Pope Francis is visiting the Philippines and while in flight aboard his plane the Pope decided to have one of his frequent off-the-cuff chats with journalists.
The Pope seems to relish these sessions which almost always make news.
And the Pope seems to love making news.
He likes to surprise; he likes to be anecdotal; he likes to kibbutz.
So, in light of the recent horrendous events in Paris the Pope was asked if there are limits to free expression. And, in a roundabout way, the Pope basically said "yes," especially when it insults someone's faith.
In his answer, the Pope became somewhat jocular, using his trip-arranger, Dr. Alberto Gasparri (who was standing next to him) as a foil.
Here's how it went:
"If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he
can expect a punch," Pope Francis said, throwing a mock punch
his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith
of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."
"There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other
religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of
others," Pope Francis said. "They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is
what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my
mother. There is a limit."
To be sure, Pope Francis has denounced the blood-thirsty murders in Paris in the harshest terms saying such horrific violence in God's name couldn't be justified and was an "aberration."
But, we feel the Pope made a serious misstep with his on-board repartee. Here's why:
1) A religious figure such as the Pope should not joke about such things. Never. Period.
2) In fact, it's questionable whether or not someone of the Pope's standing should ever speak off-the-cuff about such things. Probably not. Probably never.
3) To even suggest that insulting one's mother might explain "ramifications" such as what occured in Paris (or even be comparable in terms of "reprisals") is pure nonsense. Our advice: Don't even go there. Don't ever mention one in the same or even remotely similar context as the other. No way!
4) Once we start limiting free speech (or suggesting that reprisals are in order for exercising it) where do we stop? You're treading dangerous ground.
5) The Pope punching somebody because that person insulted him? Well, that sounds more like a 1950s Catholic school nun -- not the Pope. Not funny!
We know that the Pope wants to come across as human and approachable. We get it.
And we understand that he'd rather use everyday examples when he can. But in this instance it all went wrong.
You see, lately the Pope's been overdoing it.
And, he's been talking too much.
The media are playing him. And we fear he will eventually fall into their trap, if he hasn't already done so.
Be sure of this: They built him up and they will tear him down once they get the chance.
Word to the Pope: Move back into your Vatican apartment. Listen to the Vatican's more experienced, top level advisers or other experienced PR pros. Practice strategic communication. Think and think and think again before you speak.
Remember: You are the Pope. We don't want you to be like some slick politician on his campaign plane or some cheap celebrity on Swag Airlines.
You. Are. The. Pope. Your words carry enormous weight! Act like it.