Brandon Vogt Did Nothing Wrong

Brandon Vogt Did Nothing Wrong July 10, 2013

…and Simcha Fisher ably explains why.

I’m sorry, it is completely stupid for the Church’s bureaucrats to make it so hard for Catholics who want nothing more than to spread and teach the faith to have access to the Church’s documents and to make them as broadly available as possible.

People ask if I believe in organized religion. I always answer, “No. I’m a Catholic.”

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  • Dan F.

    Hi Mark,

    My initial reaction is to agree with you and Brandon and Simcha. However, God has recently been teaching me about my initial reactions. Here is the comment I left over on the Register:

    While the “stealing from the pope” comment is out of line I’m inclined to agree with Dawn Eden.

    I have recently been learning about how my reaction to (perceived or real) wrongs creates either healing and reconciliation or further alienation and rejection. In this case my initial reaction would likely have been the one that Mr. Vogt had – the “can’t you see that I’m helping you, you bureaucratic numbskull” type reaction. That reaction is guaranteed to create the kind of dissension among those who ought to be friends and allies as has clearly transpired.

    A better reaction (thanks to my hindsight 20/20 glasses) would have been: “Oops! I was so excited I didn’t think to even ask permission. I’ve taken them down – what can I do to help the most people get access to this document in all of these great formats? Also, Pope Francis is awesome!”

    something to that effect might have ended up with a much better result than this foolish squabling. Of course, I would probably have had the first reaction rather than the helpful one.

    • Florentius

      100% agree with DanF’s comment. While the Vatican and USCCB’s reaction was ham-handed, Brandon was technically in the wrong and should have just eaten crow and not gone all defensive over it. But of course, as Americans, we often have real problems with humility and like to make a big to-do when we feel like we’ve been victimized somehow.

      • Dave G.

        As Americans? Didn’t know that was an American distinctive.

      • Yes, Brandon should have published converter software that downloaded the free PDF and done the conversion on the downloader’s computer. That way he would not be distributing the encyclical, just the transformation to a new format which is entirely legal once you legitimately have a legal copy.

        • michigancatholic

          Or referred them to Calibre or some such program.

          • Not familiar with them, got a link?

    • Susan Windley-Daoust

      as someone who knows many who have dealt with this particular office, this has gone on for years…friendliness doesn’t help.

  • Faithr

    I honestly can see both sides of the issue. Vogt got too excited and forgot to ask permission, the other side was heavy handed in their response. Big news! No one is perfect! So let’s shake hands and hopefully use this little incident to address the problem, so it is easier to get the encyclical out to the public without violating copyright laws.

    • Faithr

      Btw, and off topic, I am currently reading an interesting book on Noah Webster. The book isn’t that well written in that the author doesn’t really seem to have a deep grasp on the time period. He’s too into pseudo-psychoanalyzing Webster from a very modern point of view and he writes an awful lot of very clunky sentences. However, the subject matter is fascinating. Anyway, Noah Webster was very poor and was always struggling to earn enough to make a living. He is greatly responsible for getting copyright law established in the U.S. so that he could earn a little income from his run away best seller, his blue-back speller. Copyright law history is actually pretty interesting. And we are in interesting times now, where it is really going through major upheavals because of the internet and electronic readers.

  • Andy

    My initial reaction is that the bureaucratic numbskulls of the USSCB ought to take a course in public relations. There are many ways to ask Mr. Vogt to remove his post without resorting to legal language. This is again an example of the USSCB allowing lawyers or other functionaries to react, instead the fraternal message of Christ.
    I appreciate the sentiment that Mr. Vogt was attempting to spread the word and since it is available for free on the Internet I do not see this as a big deal. Mr. Vogt did not claim authorship, he did not make money from his actions – he acted out of zeal and passion for what he read and believes. True the copyright
    holder has the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt
    the work to other forms (the key I think to the bureaucratic response), who may
    perform the work, and who may financially benefit from it (from Wikipedia). Since it is free on the Internet there is a great deal of murkiness about copyright issues.
    I wonder at times about the intelligence of the USSCB in so many ways. If their job is to teach then dissemination is the name of the game, if their job is to control then they tried and to my mind failed, because their response created “ a buzz” that may hide the beauty of the encyclical.

