Should Pope Francis have Abandoned the Trappings of His Office?

Father Longenecker had an amusing blog last week, headlined “archbishops should live in palaces.” “I think the Pope should live in the Apostolic Palace,” he says, “and I think Archbishop Wilton [Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, who is moving out three months after moving in] should live in his brand new $2.2m home. I think Bishops should live in these grand homes—but they should do so like one of those impoverished English aristocrats who can’t afford to heat their vast Downton Abbey, and so live in one room in the attic wearing three sweaters and eating cat food casseroles that they cook in a microwave.”

I think the bit about the cat food could be a joke: but Fr Dwight is serious enough about the rest. He thinks that bishops should live in these grand buildings in community with other priests or brothers if they are religious, and should open them up as hostels for recovering addicts and the other end of the buildings maybe as women’s shelters and that they should bring in some Mother Teresa nuns to run these now possibly over-ambitious establishments. You get the idea. This, he says, would “be a far more significant sign of contradiction than simply moving out to a mean little room somewhere because it would say something more profound about worldly wealth and property.” I agree with all that. Cardinal Bergoglio lived alone in a small flat in Buenos Aires and cooked for himself, but wasn’t that because he actually preferred to live like that? And I don’t see there’s anything wrong, either, with a bishop living in a certain degree of modest comfort: after a hard day on the stump, why shouldn’t he have somewhere decent to come back to, and why shouldn’t he have a hot meal waiting for him when he gets there, and his bed turned down and maybe a sweetie on his pillow?

Fr Dwight goes on to argue that there’s nothing intrinsically good about poverty. I agree with that, too, but I think that when a bishop moves out of his “palace” and a pope refuses to move into the papal apartments, they’re making a point not about poverty but about humility (their own). And though Pope Francis may indeed be a genuinely humble person what I object to particularly in the media coverage of his pontificate is that because of the way he has chosen to live in the Vatican, in a flat in the Casa Santa Marta rather than where popes are supposed to live, he is ipso fact a lot more humble than previous popes, who after all simply surrendered themselves to the way things had always been done, as a way of identifying themselves with the traditions their predecessors had always embodied, as a visible indication of a hermeneutic of continuity.

Nothing I say now, with one or two minor exceptions, is intended as a major criticism of the current pontiff: I think he is playing a blinder, and I am not one of those reactionaries who interprets his frisky ways as an indication that he is some kind of liberal: I am, rather, one of those reactionaries who thinks that in spite of all those spontaneous remarks that have to be corrected later, he is just as reactionary as I am. He’s giving the Vatican a considerable shakeup, which was long overdue: and I am confident, or at least hopeful, that in the end, he will leave the institution he now governs in better heart than he found it, and no less faithful to the Magisterium Pope John intended Vatican II to articulate and not to undermine (remember his opening words to the Council fathers? “The Councils—both the twenty ecumenical ones and the numberless others … all prove clearly the vigor of the Catholic Church and are recorded as shining lights in her annals.”

Pope John’s intentions were willfully betrayed: and I have no doubt that attempts will be made to betray those of Pope Francis, too. These are uncertain times. But I agree with Fr Z’s analysis, that Pope Francis is himself endorsing, even embodying, Pope Benedict’s ideas on the hermeneutic of continuity.

I mentioned an exception to my declaration that I do not intend in this post to criticize Pope Francis: it is this. That by refusing to move into the papal apartments, and by all the other ways in which he rejects what his predecessors did (including the red shoes and the scarlet velvet mozzetta) he SEEMS to be (though of course he is not) indicating a superior humility to that of his more lofty predecessors: in particular, the media seem to think that he is obviously more humble, more identified with the poor and marginalized, than reactionary pope Benedict—who in fact simply attempted to convey the lofty character not of himself but of his sacred office, by dressing and behaving according to papal custom.

Pope John, after all, was crowned with the papal tiara, and allowed himself to be carried aloft on a sedia gestatoria. Does anyone really think—has anyone ever remotely suggested—that that meant that he wasn’t after all a humble and holy father of all Catholics, a true Vicar of Christ? In the early days, Fr Z (like I and many others did) still lived in hopes that the present pope would dress and ceremoniously comport himself as popes have always done. On the day of his inauguration mass, Fr Z wrote this:

Tomorrow the Pope has an audience with delegations of Christian “churches”. Were the Pope to put on the mozzetta, that would be a good occasion. That would be the apt thing to do. It would be a sign of respect. The Pope will also soon have an audience with the diplomatic corps. The Pope, a head of state, should dress his part. The rest of the diplomats will.

