Why I Prefer An Italian Pope

The Country Whence Popes Come.

The Country Whence Popes Come.

I herewith declare very openly that I wish the next Pope to be Italian. Like most Italians, I regard an Italian Pope as something natural, and fitting. Italy has given the papacy a great number  of excellent Popes, and one can legitimately say the Country has served the Church well. Besides, I can’t escape the impression Italians are more likely to have that common-sense approach, the so typical attitude you see in the population, traditionally hard on  the defence of the rules, and soft with human weakness. I might go as far as to say that Italians have been so frequently in charge in the last centuries, because the traditional character traits make them so eminently suited for the job.

In short, what the Duce called “un popolo di  poeti, di artisti, di eroi, di santi, di navigatori, di trasmigratori” is also, and blessedly so, a people of great Popes.

It is difficult to explain this to a foreigner living abroad, but I am absolutely confident this subtle difference, this “Italian approach” is very evident to every foreigner who has lived in Italy for some years. Italians have a no-nonsense approach given to them in the cradle, nurtured from the earliest years and underpinned by a remarkable similarity in the way they see life and in the values they share; all of this, make no mistake, shaped by a Catholicism utterly without religious rivals worthy of mentioning from time immemorial.  It is the kind of mentality that mocks, say, even (for an Anglo-Saxon; Italians wouldn’t say “even”) vegetarians as funnily pathetic  nutcases, but has a kind and soft approach even to the people it mocks. It is also, put in a different way, a sure-footed instinct for what is relevant, and for leaving aside inflexibility and exaggerations.

Just to make an example – I do not say it to criticise anyone; merely to point out differences in mentality and culture – on a well-known religious blog run by a priest I have read this question:

Do insect products count as meat products, and therefore prohibited on Fridays and other days of abstinence. I have heard of some instances where it may be used in artificial color products. Any help on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

I needed a couple of seconds to digest the question, and to even understand what was meant by it, so much is the question away from our thinking. Mind, I am sure the person who posed the question is a sincere Catholic; but in a circle of Italians this would have caused a burst of hilarity, and would have been remembered for years afterwards. Even the most orthodox Popes of the past (like Pius X or Pius XII) have probably spent an entire life without the question  ever coming to their consciousness, and would have been rather worried for anyone having such problems.

This is exactly what I mean for sure-footed instinct: an orthodoxy that is, naturally, never Puritan, or lost in little details, or over-preoccupied, or over-complicated. Not so, alas, in countries where Protestantism plays or has played a role; so much so, that the question above,which sounds disturbingly ridiculous in Italy, would probably appear rather natural, if a bit on the picky side, in countries more influenced by a rigid Protestant culture.

Obviously, in the strange and disturbing times we live in even an Italian Pope could get it completely wrong, and you only need to search on this blog “Archbishop Paglia” to become fully aware of what kind of people are at present walking down the extremely beautiful corridors of the Vatican. Still, ceteris paribus I’d say the Italian would be the safer bet.

And now that I have finished to anger the vast majority of my seventeen readers, the only thing that remains to do is to look for a good trench and bury myself within .. 😉


Posted on February 20, 2013, in Catholicism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Dear Mundabor,

    Italian is fine, just hoping he’ll be Catholic. 😉

  2. Is that like saying “I prefer Spumoni Gelato but if you don’t have it I’ll take Caffe or Fragola or pistacchio? OR – if I get desperate maybe just plain old American Vanilla Ice Cream??? Just sayin’…….

  3. Is it the influence of Protestantism, or are the differences you point out more inherent? I’m thinking of the disputes between the early Celtic Church and the Roman Church which were more fundamental than arguments over the dating of Easter.

    If you compare the Rule of St Benedict with that of St Columba of Iona, for example, you will find that St Columba’s Rule was far harsher and more aesetic than that of his southern counterpart. I read somewhere that the northern monks had a habit of castigating southern Europeans for their lax ways and love of wine and sunshine. Can’t remember where I read this though.

    Weather and landscape do affect people. Northern people, of which I am one, hail from lands where winter reigns for months on end and where, during that season, darkness falls in the middle of the afternoon. But they can also enjoy long, light evenings extending into the middle of the night. In the very far north, night never falls during mid-summer. These differences can be fascinating and, as GK Chesterton pointed out, part of the genius of (Traditional) Catholicism is its ability to allow both to flourish without trying to even them out.

