< The People's Pope


Friday, December 13, 2013

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  What tops the list of what Facebook’s 1.2 billion users are talking about? Who, in a summer survey by Twiplomacy, was deemed the most influential man on Twitter? Who, according to Global Language Monitor, was the most talked about man on the Internet? Who gets coverage in Gawker and GQ? Still don’t know? Well, who was just named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year? Come on! Who loves tango and sinners?

PETER SAGAL:  No, the real question is what religion has the stone cold coolest leader?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!’s, Peter Sagal is making it too easy.


CORRESPONDENT:  It was a thrill for the crowd. Pope Francis walking out on the street to press the flesh.

CORRESPONDENT:  The embrace that has gone viral, Pope Francis laying his hands on a disfigured man.

DAVID MUIR:  Pope Francis blasted church hardliners for focusing on small-minded rules that are divisive, like abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

BILL MAHER:  I am not exactly sure [LAUGHING] what this Pope wants, but I’m starting to fear it’s my time slot.


ROCCO PALMO:  He has garnered larger crowds in eight months as Pope than Benedict XVI had his entire seven years as Pope. That’s gobsmacking.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Rocco Palmo writes the influential blog, "Whispers in the Loggia."

ROCCO PALMO:  You know, someone who is very serious, very dour as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has suddenly become this wildly charismatic figure. The Argentineans who have, who have spoken to him since his election said basically, what's gotten into you? He said, “At the moment of the election, something just came over me and it hasn't left.” That's a direct quote that’s been passed along to me.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Did he say what it was?

ROCCO PALMO:  Catholics believe that the choice of the Pope is determined by the Holy Spirit. And having spoken to electors who  were in the conclave, some of whom were in their last conclave in 2005, once they went in there several have said to me, and they’ve used these exact words, “Something took over the place.”


ROCCO PALMO:  A supernatural experience happened. And, and those who were in the conclave in 2005 said that it was unlike anything that happened even last time.

DANIEL BURKE:  People are willing to believe almost anything about this Pope.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Daniel Burke co-edits CNN’s Belief Blog.

DANIEL BURKE:  The one about going out to the poor went viral even though it wasn’t true. People at the Vatican have told me just no way that he can do that. But they seem like something that he would do.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So when we call Pope Francis “the Internet Pope”, it's not that he does his own coding, right?

DANIEL BURKE:  [LAUGHS] No. This Pope knows a lot of languages, but I don't think HTML is one of them.


DANIEL BURKE:  It’s more like stories about the Pope tend to go viral than the Pope himself kind of conceiving some master plan in the Vatican to get everyone to re-tweet him.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So how much of this is real and how much of this is papal brand management?

DANIEL BURKE:  Well, it's clear from the Pope's writings that he knows what he's doing. He has a plan in mind. He famously named himself after Francis of Assisi, the guy who wears the long brown robe and always seemed to have animals around him. And, and one of the most famous statements attributed to St. Francis is, “Preach all the time, use words when necessary.” And I think that this Pope has really kind of taken that as his motto. He knows the power of these viral images.


But that doesn't mean that he's not sincere when he does this. I mean, when he, for instance, embraced and kissed the man whose body was unfortunately covered with boils, he didn't like look at his Vatican calendar and say, hey, I’m gonna do this today. He didn’t know that guy was gonna show up in Vatican City.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  On December 4th, the Pope tweeted, quote, “Fifty years ago Vatican II spoke of communications. Let us listen to, dialogue with and bring to Christ all those we encounter in life comparisons with Vatican II come up a lot, and it's not unreasonable to suggest that this may be the era of Vatican 2.0.


A half century ago, Vatican II was the product of another elderly man of humble birth and abundant good works, whose coronation induced a seismic shift. Pope John XXIII actually did sneak out of the Vatican to walk the streets, as Francis is rumored to have done. John was the first Pope in nearly a century to make pastoral visits to Roman hospitals and reformatories, as where Francis later washed the feet of juvenile inmates.


In 1870, the First Vatican Council was tasked with defining church dogma in the face of the growing influence of rationalism. It formally declared the Pope infallible. So why convene a second Council, when all questions were answered by infallibility?  But in 1962, the Second Vatican Council aimed to correct an endemic failing, to turn an ingrown church outward by encouraging mass in the vernacular, reasserting the power of bishops and laity, fostering friendly relations with other Christian and even non-Christian faiths. Jews would no longer bear collective guilt for the crucifixion and religious liberty was declared a human right.


Interestingly, so was access to information. Both producers and consumers of media had a responsibility to be both truthful and moral. But the decree explicitly extolled the power of the press, movies, radio and television, especially for studying the Gospel. This embrace of media technology and this call for social communication was new. Television was just getting off the ground in much of the world.


