Monday, September 21, 2015

The Pope and the PR Machine

 Jonah Engler - The Pope and His PR

There’s no doubt about it, Pope Francis is on a PR tear. Love him or hate him, you probably have a (strong) opinion about this pope … even if you’re not Catholic. Traditionalists bristle at his seeming disregard for certain longtime Catholic traditions and perspectives. Social reformers love his take on … just about everything.

But Public Relations can be an interesting business if your job is Supreme Pontiff. You are both the head of state of one of the smallest and richest countries on the planet as well as the head of one of the largest and richest religions on the planet. So, which are you? The most influential religion or the least political state? Or can you be both at once? Chances are, no matter what you do, some will love it, and others will hate you for it. There’s precious little middle ground when, at least some of the time, you claim to be infallible.

pope francis kisses baby jonah engler
A recent trip to Havana put Pope Francis directly in the crosshairs of this sort of partisan reaction. He met with Cuba’s president as well as her priests but did not take the time to meet with the country’s political dissidents. These folks have a legitimate gripe, and they feel ignored. They were hoping the pontiff would promote greater freedom in Cuba. Instead, he appeared to prop up what dissidents – and much of the western world sees – as an oppressive dictatorship.

These folks have seen the pope exert political pressure on other regimes and enact – or at least solicit – change. But he breezed through Cuba without registering a blip on the rebel radar. It’s possible that Pope Francis could still speak out on behalf of the Cuban people, but unlikely that he will deign to be aligned – even temporarily – with an overtly hostile movement within a sovereign nation. This is the difficult political tightrope the pope walks, even one as apparently committed to social issues as this one. He wants to help people, but not at the expense of losing the open door to seats of power.

It’s a politically understandable, albeit precarious position. How will the pope be welcomed by American Catholics, particularly Cuban expats in Florida, after essentially giving their ideological brethren a public brush-off? Time will tell.

Jonah Engler is a financial expert from NYC.

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