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Interview with Veteran Vaticanista on Pope Francis and His Predecessors

Kathy Schiffer - published on 09/24/14

Andrea Tornielli reflects on the pontificates of Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II

When Pope Francis departed last weekend for Albania, one of the passengers aboard his plane was veteran Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli.

Tornielli is Vatican correspondent for the respected Italian newspaper La Stampa and coordinator of the website Vatican Insider, which is published in three languages and focuses specifically on the Vatican and the Catholic Church in the world. Tornielli has authored 25 books, including ones on Pope Francis, Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II, Padre Pio, and, most recently, "Fioretti: The Little Flowers of Pope Francis". In "Fioretti,Tornielli has collected heartwarming incidents, excerpts from homilies, testimonies, encounters, tweets and telephone calls — stories from Pope Francis’ first year in the papacy, all of which exemplify the gospel in action.

He spoke with me this week about this latest book, about his career as a vaticanista (pope watcher), and about Pope Francis’s first year as spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Many of the stories in your book were first reported in Catholic media, including Vatican Insider. How did you select the anecdotes for the book? Did you simply collate some of your earlier articles, arranging them in a framework?

No. Actually, I did a lot of research: reviewing already published articles, but also talking with friends, reading homilies delivered at the Domus Sanctae Martae. I tried to put these together in a single volume, because one article written each day, after one month, is not actually “on the record.” I tried to choose stories which, brought together, best describe the pope and his faith, and I think the reader will find in this book his humility, his faith, his simplicity, his great desire to be near people who are suffering.  

You have reported on Pope Francis, but also on Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II.  Is Francis, with his informal style, more accessible to journalists?  How does reporting on the papacy today differ from reporting during Pope Benedict’s tenure?

There is a difference! The difference is that for the past 20 years Pope Francis, the former Jorge Bergoglio, was a model of a shepherd, in the streets with the people. “I was a priest of the streets,” he has said. He was a bishop in the streets, too — often traveling not by car, but on foot, meeting the people, staying with people. That’s the reason I think Pope Francis’s model of the pontificate of the bishop of Rome is changing the way the world sees the pope.  

Pope Benedict, on the other hand, was elected after serving for many years as chief of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is a humble man, a simple man, but it was more difficult, in my opinion, for him to be as accessible in his first year because of his personal history.

But I want to relay also that I think the pontificate of Pope Benedict, and the portrait of Cardinal Ratzinger, was not presented very well by the media — especially by some of his collaborators. Because, you know, there were “Ratzingeriana” — those who were trying to reduce Cardinal Ratzinger and his complexity to a kind of conservative icon. But, in reality, Pope Benedict’s theology is much richer than was described by the media, and during the last seven years of his pontificate.

In my biography of Cardinal Ratzinger, I reported on the attacks and criticisms he received, especially during the last years of his pontificate. I really felt that he was more complex than he was portrayed in the media, and that he and Francis share a common vision of the Church. Both popes understand the Church as speaking to man, but not organized by man, not in men’s hands.  

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Devotions and FeastsPope Benedict XVIPope FrancisPope John Paul II
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