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Whispers In The Loggia Blogger Rocco Palmo On Pope Francis

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HH: Joining me to discuss the significance of that selection, and the man who is the new Pope, is Rocco Palmo, one of the great Catholic bloggers in the blogosphere. He writes at Rocco, welcome back, I didn’t think I’d be speaking to you this soon.

RP: Neither did I, Hugh, but Viva Il Papa.

HH: And so what’s your reaction?

RP: It’s shocking, but it’s not. Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was the runner up in 2005, and the cardinals wanted to go with skill set this time. And age and nationality didn’t matter. And so he had the experience of coming close, so he knew to kind of somewhat be prepared over the last eight years. But most of all, this is something you and I know from our good friend, Archbishop Chaput, you know, by picking the name Francis, and by the example the new Pope has set already in riding the bus in Buenos Aires to work, and then living in his own apartment, and not being in the archbishop’s palace, you know, he’s basically seeing himself as having a mission to rebuild a Church that’s fallen into ruin. And that’s something that many American Catholics, especially in the Northeast, can resonate with.

HH: Archbishop Chaput said to the Philadelphia newspaper earlier today, praised his intellect. But he also said he has a picture from him of Mary on his desk. They’ve met each other before. He’s very happy. That’s very reassuring to me that your Archbishop is pleased. But I’m still shocked, because I followed this pretty closely, Rocco. I read everything that smart people like you were writing, and his name just wasn’t anywhere.

RP: Well, Hugh, I didn’t mention any names, so I’m a really smart person.

HH: But were you shocked?

RP: And now you see why I didn’t mention any names.

HH: Yeah, but were you surprised…

RP: Because cardinals, even on Monday, a cardinal elector told me Monday night before going into the conclave, he said he had a sense of what the Church needed, but was only beginning to get a sense right before he was about to get locked in the Sistine Chapel of what the Church needed. The horse race, you know, as much as people have been fixated on it from five seconds after Pope Benedict resigned, or announced his resignation a month ago, didn’t really begin in earnest until yesterday.

HH: So does a 76 year old Pope move quickly or slowly?

RP: I think this guy is thinking okay, well, you know, what Pope Benedict called the guillotine is falling, fell on him when he was elected, has now fallen on Bergoglio, on Pope Francis. So he’s thinking, he’s probably had eight years to think about what would I do, what would I have done if I were elected, and now he’s got carte blanche to move, literally carte blanche, because blanche is white, and now he’s got the white. So buckle up, we’ll see what happens.

HH: Did you, in the years you’ve been writing Whispers, have you reflected on his person and his theology in the past?

RP: I have. I have, because you know, the thing about Bergoglio, the interesting thing is, you know, this is not, Joseph Ratzinger was a theologian, Karol Wojtyla was a theologian, but they were two very different kinds of theologians. And even with canon lawyers, you could have two very different kinds of canon lawyers. But the new Pope, by training, is not a theologian, but a chemist, interestingly enough.

HH: And so what do you draw from that?

RP: Well, that he knows what makes a good reaction and what doesn’t make a good reaction.

HH: Okay.

RP: Now it’s interesting, because in a statement late today, and I had heard it this morning from Rome, actually, because it was floated to the Vatican to make sure it would be kosher, no pun intended, but Vice President Biden will be leading the American delegation to the inauguration Mass of the new Pope next Tuesday. And so this Pope obviously is going to have to balance a great polarization in this country. By choosing the name Francis, though, remember, the first Jesuit pope, the Jesuits and the Franciscans have historically been rivals.

HH: Oh, explain to the audience why that is the case. Obviously, there are lots of people who have no idea what you’re talking about.

RP: Okay, well basically, you’re talking the Yankees and the Red Sox.

HH: Okay, there you go. You’re right.

RP: I hope that helps. Or the Phillies and the Braves, from my town.

HH: Which ones are the Yankees?

RP: But basically, just two, you know, it’s all baseball, but it’s still kind of rival franchises, if you will. And we all love the game, but we approach it from different ways. And so the Franciscans and the Jesuits have approached it from different ways. And so for a Pope, from a Jesuit to not take the name Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, but instead to take the name of the rival team, that would be like me saying that I’m Chipper Jones, you know, or a Red Sox fan saying okay, I’m going to be called Derek Jeter from now on. You don’t do it, but it basically means that the Church is bigger than any of our parts first. Second, but by taking Francis, here’s a more significant thing, that it means, as we know from Archbishop Chaput having sold the archbishop’s residence here in Philadelphia, having now sold 60% of the seminary in the last week, it means a heart for the poor. But most of all, the commission of St. Francis wasn’t to be poor. The commission that came to St. Francis was rebuild my Church, which has fallen into ruin. And I think seeing the sex abuse and cover up scandals over these last ten, twenty years in this country, I think American Catholics, again, can just feel that, we feel that very deeply. And there is something really very moving about that.

HH: Rocco Palmo, does it mean bad economics, though? As you know, the bishops in America in the 80s sent one of the least informed ever letters on economics to the White House, in which I was serving. And so I know a preference for the poor and a concern for the poor is reconcilable. Indeed, it is necessarily capitalistic if it’s genuine. But you know, a lot of people don’t get that.

RP: Well, Hugh, you know, you were in the White House, so you may have been biased about what bishops were sending there. But the interesting thing about this is that all Catholics, whether we’re left or right, whether we’re, whatever our age, whatever our background, and it’s also a very powerful signal to the American Church in general, because let’s face it. Half of the American Catholics right now in this country are Hispanic.

HH: Yeah.

RP: 30% of Americans, mostly Anglo, 30% of all Americans have left the Catholic Church.

HH: But Rocco…

RP: And you know, this a fulfillment of a vision of Pope John Paul II, what happened today, because John Paul always said the United States is not America. America is one whole continent, north and south. And what we consider South America, Latin America, has kept the Church in the United States as a vital force in the life of this country, and has given it vitality into the future.

HH: Well you know, it will be interesting to see how American Catholics of Latin descent react over the next couple of days.

RP: Oh, well, it’s already an explosion. I mean, they’re already thinking soccer matches.

HH: But there’s also an aspect, think about this, I only have a minute left. He was a priest under a dictatorship. He saw people disappear. I mean, the abuse of power in much the way that Pope John Paul II was as well, and Benedict was under a Nazi. It’s the third successive Pope who has lived under tyranny. I think it’s a very great qualification for a Pope to understand the role of the Church in the face of massive power.

RP: Well, Hugh, I mean, the Church in general, and we talked about last week even just as we were talking, there were bomb attacks, and 12 Catholics died in Nigeria, I think, that day.

HH: Yeah.

RP: And we have great threats to religious freedom here in this country right now. And we have great threats to religious freedom in so much of the developing world, which the new Holy Father very eloquently represents. And so he could be a very powerful spokesman for that. But most of all, he’ll be here in Philadelphia in 2015 for the World Meeting of Families, so everybody come. It’s going to be a great party with our new Pope.

HH: We’ll be reading more this evening at Whispers In The Loggia, Rocco. Keep writing, my friend.

End of interview.


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