This leads to “the point,” in case some of the enthusiasts run to the combox having missed it.

Remember, a mozzetta, in itself, is nothing. Popes don’t have to wear a mozzetta all the time. There are, however, occasions in which such trappings and signs of office, solemn and traditional, have their proper place. They send signals. The non-use of these symbols also sends signals.

People who say that these things are not important, or are bad, or that they should be eliminated are just plain wrong. That is a naive, shallow, approach to who we are. Catholics are not “either/or” when it comes to the dynamic interplay of the humble and the lofty. We are “both/and,” in proper measure, time and place.

I agree with all of that. And I end with one or two simple questions. Firstly, does anyone seriously think, because he wore the scarlet mozzetta and red shoes, and went to his duties driven in a white Merc (by a driver who wept at his final departure) that Pope Benedict was NOT the profoundly humble and holy man he clearly was?

My final questions are these: does Pope Francis’s abolition of what Fr Z calls the “trappings and signs of office, solemn and traditional” not carry a certain danger: that of making his own papacy appear to be a projection of his own engaging personality and of the ways of doing things that he personally finds come naturally to him?

And when all that is snuffed out by death, is there not the danger that what he will leave behind him will be for a time a simple vacuum, rather than a sede vacante capable of being occupied within a reasonably short time?

Editor’s note: This column first appeared April 11, 2014 in the Catholic Herald and is reprinted with permission. Pictured above is Pope Benedict in his red papal shoes.

Dr. William Oddie


Dr. William Oddie is a leading English Catholic writer and broadcaster. He edited The Catholic Herald from 1998 to 2004 and is the author of The Roman Option and Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy.

  • lifeknight

    Dr. Oddie’s final questions tell all. I hope the Pope reads this column!

  • Vinnie

    “There are, however, occasions in which such trappings and signs of office,
    solemn and traditional, have their proper place.” The Catholic religion is full of symbolism. A good Crisis essay is:

    However, I don’t think that what Pope Francis is doing is any disservice. I see his actions not as a slap to others but to pointing in a better direction. More like a pendulum swing in the opposite direction so we can become more centered as time goes on. If he stayed with all the historical trappings of the office and yet chided others for living lavishly he’d look like an emperor.

  • Watosh

    While cooking for yourself in your apartment can represent a praiseworthy humbleness, it does leave one less time to observe what is going on outside. I say this because I cook for myself and the cooking and cleaning up after does take a fair amount of time, and takes me away from other important activities like reading reports. To live like a hermit in a desert is admirable –for a religious hermit, but a Bishop and a Pope needs to know what is going on and they have to formulate directives, all of which takes a great deal of time. A four star general who makes up his bunk and launders his own clothes may show great humility but he is neglecting his main responsibilities.

    Which is not to say Pope Francis is necessarily neglecting his duties, and his doing things for himself sets a good example. but he does have a lot of responsibilities which require much attention.

    • Oh, please! Yesterday evening, I arrived at home at 7:45 and there was nothing to eat. I made some pasta, fried some bratwurst, picked a potato salad from the fridge and poured a glass of white wine. At 8:15 I had finished eating and put the dish, glass, utensils, pots and pans in the washer. And it’s a delightful, relaxing task to do.

      I wouldn’t hold this against Bp. Bergoglio for preferring to cook his own meals. It might be his hobby and a way to wind down after a long day.

      • Marcelus

        If this keeps on like it seems, we may need a chef to enlighten us, Please..

      • Watosh

        Well Augustine you should have no trouble finding a wife.

      • TheAbaum

        “I made some pasta, fried some bratwurst”

        German & Italian fusion cusine. Interesting. A bit like the Present and Prior Pontiffs.

  • mikidiki

    The dispensing with the trappings of office is a major feature of the Modernists’ plan to diminish the Church and place it on the same level as ‘other Christian Faiths’. The fact that these are heretical sects is conveniently ignored in the pursuit of ecumenism rather than evangelisation. The Modern Church wants to be accepted into the mainstream of secular society. It wants to be loved by all and sundry, and if this alienates traditional Catholics, who cares? We shall all die off within the next decade or so.

