Holy Ghostwriters: Behind the Pope's Tweets and Encyclicals

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"Following Francis" is a monthly blog on the latest happenings of Pope Francis. It is prepared exclusively for The WorldPost by Sébastien Maillard, Vatican Correspondent for La Croix, Rome

ROME -- Pope Francis sent a letter to the chair of the recent G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia chastising "unbridled consumerism" and calling for policies against growing inequality.

He delivered a speech to the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome on Nov. 20 calling for a fairer distribution of the world's bounty.

He is giving two other important talks this week, at the European Parliament and then at the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg, France.

Though inspired by the Holy Spirit, popes of course do not write all by themselves everything they say. In the case of a very talkative pontiff such as Francis, it would just be impossible.

A year ago, in Nov. 2013, Jorge Bergoglio named the head of the secretariat of state's Italian section in the Holy See, Monsignor Paolo Luca Braida, as coordinator of the preparation of his speeches and homilies. This 55-year old Italian prelate from Lombardia (North of Italy) was already involved in this task. He thus now acts as the pope's ghostwriter, although this position does not officially exist. As one of the pope's close collaborators, he lives at Santa Martha, the residence inside the Vatican where Francis has chosen to settle.

But Mgr. Braida also cannot write everything. Speeches are drafted by the secretariat of state, which stands as the pope's main central office. In the case of the letter for the G20, it was basically written by Monsignor Osvaldo Neves de Almeida, desk officer at the international branch within the Holy See's "ministry of foreign affairs." This Argentinian priest -- compatriot of the pope -- and a member of the religious congregation Opus Dei, also wrote Francis' message read out at the opening of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos last January.

When the pope travels abroad, local bishops and nuncios (equivalent of the Holy See's Ambassadors) get to mention their concerns about what should be included in the speeches. In the case of Francis' address to the European Parliament, some influence of the president of the EU's bishops, cardinal Reinhard Marx, is much expected.


This German cardinal stands among the eight advisors appointed by the pope to reform the Curia. This brings him often to Rome -- and to Santa Martha -- giving him many opportunities to talk directly with Francis. The president of the European Parliament himself, Martin Schulz, also came to the Vatican late October specifically to discuss the content of the pope's speech. For the same purpose, the Holy See's Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin recently spent time with another German member of the European Parliament, Elmar Brok, who visited him in Rome.

At the end of the day, it's all a matter of what the pope wants to say and how. Collaborators of Francis are used to trying to understand his tiny handwriting in which he spells out his wishes. They know he always personally reviews all of his speeches.


But when it comes to a homily or other pastoral forms of intervention, such as a public audience on Saint Peter's square, Francis likes to speak off the cuff. When he meets with bishops, he hands out his prepared text, still officially valid, but then improvises instead of reading it all throughout.

When he meets the press meets during his flights, he also enjoys improvisation. But on a highly sensitive issue such as whether a military intervention against the so-called Islamic State is legal, he would have carefully prepared with Cardinal Parolin the wording to answer this awaited question so he is prepared to answer precisely.

On a daily basis, his most personal talks are his morning homilies at Santa Martha's chapel. Those are considered 100 percent "bergoglian." But not all of what the pope says deserves the same status.


The famous "Papal infallibility," limited to specific circumstances, is hardly ever at stake. A homily is not a legal decree, which is not an "apostolic exhortation", which is not an "encyclical letter." Not to mention the pope's tweets, which are made up of short extracts from his speeches. These extracts are regularly proposed to the pope to select from, before the tweets reach his over 16 million followers, in nine languages.


According to Church standards, Francis' most important text yet remains his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel). It was released just a year ago and lays out the program of his pontificate. It is said he personally wrote most of it.

An Argentinian theologian and friend of Francis, based in Buenos Aires, Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernandez, is also known to have been his ghostwriter in that case.


Francis is now busy with something more magisterial, more doctrinal: a new encyclical. The last one, released in July 2013, was taken from one already much prepared by his predecessor, Benedict XVI. This time, it will be fully his own and deal with "human ecology."

A lengthy first draft was handed to the pope last August by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which collected the data. The encyclical is expected to come out next year along with other key speeches later in 2015, especially when he travels to the United States where, possibly, he will speak to the UN General Assembly and also, possibly, to the U.S. Congress. Francis is going to keep his ghostwriters busy.

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