    • michigancatholic

      This strikes me as being ironic if you want to know the truth. Sorry, but it just is. Have faith but don’t get sued. Is that the message?

  • Andy, Bad Person

    This is the same USCCB that has a restrictive copyright on the Bible.

    • Faithr

      How restrictive is this? Are you referring to electronic restrictions? Can you point me to where one can find this restriction?

      • Faithr

        Here’s the permission on the USCCB website: I am out of time, but it seems like there is a twofold purpose 1) to maintain the integrity of the scripture and 2) to earn some money for scholarship, etc. I can definitely see why they want to protect the Catholic Bible as people are very free and easy with it. Things that come to mind are: Protestants taking whole books out of it; Thomas Jefferson rewriting it to suit his own purposes; people trying to rending it gender neutral, etc. So I get that they want to protect it. Also, if it brings in money for scholarship, I see that as well. And it isn’t like they are depriving anyone of the Bible You can go to library or any book store and get one. A Catholic Church ten minutes from here has Bibles in its pews.

        • Susan Windley-Daoust

          but the usccb’s cost for reprinting even a portion of the nab or nabre is exorbinantly more than any other prot translation….

        • michigancatholic

          You just said, “it’s not like they’re depriving anyone of the Bible…” You are correct. Other translators are glad to see the bible used and read. You’d think that it would occur to the USCCB that when people are “working around them,” their effectiveness as a religious entity is precisely ZERO. And then again, maybe they like it that way.

          • Faithr

            Hogwash. I call BS. Here’s the link to the USCCB page that explains why it does what it does with their particular translation. They protect this particular translation because it is used for liturgy and they are trying to protect it and because doing it this way raises money for scripture study. I can buy a paperback copy of this on Amazon for a whopping $6.95. I can get it on Kindle for $5.95. If you go to you can get the Bible for free online. And guess who sponsors that free online Bible? USCCB,

            So cool down and say a rosary or something. You are getting angry over problems that don’t exist.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    As long as we’re discussing copyright in the United States, it’s helpful to look at the most fundamental portion of American copyright law, Art. 1, Sec. 8. Cl. 8 of the federal Constitution, which empowers Congress:

    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for
    limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their
    respective Writings and Discoveries.”

    So the stated reason that we have copyright in the U.S. is to provide incentives to authors. It’s not to protect a natural property right to the contents of intellectual works. Now, you can argue that copyright protection is a consequence of Natural Law, but (i) that’s an open question as far as I can tell, (ii) to do so puts you in bed with Ayn Rand and similar rapacious-capitialist types who are persona non grata around here, and (iii) again, the Constitution doesn’t imply that copyright is a natural right, as it does with the freedoms of religion, speech, self-defense, and privacy in homes and papers.

    Within the framework of American law, therefore, copyright is a tool of incentive. Did Benedict/Francis need any American legal incentive to write Lumen Fidei? Absolutely not. That encyclical would have been written even if no such place as the United States existed. American copyright law could not have been less relevant to its creation.

    This does not mean that copyright does not apply to writings that would have been created irrespective of the existence of copyright protection. But it does tell us something about malum in se versus malum prohibitum, and it should suggest to the Vatican to consider restraint before availing itself of the protections of a law that wasn’t intended for this situation. The Vatican should consider that if our copyright statutes were written more carefully and with more fidelity to the intent of the Constitution’s copyright clause, the encyclical wouldn’t be protected. That should stay the hand of the Vatican’s censors.

    • Faithr

      But the incentive is that your property is protected! You can’t divide one from the other! You can’t say, well it is all about incentive and has nothing to do with maintaining the integrity of your product! So it means people can’t steal, change or misrepresent material one has authored. I would think that the USCCB would be very interested in maintaining control, especially in this age when it is so easy to doctor things and then swiftly promulgate it on line. Undoing the damage, seems to me, could take much more effort then simply reminding everybody they have to ask permission first.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        But the incentive is that your property is protected! You can’t divide one from the other!

        Why can’t you? You and I often do things for which incentives that we do not need exist. Do you have children? If so, I’m sure you love them and take good care of them. You don’t need the incentive of the law or the tax code to do that.

