Saturday 17 October 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

It has probably been the sleekest PR operation in a long time. No, I am not talking of Volkswagen’s broadsheet-targeted full-page apology in response to the car firm’s caught-with-the-pants-down emissions scandal. Although, God knows they could do with a little bit of celestial help right now. All puns in the previous sentence were intended by the way. Because the public relations stunt to which I referred in my opening sentence concerned the Vatican and its highest-ranking official, Pope Francis.

At some point, during the Pontiff’s whistle-stop tour around Latin and North America, I actually thought that if he had walked on water across the Florida Straits from Cuba to the United States no one would have batted an eyelid. Including yours truly, a self-declared atheist. As performances go, Francis conjured the power of 60s and 70s crotch-thrusting Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, the grooviness of disco pin-up Diana Ross and the soul-stirring consciousness of James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott Heron. I mean, Francis even brought an album out on the back of the tour. It gives a whole new meaning to Zep’s anthem Stairway to Heaven.

Before you label me a cynic, let me do that myself: I am a cynic. But not in a nasty way, at least not on this occasion. I honestly believe that it was hightime someone of Francis’ stature called a spade a spade and addressed some of our more pressing issues. The Pope did just that. He called for a ban on nuclear weapons, highlighted climate change as one of our most immediate challenges and called on international financial agencies to care for the sustainable development of countries. Along the way he even found time to almost convert the current Cuban president, Raúl Castro, back to Catholicism. Maybe the treading-on-water is not too far-fetched. The pontiff has also united – albeit temporarily – two groups that very rarely see eye to eye: believers and sceptics. The latter have had to suspend their pragmatism for the time being in order to gain some ground on their adversaries, usually those on the right side of the political spectrum and somewhat conservative on social issues, with a little help from the guy who might have God’s direct line number. Furthermore, Francis’ stand on economic, political and social matters since he assumed the papacy has been driven by an agenda in favour of gays, women and the poor. No wonder one of the memes circulating online asked the question: is the Pope Catholic?
CEO or man of the people?

To which the answer is: yes, he is. As mentioned before, I welcome Francis’ intervention in discussions about climate change and corporate power (and greed) but ultimately the Pope is employed by Vatican PLC, a firm damaged by decade-old allegations of child sexual, psychological, mental and physical abuse. On same-sex marriage he allegedly agreed with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licences to gay couples on religious grounds. On abortion, the Argentinean pontiff has often sidestepped the topic, focusing more on the need for mercy and goodwill.

Add to this the fact that the Pope has not executive mandate to turn his visions into reality. I welcome his ambassadorial role but I do not think that he would be given the same easy ride if he were an Obama or Cameron. Let us remember that a couple of years ago the latter found himself at the centre of a scandal when he apparently told his aides to “get rid of the green crap” from energy bills. Had it been “Pancho” saying that, he would have not come under so much fire.

This is not to say that what the Pope has done so far is in vain. He is certainly an improvement on Benedict and has set the bar really high for his successor. In being the first Latin American to have been appointed to such high-ranked position, he even makes this hardened humanist-atheist proud of his achievements. Yet, I cannot help see his role as that of a CEO on a damage-limitation exercise. I bet that the head honchos at VW must be praying that Francis soon trades his Fiat 500L for a Volkswagen, the “people’s car”. As I wrote at the beginning of this post: any celestial little helps.


Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 21st October at 6pm (GMT)


  1. True, he does have some wise words, but all the political crap comes into play and other nonsense with the catholic church.

  2. Another great post, CiL...and I totally agree with you...the sleekest PR operation in a long time.
    I also found myself asking the question, "Is he really Catholic?"
    His liberal attitudes almost seem too good to be true, for one representing such a hitherto strict religion.
    Well, he has certainly caught the attention of the we'll just have to wait and see what happens next!
    Oh...and I absolutely adore the music!
    "Another Day in Paradise" has always been one of my ultimate thank you so much! :)

    Have a great day.:))

  3. His attitudes seem much better (to me) than those of other pontiffs but I am waiting to see what action follows.

  4. La visita del Santo Padre a Cuba fue una buena bendición para el pueblo cubano y demostraron mucho cariño por él.
    Mis deseos que Cuba se abra al mundo.
    Un abrazo.

  5. I'm certainly impressed by this pope in ways I've never been impressed by any of his predecessors....

  6. I don't think the question is whether or not the Pope is Catholic, rather is the Catholic Church following the teachings of Jesus Christ, as this pope is determined to do.

  7. I did not grow up in pre-2000 Belfast, Northern Ireland, but I might as well have in terms of relations in the region in which I did grow up between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Being raised Protestant as a child even today still influences my religious thought patterns, a remnant of which is to pay virtually no attention to the movements or the pronouncements of the pope. In fact, CiL, your post might be the only thing I have read regarding his recent visit to the United States, so I will accept your analysis of the event.