    • ah, very nicely put, and it could be that the climate does play a role. isn’t it so that Southern Europeans are called… “Sunny” characters?

      Still, I do not think climate or geographical position truly explain it. st. Francis was in a way as hard as they come, but he would have never wondered (I think) about the insects in the dye…

      I’d say Catholicism is congenial to the Italians, but Italians are also high quality material for Catholicism… 😉

      Having said that, I’d sign for Cardinal Burke this very moment if I could….


  4. Mundabor,
    surprisingly, I tend to agree that an Italian Pope might be best, at least in the current circumstances. You can get out of your trench, at least as far as I am concerned. We certainly do not need any German ones any time soon…. 😉

    Which of the Italian papabili are reliable in their orthodoxy and are there any thoroughly traditional ones? I heard the name Bagnasco in some traditional circles and he seems to me pretty solid, but then I do not know him very well.
    What do you think about non-Italians such as Cardinals Burke and Ranjith? I would certainly like one of them on the Chair of Peter. Especially Cardinal Burke seems to me rock solid in his orthodoxy, is a friend of the traditional Mass and has not dodged hard issues in the past.

    On the whole, however, I tend to have a very bad feeling about the proceedings in Rome. If I had to guess, the next Pope will be either Turkson, Scola or possibly Bertone (which would be a disaster in my opinion). I am praying for a strong Pope, but I’m afraid a majority of the Cardinals will do what they want and not what the Holy Spirit wants.

    • Bagnasco is a very though guy (use the search function in this blog) and would be a Pope in the mould of Pius XII as far as a V II Pope could… But he is too “fascist” for the majority of the Cardinals, and I think the same applies to Burke, who also has the problem of coming from THE Superpower. I think Scola is the front runner among the Italians, Ouellet would be the “younger Benedict” choice, Turkson if they want the African war Pope (which they don’t), Dolan if they want the one able to be chumps with the power, Schoenborn if they smoke dope.

      I would love Bagnasco, or Burke. ranjit would be in my eyes possibly isolated (like Ratzinger) in the middle of a Curia who might not understand him, but I have read only good of him; again, too much of a “right of centre” I would say, like Bagnasco.

      I must google Sodano’s age, Italian newspaper say he is still very powerful and influential…

      Provided he is neither Schoenborn nor one of the mad Germans I think there can be no huge mistakes…

      If I were,erm, Cardinal Mundabor I would trumpet for Bagnasco until I have strength, and if it partout doesn’t work for Scola until I have breath…


  5. No insult taken here, no need to hide. An Italian Pope would suit me fine so long as he be an orthodox, traditional, lion of an Italian!

  6. I would want a European, especially an Italian pope, myself. As Belloc said, “Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe.” And the Italians have been of the Faith longer than anyone else.

  7. Mundabor, I can’t resist asking what you think of St Malachy’s ‘Prophecy of the Popes. I’m sure you are aware of this and that that according to this prophecy the next Pope, Peter the Roman, will be the last before Christ comes again.

    It’s just that Cardinal Tarcisio PIETRO Bertone was born in ROMANO Canavese in the district of Piedmont – ie Peter the Roman. This is doing the rounds on the internet and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. No pressure though.

    Cardinal Bertone is, of course, Italian.

    • I have a blog post in the oven which deals (more or less indirectly) with this.

      As to Malachy, AFAIK he does not say Peter Romanus would immediately follow the others, that is, he does not say “number, 1, number x, then the end”. He appears to have had visions concerning Pope, but we do not know how many Popes there will be before Petrus.

      Malachy list is where “Pastor Angelus” for Pope Pius XII comes from, by the way…

      The link with Bertone is far too weak. Many villages and locations have “romano” in their names, and this does not make Bertone “roman” by any stretch of the imagination.

      It seems to me a stretch too far…

      Anyway, I do not think the Cardinals should be influenced in the least. We do not know the day or the hour.