        Then there’s the question of what you mean by “your property.” I don’t think that it’s settled that intellectual creations are, pursuant to Natural Law, “property” in the sense that we understand physical goods.

        More importantly, Vogt was not doing anything that damaged the integrity of the encyclical, and there’s no argument made by the Vatican that his transformation of the documents made misrepresentation easier or more likely. No. They said he was “stealing from the Pope.”

    • michigancatholic

      We may have given them one. 10% of the American population is ex-Catholic. We’re hemorrhaging members daily. Since we’re only about 5% of world Catholicism that would be no big deal as far as sheer numbers go, except that we pay for a lot of things that the 3rd world can’t yet afford. Thus our demographic collapse is a bigger deal than you might expect.

  • Dave

    I like to keep things simple. The question is: why are (at least some people at) the Vatican and USCCB acting like a business rather than disciples of the Lord?

    For that matter, why do/did a lot of bishops and priests act like managers rather than ordained servants of the Lord? It’s a big question. This is just the latest data point.

  • MSB


    • chezami

      You win the Internet!

  • CrustyNatsFan

    Oh these kids with their technology and passion for evangelism! Headaches! Doesn’t Brandon know that evangelizing those in a post-Christian era is best done through formal Church mechanisms? Silly, kid. God forbid, an encyclical go viral on the interwebs.

    • michigancatholic


  • Two thoughts:

    1. The Vatican is staffed mostly by Italians, and presumably most of its lawyers are Italians, too. In the Anglo-American Common Law tradition, we think of copyright, trademark, and patents as being about promoting innovation. The Civil Law tradition that prevails in continental Europe came to copyright first through French legislation which, AFAIK, became influential via the Napoleonic Code. The French conception of copyright is very much rooted in Enlightenment thinkers’ impassioned sense that creative works are extensions of artists’ very selves, and that protection of each Promethean creator’s intellectual progeny is one of the Rights of Man. So the pragmatic question “how will this copyright regime spur innovation?” that seems so common-sensical to us Common Law folk doesn’t naturally occur to those steeped in the Civil Law tradition. What you get instead is lots of impassioned cris de coeur about “stealing” and whatnot that seem hysterical to us but are just the standard Human Rights Talk of civil lawyers talking about copyright in the French tradition. (Considering that Jack Valenti and the MPAA made that kind of nonsense almost as ubiquitous here in the U.S. in defense of movie studios, we common lawyers sadly now live in a glass house on this one.) Anyway, we should try to keep in mind the cultural differences here in assessing the off-putting language used by the Vatican’s avvocati.

    2. If the Vatican, as we should charitably presume, is hamfistedly attempting to preserve the integrity of its texts rather than just stooping to conform to Protestant calumnies about chained-up Bibles merely so it can sit Smaug-like on its goldpile, than its lawyers really ought to read up on Creative Commons licensing and other “copyleft” alternatives to traditional copyright. There are all manner of gradations of such innovative copyleft licensing, and the Vatican can surely find one that meets the Magisterium’s needs to safeguard textual integrity without nickel-and-diming the faithful. However, the copyleft movement has its origins mostly in the “information wants to be free” computer hacker subculture in the States, so it would require the Curial avvocati to get over a lot of culture shock in the other direction in order to embrace it. Here’s hoping (without holding my breath) that they can and do.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      its lawyers really ought to read up on Creative Commons licensing and other “copyleft” alternatives to traditional copyright.

      This. Most people (and likely those in the Vatican) are completely unaware of the Creative Commons, and the wonders that are happening through it. If it’s really about protection, the Commons provide that without going all legalistic on good-intentioned people like Vogt.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      Good analysis. As far as #1 goes, though, Vogt was instructed to stop by the U.S. bishops, who should have a better understanding of U.S. copyright law, and the motivation behind it. I wonder if the Vatican/Bishops would be making them same demands under two other scenarios:

      (1) Vogt copied/distributed the encyclical in a country that had no copyright law to speak of.

      (2) Vogt copied/distributed Ubi Primum, the U.S. copyright for which has long expired.

      • 2) sounds like a very interesting test case. I’ve got to think about whether or not I want to try it.

