In a remarkable acknowledgment that the world has emerged from the Middle Ages, the Vatican staged an unprecedented question-and-answer session with Pope Benedict XVI Friday, including inquiries submitted via Facebook and Twitter.
The Catholic Church was once content to address only queries that people pondered internally via an old-media method called “prayer.” Now, the Church is initiating a push to engage the online world.
Though it’s doubtful that the Holy Father will be issuing encyclicals via text message any time soon, observers said it was refreshing to see the Pope so responsive. Especially since he’s 84 years old and has been known to slip into the occasional papal nap.
The as-yet-untitled talk show, broadcast on Italian state TV under the working title “It’s Pope Time,” was a no-frills production. Benedict sat stiffly in a big white chair behind his desk inside the Apostolic Palace while an unseen interviewer (who sounded a lot like American talk show hostess Wendy Williams) read the letters to him.
The questions were screened from thousands received, to make sure they touched on themes of the Easter season and to avoid embarrassing the pontiff with any that involved algebra. The answers were, by and large, predictable.
“Why do children have to be so sad?’ asked a young girl from earthquake-ravaged Japan.
“Kids today,” Benedict responded in Latin. “What are you gonna do?”
“Has the soul of my (vegetative-state) son left his body since he’s no longer conscious?” asked an anguished mother.
The pope said her son was like a guitar with the strings broken. The son’s soul “is still present in his body,” but “don’t expect extended renditions of ‘Layla’ any time soon.”
“As an ambassador of Jesus, what do you advise for our country?” asked a Muslim from Ivory Coast, where a political standoff has been marked by deadly fighting.
“Discover huge reserves of oil, and wait for the Americans to intervene,” Benedict said.
“We Christians in Baghdad are persecuted like Jesus,” offered an Iraqi concerned with oppression from the Muslim majority.
“Please put your response in the form of a question,” the pope advised.
Though the event was generally well-received by an Italian TV audience used to enduring endless episodes of inane game shows and boring soccer matches, sources in the Church said preparations already under way for the next show would be “tweaked after we focus-group the first show and look at how to appeal to that much-desired 18-to-24-year-old demographic.”
In the interim, the Vatican’s human resources department is working on a set of questions that could better showcase the pope’s firm grasp on both spiritual and interpersonal matters. Hiring manager Cardinal Giuseppe Salameda said his inquiries were designed to bring out the “authentic side” of job candidates seeking positions in the church, and might also allow the world to see “the real pope — the ‘Man behind the Miter,’ as it were,” adding that producers were free to use that as a title for the show, provided an appr0priate licensing fee was tendered.
DavisW’s Blog has obtained a copy of those questions, along with some possible answers, and releases those here:
Q: What do you find most challenging in your current/last role?
Possible answer: Being both Christ’s representative on Earth and the go-to guy for every half-baked plea from the powerless that comes down the pike. I’m definitely a skilled multi-tasker but frequently struggle with prioritization.
Q: Tell me about a time you communicated a new direction during a reorganization or start-up.
Possible answer: When I was still a Cardinal, I had to handle a revamp of the German branch when we had a lot of sexual abuse allegations against some of our priests. I swept everything under the rug with a lot of transfers, and was recognized by my then-supervisor on my performance review for having done “above average” work on the issue.
Q: How do you anticipate the changing needs of your internal customers?
Possible answer: They come to me in vivid visions that feature lots of horsemen and fire and clouds and stuff. I try to write all of them down afterwards, so I don’t forget, but my penmanship is not the best. I’m thinking of taking a typing course so I can use some of that new technology out there, such as the typewriter.
Q: What factors are important to you when hiring into your team?
Possible answer: Of course, they’d have to be Catholic and male and heterosexual and single and at least semi-holy. Also, a strong familiarity with Excel would be a plus, in case we ever figure out how to get all billion believers entered onto a spreadsheet so we can track their sins.
Q: Tell me about a time when you became too hands-on and had to let go and let the team do more.
Possible answer: When I was a member of the Hitler Youth, growing up in Germany, some of the guys wanted to burn down the house of a Jewish shopkeeper. I was the only one with any experience in firebombing, but I figured it might get held against me some day if I ever wanted to be the infallible representative of Christ on Earth. So I showed Heinrick how to do it.
Q: Tell me about a time when you handled an arrogant person or one who made you angry.
Possible answer: Well, I don’t know if He counts technically as a “person,” but there is Someone whose Name I won’t mention here that comes off as a little — shall we say — self-important. I find it best just to give these kind of folks a wide berth and deal with them as little as possible.
Q: Describe a time when you had to give honest negative feedback to a colleague or team member.
Possible answer: When the Cardinals opened their season playing sub-.500 ball, and Albert Pujols was in that terrible slump, I called him up and suggested a slight adjustment in his swing and maybe an extra “Hail Mary” or two while he warmed up in the on-deck circle. Now, he’s slamming it out of the park, just like the old Albert.
Q: Tell me about a time when you had to determine a situation warranted an exception to policy. Describe the situation and your thought process.
Possible answer: There are no exceptions allowed in the Catholic Church. You sin, you burn in hell — that’s just the way it is. The only exception is if you ask for forgiveness of an entire life’s worth of horrible sins on your death bed. Only then can I say, “Don’t worry about it. No prob.”
Q: What did you enjoy most about the culture and environment in your last role?
Possible answer: Between the time I was just a cardinal and the time I became Holy Father in 2005, there was a brief break in service where I worked at a convenience store. There was a guy who came in every morning to buy lottery tickets who always told me a funny joke. I got to know a whole group of regulars and used every opportunity I could to impart the Word of God to them. Also, I got all the free Slushees I could drink.
Q: What did you enjoy least about the culture and environment in your last role?
Possible answer: People pumping gas and then driving off without paying. They took that out of my paycheck, for which I firmly believe the local franchise operator will suffer for an eternity. At least if I have any say in the matter.