    Right on, Phil Collins. I enjoy his music, but I am afraid the melody and the lyrics of, "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am," started going through my head almost immediately when I began reading about the pope.

  8. Hey, Cubano! I admit to being a bit of a convert--but I think you may be a bit hard on the Pope--at least to say that he took Kim Davis' side-he did meet with her, but I'm not sure that he fully understood who she was, or her particular claim to fame. He also met with a friend and his gay spouse, and he later issued a statement about the meeting with Davis that implied he was meeting with her among many and that it was support for the person (as in many cases) and not for the cause--so I think you may not be able to stick him with the full responsibility for that meeting--also, I think he has taken a fairly strong position (at least compared to predecessors) with respect to the abuse issues--I admit he is not perfect and that his charisma takes him a long way--but he has been willing to take stances that would have been unthinkable in the church before so I am very happy with him! Anyway! I was here during the tour!!!! Take care, k.

  9. I am not sure what to make of all this, but this may be because for the last couple of months here in Montreal, Canada, we have been enduring a very long election campaign; in fact, the longest since the 1800's! We are all tired and happy that it will be ending on Monday, October 19th! I love this song by Phil Collins! :)

  10. I am not a catholic, but I like Pope Francis better than any other Pope. I always felt the others hid behind their skirts. Great post, and a great Phil Collins clip. Thank you.

  11. Agreed - and I think the difference is our recognition that Cameron and Obama are real men in important roles, while there are too many who seem to think that the Pope might just have a hotline to some sort of god. So Catholics (and, it seems, many non-Catholics) daren't upset the Pope by pressing him on issues such as gay marriage and child abuse. Having said that, he does seem to be using his role to promote some common good, which is - as you say - a marked improvement on his predecessor.

  12. Hi ACIL - I thought the Pope did an excellent tour around and brought to our attention some issues that the media should be doing all the time - changing our lives - or those who need guidance, help etc ... the poor, the sick, gays, women ... people who need to think and relate to their world ... not think of their own needs.

    Sadly he may just be an ambassador .. but he does open his mouth and that's a good thing as the ideas and thoughts he gives us ... will at least jog the memory bank in the future, we hope ...

    Cheers Hilary

  13. I totally agree with everything you say. I am not religious but was MOST impressed by this gentleman who had so much poise and is obviously so intelligent. His tour here was super good for our country and I think not so much in the way of reminding us of religion, but in the way of reminding us of humanity.

  14. The Pope is an interesting man, but as you said, he's the "head" of a church that has suppressed and oppressed women for thousands of years, allowed pedophilia for probably as long and continues to preach a morality that is exclusive.

  15. As a Catholic school survivor, I have first-hand experience with the church's emotional abuse of children. While I'll admit that this man talks a good game, it will never go beyond talk. Still, he did have the talking heads on Fox News sputtering with rage over some of his more controversial (sensible?) opinions. So his trip wasn't a total loss.

  16. Agree with your post. The Pope is a good person and he highlighted some issues.

  17. I think Francis is a breath of fresh air. I also think that he has a good eye for PR. And why not? the Catholic church has been under threat for a while and Benedict is partly responsible for letting it get that way. Just as well to have someone who changes the scenery. I'm not a Catholic by the way so I see the papacy as an essentially political role.

  18. I think Francis is a breath of fresh air. I also think that he has a good eye for PR. And why not? the Catholic church has been under threat for a while and Benedict is partly responsible for letting it get that way. Just as well to have someone who changes the scenery. I'm not a Catholic by the way so I see the papacy as an essentially political role.

  19. Interesting thoughts here. For me, the Pope is as someone else wrote "a breath of fresh air". Having grown up in a household with a catholic grandmother and a Communist Party card-carrying aunt, I saw both sides of organised religion. Because socialism or communism is a type of religion, too, in my humble opinion. At the same time when it comes to identity markers, the Pontiff is Catholic before being anything else. You might disagree with me on this and I'm willing to hear you out but please, listen to what he has to say and the message is: I care because I want to spread the Gospel. Proselytising by any other name.

    Thank you all for your comments. Have a great week.

    Greetings from London.

  20. that´s a great song with Phil. A favorite of mine. :)

  21. I think the Pope is a good man but on the commercial side, I shook my head when I learned through a Catholic priest friend that the local Fiat dealing was allowing them to take a loaner car for a few days... Just for the record, I'm a believer, but not Catholic.

  22. Very thoughtful and persuasive as usual!

    ALOHA I'm SO glad to be back online!




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