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Whispers In The Loggia blogger Rocco Palmo on Papal tea leaves

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HH: If you heard me earlier this week talking with Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, you heard him mention that he pays a great deal of attention to one blogger who writes at Whispers In The Loggia. That blogger is Rocco Palmo, and he joins me now. Rocco, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

RP: Anytime, Hugh. I can’t say habemus papam, yet, but buckle up.

HH: You know, it is a terrific thing to get shout outs from the archbishop of your own diocese.

RP: It is. It wasn’t always the case, but as Philadelphia Catholics and the rest of the country who are plugged in, they’re getting to see it’s a very new day here in Philadelphia, and thanks be to God for it.

HH: Let’s talk about Whispers In The Loggia, and what you try and do there. And if I mispronounce anything, correct me, because that’s kind of common here.

RP: It’s Whispers In The Loggia, just as you have it.

HH: And that’s…

RP: No, it’s actually You know, if I thought this was actually going to take off, Hugh, I would have had a shorter web address.

HH: Well, it can still be bought. Tell people what your mission is, and how…you’re twenty-what, nine, twenty-eight?

RP: No, well, I just turned 30, so now I’m officially old, I think.

HH: 30 is the new 16, Rocco.

RP: Well, in the Church here, it’s like being 16 at 30. But the mission is basically, because I was raised, my father worked for the newspapers here in Philadelphia for 30 years, but at the same time, I had a fascination with the Church, and I just thought to myself, well, how do I bring these two together? And because…and really, at the end of the day, for as much as the Church may see itself as being opposed to the press, or vice versa, you know, they’re both looking for the same thing, Hugh. They’re looking for the truth. And so they really have a lot more in common than they realize, and so at a moment like this, especially, I mean you’ve got press people, and you’ve got Churchmen, even bishops and cardinals saying well, what the hell is going on?

HH: And yours is a reported blog, to borrow a phrase from Andrew Sullivan, meaning you dig deep, you call up sources, you put together analysis, and you’re trying to figure out what is really going on in the Roman Catholic Church. Is that a fair assessment of Whispers In the Loggia?

RP: On my better days, I hope I deserve that. But obviously, there’s nothing like this moment.

HH: And so you obviously support yourself through the generosity of your readers, and they can donate at Whispers In The Loggia, right?

RP: They can, they can. That’s the only way I can do it. I was hoping to be able to go over to Rome for the conclave, but you know, I wasn’t able to meet the budget for that. And it’s just been such an intense time. And so we’ll see what happens, but I’ll tell you, now that the cardinals have declared a media blackout, if I went there, somebody said you’ll just be sitting here twiddling your thumbs, but there are people who have my cell phone number wherever I’m at, whether I’m in Rome or in Philly, and who can get in touch. So we’ll see what happens over the next couple of days.

HH: So Rocco Palmo, how long have you been doing this for? You’ve obviously worked for the Tablet. You’ve worked for a lot of big newspapers. You know what you’re doing. You’re sort of like the young version of John L. Allen and George Weigel. But how long have you been doing it for?

RP: I’ve been doing it for over eight years now, Hugh, but it actually goes back a longer time than that. I mean, it was 20 years since as a kid I became fascinated with the Church, and then because of Archbishop Chaput, then in Denver, it really set me on fire in a way I hadn’t been growing up here in Philadelphia. And your listeners know Archbishop Chaput, and he really showed me what the Church could be, and what I could be in the Church, and that was in Denver. And then, you know, I fell backwards into fortune. You know, he’s here as our archbishop. But that’s still crazy. Whatever happens from here, you know, Benedict XVI’s legacy will be felt more powerfully in this diocese here in Philly than anywhere in the country because of who he sent here to be the our archbishop.

HH: Now you know, I’ve known the archbishop for almost ten years, and I’ve mispronounced his name for just as long. It must just give you pain to hear me, because I just have, it’s one of those mental things. It’s like saying nucular, and I can’t get it right. But nevertheless, he’s a great man of God and of the Church. And I’m curious, from the perspective of a Philadelphia archdiocese Catholic, and a journalist and writing, who do you think would most energize the laity and the faithful in Philadelphia coming out of the conclave as the next pope?

RP: Well you know, the thing is, as the Archbishop said to you the other night, Hugh, that the bishop, the pope is not the universal bishop. I mean, he’s the universal pastor of the Church, but he’s not everybody’s bishop. And so remember, the College of Cardinals going into this has to weigh the concerns of the entire Church. Here in the States, obviously, we have huge concerns, sex abuse, particularly keen among American Catholics. But when you go into Africa, or when you go into Asia, especially because we talk about religious freedom concerns here in the States, which are really significant right now, especially with the contraceptive mandate and everything. But remember, you’ve got cardinals going in from the Middle East where you have suicide bomb attacks on churches, and in Africa.

HH: Oh, today, a dozen Catholics were murdered in Nigeria, I believe, just today.

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HH: Rocco, you also have a Twitter feed, @roccopalmo, which is probably the easiest way for people to follow you. Would you, without speculating, because I know, like the Archbishop doesn’t speculate, would you give us some thumbnail sketches of people who are generally believed to be on the short list of the cardinals as they enter into conclave?

RP: I’ll tell you, Hugh, as one of the cardinal electors just said the other day, or even I think yesterday, forgive me, time is like melding together right now. The list just keeps getting longer and longer, the more time they spend together. And I really can’t go there, yet, because there are people who the outside world is talking about, but the cardinals are essentially in semi-seclusion right now. They’ve even cut the wi-fi off in the room in which they’re meeting at the Vatican. Now five years ago, or eight years ago, the last time there was a conclave, wi-fi wasn’t an issue. Laptops weren’t an issue, because very few cardinals used them. And so the fact that they’re kind of semi-secluded, and they’re not talking, you know, I really think we’re going to be surprised with who the next pope is.

