Brace yourself; the Pope is taking another overseas flight

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 26, 2017

Pope Francis flies to Egypt on Friday.

In the past faithful Catholics might have offered up a nervous prayer whenever they heard that the Pope was boarding a plane, because they worried about the safety of air travel. Today most of us feel reasonably confident about planes (although a quick prayer for a safe trip would still be in order), but with this most unpredictable of Pontiffs, we worry about what the Holy Father might say during his usual in-flight meeting with reporters.

In case you haven’t noticed, Pope Francis has a habit of making headlines with his unscripted remarks. And it’s not always good press. This past weekend, it didn’t take an airplane trip—just a quick visit to an island in the Tiber—to prompt an unfortunate remark, comparing Europe’s refugee centers to concentration camps. To be fair, it’s not at all clear that the Pope intended that comparison. From the context it seems possible that he used the word “concentration” to refer to overcrowding at those centers, and then stumbled his way out of the sentence. That sort of thing happens, sometimes, even to the best of off-the-cuff speakers. And let’s face it: Pope Francis is not the best of off-the-cuff speakers.

But it happens again and again. The hits just keep on coming. In meetings with reporters, in unexpected phone calls, in audiences when he sets aside his prepared texts, the Pope continues to make remarks that cause consternation and controversy—remarks that at best require further explanation. In an statement explaining the “concentration camp” remark, the Vatican observed that Pope Francis was speaking without a text. Indeed he was. Again.

Give Pope Francis credit for spontaneity. The very fact that his remarks are unpredictable makes it more likely that people will listen to him attentively. But that’s a mixed blessing. Sometimes it might be better if no one had listened, and better still if he’d stuck to the script.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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