I was stunned by the weekend news: “Pope’s butler in Vatican jail,” say Italian journalists.
Wha? The pope has a butler? The Vatican has a jail? Italy has journalists? Just when I thought I had a handle on this zombie-riddled vale of tears, they pull the oh-so-plush scarlet rug out from under me.
Sure, I realize that Vatican City is a sovereign state. I shouldn’t be surprised that there is a jail. I should be grateful instead that they don’t have an army or an air force. (They don’t, do they?)
And I get that the pope has to screen his visitors, wear complicated garb, and may not always have time to make his own tea. But a butler? Couldn’t he be a “personal assistant,” “fashion consultant,” or “life coach”? Not a world of difference, granted, but perhaps a nod toward what’s considered limnally acceptable among our, er, celebrities.
The upper echelons of the Church hierarchy have better things to worry about than image and, most of the time, I’m happy to attribute such gaffes to the theory that that is precisely what they’re doing. But even if the papal household is modeled on those of an idealized nineteenth-century British peerage (ala Downton Abbey), there must be someone below stairs who could serve as a media consultant. Mustn’t there? Please?
If not, perhaps one might look farther afield. I hear Italy has journalists now.
Photo: Paolo Gabriele, private assistant to Pope Benedict XVI, is seen at left in the front seat of the popemobile as the pontiff arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 25. (CNS/Paul Haring)