How Radical Is Francis?


In a deep-dive profile of the Bishop of Rome in Rolling Stone, Mark Binelli has some choice new details about Francis’ mindset and leadership stye. There were some nuggets that were new to me. On the famous “Who am I to judge?” interview, Binelli explains what Bergoglio specifically said:

What he actually says is, “Mah, who am I to judge?” In Italian, mah is an interjection with no exact English parallel, sort of the verbal equivalent of an emphatic shrug. My dad’s use of mah most often precedes his resignedly pouring another splash of grappa into his coffee. The closest translation I can come up with is “Look, who the hell knows?” If you watch the video, Francis even pinches his fingers together for extra Italian emphasis. Then he flashes a knowing smirk.

His sense of humor also comes through more potently in this profile. It has an appreciation of the absurd – and a propensity to self-mockery:

An interviewer once asked if he was a good cook, to which Bergoglio responded, “Well, no one ever died.” …

And this struck me as something you cannot imagine Benedict XVI or John Paul II ever doing: after the bruising fight over marriage equality in Argentina,

a private letter [Bergoglio] wrote describing gay marriage as “the total rejection of the law of God” leaked, bruising his image, though Vallely argues he wrote the letter as a strategic means of currying favor with the conservatives. Marcelo Márquez, a gay-rights leader in Buenos Aires, delivered Bergoglio an angry note – and received a call an hour later. “He listened to my views with a great deal of respect,” Márquez told The New York Times. They met on two occasions. Márquez told the future pope about his marriage plans, and departed with a gift: a copy of Bergoglio’s biography.

Francis has also developed ways to evade the Curia’s meddling and to keep the old (mainly Italian) guard off-balance:

While past popes maintained detailed public schedules, Francis handwrites his own agenda in a private datebook. “This is unheard of,” a senior Vaticanisti who wishes to remain anonymous tells me. “Aides who’d ordinarily know what’s going on have to piece things together by talking to other people.” Confirms Father Lombardi, the Vatican press secretary, with the hint of a sigh, “Before, I was in contact with the Curia and could ask them what the daily agenda is. Now, we have to discover what the agenda is. He is very free in organizing it.”

We also discover that Francis has few friends. He is at peace with the many and alone:

Vallely’s book describes a man who, when not out among the people, leads a solitary monklike existence in which “he looks after his interior life and doesn’t really have a social one.” Those are the words of one of his closest aides in Buenos Aires, who adds, “If you define friendship as having fun with people, then he has no friends. Friendship is a symmetrical relationship. His relationships are not like that. People believe they are his friends, but he never goes to dinner at their homes.”

Read my Deep Dish essay on Francis here.

(Photo: A mural by Italian street artist Maupal depicts Pope Francis as a superman, flying through the air with his white papal cloak billowing out behind him and holding a bag bearing the word “Values” in downtown Rome near the Vatican on January 28, 2014. The image, created by Italian street artist Maupal, was tweeted today by the Vatican communication twitter account, @PCCS_VA. By Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images.)