IS Vatican City turning into “Spin City” now that the Holy Father’s remarkable trajectory of life is entering a final stage of immutable silence and ineffable suffering?
The question is important, not least because the Pope has led the world’s largest religious organisation with the demonstrable vigour and strength of a spiritual and physical athlete.
His 26 years as the Bishop of Rome have coincided with some of the epoch-changing events of our time.
In a world changing faster than a kaleidoscope, the Holy Father exemplifies to his 1 billion followers the virtues of constancy with calibrated change a conservative embrace of the turning wheel.
This Pope has been the ultimate paradox, the outsider-insider who became the most doctrinaire radical to step into the spiritual shoes of St Peter.
He has been the right pontiff for an age that has been forced to wrestle with multiple, forked yet yoked realities — a celibate clergy implicated in sexual misdemeanors; abortion on tap and designer babies; the sanctity of marriage and sad reality of divorce.
He has created saints and given large swathes of the developing world a stake in preserving yet another paradox, a subtly altering status quo.
Now, his descent into the darkness must be carefully choreographed to present well. Like a near mediaeval throwback, he must scrawl spidery words on tablets of paper.
What the Pope is really saying will be a matter for interpretation. There is immense potential for misuse of his authority.
The Vatican bureaucracy is already thought to have become too powerful.
Small wonder, say wondering critics, that the Vatican is defiantly putting out a sunshine story and insisting there is no call for the Pope to lay down his burdens. On a daily basis, he makes only the most important decisions while the curia runs the global business.
Vatican communications expert Archbishop John Foley insists the spectacle of a silent and suffering Pope is really a sort of “Jesus lives” story for the 21st century. “I think it’s a beautiful example he is giving and a beautiful apostolate he is exercising,” he says.
Perhaps he has a point. The “beautiful example” is really meant to be the shallowness of counting productivity only as time sheets, dockets, man hours, visible movement and vital speech.
The Pope’s newly published book, Memory and Identity, says as much.
“All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation, a promise of joy,” he writes.
So, for the first time in living memory, a Pope is meant to publicly live out the story of Christian suffering and human dignity.
The theory is that it will unite Catholics worldwide, as never before, in prayer and hope for their spiritual head.
The great unknown is what happens if and when the patience wears thin.