Popes have traditionally looked doctrinaire and absolute. That's how they've gotten away with having a point of view at odds with reality and popular opinion--because they look like popes. We've excused them, in some sense because they've just been doing their job. But the pope exception probably ceases to work when the pope starts looking like a fool.
The Vatican, and the Catholic church, is facing a situation potentially more transformative than the death of God: a knuckle-headed pope who can't keep his mouth shut.
Infallibility can only survive so many gaffes.
From a media perspective, it's really stunning that the popes have, collectively, made it this far. It's been the combination of great ritual and antiquated language and highly negotiated interactions with the press that has kept each modern pope a unique and even charismatic figure--in his own right, a star.
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