  • Evelyn

    Technically, okay, he was in the wrong. Authors have the right to control the distribution of their work, and the proper way to share this was to send a link to the original source. But this is a document that is available for *free* download already. I hope that somebody gets proactive, and asks Brandon or some other tech savvy person to help them make documents like this more accessible, rather than less. In many circles, what Brandon did is called “helping.”

  • Todd

    I’m sure then, it will be perfectly okay for me to publish Simcha, Vogt, and Shea, and Warner in any format I wish and distribute it however I like in the intent of “evangelization” without asking permission.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      You may have noticed that Mark uses this website as a vehicle to solicit donations, to sell his books and tapes (what year is this, 1993?), and to find people to pay him for speaking engagements.

      • Todd

        But it’s for evangelization!!!!

        • Imp the Vladaler

          The Vatican/USCCB told Vogt that he was “stealing from the Pope,” which is ludicrous. If Vogt is stealing from the Pope, then the Pope is stealing from me when one of his priests wastes my time with an inane or too-long homily. Francis isn’t trying to make a buck off his encyclical. I can’t known what Francis would say if the functionary who decided to scold Vogt brought this to his attention, but Mt 16:23 comes to mind.

          Mark makes no apology (nor should he) for wanting to be paid a just wage for his creative work of explaining Catholic theology and the history of the Church.

          • Actually, Cardinal Bertone’s already in trouble for other reasons, and I suspect whoever replaces him will also be replacing Fr Costa in short order. This is all due to an idea Cardinal Sodano snuck through as Pope John Paul II lay dying; Cardinal Bertone just kept the same policy.

            This policy is relatively recent (2005) and is *directly* working against the New Evangelization. It should be changed.

  • Brandon Vogt did exactly one thing wrong: he failed to ask permission before releasing his edition of the encyclical.

    The Vatican’s response and his response to the response are both, shall we say, less than ideal; but neither is outright wrong.

    I fully agree with many here that the current state of copyright law is a mess and is acting counter to its intent – whether to “spur innovation” or “protect property rights”. However, the law is not utterly unjust, so we should continue to obey it while working to make it more just.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      However, the law is not utterly unjust, so we should continue to obey it while working to make it more just.

      It’s still not clear to me, though, that Vogt was disobeying the law. Copying/distributing the entire work makes a fair-use argument challenging. I’d analogize what he’s doing to “time-shifting” (don’t have time to read it on the computer, but you can read it on your Kindle during your commute), or not materially different from copying music from a CD to an iPod. Still, that’s only one factor in the fair-use analysis, and the rest tend to break his way, too.

      Second, although we have an obligation to follow civil laws, copyright is one of those that only exists to the extent that the holder wants to enforce it. The Vatican doesn’t have to enforce its copyrights.

      • The concept you are looking for is place shifting. Go look at slingbox for a good implementation of that.

  • In regards to people (properly) exasperated by the manner in which this was handled by the USCCB: my life working at a parish got a lot more pleasant when I made a conscious decision never to be offended by the way people said stuff to me. I just categorically refuse to be offended.

    It’s made my life so much easier, because most of the older people who basically regard the parish as their own personal property have almost no sense of how they come across to other people. It’s a waste of time and emotion getting distressed by it. Pray for them, treat them nicely, and recognize that 75% of the time they know not what they do.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    This is really a noodle-scratcher. Rather then telling Vogt to stop or threatening to get the long arm of the law involved, why didn’t the USCCB just order him to transfer to a different parish? That’s how we handle serious violations of law and morality, right?

  • Pavel Chichikov

    Mark, i just copied and pasted a paragraph from your essay on the priesthood into a comment box at the Daily Telegraph. As you must know, I did not ask your permission first. I thought it was fair use and you wouldn’t mind – and also helpful.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    People sometimes ask my permission to put a poem of mine on their blog. I usually ask to see the blog first to make sure there isn’t something objectionable on it, but otherwise I feel good about it. I appreciate the courtesy of the request, even though it’s unlikely that I would object.

    The issue here seems to be the question of use of commercial property, as well as defense of the dignity of the text.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    “I like to keep things simple. The question is: why are (at least some
    people at) the Vatican and USCCB acting like a business rather than
    disciples of the Lord?”

    Fair question.

    We’ve just heard the reading about how Jesus sent out the Disciples.

  • John Schaefer

    My first initial reaction was … Huh? Then, I realized that the Church wants to maintain control of the material – rightfully so.

    The internet has made it possible, regardless of context, for things like writings, or music, to be taken and used. If the Church allows one person to publish these materials, it cedes control to someone who may not be as pure of heart as Brandon. Such person could certainly change the text for their own self interested purposes.

    Secondly see how Napster changed the music business. When Napster was released, many felt that they should be able to distribute recorded material outside of the control of the artists, the record labels, and the songwriters. Many people made a determination that it was okay to do this, because they could. In reality it was not okay.

    Brandon, while good intentioned, is also in business to sell his books
    and speaking engagements. I think that may mean something in this,
    too. Possibly a tacit support of Brandon, by allowing him to use the
    writings on his site as another way to build traffic and sell books and
    speaking engagements. Not a primary reason, but I’m sure a secondary one.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      (1) Has this ever happened? Has anyone ever taken an encyclical and deceptively re-worded it, then attempted to pass it off as the original?

      (2) Does putting the text of the encyclical – which is freely available on the Vatican website – in another machine-readable format make #1 more likely?

      (3) Vogt is not depriving Francis of money the way that Napster deprived musicians and record companies of money.

      • John Schaefer

        I could not say that (1) has ever happened. But, I have to assume under copyright laws, that the owner would want protection from someone taking their material and using it for their own purposes – good intentioned, or not. I’m sure we’ve both met people who would like to twist an argument up, or profit from something that is not theirs. So, I don’t think you would have to cite precedent.

        As to (2), I think forget about the money, in this case it’s more about control. But, at the same time, as someone posted earlier with the Bible, the USCCB says this about distributing the Bible: “Royalty fees earned by licensing the text to companies who publish and
        sell Bibles help to provide funds for Scripture scholarship and other
        educational needs.” It’s quite possible that fundraising is part of this, too. But, I am unsure of that.

      • 1) Not an encyclical, exactly, but that’s exactly what some scholars think happened to the Prophecy of the Popes by St. Malachi.

        2) No, thanks to the DRM enabling in the alternate formats

        3) It may be my roots in hacker culture when it comes to information, but what exactly is the difference between charging money for access to church teaching and charging money for indulgences or charging money for access to the sacraments?

      • michigancatholic

        Why would anyone go through all the trouble it would take to create a bogus version of an encyclical????

        –too easy to check for errors
        –virtually no interest
        Somebody is paranoid, seriously paranoid if that’s a real reason. Reality check: Most of the general population has no idea what an encyclical is, let alone what might be in one. Seriously. The Catholic Church is so turned in on itself it’s not funny.

    • michigancatholic

      Did Brandon propose paying him for the encyclical? Wasn’t the price $0.00 in the first place?

    • jroberts548

      Copyright law wouldn’t prevent any one from taking Lumen Fidei, changing it, and distributing it. Copyright law gives creators a right to exclude others from using your IP. It does NOT give you a right to exclude others from commenting on or parodying your IP. If someone distributed a fake encyclical, the Pope’s remedy, if any, would not be in copyright law, since, obviously, the Pope doesn’t have a copyright in a work he didn’t create (such as a fake encyclical).

  • Newp Ort

    The Vatican website has really improved, though I wish they’d drop that parchment background.

    Also that pop-up ad saying “get your loved ones out of purgatory using this one weird old trick” was a bit disconcerting.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      I enjoyed the slideshow of “The 14 most INSANE Neo-Platonic allegories in Papal Bulls,” though.

  • John Schaefer


    Doesn’t Brandon’s actions fall under consequentialism? He was doing something we would agree is ‘good’, but did so in a manner of distributing materials without permission of the owner. This would make the end result suspect.


    • chezami

      Pfft. He was an enthusiastic evangelist eager to get the word out and oblivious as a puppy to the fine points of bureaucracy because he assumed the Church was likewise interested in getting the word out. Consequentialism has nothing to do with this. The bureaucrats could have handled this gently. Instead they stupidly smacked down a good hearted servant of God in favor of a stupid human rule.

