Padraig Reidy: When Putin met the Pope

Pope Francis met with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photos: Pope Francis: Korean Culture and Information Service/Wikimedia Commons; Vladimir Putin: Commons)

Pope Francis met with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photos: Pope Francis: Korean Culture and Information Service/Wikimedia Commons; Vladimir Putin: Commons)

What might have happened when the leader of the world’s largest state met the leader of the world’s smallest?

Francis: Welcome to the Vatican, Vladimir. I hope you are not put off by my incredibly humble surroundings, here in my own humble city state. I am very humble, you know.

Vladimir: Yes, so your aides reminded me, several times. It is very important for men as important as ourselves to stay humble, I believe. We would not want to, as they say, “lose the run of ourselves”. Tell me, dear humble priest: I hear you are a communist now?

Francis (laughing, filled with divine light and humility): Haha! Not quite, comrade. The only redistribution I’m interested in is the redistribution of Christ’s love. The only means of production I want to seize control of are the means of production of compassion in men’s hearts. The only permanent revol…

Vlad: Right, yes, I think I get it. So, the whole “praying for the conversion of Russia” thing: that’s not a thing any more?

Frank: Oh that? Lord no. Thing of the past. If anything, we’re praying for the rest of the world to be more like Russia. Look at the rest of the world: secular, godless, decadent, lacking a certain…what’s the word I’m looking for?

Vlad: Humility?

Frank: Yeah, that’s the one. Lacking humility. But Russia. In Russia, the church is still number one. Admittedly, the wrong church, but, well, who am I to be picky?

Vlad: Good to know. So, where did the communist thing come from?

Frank: Ah, the Americans. You know how they are.

Vlad: I see. So you have been defamed by the Yanqui too? I have had my trouble with them. They even claimed I invaded Ukraine. HAHAHA!

Frank (nervously, humbly): HAHAHAHAHAH (hmm). Daft, of course. I mean, you didn’t, did you?

Vlad: Of course not! Why would I do that?

Frank: Well, they might have insulted your mother. In which case you’d have every right, as I outlined in my pamphlet: “Ego In Gutture Ferrum, Punk”

Vlad: Um, right.

Frank: It’s totally theologically sound. As Jesus himself said: “I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, punch them in the throat.”

Vlad (under breath): Catholics are weird

Frank: You talking about my mother?

Vlad: No! No! Lord no. Holy Father, if I may call you that…

Frank: I humbly accept the title

Vlad: Holy Father, it is true, as you said, that if someone insults someone’s mother, they should expect a punch?

Fran: It’s not just me saying that. Jesus says it!

Vlad: I’m almost certain he doesn’t, but hey, you’re the Pope.

Frank: I am, you know.

Vlad: Anyway, what does one do when someone, say, doesn’t insult your mother, but insults you, and you can’t punch them in the throat because they’re women and apparently you’re not supposed to do that anymore?

Frank: Not following.

Vlad: That, group: those awful people whose name I can’t really say in front of a priest.

Frank: Ah! The Pussy Riots band!

Vlad: Well, I was thinking “the feminists”, but yes, them. Was it OK to send them to the Gulag?

Frank: I’m not really sure I’m in a position to comment here. The organisation of which I humbly find myself head doesn’t have…we don’t have a great track record on the whole locking-up-unruly-girls thing.

Vlad: Oh yes, that. You’ve stopped doing that, right?

Frank: Pretty much. How about you? Your lot were pretty keen on the whole packing-em-off thing.

Vlad: Ha, yes. I’ll square with you, Frank. Can I call you Frank?

Frank: No.

Vlad: Ah. Ok. Awks. Er, I’ll square with you, Holy Father: the gulag thing’s a hard habit to break. You know, you’ve got the rigged courts, the fantasy charges… but most of all, I mean…it’s heritage, isn’t it? Tradition.

Frank: Tradition!

Vlad: Tradition, you know…(sings) “Il Papa. Il Papa, Tradition!”

Frank: Stop that.

Vlad: Sorry, can’t help myself. Love that show.

Frank: Yes, we all do. But, y’know, not here. Vatican and all that. Don’t have a great record on those people either.

Vlad. Who? Musical theatre people?

Frank: Well, I was going to say the…but yes, the musical theatre people.

Vlad: We too have our trouble with the musical theatre people. Must they be so theatrical? In front of the children? I mean, what if everyone was theatrical? What then? Everyone would be putting the show on right here and no one would be making babies.

Frank: So true.

Vlad: I mean, it’s not like I’m obsessed or anything. I’m not that bothered by them, honest. Hell, I’ve even been to a few musicals.

Frank: Let he among us who hasn’t been touched by musical theatre throw the first punch.

Vlad: Um, right.

Frank: Ha! I see even you are a bit put out by the constant talk of punching. But I was a bouncer in Buenos Aires. And you know what we say in Argentina? “You can’t spell ‘Bad Boy’ without BA!” Ha!

Vlad: Good one. Back in Leningrad we used to say “You can’t spell ‘Please! Stop! I’ll confess to anything!’ without ‘KGB’”

Frank: ?

