VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis asked academics in every discipline of theology — including moral theology, spirituality and canon law — to focus on how their area of study “can reflect the centrality of mercy” in the Gospel.

“Without mercy our theology, our law, our pastoral work runs the risk of crumbling into bureaucratic pettiness or into an ideology that, by its nature, tries to domesticate mystery,” the pope said in a letter released March 9. “To understand theology is to understand God, who is love.”


Pope Francis made his request in a letter to his successor, Cardinal Mario Poli of Buenos Aires, grand chancellor of the Catholic University of Argentina. The university’s theology school is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The university’s theology students, the pope said, should not be trained as “museum theologians who accumulate data and information about revelation without really knowing what do to with it,” nor should they be cold observers of human and church history.

“Good theologians, like good pastors, should have the smell of the people and the street,” the pope said, and the work in the various fields of theology should give them the balm needed to heal the wounds of the people with whom they will come into contact.

They should not be “bureaucrats of the sacred,” he said, but men and women who know, love and understand the church and its teaching, but also know, love and understand the modern world and are capable of helping people make sense of both.