HH: Well, let’s talk a little bit about that. I’m going to throw some names out, and get just your sense of people as I try and follow it as an American journalist who cares.

RP: Okay.

HH: Cardinal Sean O’Malley out of Boston. If there is an American who’s possible, I don’t think it’s Cardinal Dolan. I think it’s Cardinal O’Malley for a number of reasons. What do you think of him? And what should Americans know about him?

RP: Well, I think Cardinal O’Malley, and obviously, I think the thing that’s…remember, the Italian press is throwing every name out there right now, because they don’t want to be wrong. So they’ll throw every one of the 115 names of the cardinal electors out there to say see, we weren’t wrong. But that just means that every name was thrown out.

HH: Yeah.

RP: But Cardinal O’Malley, I think, has many things going for him, especially as Americans see it. Just, I mean, one, he has languages. I mean, he even during the press briefings that have now been shut down since the American cardinals, or all the cardinals have been gagged, O’Malley has his doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature, speaks excellent Italian, has spent his whole ministry before becoming a bishop in ministry to Hispanic Catholics in Washington before they even became a significant presence in Washington. But above all, there is the Capuchin Charism, which Archbishop Chaput shares, they’re seminary classmates, of poverty, of extreme poverty. And even just today, you know, our friend here, the Archbishop here, just sold half the seminary in Philadelphia, or announced that half of it was going to be for sale. And Cardinal O’Malley did the same thing in Boston, selling the seminary in Boston to Boston College, including the palatial archbishop’s residence there, because to signify that the Church is not about buildings. It’s about charism, it’s about zeal, it’s about the fervor we have in terms of faith. And if your buildings are your greatest assets as opposed to the faith of the people, well then forget about it.

HH: All right, Odilo Sherer from Brazil, a name I see a lot about, and indeed, there’s actually a kind of a campaign undertaken by the Brazilian press to promote him.

RP: Well, again, Hugh, there are a lot of names going around right now, and Scherer had worked at the Vatican, and is, it’s…I mean, Sao Paulo is a very influential archdiocese, because it’s one of the largest, one of the five largest diocese in the Catholic world. But…and you know, I mean, you could talk about Scherer, you could talk about Dolan, you could talk about anybody right now. But you know, one thing that in terms of the papapuli, you know, the popable candidates, or supposed candidates floated in the press, because there’s a lot of dead space going on right now.

HH: Right.

RP: You know, the cardinals are, you know, again, they’re in a blackout, and you can’t just say well, the cardinals are in a blackout. So the press is going to try and fill a lot of dead space. But they’re seeing each other in action now in a way they haven’t before. The reality of oh, God, we’re going to have to go into the Sistine Chapel in six or eight days is facing them now. And that changes the entire calculus, especially because for the first time, Pope Benedict’s resignation has changed the game of the papacy. Now, it’s not a job that because a younger cardinal, even, before would have been saying oh, God, we’re going to have a pope for 20 or 30 years, we don’t want that. But now, if resignation is on the table, or at least it’s something that can happen, that has happened, it changes everything.

HH: Sure, it does.

RP: And I think the cardinals are, were shocked enough by the Pope’s resignation and the way it came, that it’s going to change the outcome, because Scherer, you know, others, have been talked about before.

HH: All right, now let me ask you, this is a more objective question, who’s the happiest of these cardinals? I mean, who’s got the bounce in their step, and three or four of them who just exude that John XXIII happiness?

RP: Well, I think the happiest ones are the ones who realize they have the smallest chance of being elected pope, to be honest with you. It’s not a job you wish for. You know, Benedict XVI, in the days after his election, actually, had a meeting with press, and said that when he saw that the votes were going his way, he felt it was like the guillotine coming down on his head. But joy is, I mean, obviously Cardinal Dolan of New York is at his strength, Hugh, there’s nobody like Dolan in the world. But even people like, I think of the archbishop of Manila, you think of, whose name has been out there, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the youngest of the cardinal electors from the Western Church, 54 years old. And someone who cries at the drop of a hat, I mean, who’s just so exuberant in his emotion, has touched people not just in person, but even through YouTube, because he YouTube’s out a catechetical series every weekend. I mean, there are others. There are 115 electors, and between now and the time the conclave begins, at the earliest, it’ll begin, it seems, next Wednesday. For your listeners, you’re going to hear every last one of the 115 cardinal electors tell that somehow, somewhere, it’s the next pope. So you can’t go on what you hear.

HH: All right, Rocco, then with a minute left, Rocco Palmo, and people should follow you on Twitter, I’ll put you on the spot I put the Archbishop on. Who do you read?

RP: Who do I read? Well, I read my bishop, of course. But you know, mostly, and I don’t know how versed your listeners are in Italian, I mostly read the Italian press. I try to summarize it for the English speaking audience, but the difficulty with that is the Italian press…now look, with a name like Rocco Palmo, you know, I’m not Irish. But you have to take it with a grain of salt. I mean, and even from my own family, I know, I mean, please. We Italians, we thrive on drama even where none exists.

HH: Well then…

RP: So just buckle up, and pray, and let this be a beautiful week for all of us.

HH: Come back next week, Rocco. Come back next week and fill us in. Meanwhile, is now on my bookmark, as is I’m following him on Twitter, @roccopalmo.

End of interview.


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