Queen Elizabeth doesn’t do interviews. She doesn’t have informal lunches with people who then go and spill the beans. She doesn’t call people up to counsel them about their personal problems. She doesn’t phone folks and say, “Good Morning, this is Betty calling…”
Adam Deville writes here suggesting that the papal interviews be more controlled…
The great Southern writer and Catholic Flannery O’Connor once said that Catholics are called upon to suffer ever so much more from the Church than for her. These words came back to mind after the latest papal interview.
Once again—do we not all know the drill by now?—the pope gives an interview, and the juiciest bits spread like wildfire, generating headlines such as “Pope Says 2% of Priests are Pedophiles” (Wall Street Journal) and “Pope Francis reportedly promises ‘solutions’ to priests’ celibacy” (CBS News). And once again the papal spokesman, the unenviable Jesuit Fr. Lombardi, had to “clarify” by saying “one cannot and one must not speak in any way of an interview in the usual sense of the word.” Lombardi could not publish a text of the interview as there was none, and the whole thing was apparently a jerry-rigged reconstruction by an atheist journalist of what he thought the pope said. Such a situation can only lead to disaster as the pope’s trust is wantonly exploited. Thus we may never know if the pope did or did not say the things attributed to him. Certainly Lombardi claimed as much, saying that “the individual remarks… cannot be confidently attributed to the Pope.”
The Pope’s personal style is very heart warming and I can see why he is so popular, but his popular style also opens the door to a huge amount of misunderstanding, misquotation, confusion, anger, argument and bewilderment. This misunderstanding is not only among the disenchanted conservative Catholics who have taken a dislike to Francis. The confusion is rife among mainstream Catholics and non Catholics. Witness Jane Fonda’s tweet: “Gotta love new Pope. He cares about poor, hates dogma” Hmm.
More time is spent discussing what he really said or might have said and then more time is spent discussing whether he should have said this or that or the other and whether his statements were authoritative or not or whether they were just the opinion of Fr Bergoglio…it distracts from his real job of proclaiming, defending and defining the Catholic faith.
From the beginning Queen Elizabeth did not do interviews of any kind. The woman, Elizabeth Windsor, is subsumed into the historic role of the Queen of England. This is wise on many levels. First of all, the monarch stands for all of England. Her opinion does not matter. She is bigger than that because her role is bigger than that. Her humanity may show through from time to time, and that is winning and lovely, but we never get more than a glimpse behind the formality of the Queen.
Secondly, by not doing interviews or expressing her personal wish or opinion she rises above all the debates and is Queen for all. The Queen is not the queen of the conservatives or the liberals. She is the Queen of England. When she sticks to this role in dignified silence she becomes the focus of unity for her people.
Thirdly, the Queen maintains this distance and dignity so that when she does speak she can do so with utmost authority. She exercises her authority through her government and through those to whom she delegates her authority. This allows her to rise above it all and be the focus of unity.
Finally, and paradoxically, she does this not out of a sense of pomp and power, but out of a sense of sacrificial service to her nation and people. Remember these humble words when she ascended the throne at the age of just twenty one: In a speech to the British nation she said, “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”. And so it has.
The Pope’s greatest title is “the servant of the servants of God.”
In my opinion he should study the way that service is exercised by her majesty the Queen. She serves her people not by being an informal people person, but by being a formal monarch. She serves not by being ordinary Betty but by being Queen Elizabeth II. That she does so with simplicity and a down to earth manner is all the more powerful and pleasing. Taking on the role of figurehead and focus of unity does not mean one has to be pretentious and pompous. The Queen is not. She’s a down to earth and humble person, but she knows that while she is an ordinary mortal she is also the monarch.
I think Pope Francis’ admirable, warm hearted and personable style would be strengthened if he agreed with his media advisors to refuse all interviews in the future. Does that mean he retires to the apostolic palace to appear once a week at the window to give a lofty blessing? No. His loving and personable style is a great gift to the church. His simple humility is just what we need. However, it needs to be managed a bit more, and for HH to take a lesson from HMQ wouldn’t hurt.