The tiara scare has passed

Joshua J. McElwee reports at NCR today that the Vatican has no intention of changing the Pope’s coat of arms to include the tiara which is no longer worn by popes. Apparently responding to strong public reaction, the Vatican spokesman said that the tapistry with the new design was a gift, and if it is used again, it will be modified to ensure that the tiara is not there.

McElwee concludes his report with this plea. “To the Roman curia and the Vatican PR staff: For the sake of those of us across the world who look to you to help us understand our faith, can you please try and get the message right next time? Thanks.”


  1. +JMJ+

    McElwee concludes his report with this plea. ”To the Roman curia and the Vatican PR staff: For the sake of those of us across the world who look to you to help us understand our faith, can you please try and get the message right next time? Thanks.”

    I assume that’s tongue-in-cheek, at least coming from NCR. From the comments I’ve read on NCR in the past, most of the commenters (and I would guess some of the contributors as well) think that the Vatican doesn’t understand the faith.

  2. And isn’t it interesting that – as I suggested in the previous posting when so many were aghast at this disgraceful expenditure of Church funds – it turns out, indeed, it was a gift.

  3. And isn’t it also interesting that – despite the suggestion made by many defenders of the new look – it was not “a return to continuity with his predecessors” but was indeed a gft, which “will be modified to ensure that the tiara is not there” if it is ever used again.

  4. Why be so afraid of a tiara on the coat of arms? I don’t see how this can be a sign that the Pope would intend to start reusing it, after all every single bishop’s coat of arms has a galero on it, but I don’t think I have even seen a bishop where such a contraption.

  5. What is it the brainstorming adman flack said in the movie? Something like . . . “Let’s hang it over the balcony and see whether anyone salutes it.”

    1. Well, it certainly wasn’t someone who understood heraldry, given the other changes that were made and that mystify….

      It does strike me as something someone like a former Domino’s CEO might do in a fit of irrational exuberance.

  6. Why would the Vatican even “go there?” If it really was a gift, as this guy says, why did they just say, “Sorry, that is not the official coat of arms.” (Who would even create that design as a “gift”? – “Hey, Pope, I’ll make you a nice window dressing, so long as I can redesign your coat of arms!”) And last but not least, even if they accept it, why on Earth hang it from his window for the Angelus?

    And now, someone has to spend more money to have this faux coat fixed if they plan to use it in the future.

    Whatever the case, thank God it’s gone.

    1. It was probably a gesture of thanks to use it once. Popes get lots of unsolicited gifts from people who can be well-meaning and/or self-serving. To avoid a brutta figura (something of which Roman culture is pathologically afraid), the gift is used once.

      Unfortunately, this cannot be easily re-gifted, unless the Pope plays a holiday joke on his brother…maybe the Regensburger Domspatzen could find a way to smuggle it into Collegeville.

    2. “And now, someone has to spend more money to have this faux coat fixed if they plan to use it in the future. ”

      A shame that some people thought this was such a big issue that their irrational fears have to be calmed by performing costly changes to something that didn’t have anything wrong with it in the first place aside for maybe not being to their personal taste.

      The “tiara scare” should win an award for being the silliest thing to get upset about.

      1. Jack,

        I think the issue is that it did have something wrong with it, far beyond “being to [someone’s] personal taste.” The gifted embroidery was inaccurate to the specifications for the supporters of the shield that Pope Benedict XVI himself determined. He chose to abandon the tiara in his personal coat of arms, and that choice must be respected by artisans, both on the level of personal honor to the Pontiff, and on the legal level: arms are regulated, after all, inasmuch as they function in the personal and administrative affairs of the Supreme Pontiff.

        “The Holy Father Benedict XVI decided not to include the tiara in his official personal coat of arms. He replaced it with a simple mitre which is not, therefore, surmounted by a small globe and cross as was the tiara.” — Vatican Website, Coat of Arms
        of His Holiness Benedict XVI

      2. The issues you bring up, while good ones, are not the issues brought up by those who seemed most “scared” by the tiara.

      3. True, Jack, but I wasn’t replying to those concerns, only your erroneous assertion that the banner in question “didn’t have anything wrong with it in the first place aside for maybe not being to their personal taste.”

      4. And I wasn’t even thinking about the good point you raised, but was instead reacting to the concerns that some others felt constituted a “scare.” 🙂 In the context of those concerns, there was nothing wrong with the banner.

      5. Jack, it’s inappropriate for you to issue a blanket statement here that other people’s concerns raised in the previous thread were unfounded. Let people read the other thread and see for themselves. I, for one, think those concerns were well-founded, and are not disposed of by the current course-adjustment.

        Besides, the situation changed because of public opinion. So to say that reaction on the subject was silly is to ignore the fact that it obtained results. It’s the reaction that caused the withdrawl from the original position. This means it was effective, not silly. The reaction was taken seriously enough by the Vatican to warrant a change and a statement about it. Do they respond to every silly little thing? I don’t think so.

  7. Personally, I do not see why there was a problem (or as this highly biased title calls it, “a scare”) even if it wasn’t a gift. The tiara, while not currently in use, has not been outlawed and is a traditional symbol of Papal authority. I don’t see the pope being “crowned” in the future but it is a legitimate symbol of his office, especially in heraldry where that has been the symbol for the pope for centuries. The pope putting a tiara on his coat of arms is not going to change your faith; and it wouldn’t be a signal that the Holy Father is taking us back to the old ways any more than waving a 13 star flag means I want to kick the other 37 states out of the union.

  8. McElwee writes “Makes you wonder: Shouldn’t the Vatican’s PR staff be on top of this kind of stuff?”

    As I wrote in my post on the topic of the hierarchy’s continuing low credibility, the Vatican in general and its congregations in particular are not using the media/press to effective advantage. Corporations, non-profit organizations and Protestant churches have a planned communications strategy. The Church has a strategy all right; it just doesn’t look like it’s planned or deliberate. On this matter the adage applies: they plan to fail who fail to plan.

    One of the factors that mitigated the situation several years ago when the “child abuse by clergy” crisis broke out was the deft handling of media relations by then USCCB president Bishop Wilton Gregory. As many and complex as are the Vatican’s newsmaking activities and people, the Church needs a communications strategy and management like the US bishops had during the crisis. Maybe they should make Archbishop Gregory Vatican communications director. He knows Italian well enough. He did his doctorate in liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo.

  9. Maybe I’m wrong, but when it comes to Vatican PR gaffes like this, it often seems to me like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. I wonder if the Pope even knew what banner was hanging there or if he had even seen the banner.

  10. it wouldn’t be a signal that the Holy Father is taking us back to the old ways any more than waving a 13 star flag means I want to kick the other 37 states out of the union.

    Maybe. It is just that Paul VI relinquished his tiara at the closing ceremony for the second session of V2. It may not be part of the documents, but it is clearly part of the experience of that Council, and using it again would look like a repudiation of that part of the Council.

    I think crowns are an artificial attempt to mimic the glory of God reflecting from our faces. Chrysostom I think has a great passage describing the devil’s fear at the light shining from our brows, where we were anointed in baptism. The glowing brow is not a singularly Christian image, but has found its way into our imagery with halos, miters, crowns, and more. Renouncing the artificial radiance of a crown for the supernatural radiance of baptism would parallel St Augustine’s great “For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian.”

    1. Out of curiosity – should every experience of Vatican II be seen as a part of it or as setting a precedent?

      It seems that whenever something is pointed out as having nothing to do with the documents, one is corrected by being told that the ethos surrounding the council declared it or set a precedent that shouldn’t be broken with. IMO, that ties Vatican II to much to the 60’s and early 70’s and doesn’t allow for us to use it for our own time, even if doing so means reaching back to pre-conciliar things that maybe have a new relevance, usefulness, or meaning today that wasn’t present in the culture of the 60’s.

      I’m not saying the tiara should be used now – but I could see it being used someday in a future we can’t comprehend where it isn’t a big deal. To declare that it can never be used henceforth for fear of betraying the council would seem to trap the church in the 20th Century with its history and biases. It’s like saying we shouldn’t have ever adopted vernacular because to do so is a betrayal of Trent even though that council did not ban vernacular for all time and was responding to different needs in a different time.

    2. Jack,
      While the documents are certainly an important part of V2, they are not the entirety of it. Is Sacred Scripture the entirety of what happened when the Word was made flesh?

      Even if we were to limit ourselves to the documents, they should be read as products of the 1960s. Already in the GIRM, we read that “the enthusiasm in response to [liturgical use of the vernacular] has been so great everywhere that it has led, under the leadership of the Bishops and the Apostolic See itself, to permission for all liturgical celebrations in which the people participate to be in the vernacular, for the sake of a better comprehension of the mystery being celebrated.” We are no longer in the 1960s, but experience the liturgy in the ways of the 21st century.

      These are signs of a living Church. If we limit ourselves to just what has been written down, and not to the full breadth of “all that [the Church] is, all that she believes.”, we are not true to our Tradition.

      And it is only in that context that we can reach back to what the Church has been and has used in former times. We do little because a document tells us to — we do it because the faith and passion of the author inspire us to do it.

      So yes, the ceremonies of the Council were as much a part of its legacy as the documents. We have to understand them if we are going to understand the documents that were produced.

  11. “Nothing like a bit of clarification to silence the masses…”

    Indeed. There must have been a fleet of ambulances called to the doors of the National Catholic Reporter when that photo was first seen.

  12. I’m still surprised that the Holy See can’t seem to manage the products they are trying to sell, and can’t seem to manage to foresee the fall-out they don’t intend to create.

    My more politico friends say it’s due to theologians running the Sec. of State. I’m not in a position to make such judgments. But it does seem clear to me on many occasions the serene acceptance the theologians project to be the case in their minds is anything but the reality on the ground. Is there a lack of global street smarts?

  13. The idea that this was a gift, and they hung it up because no one noticed the “mistake,” will convince only the credulous. They certainly knew what was on the banner. It is inane to suggest otherwise. How stupid are we to believe the pope’s staff really is? They are conscious of protocol, symbol, and appearances in every other respect, they would be especially conscious with regard to things like this. For God’s sake, it’s not the staff of the local MacDonalds that is in charge of items of this kind! Those who would have us believe it was “an innocent mistake” are insulting our intelligence, and that of the people in the Vatican. You must hang up every gift, no matter if its symbolic content is right or wrong? I don’t think so. The banner proved to be an awful gaffe, and they are retreating from it now, with the fig leaf of “someone else’s gift” to cover their hide. Mistake indeed, but not the one being admitted.

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