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Letter from Rome

The pope is not an autocrat, magician or miracle worker

Letter from Rome

Pope Francis leads a Mass on the second Sunday of Easter on April 8 at St Peter's square, the Vatican. (Photo Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

Robert Mickens, Rome
Vatican City

April 9, 2018

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Father Reginald Foster, who is still widely recognized as the world's foremost living authority on Latin, would sometimes and half-jokingly exclaim with typical iconoclastic flourish that if he were pope he'd sign into law 101 decrees for irrevocable church reforms on his very first day in office and then resign 24 hours later. That is if he wasn't first found dead in his bed reading the Imitation of Christ!

Now 78 years old, the Carmelite priest was the Vatican's chief Latinist from 1970-2009 and a longtime professor at the Gregorian University where even (and, ironically, especially) students with a more traditionalist bent absolutely loved him. But a serious health crisis forced Father Foster to retire to his native Milwaukee in the United States where — devotedly — he still offers private lessons on a literary language that was once spoken fluently, as he loves to say, "by every whore in ancient Rome." 

"Reggie" impishly delighted in shocking his students at the Gregorian with such off-color remarks. And he especially relished playing the role of court jester during his nearly 40 years in the Latin section of the Secretariat of State, particularly during the long reign of St. John Paul II. His sometimes outlandish outbursts were born of his frustration with what he once bemoaned as the Vatican's "phony theology, scripture abuse, blind traditions, infernal threats and flippant invocations of some G-O-D to cover for everything."

Reginaldus knew that world well. And while he may have overstated its shortcomings a bit, he did not exaggerate them much. He read and oversaw the Latin translation of just about every Vatican document, large or small, that was issued during his four decades of service to four different popes (including John Paul I). Having first arrived in Rome as a student in 1962, just at the start of the Second Vatican Council, this "Latin Lover" (the actual title of a weekly program he did on the now-defunct Vatican Radio) saw it all.

 

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