It's often said that the piano that could truly convey Beethoven's music wasn't invented until after his death. Vatican II could write the music, this call for social communication, this emphasis on the world outside the Church, but it didn't have the piano. Francis does. It’s called global media. Rocco Palmo -

ROCCO PALMO:  Francis is the first Pope to have been ordained a priest after Vatican II, ever. And so, basically, while the  Church has spent the last 50 years since Vatican II fighting over the outcomes of Vatican II, for Francis, he was ordained after Vatican II, he was formed in that Church; it’s all a settled question.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Last month, in his landmark Papal Manifesto, Evangelii Gaudium, what one commentator called his “I have a dream speech,” Francis wrote, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Sounds like Vatican II. And so does this quote:  If one is in extreme necessity, he has the right to procure for himself what he needs out of the riches of others. Oh wait, that was Vatican II. What  Francis wrote was, quote, “Just as the commandment thou shalt not kill sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today, we also have to say, thou shalt not to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”


CORRESPONDENT:  Today, while visiting one of Italy’s poorest areas, Pope Francis denounced what he calls “idolatry of money and big business.”

RUSH LIMBAUGH:  Somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope.


BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Rush Limbaugh wasn’t the only one who groused. The Pope’s remarks about “the tyranny of unfettered capitalism” and the Church's fixation on issues like gay marriage and abortion make conservative clerics and commentators cringe, and even some on the left flinch, when he remarks on the role of women.

MAUREEN FIEDLER:  He, he tries to be nice.

Maureen Fiedler is a longtime activist within the Church and host of the public radio show Interfaith Voices.

MAUREEN FIEDLER:  He uses all of the positive stereotypes about women, when he tries to describe us. He talks about women’s sensitivity and intuition and distinctive skills, like their special concern for others. Well, these are qualities that we share with a lot of men, himself included. He seems to think women are somehow a different species of human and puts us in a different, almost metaphysical category, from men. And from there, of course, he goes on and ratifies the old decision not to have women ordained to the priesthood.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Nevertheless, Fiedler credits him with ushering in an era of welcome and inclusion.

MAUREEN FIEDLER:  And as he tries to do that, as he talks to more and more people with different perspectives in the Church, it’s very possible that he himself is open to change and that some of what he's putting out bespeaks a kind of interior wrestling within himself, over some of these questions. At least, I hope so.

DANIEL BURKE:  I think that attitude change, that way of kind of saying, let’s five on the culture wars, that’s huge.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  CNN's Belief blogger Daniel Burke.

DANIEL BURKE:  He wants to kind of break that mold and say, hey, you know what? We need to go back to fundamental truths. What this church is about, really, is serving the poor, spreading the Gospel.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Strengthening the bishops and the laity, emphasizing social justice, reaching out to populations formally shunned, it all goes back to Vatican II. Add to that, his action to reform the Vatican bank and finally, a week ago Thursday, to convene a special commission of priests, nuns and laypeople to expose and address the Church's deepest shame, and you have a man engaged in a millennial ad campaign for Christ.

DANIEL BURKE:  He knows that the, the sexual abuse crisis, it’s the worst scandal the Church has faced in centuries. I mean, let’s be honest, it was front-page news for years, decades. And so, he knows that. And so, in some ways, in the corner of his mind, he’s got to know that going out there and showing the different faces of the Church, the face that hugs people who are disfigured, the, the face that washes the feet of juvenile delinquents, the, the face that is embraced by huge crowds in Brazil during World Youth Day, he knows that if people are writing about that, they’re not gonna be writing about sex abuse.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So partly it’s a distraction?

DANIEL BURKE:  Distraction implies that it's insincere, which I'm not sure that it is. I think that it's a way of, as our political friends would say, changing the narrative? But I – again, I don’t think that he - I think he sees it as kind of a rebalancing, that, you know, the Church has done these terrible things and it has to own up to them and it has to treat the victims well, but that’s not all the Church is known for.


BROOKE GLADSTONE:  The Pope will keep us focused on his good works and his good cheer. John XXIII brought the world in with a vernacular mass. Half a century later, Francis presides over a tango mass, which you’re hearing now. Like Pope John, Francis communicates charity, dignity and tolerance. But he does it through viral photos, Facebook posts, tweets and the tango, preaching all the time, as his patron saint advised, using words only when necessary.


POPE FRANCIS:  Please, pray for me. I need it. I promise to pray for you. God bless you, in the name of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit.



Daniel Burke, Maureen Fiedler and Rocco Palmo

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone