Do You Know “Pop Theology”? (1)

September 26, 2022
Bishop Antonio Stagliano

On August 6, 2022, Pope Francis appointed as President of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, Msgr. Antonio Staglianò, Bishop Emeritus of Noto, in southeastern Sicily. This prelate has become known for his desire to promote what he himself calls “pop theology.”

According to Andrea Gagliarducci on the August 15 Monday Vatican website, this appointment reveals how Pope Francis wants his theologian to be and how he sees the development of theology. According to the Italian journalist, the important thing for the Pope “is not the doctrine, but how it is presented. This is a mainly pragmatic approach to the problem.”

And he added: “it is an approach in which the choice of Bishop Staglianò, who became famous for his theorization of the so-called Pop Theology, is reflected. It is a popular theology, “unconventional” in the words of the bishop himself, which aims to present the Gospel in contemporary language. In particular, Bishop Staglianò loves to use pieces of pop music pieces, particularly those from the Sanremo Festival.”

According to Andrea Gagliarducci, “for Pope Francis, the priority is to rejuvenate language. The Pope might have no intention of changing doctrine, but he is convinced that the doctrine must be presented differently to be attractive. Doctrine must communicate joy. It must not show prohibitions.”

Basically, the Italian journalist wonders, “doctrine as a question of language: this is perhaps the central theological theme of Pope Francis.”

Perhaps Francis does not really have the intention of changing the doctrine, - as Andrea Gagliarducci writes -, but he has the obvious obsession to make this doctrine “presentable” in the eyes of world, which can only oblige him to modify the doctrine to adapt it to the demands of this world – on a case-by-case basis, as in the case of communion for remarried divorcees.

To change the form without changing the content was the statement displayed by the conciliar aggiornamento from the beginning. This illusion is now proven.

The Roman Vaticanist continues: the thought of Pope Francis “consists in addressing major [societal] issues instead of central doctrinal themes. We look first of all at the human being, and the discourse on God must rather be a human discourse.”

With Bishop Staglianò at his side, Francis will have “a pastor who shows himself to the peripheries (even of thought) as Pope Francis always invites people to do. The new theological line, therefore, will be to rejuvenate language, explaining the Gospel from another perspective.”

“Thus, some central themes of the debate are downplayed, from the one on doctrine to that on the great themes of life and bioethics, which must relativized and set aside to address the issues [of society, such as ecology ] that may attract dialogue” with the contemporary world.

For Vincenzo Rizza, a correspondent of Aldo Maria Valli who quotes him on his blog, on August 13, it is indeed a revolution. With irony, he comments on the recent appointment of Bishop Staglianò: “a just and awaited promotion for a fine theologian who has particularly distinguished himself by his originality and respect for the new magisterium.”

“All those efforts have finally been rewarded, and our man will be able to leave the small stage of Noto (which was evidently now too narrow) to perform on much more prestigious stages.”

And to promise a bright future to the new president of the Academy of Theology, who will “finally be able to extend the benefits of his preaching to the entire Catholic world and contribute to the formation of new priests and to pop theological reform.”

“First step, the obligation to appoint (as already done in Noto) a pop-theological assistant (whatever that means) in each diocese; second step, the replacement of the Creed with Imagine of John Lennon, a song that Jesus too, according to the prelate, would have sung with conviction; third step… unpredictable, for now. Because the imagination has no limits. The revolution has just begun!”

Caustically, Vincenzo Rizza concludes by suggesting another nomination: for the “priest who celebrated Mass at sea, with a bare torso using an air mattress as an altar; after all, he has interpreted literally the teachings of the Church “going forth” to the letter, and could worthily replace Staglianò as bishop in the vacant see of Noto.”