The Imprudent Pope

Back when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio declined a journalist’s request for an in-depth interview. He explained that he did not feel comfortable expressing himself in an interview format; he suggested anyone who wanted to understand his thinking would be better served by reading his written works.

But that was a long time ago. Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has shown no such aversion to unscripted conversations. He is surely the most-interviewed Pontiff in history, with dozens of in-depth conversations published during his papacy. Along with the formal interviews that appear in newspapers and magazines, he has engaged in question-and-answer exchanges with all sorts of audiences. In fact papal trips abroad now routinely include a Q+A session with members of the local Jesuit community.

Some of the Pope’s most memorable—and controversial—statements have come during such impromptu exchanges. His airborne press conferences (another regular feature of his foreign voyages) have produced many sensational headlines. His many friendly conversations with the late Eugenio Scalfari—which the atheist journalist reproduced from memory, without benefit of a transcript or recording—repeatedly sent the Vatican press office into damage-control mode. Perhaps the most famous statement of his entire pontificate was a response to a reporter’s question: “Who am I to judge?”

Ordinarily when a Pope—any Pope—makes a statement for the record, he speaks from a prepared text. With countless thousands of people reading his words, precision is important; spontaneity can be imprudent.

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