    • Florian

      No one can ‘diminish’ the Church by changing the exterior ‘trappings’ … no one! Christ Himself said that the Church would be with us until the end of time. There have been Bishops and Priests who were imprisoned in concentration camps and elsewhere who kept the faith alive without any trappings. Yes, there are times when the splendor of Catholic liturgy inspires and encourages but Christ lived a simple life as did His Apostles…there is a time and a place for everything. Pope Francis balances well those times and places…and since Pope Francis was chosen by the Holy Spirit, I feel confident that he is following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in things that matter for the life of the Church, for the deepening of the faith…

    • Good insight. There is always a remnant. And even if they kill most of us, that path the LORD has already gone ahead of us. It leads to the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

  • Michael

    I felt from the beginning that Pope Francis’ refusal to accept the traditional trappings of the Papacy to be a distinct lack of humility….if he were truly humble, he would have accepted all that goes with the job instead.

    • veronica

      I am absolutely agree with you Michael, that what I feel the same way, and yes he trapping all the signs of solemn and traditional, and making all his own papacy.

    • Guest

      I strongly disagree. Francis’ refusal to accept the trappings of his office aren’t a slap in the face to previous popes or a sign of pride. This is his style. Would anybody argue tha JP2’s thousands of trips around the world were a commentary on previous papacies? Pope Francis’ actions are speaking to people on new ways. His papacy is a wonderful continuation of the New Evangelization.

      • Michael

        I made no comment about any “slap in the face” to previous Popes…..I simply stated if Francis were truly humble, he would have accepted the trappings of the office…I don’t see how a Pope living in a hotel will advance the New Evangelization…

  • Florian

    April 15th: Jesus was a simple and humble carpenter…Pope Francis follows in His footsteps as did Saint Francis of Assisi…however, humble though Pope Francis may be, remember that he himself stated several times one of the reasons he prefers to live at St. Martha’s…he cannot psychologically bear to be alone, he must have people with him. That is honest…and Christ was always with His disciples and with the people; Pope Francis has named the Church – or an aspect of the Church, as being a ‘field hospital’ and I believe that really describes what the Church is…a beacon in the darkness to lead home all those who are wounded, to welcome them, to nurture them, to heal them and then to lead them to Christ…if the father of the Prodigal son had met him on the road with recriminations for the way he had wasted his life in sin, the boy would have run away; but he was welcomed home with love. The only thing that saddens me a bit is when Pope Francis states over and over that he is the Bishop of Rome and therefore will not travel much outside of Rome. True, he is the Bishop of Rome but more than that he is the Vicar of Christ, the Pastor of all the sheep who are hungry for Christ’s Vicar…sometimes it seems as he is turning away from that larger flock in order to tend to the smaller group because that’s where he feels more comfortable. Jesus told His first Vicar, St. Peter: “Feed My lambs! feed My sheep!” Pope Francis does this, truly, not only by his words but by his actions…but the larger flock needs him too, his presence, his nearness…all are hungry and in danger from wolves seeking to devour them/us…so I hope Pope Francis will travel far and wide to reach out with his physical presence to those who are reaching out to him with the greatest need for nurturing….meanwhile, I pray for him and devour his words which nourish my soul – my very life.

    • That simple and humble carpenter from Nazareth wore such a fine robe that his executors cast lots on it. Certainly Our Lord didn’t go to a bazaar in Jerusalem and shopped till He dropped. More likely, some wealthy disciple gave it to Him as a gift and He humbly accepted it.

      Francis, on the other hand, guessing from his actions from day one, would have refused such a gift, thus humiliating the one presenting him the gift. This is in a way what Francis has done to all Catholics in the whole wide world: he refused our gift of the palatial apartment, humiliating us all.

      • ColdStanding

        Uh, that was His mom’s handiwork, there fella. Ye olde seamless garment.

      • Marcelus

        humiliating us? Do not pretend to include or speak for 1.2bl catholics please my friend.

      • The seamless garmnent perhaps made by Our Lady?

        • Joan

          The Seamless Garment Theory reminds me of the Theory of Evolution or the Theory of Global Warming. They are all theories, all increasingly doubted, all unproven, and all obsessively clung to as pure fact by a small band of fanatics.

          • Mahalo @Joan, that’s why I posed ‘a perhaps’ question. I don’t know nor can I prove it.
            It is plausible that Our Lord’s garments were made by Our Lady. That theory cannot be discounted.

