Previously, [Vatican spokesman] Father [Federico] Lombardi dispelled rumors that the 76-year-old pope’s singing capacity or current state of health was impaired by an operation he had when he was 21 in which the upper half of his right lung was removed after cysts caused a severe lung infection.
He reads aloud very well and effectively, he said, “but it is not the voice of Pope John Paul II, it’s not the resonant voice of an actor.”
It turns out the pope himself gave the explanation a few years ago — hidden away in one line in a book that was recently republished under a new title after his election March 13.
Currently unavailable in English, the book, “Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio” by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, was originally published in 2010 under the title “El Jesuita” (“The Jesuit”).
In the book, which is a series of interviews with the then-cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future pope is asked what languages he speaks.
In reply, the future pope downplayed his perfect fluency in Italian and said he used to speak French “rather well” and “got by” with German, but said the lack of practice hurt his current proficiency.
“The one language that always caused me big problems was English,” he said, especially its pronunciation, “because I am very tone-deaf.”
He continued that he understands the Italian dialect of his father and maternal grandparents who came from the Piedmont region.
Elsewhere in the book, the future pope said he understands a little dialect from the Genoa region, but that almost all of it is “off-color.”
One of his uncles on his mother’s side was “a shameless old man who taught us obscene folk songs in Genovese dialect. That’s why none of the words of the little Genovese I know is repeatable,” he said.