Yesterday, Pope Francis cancelled an appearance, at the very last minute, at a Vatican musical concert. The concert had been scheduled for a year, which means it was scheduled while Joseph Ratzinger, an accomplished classical pianist, was still Pope. The subject was Beethoven.
The Pope was not ill. The Pope's doctor was at the concert! Francis was said to have important business to attend to, which apparently was a meeting with newly-appointed papal nuncios who were to be leaving Rome the next day.
The "empty chair" made all the Italian papers this morning, and several international ones as well. Speculation has run amok, as it is wont to do. It's a sign of Francis' simplicity, say some--a sign of his work ethic, say others. The traditionalist wing was said to be offended, the social justice wing said to be cheered.
Veteran Vatican reporter, John Allen, urges caution and prudence in making interpretations. That said and acknowledged, it does seem that there has been some kind of shift. Francis seems to be following a different script. Perhaps it's the difference between a European and a South American. Joseph Ratzinger would not have missed a Beethoven concert!
Perhaps Francis really does want a "church of the poor," a concept that should, incidentally, be seen in the context of the Latin American church and not the prosperous church of the north. Francis comes at this job, literally, from the opposite side of the world--perhaps figuratively too.
Two days ago, Pope Francis told a gathering of bishops "not to have the psychology of 'princes.'" People are arguing today over whether or not Francis actually said or did not say, "I am not a renaissance prince who listens to music instead of working."
Renaissance princes--and popes--lived in splendor. They lived in a world of rubies and gold, feathers and silk, crowns and rings, palaces and pomp. The princes have toned it down over the years, the Popes less so. Indeed, Joseph Ratzinger pulled the richest swank out of the closet and proudly wore it whenever he could.
Maybe some ground really is shifting. At the very least, it appears that Pope Francis is an agile political operator who is letting the curia know that he has some tricks up his sleeve and he's not unwilling to play them.