Vlad: It works in Russian. Different alphabet.

Frank: Of course.

Vlad: Anyway, where was I? Yes, the musical theatre people. I mean, all very well in it’s place…

Frank: New York?

Vlad: EXACTLY. But why bring it to Russia?

Frank: Exactly. Sometimes its like they think they should have their own stage in their own building in every parish in the world where they can get all dressed up and put on their strange little performances, and we’re all supposed to worship them for it. Such arrogance, a humble man such as I cannot countenance.

Vlad: Quite.

Frank: I’m glad we can agree on so much. Tell me, you seem like a good, God-fearing, throat-punching man…

Vlad: Why thank you

Frank: Why is it you get such bad press?

Vlad: Well, I’ve got a plan to deal with that.

Frank: Really? Me too. I noticed the guy before me came across as a bit austere, so I decided to say all the same things he said, but in a much more liberal-sounding way. The media loves it. So, what’s your plan for dealing with journalists?

Vlad: Kill them.

Frank: Oh! Ah well, suffer little children to come unto me, as the Lord said.

Vlad: I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Frank: Vlad, you’re a pal, but who’s the one with a direct line to God here?

Vlad: Good question, comrade. Good question.

(Lunch is served).

This column was posted on 12 June 2015 at

Pope’s remarks: praise and criticism in Brazil

A demonstrator disguises her face during a the "March of the Sluts" in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Vito Di Stefano / Demotix)

A demonstrator disguises her face during a the “March of the Sluts” in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Vito Di Stefano / Demotix)

“If someone is gay, and seeks God’s good will, who am I to judge?”, he told reporters on his flight back to Italy on 28 July.

“The problem is not having this orientation. We should be brothers. The problem is lobbying towards this orientation, or lobbying for jealous people, politicians, masons. This is the worst problem,” Francis said.

Frei Betto, one of Brazil’s most prominent members of Liberation Theology – a leftist religious trend created in South America in the 70’s – hopes that the Pope’s remarks about the gay community can start a new phase of dialogue.

“With Francis, the themes of sexuality could be discussed in the church with greater freedom and integrity,” he said in an interview.

However, Francis could not escape criticism from leaders of Brazil’s gay movements.

“During the debate on equal marriage law in Argentina, (Jorge Mario) Bergoglio acted as an extremist leader. He said the bill was a plot of the devil to destroy God’s plan and called for holy war”, says deputy Jean Wyllys, recalling the attitude of the pontiff back in 2010, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

“Pope Francis is even worse that pastor Feliciano, because he is much more powerful, richer and smarter”, says Bahia’s Gay Group president Luiz Mott, in a reference to federal deputy and pastor Marco Feliciano, president of the Chamber of Deputies’ Human Rights Committee and famous for his homophobic remarks.

“(Francis) began his pontificate with two deeply antigay attitudes: he canonized Pope John Paul II, the biggest homophobe in the 20th century, and signed along with Pope Benedict XVI his first encyclical, which condemns gay families.”

Frei Betto concedes that most Catholics still feel cautious about more controversial issues like gay marriage, but he believes that the pope “opened an important door” to gay people.

“He took the theme out of the closet. He also supported the demonstrations, emphasizing that young people should protest, and criticized the idolatry of power and money.”

The pope spoke about the demonstrations that have broken out in Brazil’s major cities since early June. Addressing cultural and business leaders at Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Theater, Francis said that constructive dialogue is “essential to face the present,” in a clear mention to the protests.

“Between selfish indifference and violent protest, there is an option whenever possible: dialogue. Dialogue between generations, the dialogue with the people, the ability to give and receive, remaining open to the truth,” Francis said.

Later, speaking to 3 million people on Copacabana beach, he expressly urged people to go on protests, saying that those who want to be “protagonists of change” should “overcome apathy”, though in an orderly way. “Go out the streets!”, Francis exclaimed to the crowd.

However, while the Pontiff spoke, a few hundred protesters gathered in the “March of the Sluts”, walking the boardwalk of Copacabana Beach carrying placards in favor of abortion and women’s and gays’ rights. Some women walked down the street topless, while a group smashed figures of the Virgin Mary.

“The pope supported the demonstrations, but I don’t think he learned about the March of the Sluts, which I consider disrespectful to the Christian faith, by stepping on crucifixes and such”, says Frei Betto.

Theologian Leonardo Boff, another prominent Liberation Theology figure in Brazil, says the Pope’s humbler approach led to a more understanding view of the protesters, by defending young people’s “utopia” and “the right of them to be heard”.

“The biggest legacy is the figure of Pope Francis: a humble servant of faith, deprived of all pomp, touching and letting others touch him, speaking the language of young people and (telling) the truth with sincerity”, he posted on his blog.

Francis had arrived in Brazil on 22 July where he led World Youth Journey, an international Catholic event hosted in Rio de Janeiro. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics from all over the world flocked to Rio in order to have a closer look at the Pope, who assumed a more straight-forward, simpler approach towards followers than his predecessor, Benedict XVI.