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Pope Bozo

The scourge of clown masses has led inevitably down that slippery slope to ... a clown pope. The Trads are right. All is lost. Never mind the image of Francis embracing the disfigured man that has gone viral and inspired so many. This is what we need to worry about...

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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 "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto"

Terence, no? A favorite. Thanks, Ann. But I always see different Latin renderings. Is yours authoritative?

I think the Council fathers translated it best:

"The joy and hopes, the griefs and anxieties..."

Terence, yes, in Heautontimorumenos (which was apparently in debt to a comedy of the same name by Menander).  It's what the busybody Chremes says to Menedemus, who has suggested that Chremes should be minding his own business.  But those sympathetic to Chremes might, indeed, find the opening sentence of Gaudium et spes a suitable paraphrase.

"We are bozos on this bus." - The Firesign Theater, 1971

Correction:  "We are all bozos on this bus" - The Firesign Theater, 1971

"During these five months in Rome it wasn't the red cardinals nor the Red Brigade who had the most impact on me, but the little things which took place between the great scenes...the real and true story was told by the clowns."~Henri Nouwen

Sorry - I think it's a bit unfortunate.  None of us wants a stuffed shirt for a pope, but I think he should maintain a *little* more stuffing than that.


My first reaction is a little like Jim's. If Francis is going to wear just what he feels like wearing whether he's pope or not, if he merely wants to be himself, a regular guy, then I wish he'd drop the white outfit while he does that. Don't the white clothes symbolize, oh, I dunno, the unity of the Church, or something? He doesn't mean to suggest that the papacy is a clownish institution, does he? He's not mocking the papacy, is he? Then maybe he should drop the visible signs of the papacy before donning the visible signs of clownery. At least he's not wearing the red nose in church during Mass - that would be too much for me. But the papacy is much, much less important than the Eucharist, so I guess it's not a big deal to appear to mock it. Also, it's only appearance, not reality - the article explains some good cause behind this clownery - so at worst it only "causes scandal", as they say, and that's never been high on my list of things to disapprove of. 

David G. --

Authoritative?  By NO means. I just copied it from Goodle.  To this sophmore Latin student it seems to mean "I am human.  Let nothing be considered alien to me".

I love the first snap of JP II, and I also like Christina's "We're all bozos on this bus" :-)


I was a little taken aback, too.   But he can wear a clown nose once in while if he wants to. It's a hard job.



Are you being serious?  



But you know- this is now going to be the stock picture of the Pope on websites hostile to him (like the blogs of those poeple who think we haven't had a real Pope since before Vatican II)


Has anybody here ever even been to a clown mass or heard of one happening where they are? I have never. I have seen the picture circulatin around the internet and it is the identical picture every time!!

I think it is largely an urban legend.

The only clown mass I can think of is when the Catholic chaplain celebrates mass for members of congress and parliament but that is not quite the same thing!!

A Andreassi: no, I'm not seriously suggesting that he drop the white outfit on occasion (although I wouldn't mind if he did, if he felt like it). I'm trying to figure out why I was taken aback by that picture of our pope as a clown. Think of the reactions we would have read here if it had been not a real but a photoshopped picture!

Ok. Thanks!

I get it. This is the natural sequel of the pope's interview with Commonweal! Someone was inspired by it and turned to Photoshop for the next prank!

Pretty good, I have to say, even better than the interview. I totally believed it!

I think it's a great photo!   Thank you God, at last a human being as pope  :)

I actually saw a video of a clown mass (I think) today at Damian Thompson's blog ...

A little self-deprecating playfulness in a religious leader is wonderfully refreshing. We have examples enough of humorless, joyless scolds who seem to think that fun is a snare of the devil.

A picture is more than a thousand words. Sure it is startling since we never saw a pope do this. John XXIII was photographed smoking.

But this is different. A pope who is human and a great antidote for sacralization of the clergy. Very important. 

Jesus Christ, did he wear the nose all day? Did he conduct mass in it? Did he buy the dog a beer or rent it shoes? Lighten up, dude.

For heaven's sake Jim P and Claire, he's a pastor, spending a little time with some of his younger members and joining in their joy.   Yikes, we can't let "acting important" be mistaken for dignity.

I actually saw a video of a clown mass (I think) today at Damian Thompson's blog ...

What a cacophony of poor taste. Liturgy is important and this cacophony of exotic dancers and clowns shows a complete lack of discipline and poor sense of how the rhythm of the liturgy facilitates community cohesion.

I think we do have to take the liturgy seriously and in this I am in firmly in Camp Ratzinger!

I'm not sure that you understand what an exotic dancer is, George...

I am really surprised and no little scandalazied by the "old fart" reactions to the Pope having some fun.  Lighten up.  He is a human being connecting with human beings and this is a very good thing.  It is the perceived "dignity" of the papacy thaty produced constipated Popes in the past.  Benedict is a prime example.  The guy has no sense of humor.  You have to understand that in the Society of Jesus, entertainment is putting on shows.  For St. Ignatius, the imagination was everything.  Thus his adaptation of the medieval "composition of place" in prayer. There is nothing more Jesuit than acting out a part.  Here the Pope assumes the part of a clown.  Paul saw himself as a fool for Christ's sake.  Papal dignity is what it is and a clown's nose can only enhance it.

It is a bit disturbing, if he means to indicate that, "Hey, I'm just a regular guy, a fun guy, a guy you can all hang with.  Life's too serious, let's all loosen up a bit."

Christ never did or said anything like that.  Everything he did and said was about how life is a hell of a lot more serious than we think.  But hey: maybe Frances is on to something...or not.

Christ never did or said anything like that.  Everything he did and said was about how life is a hell of a lot more serious than we think.

Oh, wow--that's really compelling. BRB, gettin' baptized!

One of the things I especially liked about the movie 'Jesus' was that it portrayed him as a happy person who laughed, told jokes, went dancing, played with children, teased the disciples, etc.  .... ....  and in the movie 'The Gospel of John' Jesus was so happy and enthusiastic ... ... why believe Jesus was super grim?

Disagree, Bob Schwartz.  Jesus' first miracle was not "serious" at all.  Changing water into wine to keep the good times rolling at a wedding was an indication of his light-hearted side.  Walking on water to astonish his fishers of men and having Peter find a coin in a fish's mouth were more humorous moments.  

Seeing the pope clowning with a female clown is lovely.  


Agree, Alan C. Mitchell.  

Anyone unfamiliar with the rich tradition of "Jesuit theatricals" should google it and read the 7 million leads that come up.  Here's one of them with a good introduction to the fascinating history and some good pictures of set design.  (Corneille, Racine, and Moliere were Jesuit alumni.)

From that:  In many Jesuit theaters, there were trap-doors for ghost apparitions and vanishing acts, flying machines and cloud apparatus. On every conceivable occasion, the Jesuit producers made divinities appear in the clouds, ghosts rise up and eagles fly over the heavens, and the effect of these stage tricks was further enhanced by machines producing thunder and the noise of the winds.

What did Jesus do when Cleopas (Luke 24:18) said to him, "Are you the only visitor to Jeruslam who does not know of the things that have taken place in these days?" Honk, honk!

If that does not soothe your worries, think about the eastern (other lung) tradition of the holy fool.

And if that doesn't do the job, maybe you have to start all over with Genesis 1. Or check in with Fr. Jim Martin, SJ.

Sorry, I posted the Google link instead of the link to the individual article, Drama in Jesuit Schools.


did you see the video Crystal linked? I will spare you the torture, just go to the 2:51 mark to 3:34 mark. Oh and particularly the woman with the snake at 3:15. Maybe I lack the artistic and aesthetic sophistication of the crowd, and maybe I am a bit of a barbarian but these women hardly encourage purity of thought and I really don't think purity is the intent with the dance. And my niece is an actual dancer to yes i can appreciate dance as art and dance as erotica.


If that is not how you define exotic dancing, I don't know what is! 


Claire:  A few quotes of yours, and a few comments of mine:

He doesn't mean to suggest that the papacy is a clownish institution, does he?

