and fax, newspapers, flyers, books, booklets, flyers, lectures, etc.), Catechesis (adult and child), Evangelization and Mission (bringing back the prodigals and looking outward), Worship (allowing ourselves to be formed by the Word and the Eucharist), Sacramental Preparation (emphasizing the meaning of Christian Baptism, Confession, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, etc.), Social Services and Outreach (extending the healing ministry of Jesus), Youth Ministry (preparing young people who are NOT simply the Church of tomorrow but PART OF the Church of TODAY!) and Parochial Schools (a necessary alternative to public schools which no longer teach many of our values).

There are many people who “think they know” what the Church teaches and yet such knowledge is often juvenile, inexact, tainted with errors and stereo-types, and judged by the prism of a hedonistic and relativistic society. We have the truth. We have the great mystery. We know the meaning of life. But how do we connect the Greatest Story Ever Told to the lived stories of our people and the legacy of the saints? The Bible is God’s Word given to humanity, but only if it is opened and PROCLAIMED. How do we get the Good News to our people and their neighbors? What manner of presentation can we offer so that it will not get lost with all the half-truths and selfish pursuits of the environment where we find ourselves? Can we get our people to place a higher price and joy in going to Mass than to a sports game or a musical concert? Can we get our people to open their bibles on a daily basis in preference to the latest bestselling erotic novel like Fifty Shades of Grey? A buried treasure remains just something that is buried or lost. We do not want to bury the Good News of Christ and of his Church. The policies should speak to the various media we can use as well as traditional outreach. Years ago we had a project in various parishes where volunteers went door-to-door. We left neighbors a little bag with a parish bulletin, a pencil stamped with a faith message, and a brochure or booklet about the Catholic faith. We did not seek to steal the congregants of other churches. If someone was a good Baptist or Lutheran, we prayed with them as a fellow Christian and let them know that we shared a love for Jesus. Of course, we leave our doors open to all. We focused principally on fallen-away Catholics and the large number of unchurched. Of course, if we are going to have such outreach or missionary activity, we had better make sure we have something to which to keep them once they come home to the Catholic house that Christ built.

Faith Formation: Religious Formation Stemming from Liturgy

Sharing a few personal thoughts…

Another idea that holds promise for adult religious formation is in the liturgy itself. We have revised and corrected Mass prayers which restore the fullness of our patrimony in faith. There is an incredible depth and subtle richness to our more strictly translated Latin that can bear fruit if there is sufficient reflection and instruction. We need to move away from cheap missalettes and return to the use of personal Missal books. Why? It is because this will allow our people to more easily following the readings and to study the prayers, themselves. They need such a tool because the hour on Sunday or the twenty minutes for a daily Mass moves too quickly for proper study. Missals will allow our people to properly prepare for Mass, become familiar with the readings before hearing them proclaimed, and allow them to examine the orations which constitute the Eucharistic mystery. Connected to this, we have to do something that certain liturgists do not like but about which they are in error. The homily or instruction may reference the readings but they can never do full justice to everything in the Word of God. Priests and deacons need the liberty to also offer catechetical homilies, maybe even stringing the weeks together so as to give a comprehensive analysis of our faith. The late Msgr. William J. Awalt and Bishop Thomas J. Welsh were involved with a project many years ago to break the three year lectionary into an ordered catechesis of the Catholic faith. It was published either in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s in Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Back when the alarm about defection and ignorance was being sounded by such priests, many closed their ears and pretended that we did not have a problem. WE CAN NO LONGER PRETEND. We are facing a dire situation and the former pope knew as much. It is for this reason he called for a New Evangelization and for the Year of Faith. Homilists should also feel free to preach on any part of the liturgy, including the prayers like the Confiteor, Gloria, Collects, Antiphons, Creeds, Prefaces, Prayer over the Gifts, Post-Communion Prayers, etc. This should go far beyond giving a definition for terms like “prevenient grace” or “consubstantial.” For instance, the revised prayers correct the semi-pelagianism that used to embarrass so many knowledgeable priests in regard to the previous translation. Saints now clearly intercede, we cooperate, God saves and grace prevails.