      • Terry


    • Search our Christian patrimony and you will not find the term, ‘Church is a field hospital for sinners’. This appears to be from a secular novel. The Church is for the saints. The LORD: ‘I have come to call sinners to repentance’. Pope Francis is not even preaching the gospel. Just ‘accompanying sinners where they are’ and not providing the remedy?! Will the Pope and the prelates like him accompany those unrepentant souls when they die?
      And the creature do better than the Creator since they have modern medical facilities but the heavenly physician’s vicar would have the wounded in his church in a field hospital? Who would want such a care?

      • Florian

        The Church is for sinners – those who are wounded and broken and in need of healing…we are all sinners and in need of healing. I am truly grateful that you are not the Vicar of Christ who welcomed and healed all…have a blessed Easter.

  • ForChristAlone

    I think the Pope is overexposed. This runs the real danger of having anything he says being easily overlooked in due course. Reporting on every occasion that the Pope sneezes will, in the end, trivialize those things he has to say that are REALLY important.

    • mikidiki

      Unfortunately, not everyone would appear to agree with you. Florian, in his posted comment, wants Pope Francis to pack his bags, renew his visas and travel hither and thither as a high profile evangelist escorting the fallen into the field hospital which is, in his opinion, the modern Church. Well, it takes all sorts, eh?

      • Florian

        You really misread me…are you one of the ‘all sorts’? I said nothing, nothing at all, about Pope Francis traveling like a high profile evangelist…why don’t you comment on the article instead of what people’s responses…each is speaking from the heart…you speak to criticize…sad!

        • mikidiki

          Please consider my “sad” response —- I shall quote your own words, viz:- ‘ So I hope Pope Francis will travel far and wide to reach out with his physical presence —‘ you have answered your own comment. Thanks

          • Florian

            Yes..sad, because taken out of the context of the whole…why do you feel it is necessary for you to criticize what people say or feel or believe? That is what is really sad…just comment on the article…if you can. If you can’t, then it’s best to remain silent.

            • mikidiki

              Thank you for your unsolicited advice which is much appreciated.

  • Marcelus

    Nothing I say instends to be critical of pope Francis. … New ways though somehow more more elaborate to beat on the Pope again. Poorly researched. Had the author checked YouTube barely, he would have heard Francis himself explain why he doesn’t live in the papal apartment. Because he needs to be around people, he said. It would cost the Vatican more to pay for shrink sessions.not because he wants to make any statements. He doesn’t need to. Anything Francis does is portrayed in defiance or as challenging forner popes. CM used to be a good site but works on rumours and some “wild” imagination. And the Buenos Aires bit is picked out of the first press releases of Francis also poorly researched. Sad. Omnipotence and Mockery are becoming standard here, the barque sails and these authors stand on the pier criticising the sails, their colour, the speed, the wind etc.

    • Augustus

      Everybody knows that Pope Francis has departed in many ways from the customs and traditions of his office; and it’s not just where he lives. By denying it you are discrediting yourself. If you think these departures are a good thing, then defend them with reason rather than assert that his every decision however small is beyond criticism. That is clericalism of the worst kind, something the pope himself would disapprove of.

      • Marcelus

        Not at all, Im not denying it. Indeed he displays a simple “style” as he did as Cardinal.I’m in Argentina, Ive seen it before.You assume I’m am denying it fori have not spoken about anything other that the Santa MArta lodging And I agree with them mostly, but as usual, meaness is at hand , coming at disenting posters like a bulldog. Ive seen that too before.And my friend do yourself a favour and do not pretend to think to know what the Pope would or would not disaprove. I would never do that. CM , has been for a while publishing articles based on rumours, such as the one by Dr. Lu If I recalll her name , on something some said the Pope said, and so, another bashing Francis for his views on ISlam in EG , praising the Benedict asked forgivness from the muslim for his commnets, intentionlly forgotten?? It would seem. and so on.

        • TheAbaum

          Indeed he displays a simple “style” as he did as Cardinal.I’m in Argentina, Ive seen it before.

          I’m reserving judgment, but do you understand that a display of any style is something that makes people nervous that it might become an act of vanity.

          I’m not saying he’s vain, I’m just saying consider other people’s fears, fears in part born of statements were arguably inartful, perhaps intemperate and seem to require retraction and clarification.

          I get it, the Pope is often leaving the flock to chase down the lost sheep. However, every once in a while he seems to to need a second look to realize “oh, that’s a goat”.

