Modern-day popes bravely meet the press: anarchists, atheists, apostles - Catholic Courier

Modern-day popes bravely meet the press: anarchists, atheists, apostles

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Before he was elected pontiff, PopeFrancis had a reputation for not liking to do interviews.

"Really, I don’t give interviews. But I don’t know why.I can’t, that’s just how it is. I find it a bit tiresome, but I’m grateful foryour company," he told the more than 70 journalists from all over theworld accompanying him aboard his first papal flight to Brazil for World YouthDay in July 2013.

The pope, who was unafraid of breaking long-heldpractices, looked like he was ready to end a decades-long tradition of taking questionsfrom reporters on papal flights.

One veteran journalist from Mexico sought to reassure thenew pope that even though he might feel he’d been thrown into the lions’ den bycoming to the back of the plane to meet the press, "the truth is that wearen’t that ferocious."

Something eventually happened to change his mind because,six days later, on the return trip back to Rome, Pope Francis opened the floorto journalists, answering every question posed in an 80-minute session.

And ever since then, the pastor who never likedinterviews has become the most-interviewed pope in history.

The nearly 600 responses he’s given to reporters’questions in less than three years are now compiled in a 368-page book, inItalian only, titled "Pope Francis Replies: Every Interview and PressConference."

While Pope Francis is the most prolific with the press,his late-blooming bravery turns out to be a common trait of modern-day popes,according to the book’s introduction, written by Giovanni Maria Vian, a churchhistorian and editor-in-chief of the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper.

Vian traces in great detail the history of papalinterviews, and how these universal pastors became increasingly confident and opento the world’s media.

The first pope in modern history to enter the so-calledlions’ den was — aptly — Pope Leo XIII when he sat down in July 1892 withCaroline Remy — an anarchist, feminist, lapsed Catholic and one of the best-knownreporters of the time in France.

The twice-divorced 37-year-old, whose pen name was"Severine," had written to the Vatican secretary of state, presentingherself as "a woman who had been Christian" but remembers theimportance of "loving the least and defending the weak," and as"a socialist who, even if not in a state of grace, has kept intact in herwounded heart a deep respect for the faith" and esteem for the agingpontiff.

The first papal interview in modern history was quickly arrangedand lasted 70 minutes, Vian wrote.

Remy, who took no notes during the encounter, spent thatafternoon writing the story and submitted a draft the next day to the secretaryof state, who only made a few rewrites before it appeared on the front page of LeFigaro, Vian said.

Just a few months before, Pope Leo had sat down withErnest Judet, the French editor of what would soon become the world largestnewspaper, Le Petit Journal. The private audience, Vian said, does not count asan actual interview since the pope met the editor, not to take questions, butto give him a "declaration" — essentially the gist of his upcomingencyclical "On the Church and State in France."

The next time a pope sat down with a reporter was on PalmSunday in 1959 after St. John XXIII’s secretary, now-Cardinal Loris Capovilla,contacted Indro Montanelli, who was working for the Italian daily, Corrieredella Sera.

The journalist said, years later, the pope had wanted aninterview with a writer who wasn’t a part of "the Catholic world" andtherefore skipped over his coworker — a Catholic and veteran Vatican reporter,Silvio Negro.

Montanelli said the papal invitation scandalized hiseditor, who "did not like the pope giving an interview at all," andespecially not to a secular outlet: "In his mind, the pope should be speakingin Latin."

Despite the historic and commercial coup of clinching apapal interview, the piece ended up on the paper’s third page, Montanelli said,because the editor was afraid a big splash would hurt Negro’s feelings.

The real turning point in the papal approach to the presscame with Blessed Paul VI toward the end of the Second Vatican Council, Viansaid. One evening in 1965, the pope sat down with another reporter fromCorriere della Sera, Alberto Cavallari, who said the pope "explicitlyrejected the classic monologue of the popes."

Cavallari wrote that the pope told him times had changedand today "millions of people no longer have any religious faith. Hencethe need for the church to open itself up. We need to address those who nolonger believe and those who no longer believe in us."

Blessed Paul saw sitting down with the secular press asthe next necessary form of papal communication — "This is dialogue,"Cavallari reported the pope as saying.

"Talking, explaining oneself, wanting that thespeaker not feel isolated, knowing how to listen, always looking to demolishthe walls created between a person and the pope" seemed to be a key partof Blessed Paul’s personality, Cavallari wrote. The conversation was frank, relaxed,unscripted and reflected the pope was aware "he had to face the risk ofcommunicating in a way that was direct, agile and genuinely human," thejournalist wrote.

That approach, especially in seeking out and respondingto the secular world, has continued the past half-century, as Blessed Paul’ssuccessors have sat down for interviews with atheists, philosophers, convertsand cradle Catholics.

Blessed Paul was the first pope to invite the press onto thepapal plane to travel with him during his trips abroad, Vian wrote.

While Blessed Paul would simply greet those flying withhim, St. John Paul II started speaking directly to journalists during theflights and began the aboard-the-papal-plane news conferences, which continuedunder Pope Benedict XVI and, despite his initial fears, Pope Francis.

On that flight back from Brazil, Pope Francis toldreporters how happy and spiritually renewed he was to have been cast among thethrongs of young people. He said foregoing heavy security meant "I couldbe with the people, hug them, greet them, without armor-proof cars. It’s thesecurity of trusting in the people" and God.

"I prefer the craziness of being out and running therisk," he said, which may be what led to him to take that other risk of beingcast to the den at the back of the plane where, he admitted,"I’ve seen the lions weren’t so ferocious."

– – –

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.


Copyright © 2023 Catholic News Service, Inc. All rights reserved. Linking is encouraged, but republishing or redistributing, including by framing or similar means, without the publisher's prior written permission is prohibited.

Choose from news (Monday), leisure (Thursday) or worship (Saturday) — or get all three!

No, Thanks

Catholic Courier Newsletters