Damian Thompson is a British journalist, author, and traditionalist Catholic loyal to Rome. A keen observer of happenings in both the Catholic and Anglican, he’s written a fascinating piece examining the similarities between Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby:
The similarities between Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis are almost spooky — once you get past the fact that one is an Old Etonian evangelical Protestant and the other a South American Jesuit who prays in front of garlanded statues of Mary. Archbishop Welby was enthroned two days after Francis was inaugurated. That’s simple coincidence, but the other parallels tell us a lot.
Both men were plucked from senior but not prominent positions in their churches with a mandate to simplify structures of government that had suffocated their intellectual predecessors, who also resembled each other in slightly unfortunate ways. Rowan Williams and Benedict XVI seemed overwhelmed by the weight of office; both took the puzzling decision to retreat into their studies at a time of crisis in order to write books — Dr Williams on metaphor and icon-ography in Dostoevsky, Benedict on the life of Jesus. When they retired, early and of their own volition, their in-trays were stacked higher than they had been when they took office. Their fans were disappointed and the men charged with replacing them thought: we’re not going to let that happen again.
Enter the God Squad. In Britain, this is a term used to describe Christian Union types who talk without embarrassment about Jesus (albeit often in an embarrassing fashion). Justin Welby found his vocation at Holy Trinity, Brompton, whose public-school-educated worshippers had an unnerving habit of mentioning the Lord just as the guests were digging into the stilton. But these days ‘HTB’ has refined its evangelising and forms part of a global network of Christians who preach the Gospel without worrying too much about denominational boundaries or liturgical niceties.
This supercharged evangelicalism thrives in Argentina, where its opposition to secularism and its embrace of Pentecostal ‘gifts of the Spirit’ captured the imagination of the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio. The future Pope Francis was never a typical Latin American Jesuit. He distrusted Catholic liberation theologians, preferring the company of evangelicals who entered the slums to preach about God and Satan rather than models of economic justice.