          • Marcelus

            Fair enough. Good comment. Get your point.

          • The biggest flag for me, his departure from Holy Thursday Rubrics as a Cardinal. This has not been explained or excused, therefore to me disobedience.
            cf. This link for a canon Lawyers take on his behavior as Pope:

            • TheAbaum

              The Pope is the chief juridical officer of the Church, unless you are a Protestant who encounters something you don’t like and seek a new pastor.

              • It appears you are replying to me without reading and getting my reply to you. You are from Argentina, isn’t it? Please provide or have Cardinal Bergoglio provide an explanation or permission he obtained to depart from the laid down Rubrics.
                His behavior as Pope, please answer the Canon Lawyer.

                • TheAbaum

                  I’m not from Argentina and the Pope doesn’t have to answer some canon lawyer or you.

                  • Sorry, I took “I’m in Argentina, Ive seen it before.” to mean you are from there. Are you in Argentina but not from there?
                    I have not asked the Pope to explain himself to me or the Canon Lawyer, I am looking for you to to explain the Pope’s behavior in the light of the Canon Lawyer’s comments and your own: ‘The Pope is the chief juridical officer of the Church.’ You have thrown out a statement but have not argued how that justifies the Pope’s action nor his actions when as Cardinal (was it all for show?)
                    What you then must admit is that he then fails as ‘the chief juridical officer of the Church’ because rather than change the law so that his actions conforms with his new law, he chooses to ignore the law that is on the books and that is very telling of the Pope. It does not stretch the imagination about the perplexity that must exist among the Bishops and Priests: how are they to act as regards a law on the books that the Pope ignores?

                    • TheAbaum

                      “Sorry @TheAbaum, I asked whether you are from Argentina from: “I’m in Argentina, Ive seen it before.” Are you in Argentina but not from there?”

                      I’m not sure why I have to say this but, let me make this clear:

                      I’m not in Argentina

                      I’m not from Argentina.

                      I’ve never been to Argentina.

                      I have particular desire to go Argentina.

                      I don’t anticipate ever visiting Argentina.

                      I’m not related in any close degree of consanguinity to anyone in Argentina.

                      As far as I know, I am not related by any degree of consanguinity to anybody in Argentina.

                      I have no business in or with Argentina.

                      I’ve never posited any connection to Argentina.

                    • So sorry! My bad @TheAbaum! It appears you were quoting @Marcelus.

                    • TheAbaum

                      Is that supposed to be a mea culpa or an accusation?

                    • mea culpa @TheAbaum!

  • Marion

    Surely you meant he might deserve a sweet–not a “sweetie”–on his pillow?!

    • Crisiseditor

      Funny observation. Perhaps something lost in translation?

      • Vinnie

        I’d say gained.

    • Maria

      Brits call candies “sweeties”, nothing risqué involved.

      • TheAbaum

        Good thing he didn’t say something about a “Lori”,(truck) or a “faggot” (cigarette).

  • Maria

    A modest thought on why perhaps acquiescing to the traditions of papal living might be more in keeping with a sacrificial life: Who was once Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio has undergone a death to himself as Vicar of Christ. He must go where he does not want to go and be led in true humility. His own persona is eclipsed by Christ. That might mean not living the simple and comfortable life among comrades that he once led. That might mean a life that is set apart and focused on eternity in a less humanly comprehensible way. Suffering is not necessarily the most acute in a pared down flat in close quarters with friends. That might actually obscure the distinction and weaken the focus. His intentions are certainly good, but being different and “modest” might just be a delay of acceptance of the mantel of suffering that is integral to this calling.

  • hombre111

    A papacy a projection of a pope’s personality? You didn’t object to the overpowering authoritarian papacy of John Paul II. But back to papal trappings. Anyone who visits the corners inside St. Peter’s Basilica will see the self-aggrandizing tombs commissioned by certain popes now lost in history. But there they are, assuming heroic posture, long dead and long forgotten, surrounded by astonishing marble work that must have cost a fortune. Then go into the basement and look at the tombs of modern popes. Pope John XXIII’s humble tomb, and the others. Now there is real humility, and the glory boys upstairs are humiliated by the humility of the graves down below. If Pope Benedict wore red shoes and all the rest, somehow it did not clash with his desire to be one with the humble Christ. But it should have.