Faith Formation: Use of EWTN & Other Catholic Media

Sharing a few personal thoughts…

Many if not most parishioners of the Archdiocese have cable, satellite and/or Verizon access to EWTN and their Catholic programming. There is also some availability with the low power Guadalupe Catholic AM Radio station (however, I have had more success listening online than over the radio). Raymond Arroyo produces the EWTN television news program, The World Over from the Pope John Paul II Center (now owned by the Knights of Columbus) in Washington, DC. While I am appreciative that there was a certain past tension in the relationship between Mother Angelica and certain U.S. bishops, it is time to heal wounds and to repair bridges. Along with the local radio effort, Eternal Word Television Network offers many good programs which we can advertise and make use. Study guides can be prepared for some of the programming and we can help advertise shows of particular value in Catholic formation. Discussion groups might even be formed to watch and talk about useful faith content. When I met Mother Angelica back in 1989, she said that priests always had her okay to tape and use her programming back in the parishes. The USCCB and the Archdiocese should closely collaborate with those media partners who share our mission in building up the Church. Mother Angelica was a courageous wonder-worker in making her network a success when even the bishops with far more money and resources could not make their early initiative work out. However, it must be admitted that her somewhat cantankerous manner and independence sometimes complicated the situation. The war of words with Cardinal Mahoney and his document on the liturgy was a conflict that should have been settled behind closed doors and not on the air. When the saintly Archbishop Philip Hannan sought to create a Catholic television network, expanding his own local efforts, she interpreted the initiative as a personal betrayal and removed his news program FOCUS from her scheduled lineup. It was a great loss because it was one of the best Catholic programs available. She was also quick to remove programs when priests or bishops displeased her on certain issues, as with the closure of non-viable parishes in certain dioceses. This was rumored as one of the reasons why The Teaching of Christ disappeared from her station’s offerings some years back. It was another loss that many of us keenly felt, (especially since it was a habit of mine to tape programs for catechetical use with adults). Her station has also been plagued by giving celebrity status to certain priests and laity who later had to be removed for causing scandal or for deviation to the traditionalist camp. Only a few years ago there was an issue of prudence with the EWTN coverage of the U.S. bishops and their national meeting. Throughout, a closer collaboration with the Church’s shepherds might have prevented embarrassments to the Church and pain to Catholic viewers. We all love the Church and should work together in the Holy Spirit for the promotion of the kingdom.

Faith Formation: Stage of Life Formation Efforts

Sharing a few personal thoughts…

Another matter worth mentioning is that of stage of life formation. Any catechetical policy must address programs like those that are sometimes attempted for groups like YOUNG ADULTS. While there are programs like Theology on Tap in Washington, DC, there is very little directed to them specifically in the counties of the Archdiocese. Further, some churches in the United States attempt to be more inclusive by also having MIDDLE ADULT and MATURE ADULT programs, focusing on the faith needs of different generations. Parishes might also make distinctions between SINGLES and MARRIED or FAMILY groups.  This is about more than fellowship.  Church programs should always include an element of catechesis, prayer and worship.  At every stage of life we are called to grow in the faith.  The message that brings consolation may also change with time.  As our days grow short in this world, we might especially need the hope and consolation that is offered by our Resurrected Lord.  Given that no one parish might have the resources for all this, could such programs be attempted in the various deaneries? Further, I would not exclude faith formation from the various DIVORCED and WIDOWED CATHOLIC groups. Indeed, it might be quite necessary in that we sometimes inadvertently encourage dating or courtship between persons who are not yet free to marry again.

Faith Formation: Marriage & Baptismal Preparation

Sharing a few personal thoughts…

There is a need for greater uniformity and accountability in MARRIAGE (Pre-Cana) and BAPTISMAL PREPARATION. It is often difficult or impossible to insure a class for godparents. Some parishes require one meeting for parents and others, two. Classes can be cursory with no more content than filling out the appropriate forms. Some pastors refuse to baptize children who are born to parents not married in the Church. Others will do so with the admonition that they have to try and make matters right by God and his Church. Some Pre-Cana programs are as many as four weekends; others are two meetings or even one. The elements covered are often different as well. Some offer the FOCUS or PMI questionnaires of compatibility; others do not. Given that we are dealing with sacraments, pastors need more assistance and guidance in these areas. We would not want to miss out on what can become wonderful occasions for calling prodigals back to Catholic unity and practice. 

“In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage,” Bergoglio told his priests. “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”–Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis I)