What specifically do you see – myself, I see nothing – that makes you think there’s even a chance that he’s suggesting the papacy is a clownish institution?

He's not mocking the papacy, is he?

Again: what specifically do you see that leads you to suspect there’s even the remotest chance that he’s mocking the papacy?  Again, I see nothing at all.

. . . .  the papacy is much, much less important than the Eucharist, so I guess it's not a big deal to appear to mock it.

I don’t think he appears to mock it, not at all.  What is it that makes you think he appears to mock it?

"Did Christ Laugh?" The Tablet ...

I think a clown Mass could be a little terrifying. But I've  wanted to go to a service involving snakes ever since I saw that movie 'The Apostle" with Robert Duvall.


Gene, it's the clown nose. The obvious implied message: the pope is a clown. But as others have said, it's time to loosen up. Not everything our pope does has meaning, not everything is a symbol of something deeper, not every detail must be interpreted. Even he does not take himself seriously during every single waking moment. It shows that he can relax. Okay.

Jesus, who compared himself to a bridegroom and who rejoiced with the bride and groom at Cana, followed an ancient tradition.  Those who disapprove of Francis's further brightening of this bride and groom's day should put on a funny nose.

 The mitzvah of gladdening the bride and groom is found in the Talmud, in Brachot 6b.

What does it mean to gladden a bride and groom? Really, this answer varies greatly, depending on a number of factors - such as one’s relationship to the bride and groom. For instance, the mere presence of a close friend who has traveled a great distance may give the bride or groom immense joy. Many people, however, take this mitzvah quite seriously and work hard to make certain that the dancing during the reception is leibadik (Yiddish, meaning heartfelt, but is often used to imply high-spirited and energetic). Thus, at a traditional wedding one might see people dressing up in costume to make the bride/groom laugh, jumping rope, performing amateur acrobatics and even lighting their hats on fire.

The tradition of happily making a fool of one’s self to bring joy to the bride and groom is an ancient one. Indeed, the Talmud (Ketuvot 17a), mentions Rabbi Samuel the son of Rabbi Isaac who was known for juggling myrtle twigs before the bride. While his peer, Rabbi Zeira, felt that this debased the scholar’s honor, Rabbi Shmuel was greatly honored for his efforts to fulfill of the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah.


It strikes me as something that Jesus would have done.  When I read comments like those of Claire and Jim P about situations like this, I am reminded of something in Anthony DeMello's book, Awareness, a story from another Jesuit, one who did not become pope, unfortunately.

The danger of what religion can do is very nicely brought out in a story told by Cardinal Martini, the Archbishop of Milan.  The story has to do with an Italian couple that's getting married.  They have an arrangement with the parish priest to have a little reception in the parish courtyard outside the church.  But it rained, and they couldn't have the reception, so they said to the priest, "Would it be all right if we had the celebration in the church?"

Now Father wasn't one bit happy about having a reception in the church, but they said, "We will eat a little cake, sing a little song, drink a little wine, and then go home."  So Father was persuaded.  But being good life-loving Italians they drank a little wine, sang a little song, then drank a little more wine, and sang some more songs, and within a half hour there was a great celebration going on in the church.  And everybody was having a great time, lots of fun and frolic.  But Father was all tense, pacing up and down in the sacristy, all upset about the noise they were making.  The assistant pastor comes in and says, "I see you are quite tense."

"Of course, I'm tense.  Listen to all the noise they are making, and in the House of God!, for heaven's sake!"

"Well, Father, they really had no place to go."

"I know that!  But do they have to make all that racket?"

"Well, we mustn't forget, must we, Father, that Jesus himself was once present at a wedding!"

Father says, "I know Jesus Christ was present at a wedding banquet, YOU don't have to tell me Jesus Christ was present at a wedding banquet!  But they didn't have the Blessed Sacrament there!!!"

You know there are times like that when the Blessed Sacrament becomes more important than Jesus Christ.  When worship becomes more important than love, when the Church becomes more important than life.  When God becomes more important than the neighbor.  And so it goes on.  That's the danger.

