Vatican insider: Pope Francis has more surprises

    Rocco Palmo jokes, quickly, that he has enough vowels in his name to feel comfortable discussing the interior dealings of the Roman Curia.
    The man who established “Whispers in the Loggia,” the premier Catholic insiders’ blogsite, in the basement of his parents’ Philadelphia home in 2004 has an auctioneer’s cadence that is so quick and Northeast it makes Bobby Jindal sound as though he were on Ambien.
    But when Palmo talks – or writes – people, especially within the institutional church, notice. And now that Pope Francis is launching global media flares every day with his simple witness to a church that is poor and for the poor, Palmo is typing and talking so fast he can barely keep up.
    At the heart of what Pope Francis did in his 12,000-word interview with the Italian-language Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica, Palmo says, was his intention to flash a powerful five-word calling card at the Vatican bureaucracy he wants to change: “You will not control me.”
    Palmo’s analysis is based on the fact that no one – outside of Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who is the Vatican’s chief press officer – knew that Pope Francis was even granting such unprecedented access to a Catholic publication.
    In the dusty past, Pope Paul VI granted on-the-record interviews to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera following the the Second Vatican Council as “a way of opening the church to the world,” Palmo says. But all that changed after the critical reaction to his 1968 encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” which affirmed the church’s long-standing opposition to artificial birth control.
    “That shocked Pope Paul into a shell,” Palmo says. “The fact that Pope Francis is talking is nothing new. What’s new is that within an hour, the whole world was able to read his entire interview.”
    Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI also had extensive conversations with journalists Vittorio Messori and Peter Seewald, respectively, that turned into books, but those long-form pieces weren't available immediately to the masses.
    “Francis craves the immediacy,” Palmo says. “There are thousands of people who want to say what they think the pope ‘actually’ said. But until they have two-thirds of the votes in the conclave, I don’t want to hear about it. There’s no need for this pope to be exegeted. Come on, that’s just foolish. The pope wants you to hear and read the full text. He doesn’t want somebody spinning it for you.”
    Palmo says the pope has been a curiosity and a hero among secular journalists assigned to cover the Vatican, especially when, apparently on the spur of the moment, he decided to grant an interview request on his plane ride home from World Youth Day in Brazil.
    The pope who was thought to be “not too comfortable” with media interviews went on for 80 minutes, speaking about any subject the journalists brought up. At 35,000 feet, that forced even some jaded journalists figuratively to reach for their oxygen masks.
    “When he came down to the cabin for the interview, he gave the Rome correspondent for the Buenos Aires newspaper a kiss on both cheeks,” Palmo says. “She told him, ‘You’re killing us.’ He said, ‘You guys asked for this.’”
    There is no question the pope knows what he’s doing, Palmo says. His unorthodox approach to media is not something premeditated but is from the heart.
    “I have to say, the man knows what he’s doing,” said Palmo, who was in New Orleans last week to speak at the Louisiana Priests’ Convention, hoping to inspire them to spread the Gospel through increased use of social media. “We knew this from the very beginning when he took the name Francis. There was a reason no pope has taken that name till now, because every temptation in that office violates the spirit of Francis. You would simply be setting yourself up to fail.”
    Palmo says something very special is likely to happen when the pope travels to Assisi Oct. 4 to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis – but you’ll have to read his blog, probably the day before, to get the scoop.
    That’s the news business!
    Palmo started his blog after graduating from Penn with a degree in political science. He had exactly three readers. On the day of the pope’s election in March, he had 100,000.
    “For everything that the pope hasn’t changed, in terms of substance and teaching, he is giving the church a new opening to the world,” Palmo says. “That’s the greatest thing a pope can do.”
    Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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