    • TheAbaum

      “You didn’t object to the overpowering authoritarian papacy of John Paul II.”

      Oh the hyperbole.

      Who needs to object to JP2, while you are breathing. You offer enough objections for all living Catholics, and the deceased and unborn as well.

      Give it a rest, already. We all know your real objection is that he didn’t embrace turning the Church into a public welfare agency, “just another NGO” if you will, and embracing sexual anarchy.

      • Art Deco

        overpowering authoritarian papacy of John Paul II.

        Charles Curran had to round out his career at SMU. How brutal.

        and embracing sexual anarchy.

        And embracing the North VietNamese Communists.

  • Terry

    The story is told of Jesus being in Jerusalem preaching and he needed a new robe so he asked around for the best tailor and he was told that that was Fkinkelstein on Synagogue Drive.

    So he went there and told Finkelstein he needed a new robe and Finkelstein said ghe had just the thing and he took Jesus to that very robe that was perfect for him.

    Jesus tried it on and it was indeed perfect and he asked how much it was and Finkelstein said – “For you it’s free. All I ask is that when you’re out there preaching and people ask where you got that robe tell them where you got it!”


    A few months later Jesus was in Jerusalem and decided to go visit Finkelstein and lo and behold the store was jammed to the gunnels. Jesus went into a back room and waited until after closing hours, and then Finkelstein came to talk to him.

    “Jesus!! I can’t think you enough for your endorsement. Business has picked up 100%. We should go in business together.”

    “What would we call it?”

    “Finkelstein and Jesus!!”

    “Jesus and Finkelstein.”

    This went on for a few minutes and it got a bit heated, as you may well imagine.

    Finally – before things could get out of hand, (both being reasonable men), they came to a compromise that was acceptable to both –

    Lord & Taylor

    Lighten up folks. Say an extra Rosary or two for the ending of abortion and for the return of fallen away Catholics, especially Kathleen Sebelius – pray that she has the grace of contrition for what she has done.

    • Sr. Keehan, Kathleen Sebelius … the list of the used grows.
      “Had I but served my God”, the Cardinal [Thomas Wosley] said remorsefully, “with but half the zeal as I served my king, He would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies .”

      • Terry

        Precisely my point – now let’s pray that she realizes what she has done and comes back. This is Holy Week – what better time?

        • Agreed @Terry! And I laughed at your joke.

          • Terry

            Thank you

  • I chose to live here, in Room 201, because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ | Interview with Pope Francis by Fr Antonio Spadaro (L’Osservatore Romano, 21 September 2013)
    While the popularly embraced narrative is ‘Pope Francis eschews luxurious papal apartment.
    Some things are a deeper mystery that perhaps will soon be revealed.
    The Father’s Kingdom; Christ the King; Vicar of Christ. Some things come with the office and it is not up to the Pope Francis or any other to dispense with.
    ‘Poor Church for the poor’: the Church’s treasures are not his to give away.
    cf. the Ark of the Covenant; the Kingdom of Solomon etc.
    For G_d, only the best.
    cf. also the LORD’s seamless garment that the soldiers’ cast lots for.

  • John O’Neill

    The red shoes that the pope wears and Pope Benedict XVI wore proudly are symbols of the blood of martyrs and the pope is the symbol of the church together they mean that the Church is founded on the blood of martyrs. What exactly is the message that Francis is giving to the world ; that the Church is built on the foundation of old dirty shoes. Francis is far from humble; he puts on the outward appearance of an American rock star in that he dresses down to the common denominator and American rock stars are the farthest thing from being humble. The Time magazine that wealthy American consumers run and are ruled by declared him to be their “man of the year”; does that put him up with Elton John and the other darlings of the elite Americans. As long as Francis affects the American rock star persona, it is hard to take what he says seriously. He is the pope and the Church has survived worse.

    • Very well said @John O’Neill!

    • veronica

      So true John O’Neill, Absolutely true!

    • Pat Mc Aleenan


  • RufusChoate

    I have always thought that it is incumbent upon the Church’s Shepherds to accept the homes that their Flock provides them graciously in humility as Stewards and to open the home to the service of the faithful and the poor. I think if the Papal Palace is empty and not being used solely on the whim of Pope Francis it is an abuse of charity but I think Pope Francis is a truly humble man and I wonder if he wears a hair shirt.
    Bishop Wilton Gregory’s escapade was a wanton act of self aggrandizement and an obscenity in an time of frugality for his Diocese.

    • TheAbaum

      “I think if the Papal Palace is empty and not being used solely on the whim of Pope Francis it is an abuse of charity”

      Interesting. Thanks for peeling another layer off the onion.

  • TheAbaum

    I judge the value of an essay on a matter like this (that inherently has epistemic limits) by three main attributes 1.) Its ability to cause me to think about something (rather than to attempt to cause me WHAT to think about something), 2.) To consider that which is not obvious. 3.) To remind me that some choices carry potential consequences that are difficult to foresee and easy to overlook.

    On that score, this essay is a rousing success.

    These phrases are some of the best ever written here, in perfect keeping with Dr. Oddie’s prior works.

    “My final questions are these: does Pope Francis’s abolition of what Fr Z calls the “trappings and signs of office, solemn and traditional” not carry a certain danger: that of making his own papacy appear to be a projection of his own engaging personality and of the ways of doing things that he personally finds come naturally to him?”

    “Nothing I say now, with one or two minor exceptions, is intended as a major criticism of the current pontiff: I think he is playing a blinder, and I am not one of those reactionaries who interprets his frisky ways as an indication that he is some kind of liberal: I am, rather, one of those reactionaries who thinks that in spite of all those spontaneous remarks that have to be corrected later, he is just as reactionary as I am. He’s giving the Vatican a considerable shakeup, which was long overdue:”

    All aspirants to, or occupants of any office need to understand that the office carries with it certain expectations, about such petty things as bearing, dress and conduct that are in some respects arbitrary and capricious. Failure to apprehend and conform can be seen poorly-one only need think of Jimmy Carter’s pastel sweaters and how it diminished him in office.

    He sought folksiness and the common touch and projected foolishness and a comic touch. It was no accident his stronger and more successful successor ALWAYS wore a suit to the oval office-and all occupants since then have limited their use of casual attire.

    Each occupant of high office gets to personalize it, but only a bit and knowing where to draw the line, well, as they say, the hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.

    Only time and circumstance will reveal whether this rejection of grandeur strengthens the Papacy by sheering off fat or whether bone and sinew are being cut. It’s a small thing and while the leftmedia celebrates it (no doubt because they would desperately would like to see a diminishment of the Papacy), we, the jury should carefully reserve judgment.

    • Art Deco

      Mr. Carter’s sweaters were not a problem. Both he and his predecessor faced a press corps determined to make them look silly, hence extensively published photos of Mr. Ford taking a spill on the slopes or of Mr. Carter confronting a swamp rabbit. The media do not do this to the pols they like (e.g. Obama and Clinton). Mr. Reagan was a professional performer and Mr. Bush – fils did his exercise off stage.

      Mr. Carter had three problems: a severe deficit of the sort of people skills you need to cajole our awful federal legislature (and a lack of any sense that he needed them, at least at the beginning); a terrible time setting priorities, which led him to be bogged down in minutiae; and the rancid intramural culture of the Democratic Party, some of which he had to contend with, some of which he imbibed, and some of which he neglected to recognize. The sweaters and the ‘fireside chats’ were a manifestation of his misdiagnosis of our political problems in this country and of the president’s nostalgia. They were not a problem in and of themselves.

      • TheAbaum

        I have no disagreement with your three problems as a diagnosis of GOVERNING deficiencies, but as matter of public image, it was a colossal screw up. He would have failed for the reasons you provided, but you severely underestimate how image matters, especially when you are associated, rightly or wrongly with a hostage crisis, an energy shortage and the “misery index”.

        • Art Deco

          Nope. It was not his ‘image’, but the general air that he hadn’t a clue as to how to respond to the various challenges he was faced with (in large measure because he did not have a clue and in smaller measure because Congress would not co-operate when he did have a clue).

          One big problem was currency erosion, which had a wretchedly enervating effect. Please recall what was the modal opinion among economists with the ear of Democratic pols (e.g. James Tobin): that it was impossible to restore price stability without a fifteen year long economic stagnation or worse. Those were Tobin’s publicly offered projections. (That the Federal Reserve managed to rapidly restore stable prices in 1951-52 was forgotten). This was disputed by other economists, but no Democratic pol was listening to Milton Friedman.

          Carter’s reaction to this was a continuous dither through all four years of his Administration as the inflation rate escalated.

          • TheAbaum

            “It was not his ‘image’, but the general air that he hadn’t a clue as to how to respond to the various challenges”

            Oh, you mean his image.

            Tobin was a regular foil for the professor who taught the intermediate macro and monetary theory and policy classes as an undergrad (at another institution).


            • Hugh Lunn

              The Wonder Boy from Plains had nothing but that contrived image of the sweater wearing, toothy , homespun naif. Of course underneath (besides the total incompetent) was the nasty and cynical pol that revealed imself post 1980. Jimmy’s handlers played to his cynicism and sold him (and voting America) on the myth of the “President who wouldn’t lie to the American people”. Conversely, President Reagan had command of his image and knew himself and was able to lead.

              • Art Deco

                The nasty and cynical pol has managed to stay married for nearly 70 years; spent most of his adult life in the navy, in engineering, and in agribusiness (putting in just 11 years as a full-time pol); has no history satyriasis or of sorely mistreating family members (as did Messrs. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton); no history of criminal conduct (as did Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton); no history of alcoholism (see Bush fils); not even a history of putting problem children on display (as did Roosevelt and Reagan).

                He has a history of being abrasive in certain venues and cold in others and a history of vanity. He has good points and bad, as we all do.

                He’s 90 years old and has been out of office for 33 years. Give it a rest.

                • Hugh Lunn

                  I stated the Wonder Boy from Plains was a nasty and cynical pol. My comments were restricted to his public life. I have no opinion on his marriage, family life or sexual proclivities. I loathe his anti-Zionism (bordering on anti-Semitism), his anti-Catholicism and his fondness for tinpot dictators. Needless to say he was a horrific political leader. On the positive side I was fond of his brother Billy who exuded authenticity.

                • TheAbaum

                  He’s 90 years old and has been out of office for 33 years. Give it a rest.

                  He keeps reinserting himself into the public debate, so no.

            • Art Deco

              No, not his image, what he did and said (derived from dilemmas he did not know how to finesse). C’mon, you recall the 1970s. The sense of entropy was pervasive.

              • TheAbaum

                Art, I see your penchant for arguing distinctions without a difference remains unabated.

  • KatieVal

    I think about The Pope as being led to do what he must do.
    I do not see any wrongness, willfulness, or disobedience in the way he lives. I think of Jesus healing on the Sabbath and how that upset the minds of men. Also, Jesus’ disciples eating temple food upset a lot of men. Jesus associating with sinners upset the minds of men.
    I think when those chosen by God upset us in some way, it is because we cannot understand with our human minds the will of God and what His chosen ones are called to do.

  • Terry

    Jesus Christ was not a millionaire art collector.

  • Daniel Propson

    It is very difficult to *humbly* suggest that another person who pretends to be humble is not in fact humble. I don’t think this article manages to do so.

    Moreover, according to your argument, a pope could *never* humbly push the papacy in the direction of austerity, because this sort of action would cause people to think of him as humbler than previous popes — and thus defeat the purpose. As Robert Bolt’s Thomas More said, however, “Perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at the risk of being heroes”. A humble man does not act with the goal of being called humble, but he does not let the risk of being called humble deter him from an action he believes to be just.

  • mikidiki

    It is agreed by many that the Pope does not have to explain his actions to canon lawyers, or indeed any of us. He may carry on alienating traditional Catholics unhindered by long established customs and liturgical precedents. Whether this is satisfactory behavior is open to question: it may make him content, but it disturbs many, myself included.

  • Morag

    To the editor:

    Please stop perpetuating the myth that Benedict XVI wore Prada. His red shoes were made by the same shoemaker, an immigrant from Peru, he had been going to as a cardinal to have his shoes mended.

    • Crisiseditor

      Good point. It confirms that there is even less reason for Pope Francis to abandon them.

  • How does one really comment on comments like: ‘Pope is being led (presumably by G_d), ‘The Holy Spirit chose the Pope’, etc. even when the Pope describes himself as a sinner?
    These statements betray a lack of understanding of (Church) history, the interplay between human freedom and G_d’ actions, sin, scripture, etc.

  • stpetric

    “A sweetie on his pillow”? Oh, I hope not! A sweet, perhaps…

    • Augustus

      See the conversation a few posts above yours. Been there, discussed that.

  • Joachim Ozonze

    Even humility needs intelligence, and even more, the willingness to go the way which ordinarily one would not have chosen to go, for some higher good.