PopeWatch: Charisma Skipping

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VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

 

Pope Francis has received the type of press coverage from the media during his year as Pope that I have only seen Obama during 2008-2009 get.  Primarily this is because most of the media is certain that Pope Francis will reverse or neuter the position of the Church on key moral issues where the media is in lockstep opposition to the Church.  However, this is not the only reason for the positive press coverage.  Pope Francis has the mysterious quality called charisma that is so important for any public figure in an age of mass communications.

Since the death of Pope Pius XII the Church has experienced an interesting pattern of a charismatic pope being followed by a non-charismatic pope, being followed by a charismatic pope.  Pope John XXIII, who Pope Francis seems to modeling himself on, had a charisma not seen in the papacy since Pio Nono.  Paul VI, poor tortured man, had not an ounce of charisma to his name.  Pope John Paul I died so swiftly that I do not include him in the pattern.  Pope John Paul II, until his last illness afflicted years, might well have been the most charismatic pope in the history of the Church.  Pope Benedict was doubtless one of the most brilliant, and least charismatic, pontiffs ever to grace the throne of Peter.

It is to be regretted that such an amorphous quality as charisma seems to be playing such a prominent role in how popes are perceived, but there it is.  We live in an emotional age, where people are swayed less by reason and argument than any time since the so-called Reformation, and charisma serves as a poor substitute for thought in how many people react to leaders today.  Charismatic leaders can of course be very good or very bad, their charisma enhancing their ability to make changes, for good or for ill.  Pope Francis definitely has charisma to spare.  We will see how he makes use of it.

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17 Comments

  1. “Pope Benedict was doubtless one of the most brilliant, and least charismatic, pontiffs ever to grace the throne of Peter.”

    He has a lot of competitors. From Sixtus V, who died in 1590, to Leo XIII, who was elected in 1878, we had a virtually unbroken succession of thirty popes, who had risen through the ranks of the Vatican bureaucracy and who were, by habit, taste and training, administrators. With the solitary exception of Benedict XIV, who charmed Voltaire, the result as one of assiduous mediocrity. Good men, pious men, even in Catholic countries, they had the same impact and the same popular appeal, as the average Secretary-General of the United Nations or President of the World Bank. Pio Nono was popular because he was pitied (He was also the first pope to be photographed)

  2. “Pio Nono was popular because he was pitied (He was also the first pope to be photographed)”

    Nah. He was the first Pope to understand public relations. He at one time quipped that he realized he was the number one tourist attraction in Rome. He sent God only knows how many signed photographs to priests and ordinary Catholics forging a personal link with them. He also had a wicked sense of humor, one time telling the Anglican bishop for the Mediterranean during an audience that he, Pius, found himself living in the bishop’s diocese! As a secular ruler Pio Nono was a flat failure. As the creator of the modern Papacy he was an astonishing success, and the force of his own personality, both his humor and his temper, was a great aid to him in accomplishing this.

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/09/30/pio-nono-first-pope-to-be-photographed/

  3. Pope Paul needed many things including charisma. His dithering for two years prior to the release of Humanae Vitae helped ensure that it had a disastrous reception. He lacked the backbone thereafter to squelch the dissent among the clergy on Humanae Vitae and other issues.

  4. HUMANAE VITAE: “Pope Paul needed many things including charisma. His dithering for two years prior to the release of Humanae Vitae helped ensure that it had a disastrous reception. He lacked the backbone thereafter to squelch the dissent among the clergy on Humanae Vitae and other issues.” I hope Pope Paul VI is not in purgatory.

  5. Donald R. McClarey

    You are right that Pio Nono had a more vivid personality than most of his predecessors and, as you say, a flair for publicity. I have seen a charming photo of him standing in the window of a rather magnificent railway carriage, with the papal arms, about a metre square, on the side

    “Tradizione!” thundered Pope Pius IX, at Cardinal Filippo Maria Guidi of Bologna, “La tradizione son’ io!” – “I am the tradition!” – One has to admire that.

    As for Pope Paul VI, Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968,” as George Weigal calls it, when the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington should lift canonical penalties against those priests whom he had disciplined for their public dissent from Humanae Vitæ and the “Peace of Clement IX” during the Jansenist controversy?

    In both cases, after the Church had been riven by a decade-long dispute, a papal document was issued that was intended to be definitive.

    In both cases, the original quarrel was immediately forgotten and argument raged over the scope of papal authority to decide the question. In the Jansenist case, peace, of a sort, was achieved, when Pope Clement IX brokered an agreement that neither side would argue the question, at least, from the pulpit.

    The “Peace of Clement IX” lasted for about 35 years and ended in 1705 when Clement XI declared the clergy could no longer hide behind “respectful silence.” Eventually, in 1713, he issued Unigenitus and demanded the subscription of the clergy to it. There was enormous resistance, with bishops and priests appealing to a future Council (and being excommunicated for their pains, in 1718). As late as 1756, dissenters were still being denied the Last Rites.

    Will the “Truce of 1968” end in a similar fashion?

  6. Charisma is overrated. Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler were both charismatic.
    .
    I agree that being able to attract and sway crowds might come in handy if one
    is the Pope. It would certainly make it easier to teach greater numbers of people
    the truths of the Faith. But that supposes that a charismatic Pope would use all
    the publicity he draws to forthrightly and clearly teach those truths. This Pope
    repeatedly fails to be clear, and the media attention he attracts only amplifies
    the confusion he sows. This Holy Father loves his lio.
    .
    Under Benedict XVI, we had a Pope that did not wish to be a rock star. The media,
    being distinctly of this world, did not warm to him. Yet that Pope clearly and
    consistently set out the truths of the Faith, in both word and deed. I suppose
    that is why the media did not fawn over him– there was little ambiguity for
    them to exploit.
    .
    This Pope seems to enjoy the attention he receives, and the media love him.
    (Whether the media loves the actual man or the image it is creating is another
    story). Yet while this pontificate might be long on charisma and adulation, so
    far it is pitifully short on content. Under the charisma-challenged Benedict XVI,
    this blog had no need for a regular feature called “PopeWatch” to document the
    myriad of papal gaffes and their attendant spin and backtracking.
    .
    If I were to choose a preferred papal style, I’ll take a coherent Pope over a charismatic Pope any day.

  7. His [Paul VI’s] dithering for two years prior to the release of Humanae Vitae helped ensure that it had a disastrous reception. He lacked the backbone thereafter to squelch the dissent among the clergy on Humanae Vitae and other issues.

    Speaking of disastrous dithering and Humanae Vitae. PopeWatchable, don’t you think?

  8. My favorite “un-charismatic pope” will always be Pius XI (Achille Ratti) who was positively relentless and “merciless” in calling out the evils perpetrated by socialists (National Socialists or British types) and communists and giving no quarter to the prophetic evils they would cause in 20th and 21st centuries (Quadragesimo Anno). Even in the 20’s and 30’s being viewed as a reactionary dinosaur, Pius XI didnt care about the social master class in either Cambridge on either side of the pond and aimed unflaggingly for the truth.

    And now, this dithering and unfocused papacy… If Evangelium Gaudii is a blueprint of his mind and thought—84+ single-spaced pages of wandering, almost fantastic pontificating—!caramba, Santo Padre! (Remember: “Money should serve, not rule.” Words to live by. I guess)

  9. However, at least internal to the Catholic Church, Pope Francis can make up ground on being uncharismatic to [us] fanatics. Abp Victor Manuel Fernandez, long-time PF confidante and Rector of the Pont. Catholic U. of Argentina, who appears to be riding shotgun for Bergoglio these days, explains according to a Mar. 3rd interview thus: “The problem is that fanatics end up turning certain principles into a never-ending battle and deliberately only ever focus on these issues,” referring to Pope Francis and “non-negotiable” values.

    Fernandez was trying to answer questions about PF’s [ vague and vacillating?] positions on ethical issues, in the Andrea Tornielli interview (Vatican Insider). Getting himself into deeper Pope-Franciscan-type hot water, Fernandez went on to say: “The moral issues in question need to be contextualised in order to be understood fully. This means having a context that is closer to home as well as a broader one. For example, it is no good opposing same-sex marriage because people tend to see us as a group of resentful, cruel, insensitive, over-the-top even, individuals.” (I can see myself in the mirror right now: I have a mean grin.)

    Fernandez went on the attack against those [of us?] holding these nasty non-negotiables: “Some have even claimed that all Church teachings depend and are based on non-negotiable principles. Ths certainly is heresy! To claim that Jesus Christ, His resurrection, fraternal love, and all that the Gospel teaches us depends on ethical principles is a distortion of Christianity.” (Whaaaa?? Did Fernandez help Bergoglio with Evangelii Gaudium? It seems to have the same Faulknerian-stream-of-consciousness disjunct ‘As I Lay Dying” successions of ideas and images…)

    “Radical circles within the Church ridicule the Pope when they say: ‘Now the Pope forbids us to talk about these issues.’ This is a lie and defaming the Pope is immoral. They [=we,the fanatics, I guess he means] are all moral when they discuss issues that interest them but not when it comes to other issues.”

    Well Vic, mi amigo: we, the rads cant reconcile ourselves to the tens of thousands of children aborted monthly, millions annually, in clinics that we are well-nigh close to closing down everywhere in this country (Operation Rescue notes 87 clinics closed in 2013 alone, and in February 2014, a surgical abortion clinic in Montclair, CA also closed its doors for good) as we the radicals from whom you two distance yourselves, continue to try to meet the young mothers on the street , to kindly, patiently, explain that they have alternatives, that they can have their child, that it is a life they will always cherish and love, and — well, Vic, amigo: come on down, and let me show you sometime what it is like. Wear the purple, it could be a TMZ moment. We are winning (I dared to say it, Vic), and you and your mentor look to me to be Fitz John Porter and McClellan at Malvern Hill, yet still certain that the enemy outnumbers you, and observing the field from a distant gunboat. Best to keep one’s distant from the self-absorbed Promethean neo-pelagianists I say.

    To read the story, go here: http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/reviews/detail/articolo/francesco-francis-francisco-rodari-32436/

  10. Pope Francis,like all the other Popes,will not reverse or neuter the position of the Church on key moral issues…if the people want this then they will have to look elsewhere because the Catholic Church stands with God…not against Him…

  11. “To claim that Jesus Christ, His resurrection, fraternal love, and all that the Gospel teaches us depends on ethical principles is a distortion of Christianity.”

    Indeed, for that would amount to works righteousness. As Fr Richard John Neuhaus so eloquently put it, ““When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers through my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of ‘justification by faith alone,’ although I will thank God that that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood doctrine was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways…these and all other gifts I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will, with Dysmas, look to Christ and Christ alone.”

  12. Clinton wrote, “Charisma is overrated. Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler were both charismatic”
    Charisma is not primarily a quality in the leader, but a relationship between the leader and his followers. As Max Weber points out, charisma requires recognition by the led. Typically, the follower is left feeling that the charismatic leader has expressed his (the follower’s) own inarticulate hopes and desires in a way that he could not have expressed them himself. Bl John Henry Newman expressed it very well: “if he has ever told you what you knew about yourselves, or what you did not know; has read to you your wants or feelings, and comforted you by the very reading…”

  13. “Abp Victor Manuel Fernandez, long-time PF confidante and Rector of the Pont. Catholic U. of Argentina, who appears to be riding shotgun for Bergoglio these days, explains according to a Mar. 3rd interview thus: “The problem is that fanatics end up turning certain principles into a never-ending battle and deliberately only ever focus on these issues,” referring to Pope Francis and “non-negotiable” values.”
    .
    “never-ending battle” read: “eternal war” a compliment of the greatest magnitude. Thomas Jefferson swore eternal vengeance against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. I swear eternal vengeance against every form of tyranny over the soul of man. I am sure that The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is reading The American Catholic.

  14. All the above is quite erudite and informative. Coming to the nitty-gritty of leading the common man in the pew, however, Pope Francis seems to have the penchant for seeding chaos and conflict, almost a faint imitation of Saul Alinsky and his Rules for Radicals. His presumed personal holiness and humility aside, it requires a bit more than trumpeting solutions to poverty in order to lead a flock already fed stones instead of bread all these past couple generations. Sorry, when the vultures of liberalism and mockers of God circle with congratulatory banners, something grim is afoot.

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