Should the Pope Just Shut Up?

Minor update: Joanne McPortland best represents my thoughts on the fateful interview itself here.  I told her not to tell.  Now the whole Italian intelligentsia’s going to be in on the game. Hah.  But she writes a good article.



I tend to roll with the working assumption that the Pope is Catholic.

So when I read a pope’s writings, I read them through the lens “these are things a Catholic guy is saying.”

Now you can err with this method, because (a) the Pope could be a horrible person and/or a heretic and (b) even saintly Doctors of the Church sometimes think wrong.  Catholics do not hold that everything a pope says or does is free from error.  Some things, yes, free from error, for certain.  But it’s a mighty short list.


We have a chatty Pope.  And this is driving a portion of faithful Catholicdom nuts, because he’s not Mr. Careful and Precise.  He just says stuff.  Quite a bit of which can be interpreted all the wrong way.  So there’s a call afoot for the Holy Father to quit talking so much, and maybe try some of that ignatian silence for a change.  Quit going off-script.  Quit improvising. Count every word and make every word count.

I disagree, and here are my reasons:

1. You can’t shut up talkative people.  It’s like holding back the tide.  If Pope Francis tried to be formal and scripted, what we’d end up with is 10 casual comments slipped a week instead of 10,000.  10 would be enough to keep the media frenzy going.

2. People who improvise need to talk a lot in order to be properly understood. Late in life I figured out that if I go around sometimes giving a bad impression by saying just the wrong thing here and there at odd moments, it’s possible other people do, too.  Ever call up customer service, get the one guy who’s having a lousy day, and thereby assume The Company Hates You?  Well, maybe they do.  But maybe you got the one guy at his one bad moment.

People who stick to script can say very little and be understood.  They weigh every word, and it all comes out just right.  Goofballs have to talk a lot.  Because it’s only by many conversations, collected up over time, that we get an accurate impression of the improviser.

3. If the Pope’s Catholic, the media is going to be obtuse.  That’s how it is. No amount of careful will cause the secular media to suddenly learn to think clearly and understand what Catholics are really up to.  When someone is willfully ignorant, they’re willfully ignorant.  The best teacher cannot thwart a determined will, dead set against learning the truth.

4. If the Pope’s not Catholic, it would be nice to know.  I haven’t seen anything out of Pope Francis that can’t be squared with orthodoxy.  I’ve seen plenty that could be misinterpreted as not-so-orthodox, especially if you are willfully ignorant per #3.  The most recent interview definitely has some statements that could throw off the the sincere believer, unless you’d spent a lot of time chatting with atheists.  But if you’ve spent a lot of time chatting with atheists, and you read the interview as a conversation with an atheist being reported by an atheist, it all makes quite a lot of sense.

But let’s say that it’s all a ruse.  A very bad ruse.  Perhaps the Pope is indeed a new age-y heretic. Perhaps he’s leading us to doom one beach ball at a time.  Perhaps the next big move will be church music so insipid Chant Cafe will start extolling the virtues of the folk Mass.  And thus the cracks are starting to show.

Better to know now.

Think about it.  If your pastor were a heretic, wouldn’t you want to know now? Forewarned, you could make arrangements to move Birmingham, or wear ear plugs during the homily, or go to Mexico to get your sacraments.  Or would you rather the man kept a good face on as long as possible, to ensure your children drifted from the faith one drop of doubt at a time?


I certainly hope that’s not the case.  I’m sympathetic with those who’ve been poisoned by so much wishy-washy faithy-ism that their dissent-detectors are set to 1 part per billion. But regardless of whether the fellow’s a wolf or just a doubtfully-dressed* shepherd, better that the truth be out.

So I vote for talkative Pope.

*It does not bother me when the Pope dresses badly.  I come from a long line of engineering-types, some of them color-blind.  Nothing says “il Papa dressed himself” quite like dubious fashion choices.

5 thoughts on “Should the Pope Just Shut Up?

  1. Pingback: Dissent Detectors
  2. Anyone can call themselves Catholic and still spout error and irresponsible, misleading and deficient comments about the faith. Hans Kung and the dissenting nuns call themselves Catholic also. The pope is doing much more harm than good with his diarrhea of the mouth.

    1. ankenyman, I’m going to let this comment stand as-is, since we’re throwing around strong language colloquially and I started it. As a general rule, resorting to insults on this blog will get your comment trashed. FYI if that happens, you’re welcome to keep trying until you come up with a more charitable version.

      All, I make no promises that my trash-triage methods will make sense to you.

  3. The media is going to see what it wants to see. If he says nothing, the right thing, or something they don’t understand, it will still be skewed in a highly biased way to suit their own needs.

    But that’s the way the secular world is.

    It might be hard for some cradle Catholics to understand, but that’s just how they are. Pope Francis being silent won’t change a single thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *