Pope Francis Isn’t Using His Apostolic Palace

Is there anything Pope Francis is not turning upside down?

Most people are understandably focussed on the delicate political issues at play when Pope Francis meets the president of Argentina.

But there is another aspect to this story. Note that Francis is meeting dignataries in the hotel, not the palace, though he has taken posession of it:

Fernandez called on the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Monday at his temporary home, the Vatican hotel on the edge of the Vatican gardens …

The venue is unusual, given the pope has technically taken possession of the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace, where such formal audiences are usually held. For a pope who has already come to be known for his gestures, the choice was perhaps significant, though he has conducted all of his audiences in the hotel to date, including with the Vatican secretary of state earlier in the day.

If this keeps up, we’ll have to add a new category to Pray Tell: “Abolishment of court ceremonial.” Or do you have better suggestions for the category name?



  1. I would wait to see more – it might just be a logistical issue. From what I understand of the possession (and I might be wrong here) it’s a bit of a photo-op: open door, look around, click click, go back to hotel. Even if he has taken possession, some work still might have to be done to make it presentable, etc. especially to receive a head of state. And after all he is still living in the hotel, isn’t he?

  2. If anyone will give radical witness to Christ and His Gospel, Francis will do it. As they say, he will probably “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.

  3. I’ve read this a couple places – that the quarters have to be made ready for the new Pope – and I don’t understand. What, the last guy left it a mess? I mean, it’s not like it was rented out to a fraternity or something. Don’t they just have to change the sheets and replace the towels? What am I missing?

  4. Well it could have much to do with his conflicts with the President of Argentina over a long list of issues. His strength in that conflict comes from his popularity among the poor. He told the people of Argentina not to come but give their money to the poor. I am sure he doesn’t want pictures of himself with the President in the Apostolic palace. He is going to give her the courtesy of meeting him (after all she represents Argentina) but he is going to do it on his own terms, reminding the people of Argentina of his identification with the poor.

    I think we can expect this Pope to downplay his role as head of state and Pope of the universal church, and play up his role of Bishop of Rome, i.e. a people’s bishop, a bishop of the common people, and a bishop of the neglected of Rome. He has been speaking mostly in Italian to the people of Rome (he could have thrown in a lot of Spanish since that is a worldwide language like English but he has not). His priority is bonding with the people of Rome and with Italians, the rest of the world is taking care of itself.

    He understands the problem is deeper than getting the trains of the Curia to run on time. It is careerism which afflicts many of the cardinals and bishops of the world. I suspect he is going to model what he thinks cardinals and bishops of the world should be doing, i.e. being pastors of mercy, care for the poor, spending a lot of time with the common people. Many priests have told me that the failure of the bishops to deal with the sexual abuse problem and other problems happened because they are out of touch with the people and being a pastor. Bishops are too absorbed in administration.

    If he pulls it off and becomes very popular in Rome and Italy among the common people even for just a few years, it could be a great lesson to the Italians and the members of the Curia who would like to be back in charge. i.e. they should become a bishop of the people if they want to be bishop of Rome. With Italian ancestry and having chosen the name of Francis, it may have a good chance.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #5:

      Jack: Well it could have much to do with his conflicts with the President of Argentina over a long list of issues. His strength in that conflict comes from his popularity among the poor. He told the people of Argentina not to come but give their money to the poor. I am sure he doesn’t want pictures of himself with the President in the Apostolic palace

      Good observations, Jack.

      The current mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg, does not live in Gracie Mansion (the mayoral residence). He often uses the mansion for meetings and events. Mr. Bloomberg is a billionaire and certainly not a disciple of Pope Francis’s care for the poor. However, Pope Francis might well decide to forsake life in the apostolic palace. He could use it for meetings and photo ops, but live in the Vatican hotel or even “off campus”. Something tells me that his security detail would rather have the Holy Father live in the apostolic palace, but personally I think it’d be cool if the pope found other jobs for a retinue of servants and kept the lifestyle he led as archbishop.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #8:


        That former garden’s cottage (more recently a monastery) that they are renovating for Benedict sounds very attractive to me. One could probably easily slip over to the Vatican Hotel to talk with guests. Benedict has made it a little unattractive by emphasizing the monastery aspect.

        Might be tempted to offer Benedict the Papal Palace. His books are there, and piano, etc. Maybe let him do a lot of the more boring ceremonial greetings of visitors. Only problem some people would probably decide that Benedict is the real Pope.

        Maybe Francis could convince Benedict to stay at the summer home all year around. Francis might prefer to take low key summer vacations around the world. There is a place for World Youth Day, Eucharistic Congresses and Synods, but these expensive Papal Trips as a head of state and rock star have to go. It would be nice for the Pope just to hang out informally and get to know the church in different parts of the world.

  5. From wiki:

    The apartments include about ten large rooms including a vestibule, a small studio office for the papal secretary, the pope’s private study, the pope’s bedroom in the corner of the building, a medical suite (which includes dental equipment and equipment for emergency surgery), a dining room, a small living room, and the kitchen. There is a roof garden and staff quarters for the nuns . . . who run the . . . Papal Household. . . . The private library has been described as a “vast room with two windows overlooking Saint Peter’s Square.” The pope’s private chapel has a piece of art, by I.H. Rosen and commissioned by Pope Pius XI that depicts “two episodes of Polish resistance (against the Tatars and against the Bolsheviks) framing the face of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.”


    The Papal Apartments are customarily renovated according to each new pope’s preferences. The last renovation was in 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Reportedly, the Papal Apartments had been in disrepair, with “outmoded furnishings and lack of lighting” and large drums placed in the false ceiling to catch water leaks. The project, carried out over three months while Benedict was in summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, included the building of the new library to accommodate Benedict’s 20,000 books (placed in exactly the same order as in his previous residence), upgrading for electrical wiring . . . and plumbing . . . . The heating system was repaired and the kitchen was refurbished, reportedly with new ovens, ranges, and other appliances donated by a German company. The floors . . . were restored. The medical studio (“hastily installed . . . for the ailing John Paul II”) was renovated and expanded to include dental facilities, and the papal bedroom was completely redone. Wallpaper and other furnishings were put in throughout. The project was carried out by over 200 architects, engineers, and workers.

    Rehab jobs always go better when no one is home.

    1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #6:
      Exorbitant waste of money. And really, *20,000 books placed in exactly the same order as his previous residence*.

      Struggled with the same thing in religious community when pastors were replaced or rectors.

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #13:


        I have a lot of books (but not 20,000) and I don’t keep them in exact order (but I do try to return them to the same shelf of the same bookcase) and my house does look a lot like a library so that if I was moving and had a full time job, I think I might take advantage of any perk to have them moved in exact order (if you are going to move them you might as well move them in exact order). I sometimes get very frustrated when I cannot a find a book. It took me a while to find the right shelf on the right bookcase for my copy of the Constitutions for the comment above.

  6. Looking at his schedule for the rest of the week, he has meetings in both the Sala Clementina and the Sala Regia for larger groups. So I think this is probably a journalist trying too hard to see something new.

  7. If he lived in the hotel, he could meet the visitors passing by and have dinner with them on occasion. Cool.

  8. Is Pope Francis still a Jesuit?


    Fr. Reese says yes.

    While canon law does not say anything specific about a religious who becomes a pope, it is clear that a religious who becomes a bishop is still a member of his religious community but in a different way. Since the pope is the bishop of Rome, this applies also to him.

    Canon 705 is clear: “A religious raised to the episcopate remains a member of his institute but is subject only to the Roman Pontiff by virtue of the vow of obedience and is not bound by obligations which he himself prudently judges cannot be reconciled with his condition.” In other words, any Jesuit bishop, including the bishop of Rome, is still a Jesuit but he does not have to follow orders of any Jesuit superior, even the Jesuit superior general. A Jesuit who does not have to follow the orders of a Jesuit superior is certainly a strange bird, but he is still a Jesuit.

    While I was unfamiliar with canon law, it has been apparent to me that much of Pope Francis behavior both as bishop and now as Pope is very understandable in terms of Ignatian spirituality.

    I don’t think Pope Francis is likely to impose his spirituality, or even that of Saint Francis on anyone, but we need to begin to recognize the origins of some of his charisms so that we do not think he is telling us that his way is the only way to be Pope, or bishop or priest.

    In regard to liturgy, it might be helpful to keep this in mind from the Constitutions

    Because the occupations which are undertaken for the aid of souls are of great importance, proper to our Institute, and very frequent and because, on the other hand, our residence in one place or another is so highly uncertain , our members will not regularly hold choir for the canonical hours or sing Masses and offices. For one who experiences devotion in listening to these chanted services will suffice no lack of places where he can find his satisfaction

    From what he has said and done so far there will be a great deal of attention on an external focus on the care of souls (especially the poor, the lost, the alienated) and a great deal of humility (going in their door in order that they might come out our door, giving people the benefit of the doubt, mercy rather than judgment).

    I don’t think internal debates about the liturgy (chant versus hymns, etc) are going to matter to him. Like Ignatius I suspect he is going say that people who experience devotion whether by chant or hymns are going to be able to find it, let’s focus on those who are in need.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #12:
      Is Pope Francis still a Jesuit?

      It had not occurred to me that such a question would be asked. And I must say I disagree with Fr. Reese on one point: I am sure Pope Francis talks to himself. Perhaps not while looking in the mirror, but on other occasions, certainly. It is often when we talk to ourselves that we are, in reality, talking to God — especially when we ask ourselves questions.

      More to the point (i.e. the Pope still being a member of the religious order he joined), that is why the Pope wears white: Pius V was a Dominican who retained his order’s habit upon his elevation to the Holy See.

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #14:

        It is often when we talk to ourselves that we are, in reality, talking to God — especially when we ask ourselves questions.

        I agree. I keep a spiritual journal in a form of a conversation with myself.

        I am very uncomfortable with imagining a conversation with God and very comfortable with the language of the Divine Office.

        As a Jesuit novice I could not do Ignatian meditation which requires one to imagine oneself in biblical scenes talking to people (so don’t be too quick to assume everyone talks to themselves, maybe some people talk to other people in their thinking but not to themselves). I used to pray the Divine Office during meditation period.

  9. I’m sure he’s just trying to feel his way through an enormous, unanticipated change. In what ways can the Bishop of Rome live like the Bishop of Buenos Aires? I’m wondering if the place being prepared for Benedict wouldn’t be a more suitable place for him? Maybe another place can be found for the Bishop Emeritus? He does have two jobs for better of worse: in addition to being the bishop of Rome he’s the sovereign of the Vatican State, a “nation” with diplomatic relations with more than a hundred countries. That, I suspect, will be the hardest job for him since he probably has a very difficult time imagining Jesus as a Head of State. His kingdom is not of this world, remember?

  10. So much of what has occurred already keeps bringing the term “noble simplicity” to my mind … I hope this example continues and finds many emulators.

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