Monday, February 22, 2016

Amy Welborn: "Against Popesplaining"

Thank you, Amy Welborn:
Guess what.

You don’t have to defend every word the Pope says.

Even if you consider yourself an enthusiastic and faithful Catholic of any stripe you are not obligated to defend every utterance in every papal interview or even every papal homily or declaration.

Popes – all popes – can say things that are wrong, incorrect, ill-informed, narrow, short-sighted and more reflective of their personal biases, interests and limitations than the broader, deeper tradition of Catholicism.

Which is why, traditionally, popes didn’t do a lot of public talking.

Quite a few issues have popped up recently – well, more or less continuously over the past three years, but I want to begin by addressing what I see as the fundamental, underlying problem apart from any particular priorities Pope Francis may have. That problem is the importance given to papal statements. Papal paragraphs. Papal sentences, participles and even papal pauses.

All of which require continual, exhaustive and exhausting rounds of what I’ve come call Popesplaining.

Read the whole thing.

* * *
"It's true I don't give interviews. I don't know why. I just can't. It's tiresome," he said. "But I enjoy your company."
-- Pope Francis, en route TO Brazil. July 22, 2013.

* * *

I understand why Popes expound themselves in encyclicals -- such seems to be their natural habitat, as it provides ample room for drafting and re-drafting and minimizing the potential for misinterpretation. The same could be said for books … I recall reading John Paul II's "Crossing the Threshhold of Hope" on the road to becoming a Catholic, and who can deny the theological richness of Pope Benedict (writing as Joseph Ratzinger)'s trilogy "Jesus of Nazareth"?

Of course there is television, and as an actor in an earlier life, John Paul II knew full well the power of public performance: the well-placed quip or televised soundbyte to the masses … but not all Popes are gifted public speakers. Benedict XVI was certainly not given to such.

As I see it, the perpetual confusion that characterizes the present situation comes in large part as a result of the full-throttle advent of "social media", together with Vatican's headlong desire to be 'with it' and to integrate itself into the latest technical trend. Chiefly of concern is the sense of IMMEDIACY that it engenders -- together with it's "dumbing down" effect, the minimization of attention spans on the part of the audience.

For example, reading Benedict XVI in print has been a personal joy, witnessing the architecture of his arguments play out over the pages with grace and precision. Conversely, I was rather dismayed by the Vatican's announcement (I think it was at World Youth Day) that the Holy Father would from that time forth be Twittering, and in such a manner rendering himself vulnerable to the responses (and sniping) of the world in the confined space of 140 characters.

So, too, with the free-for-all, off-the-cuff airline interviews, which have become a trademark of the present pontificate.

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