A ‘Celebrity’ Pope


Is Pope Francis the first ‘celebrity pope’? To what extent does the mass media influence the Vatican and the world’s perception of a Pope?

Five ordinary US Catholics got together on Facebook recently to hash it out. Here’s what Zachary, 31, a security guard from California; Robert, 61, a lawyer from Maine; Malia is 44, an entrepreneur from LA; Sean, 34, a laboratory technician from Chicago, and Rosemary, 59, a substitute teacher from Jerome, Idaho had to say to REGINA MAGAZINE recently, in this second in a seven-part series.

MODERATOR: Do you think that celebrity culture and mass media are to some extent responsible for the idolization of modern popes? Of Francis?

Malia: Most certainly.

Robert: Without a doubt. That the hierarchy would even consider the deplorable World Youth Day to be a benefit to the youth of the Church is a genuflection (grovelling?) to this celebrity culture. Meanwhile, statistics show that [a] very few of the young people for who WYD was designed have the slightest idea what Catholicism is all about; [b] 90-something percent of recently-ordained priests started out as altar boys, while 22% of them attended WYD; and [3] the youth is more widely represented at the typical Traditional Latin Mass than any other age group. Furthermore, John Paul II is largely a media phenomenon, but for all the attention he received from the world, left the Church in a continually decaying position. Modern media has largely contributed to the superficiality with which many, Catholics or not, approach life. People look for simplistic solutions, but some, mostly those who have escaped undue influence of modern media find Christ off the wide road, having discovered the narrow road, find themselves at the Latin Mass and studying the traditional Faith.

Sean: The celebrity culture and mass media both prepare and maintain an environment in which the sort of strategy I describe has every hope of success, and actively participate in furthering the strategy both directly and indirectly. 

Rosemary: They contribute to the popularity hysteria but not totally. Pope JPII was popular because he did many “firsts”. He was the most traveled (100 countries on every continent, not only seeing world leaders but those in hospitals, prisons and slums). He played a role in the fall of communism. He was the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. He was relatively young. He had a deep devotion to Mary (Totus Tuus” was his motto). He produced many encyclicals that were very pro-life and pro-family. He founded World Youth Day in 1985. He canonized 482 saints; more than the previous 1,000 Popes combined. He put together the Code of Canon Law”” for both the Western and Eastern Rite. His life growing up in Poland is fascinating.

Pope Francis is popular in the secular world because he seems to be “updating” the Catholic Church.   He uses social media to communicate. He is popular with the liberal Catholics and news media because of his “modern” statements. He basically legitimized the frowning upon the traditional Catholics with the term “Rigid”. I’ve heard that this Pope “get’s it” by those who are Catholic but not living the Catholic life. Perhaps it makes their situation not a sin and that’s why they like him so much. Pope Francis may be popular but to me it is based on his going against the faith. Quite the opposite of JPII’s popularity.

(photo credit: By Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25177295)


TOMORROW: Are Francis’s Critics ‘More Catholic Than the Pope’?

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