  8. This was such a winsome explanation of the Italian character that I think it may be the first time ever that I felt something like respect for it. There are lots of things to admire about Italian culture–in the past, at any rate–but from my vantage the Italian character seemed to be marked by histrionics and display. Whereas Americans of Italian descent tended to be histrionic and oafish. But your description here sounds like people I’d like to be among. In the US, if you live in the middle part of the country, everything that conflicts with convention is considered crazy or stupid or irresponsible, but on the coast (particularly in the west), idealism, moralism, and fanaticism is treated with a complete lack of skepticism. In Seattle you practically trip over vegetarians and vegans and the insufferable moralism is treated with no sense of irony whatsoever. But in the midwest, writing poetry, learning latin, trying to teach theology in the church (instead of marketing)–are considered impractical wastes of time. But I don’t think this American mindset is attributable to protestantism generally, but specifically to puritanism and the specific self-regarding trajectory it took in America, where there was the self-understanding of being “the elect” which then when secularized became a crusading moralistic liberalism–abolitionism, prohibition of alcohol, women’s suffrage–and the contemporary incarnations–“gay rights”, hatred of humanity masquerading as love for the environment, and so on.

    • Ah, you see, to me the time and interest fails to discern among the too many strains of Protestantism, and therefore it is impossible to me to say whether a certain attitude – you have described it very well, with the shift to old isms like prohibitionism and then to the modern isms like homosexualism – is more specifically Puritan, or more generically Protestant. What I can – as a person born and bread in a Catholic country – immediately notice, is that it is not Catholic.

      I am glad you might, one day, grow to respect the Italian character ;). For this, I suggest the contact – if possible – with real Italians.. 😉


    • It’s understandable that it is uninteresting to distinguish between endless sects. However, anyone who knows adherents of the papal church realizes quickly that Rome is not monolithic, and that even discounting varieties of popular piety there are seemingly endless “denominations” within the boundaries of the papacy.

      That’s why I find it important to distinguish between those holding to this or that doctrine rather than this or that organization. As you point out there are plenty of laymen belonging to the Roman church, and plenty of nations also more or less belonging to it, that have not probably ever experienced real Roman Catholicism. In my diocese you can’t find a latin mass–you have to drive 1.5 hours to find one.

      As for real Italians–do I have to move to Italy for that? Don’t people with Italian DNA have some characteristics encoded in them, even if it’s been three or so generations? And isn’t Italy like Germany, where it’s sort of not historically accurate to talk about a national character, since it was for most of its history a collection of principalities?

      Regardless, a people that can be characterized as having a tendency to laugh at vegetarians has earned my respect almost by that alone.

    • With respect, there aren’t. The Church is one, and it is the Church Christ found on Peter, the only one there ever was, and there ever will be.

      Within this Church, people will – as it is only human – have some differences in the way they live their Catholicism. At times, these differences will be more innocent – as in the case of the man having problems with the insects – and at other times they will be less innocent – as in the many cases of heretical tendencies – .

      But the Church is still one, and the Truth is still one. We value the clergy who operate within the Church according to their adherence to the Truth, and faithfulness to the Only Church. But all those of us who are honest – not everyone is – know there is only one Church, and one Truth, and no mistake.

      I have also not said those who have not been in Italy do not know real Catholicism (we do not use “Roman”, unless it is to avoid Protestant to be confused. There’s only one Church. When we say “Roman”, we usually mean the Rite), but merely that in Countries with a Protestant tradition some elements will come to interfere with what Catholicism should be; this is also human, and we accept it without dramas. One of the greatest strenghts of the Church is the way she can absorb differences and slowly (it takes a lot of time) shape everyone according to her truth. This is why fifty years ago Italians were so similar to Frenchmen and Spaniards.

      I’ll have to think of you next time I eat a t-bone steak.

      We’ll laugh together at vegetarians.

      Fifty million Italians will laugh with us. Long may it last.


    • I was referring to your criticism of certain heterodox tendencies in the modern Roman church since Vatican II, or the diluting of the faith that has resulted in the weakening of the church. If I misunderstood you, forgive me.

      Also, I didn’t intend any kind of offense or stupidity with the use of the term “Roman”; it’s just that by virtue of my confession I can’t cede the term “catholic” to Rome, for the same reason I don’t call the Eastern church “the Orthodox”. Since I confess the Athanasian creed, it’s important for me to be precise in my meaning in the use of the term “catholic.”

      And with regard to theological variety within the Roman church…I suppose our different perspectives on this have everything to do with different ecclesiologies. For me doctrine is at the heart of what the Church is, because it is orthodox doctrine that gives justifying faith in Christ. But for you the church is recognized not simply by what is taught but also by who teaches.

