by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR
“Facts are more important than ideas” is a statement from Pope Francis that one would have never heard from Popes Benedict XVI or John Paul II.
It is not that Pope Francis is dumb or an anti-intellectual. He is well-read and thoughtful, but by no stretch of the imagination can he be called a scholar. His training as a scientist and his life experience make him approach theory in a different way than John Paul and Benedict. It also helps explain his approach to the environment in Laudato Si’.
John Paul was trained first as a philosopher and then as a theologian, and as a priest, he taught ethics at a university. He wrote in a style that was not easily digested. Benedict was trained in theology and became one of the leading theologians of his generation. Both wrote scholarly books that promoted a particular perspective.
On the other hand, Francis’ initial training prior to entering the seminary was as a chemist. He never finished his doctorate in theology. He is what academics refer to as ABD, “all but dissertation.” He never wrote scholarly books. He was a wide-ranging consumer of theology, not the proponent of a particular view.
For John Paul the philosopher and Benedict the theologian, ideas were paramount. But for Francis the scientist and pastor, facts really matter…