      • John Schaefer

        It sounds like the Church handled it poorly. “stupid human rule” – sounds like the Hulk! “Puny Humans.” 😉

  • rozdieterich

    It’s too bad that “wrong” is a word that gets used in so many different situations. Brandon may have been ‘wrong” [incorrect] in his assumption that monetary motivations are behind the communications from the Vatican and USCCB. But I don’t believe he is “wrong” [sinful] to express his frustration and even his assumptions that are supported by the quotations he posted. The Vatican and USCCB may not “wrong” [unlawful] in demanding him to withdraw the alternative formats (though I do question the fact that the issue concerns a simple reformatting of a text that is being offered freely by the copyright holder), but they may well be “wrong [allowing bureaucracy to hinder the will of God and the mission of the Church] in making the restrictive demands.

    All clear, everyone?

    • John Schaefer

      Is it bureaucracy hindering the will of God, or the law protecting the word of the Church? The bureaucrats are merely doing their job in protecting the materials under the law. It’s quite possible that they could have handled it differently – better, if you will. Regardless, they were doing their job.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        “I was just doing my job” is always an outstanding excuse!

        • John Schaefer

          I didn’t say they did it correctly!

  • Stu

    My questions are:

    Should he be spanked for this and does he worship the “same God” as everyone else?

  • CatholicFiles

    Go ahead and download Lumen Fidei in various formats here:!3Q0hDbBC!fiHH0DbsVuYwp315UUVukw

  • I just did some research into this, thanks to Fr. Z actually putting up the full text of the letter he received from Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the printing office of the Vatican.

    Turns out this is a fairly recent development in Church history, ordered by Cardinal Angelo Sodano in 2005:

    And currently enforced by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, through Prof. Dr. Fr. Giuseppe Costa sdb (how many professions can one man have?!?!?), the head of the L.E.V.

    Interesting thing about both these Cardinals, they’re already on Pope Francis’ hit list for other reasons; having been implicated in the sex scandals and in the release of Vatican Documents.

    This may well clear itself up as soon as a new Vatican Secretary of State is appointed- especially if faithful Catholics like thee and me write to that office indicating this strange disconnect between international copyright law and evangelization.

    • michigancatholic

      Not holding my breath. On my scale of pressing issues, this is about #223459999999. You can read it for free. You can even copy and paste it for your own use and who would ever know? And why would I send it to anyone anyway, when I can just send someone a link in the unlikely event anyone ever asked me for it?

      Now being able to use the bible online, that’s a much bigger issue. Thank God for Bible Gateway. Those people have their head on straight.

      • So, apparently you aren’t like thee and me- and don’t have the modern hacker value of information should be free (especially information related to, gasp, spreading the good news of the gospel).

  • michigancatholic

    1. The powers-that-be released the document for free. It’s hard to tell if they did that just out of precedent or out of the realization that if they restrict it in any way–and charging a fee is a form of restriction–that next to no one would actually read it. It’s not like this is, or ever will be, a best seller.

    2. The USCCB has a precedent for this. The NAB has been copyrighted by the USCCB at their site for more than a decade. But no worries. If you want a quote for a paper or a website, you simply go to Bible Gateway and download the quote in the NRSV-CE. It’s a better, more accurate translation anyway. The NAB has had to be revised a couple of times because it’s a mess, as bible translations go.

    3. Yes, the copyright is designed to make money. And evangelism is not
    yet a priority for the Church. You’ll know when it is. They’ll drop
    all this stultifying rigamarole and start preaching the life of Jesus Christ and
    religious conversion. I hope I live to see it.

    4. Want an ebook version of the encyclical? You’ll have to make your own. Calibre or any number of free formatting programs are available. Go for it. Sad that it’s a do-it-yourself project, but 9/10 of Catholicism is nowadays. Sad but true.

  • michigancatholic

    On occasion, I have paid for a paper copy of an encyclical or church document or something from the USCCB. That ends now. I get free copies online, or I don’t read them. Period.

  • Newp Ort

    Soooo, ah, ummm…anybody read it?

    • michigancatholic

      Honest? I read part of it right after it came out, and then I fell asleep. Not kidding. I’ll try it again later because I want to see two things:
      a) what it says, obviously, but also
      b) the partnership between two popes that have such different styles but the same message.