Francis’ year in rhetorical review

  • December 25, 2013

The dominant news story for theCatholic press in any year of apapal election is the conclave itself.Except this past year, when it wasthe cause of the conclave, namelythe utterly unprecedented papalabdication of Benedict XVI. Therehad never been a freely chosenresignation by a pope whose legitimateelection was not in dispute.Yet the abdication and conclave asthe Catholic news story of the yearwas soon overtaken by fascinationwith the new Pope, particularly hisrhetorical style.

The first surprise was — notwithstandingthe Holy Father’sinitial prolonged silence on thecentral loggia after his election —his sheer productivity. There arethe daily homilies, the extemporaneousand extended addresses,the reported informal remarksat his various meetings and thepress interviews — another oneof which was published thismonth. His first major document,Evangelii Gaudium, was, at 51,500words, the second-longest papaldocument in history. (The prolixprize is held by Blessed John PaulII’s 1992 behemoth on priestlyformation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, at55,000 words.)

The second surprise wasnothing less than a revolutionin rhetorical style. Doctrinally,Pope Francis is, as he insists, instrict continuity with the Catholictradition. But his rhetorical style isradically different, best capturedin the most consequential papalstatement of the year: “If someoneis gay and seeks the Lord withgoodwill, who am I to judge?

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