Pope Francis recently gave a lengthy interview to the Jesuit magazine, La Civilta Cattolica. (The English translation is here.) In it, he says several remarkable things.
He desires collegial governance, and says that, in his early years, he was too authoritarian. He wants consultation with the bishops--not "token" consultation, he adds, but real participation.
This alone is a sharp departure from the attitude of the Vatican over recent centuries. Collegiality has been viewed as one end of a dichotomy, papal power being the other pole. If the church tilted toward collegiality, that meant the Pope had lost power. Former Popes took the attitude that they were in charge and the bishops should fall into line.
But more so than this, Pope Francis also wants to consult with the people. He was asked what it meant to "think with the church," a phrase from St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order. Not only does he locate the church in the people, as Vatican II did, he also ascribes infallibility to them, the "infallibility of faith", and ascribes it to "all the people walking together."
“...the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together...When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.
“This is how it is with Mary: If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”
When asked about pastoral work with same-sex couples, or those who have been divorced or remarried, he said:
“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this...
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
On ecumenicity, he suggests that the Roman church can learn something about collegiality from the Greek Orthodox, and that we all recognize that "what the Spirit has sown in the other" is "a gift for us." “We must walk united with our differences: there is no other way to become one. This is the way of Jesus.”
In terms of relationship with the secular world, Pope Francis appears to be rather ecclesia semper reformanda in his views. Vatican II was " a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture." In another place, he says that, in the face of the difficulties of the world, sometimes the church "desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense." He rejects this attitude out of hand: "No: God is to be encountered in the world of today."
All this has been in the repertoire of the Roman church for a long time. Pope Francis isn't changing anything. The traditionalists may worry that he's--gasp!--Changing Everything, but actually he hasn't changed a thing. He's lifting up strands of the tradition that are already there.