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Let's not overinterpret what the pope says
Scrutinizing every word and action can lead to false conclusions
Pope Francis picture: emipress/Shutterstock
- John L. Allen Jr.
- Vatican City
- June 25, 2013
Here's a recipe for overinterpretation: Start with intense public fascination with a new pope and add a basic lack of substantive movement on matters of policy and personnel. Sprinkle in the coincidence of the new regime reaching its 100-day mark and mix with a slow news cycle.
Two stories in the Italian press over the weekend nicely illustrate the resulting soufflé of hype.
On Saturday evening, Francis decided at the last minute to skip a Vatican musical concert, leaving the papal throne empty. Pictures of the "empty chair" were swiftly splashed across Italy's major news outlets, with pundits such as famed church historian Alberto Melloni styling it a metaphor for a rejection of imperial pomp. Some even termed it a deliberate "snub" of the Roman Curia.
One leading Italian daily had Francis declaring "I am not a Renaissance prince," though without quite claiming he actually used those words.
Also on Saturday, Italy's paper of record, Corriere della Sera, carried an unsourced piece asserting the new pope has abolished the "Gentlemen of the Pope," a body of Italian laymen traditionally given the honor of dressing up in elaborate tuxedoes and welcoming visiting dignitaries to Vatican events.
Once again, the underlying suggestion was that Francis is dismantling the traditional trappings of a royal court. By Sunday, the paper was already running interviews asking people to react to the decision, without actually confirming it happened.
In both cases, there may be less "there" there than some breathless commentary has suggested.
Let's start with the "empty chair" story....
....The immediate thought was that perhaps the 76-year-old Francis was ill. Having ruled out a health scare, commentators then elevated the no-show into a philosophical statement.
On background, however, officials say the explanation was probably more prosaic.
Full Story: A recipe for overinterpreting the pope
Source: National Catholic Reporter