      Well and good, I don’t want to debate you about that. But my perspective as an old Lutheran is that I wish the Roman church was visibly united in traditionalist doctrine and practice. For instance, how many times have I been to the nursing home to visit a member that can’t come to church, and they tell me that a eucharistic minister from the local parish gave them communion? Then I tell them, “You are not supposed to receive communion except at a church or from a minister with which our church is in fellowship,” and they look at me like I’m from mars. Or Roman Catholics come to my altar and I don’t commune them and they get offended. If all Roman Catholics were united in practicing and teaching traditionalist catholicism, it would be easier. But as it is, Roman churches seem to me to be just as amorphous as mainline protestants.

      Oh well. If you disagree that’s fine. I appreciate the new perspective on Italians. Now I will probably have a better attitude when I take my son to Italy when he’s older. His great-great grandparents on his mother’s side came from Sicily, yet he refers to himself as “Italian”, which if my father was still alive would probably cause him to write us out of his will.

    • I was always shocked at Americans calling themselves “Irish” or “Italians”. They’re not. They generally can’t even speak the language, much less understand the culture.

      The Catholic offended because you don’t give him (what you call) “communion” is so confused I frankly I am uncertain as to call him a Catholic. He might think he is one, but if he does not get the basics about the Transubstantiation, Holy Orders, and Protestantism it is more probable we are in front of an ecumenical joke.

      The fact is, Catholics are more than a billion, and many of them so badly instructed or so long not practicing they have forgotten the Truths of the Faith (of the latter have never been properly taught to them; that’s another fruit of Vatican II). Among these people you can find everything and the contrary of everything, either because they don’t know what they’re saying or because they do not want to accept what they should be saying. If you were, though, to limit your horizon to those who are properly instructed, you’ll find a shocking similarity compared to, say, the openly practicing lesbian Presbyterian “ministers” you can find in Canada, as opposed to the rigid evangelicals (however they may call their denomination) you can find in, say, Alabama.

      As to the sick in the hospital, this is not an abuse, and an eucharistic minister can bring the communion to the sick in the hospital, though of course the host has been consecrated by a priest. There are special provisions as to the attire of the minster, the way the host must be kept and transported, etc.
      What shocks me is that the eucharistic minister **would not ask the sick whether he is Catholic**, then a non-Catholic cannot, emphatically not, receive the Sacrament and therefore does not profit from the sacrament even in those cases in which he does not commit a willful sacrilege.

      On a lighter note, the fact that your members look at you like you’re from Mars shows to me some Protestant aren’t much better instructed than Catholics after all.. 😉

      Catholics are divided in Trendies, Traddies and the big mass of the wannabes, the cafeteria Catholics, the confused, and the Catholics by hearsay. In the west, the third group easily accounts for three quarters of the total. You might as well ask them to explain Buddhism to you. It’s very sad, but that’s what it is.

      I hope you enjoy this blog, and will find your way to the Only Church one day.


    • The problem is in the water, or the air. The idea that the sacrament is a communion in the body of Christ and therefore those who partake together must confess the same doctrine is foreign. The Greeks are able to keep the keep the barbarians away from the holy things, but that is because they are foreigners. The old Lutherans and Rome were able to fence the altar until they became American. Once we became American it became irreligious to deny anyone the body and blood of the Lord. Probably because Americans are so eager to shed their blood to save other people, right?

    • The idea that we must all belong to the same Church – and thus participate in the sacraments the Lord has provided her with – is the result of there being only one Church. This only Church is still un-American, in that she still defends the importance and validity of the sacraments. Whilst the one or other priest certainly abuses her, the rule remains nevertheless.


    • Ahhh, thank you for that laugh-out-loud moment. I love that last line! There must be some latent Italian mixed in my Irish blood then.

  9. I am glad you left the Howitzer home, Elizabeth… 😉

    Isn’t it so, that catholic countries have similarities everywhere?

    I was commenting here in England the love of the Italians for black humour, and someone said “the Irish are like that, too!”


    • Yes, the Irish do have what I’d call a dry sense of humor and an appreciation for black humor. I’ve got mostly Irish blood in my veins but am a 2nd generation (Irish) American.

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