The topic getting ink in Rome this week involved some leaked information but it had nothing to do with private documents, no stealing, no accusations. In fact, the person who leaked the information probably did not realize they were releasing previously undisclosed information.
The “mole” was the Bishop Luigi Martella of Molfetta, Italy. While on his ad limina visit with the other bishops of the Puglia region, an informal chat with the Holy Father. To reassure the bishops that Pope Benedict XVI is indeed in good health, Pope Francis reportedly said, “I was worried about his health before, but now he’s okay. He’s even working on the encyclical about faith.”
Bishop Martella, apparently thrilled by this news, wrote about it in a letter to the faithful that he posted on his diocesan website. Italian media, who had been speculating for some time about the role the retired pope might play in the current pontificate, jumped on this piece of information. Headlines inclued “Benedict writes encyclical” and similar statements.
The Holy See spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, told Catholic News Service that he could confirm that Pope Francis was on board with the plan to release an encyclical on Faith for the Year of Faith. Fr. Lombardi also said he could absolutely deny that Pope Benedict was writing the document for Pope Francis.
Another piece of information that Bishop Martella leaked is that Pope Francis is planning to write an encyclical of his own. It should come as no surprise that, as Bishop Martella reports, Pope Francis’ first encyclical will be about poverty, not in the material sense, but in the evangelical sense. This recalls his words at his audience with media, just after his election “how I want a poor church, a church for the poor.”
While we will have to wait to get further details on the timing, one thing is for sure: given Pope Francis’ style of preaching, the encyclical will be something everyone can read and understand. Pope Benedict’s encyclicals were theologically beautiful and profound, but the average person had to re-read them several time to fully understand them. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Pope Francis’ encyclical being read far and wide by a vast and varied audience.