Why is Pope Francis Sometimes Misunderstood? Nigerian Catholic Theologian Explains

Credit: Vatican Media

Not everyone, including some Theologians, understands the theology of Pope Francis, a Nigerian-born Catholic Theologian has said.

According to Fr. Stan Chu Ilo, a Research Professor in the Department of Catholic Studies at DePaul University, people who want “a Church with pre-packaged answers” and those who find it difficult to grasp what he describes as the “aesthetics” of Pope Francis’ theology are most likely to misunderstand the Holy Father.

“Whoever doesn't understand the theological aesthetics of Pope Francis is likely to misunderstand him,” Fr. Stan told ACI Africa on March 5, when he shared about how the Holy Father has shaped his own work.

“Some people want a pure Church; a Church with pre-packaged answers. Catholics who are used to the idea of ‘what is the Church saying’ find it difficult to understand most messages of Pope Francis," Fr. Stan said.

He added, “Pope Francis is saying that we don't have answers to a lot of things that are happening in the world today and that we have to enter into mysteries guided by the Holy Spirit. When we do this, based on what we encounter, God will allow us to see the face of the poor man of Galilee. We need to accept that there are people who do not accept the same conclusion, and my work has been to give a theological explanation of this.”


Those who find it difficult to understand Pope Francis, Fr. Stan says, “hold onto a theology without aesthetics.”

What such people have, the Catholic Priest says, is “a theology that does not have life in it” and a mere “collection of statements, sanctions, and condemnations.”

Pope Francis, U.S.-based member of the Clergy of Nigeria’s Awgu Diocese says, “brings theology to life.”

According to the Nigerian Catholic Priest who also serves as the producer and host of African Catholic Voices, a podcast service of the Pan African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network (PACTPAN), Pope Francis has introduced a paradigm shift in the Church. 

The Holy Father has, however, not altered any teachings of the Church, especially pertaining to issues considered controversial, the Priest, who serves as the Principal Convener of the Pan-African Catholic Congress on Theology, Society, and Pastoral Life says.

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“Pope Francis has changed the tone of messaging and leadership at the Vatican. He hasn't altered any teachings of the church regarding some of the topics that have been seen as controversial, including family, sexuality, gender theories, and celibacy; but rather, he has introduced a new ecclesial climate that is more open, inclusive, and one that orients itself as a humble, poor and merciful Church that listens,” Fr. Stan says.

He adds, “We now have a Church that is listening more and more to the voices from the peripheries of people who feel abandoned and regarded as sinners. We have a Church where those who are divorced and separated are welcome to find healing under a tent of comfort.”

To the Catholic Theologian who has called upon Church leaders in Africa to embrace Pope Francis’ inclusivity style to stop people from leaving the Church “in droves”, the Holy Father does not shy away from criticism, and is open to it, even within the ranks of the Cardinals. 

His personality of being open to criticism, Fr. Stan says, is something that was never heard of before. “People would be excommunicated for criticizing Church leaders,” he says. 

The Nigerian Catholic Priest asserts that Pope Francis’ style of leadership has been a question about packaging messages in a way that attracts people to Jesus. 


Pope Francis’ leadership in the past 10 years, he says, has been an invitation to the people of God to focus their gaze on the face of Jesus. 

“Pope Francis asks us who do you see in the person begging on the streets? Whose face do you see in the slum that is buried in the garbage? Who do you see in the rampant environmental degradation, the rising sea levels, and the catastrophic climatic conditions? Who do you see in earthquakes in Syria?” Fr. Stan says.

Meanwhile, Fr. Stan has shared the contribution of Pope Francis to the Church, saying that the Holy Father is “a clear pathway to realizing the dreams of the Second Vatican Council.”

“Previous Popes wanted to realize the Second Vatican Council; they had the spirit and the intent, but they were very cautious, making sure that they do not do too much,” he says.

“It had to be ‘the Church in Africa’ rather than ‘the African Church’ and ‘the Church in America’ rather than ‘the American Church’, that we have to be careful, lest we fall into creating tribal Catholicism,” Fr. Stan warned during the March 8 interview with ACI Africa.

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Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.