I'm a little offended by Alan Mitchell's attempts to make other people express his own feelings. On the other hand, I've always loved the Blessed PJPII's goofy humor. (Apparently once Richard John Neuhaus had to explain to him who Jack Benny is--a comparison I think is spot on.)

I think it is great whenever a pope does something that demystifies and humanizes his person and office.  However, I understand that wearing a clown nose does offend the sensibilities of those who are still emotionally dependent on all those layers of papal mythology and symbolism - like messing with the primal forces of nature spoken by Ned Beatty's character in Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 movie, Network.  [Tells you something about their own ego development and world view.] 

I also have to believe it is a sign of good mental health on the part of Jorge Bergoglio that he doesn't take himself personally so seriously that he can offer his throne chair to an infatuated little boy on the steps of Basilica di San Pietro - or, indulge in clowing around with a newly wed couple who are volunteers at a charity that brings clown therapy to sick children.  

How does anyone keep his psychological equilibrium when he has to deal every day as Francesco does in the Vatican with cadres of real Bozos?  

Maybe it's somewhat indelicate to say, but let me remind folks who may find papal clown-noses undignified, it wasn't long ago that Francesco's immediate predecessor gave every evidence that he liked dress-up in papal finery just a little too much - even going to the point of custom-made red-leather Gucci shoes.  Is it really "stuffiness" when a pope wears Prada sunglasses with all his medieval regalia?

More seriously, this all reminds me that one of my all-time favorite "churchy" books is Morris West's novel, The Clowns of God where a pope having had a mystical experience, revealing to him the imminent end of the world, the fictional Pope Gregory resigns the papacy under pressure and leaves the Vatican to gather around him a motley crew of misfits who fearlessly announce the Second Coming - a la a certain itinerant Jewish preacher in the NT - as the nations of the world prepare to launch global nuclear war, a real Armaggedon.

Then there is G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi which chronicles our present pope's namesake transformation from "le troubadour de Dieu" - apparenty pre-conversion experience Francesco fancied himself a poet and singer, or in today's parlance the show's "mainliner" or star in the traveling medievel drama troupes of his day - only to embrace becoming "le jongleur de Dieu," rendered as the fool/jester, or clown of God.

Papa Francesco, you're in good company!

That woman would have never been permitted with shoulders uncovered under Pius XII. In fact current protocol forbids it. Bravo Francis!!  

Papal Audience Dress Code:

For the Papal Audienence casual but modest dress is accepted, again ladies should still have shoulders covered particularly if the meeting is held indoors.
As the Audience in Summer is usually held outside and Rome gets extremely hot, bring hats, sunscreen, water and cover up as much as possible to avoid burning. 
Men are permitted to wear hats throughout the Audience.

I think Rowan Williams may have secretly played Dumbledore in the movies.

Ah, David G, I should have known you'd dig up some other pics.  Although I think my favorite so far is Bill M's of Roncalli having a smoke with, apparently, the Three Blind Mice.  

I dunno, I just think it comes across as a selfie that wasn't supposed to end up on social media but did.  Kinda like that one of mine with the trapeze, the pole dancer and the duct tape.  I was just helping her with her depression, but it's sorta hard to tell, looking at the picture.


ABC Rowan Williams did not play Dumbledore, to my knowledge, but he did make a cameo an appearance on the BBC's "The Vicar of Dibley." He merely gave a "happy birthday" to the vicar, played by Dawn French (yes, an Anglican "priestess"), while she was covered in chocolate.

One of the best parts of that show were the vestry meetings. My feeling has always been that one of the qualifying criteria for canonization is being able to serve on a vestry or a parish council or teach CCD/Sunday School, or have any dealings with the diocesesan bureaucracy without utterly losing one's faith. 

Disclosure:  I am now doing a non-ironic post sans the Lucan litotes ouk oligos (no little) and I am not attempting to get anyone to express my thoughts (not feelings), since I am capable of doing that myself.  Something that has been missed in this discussion is that the newlyweds work for the Rainbow Association Marco Lagulli Onius, a charity that offers clown therapy to sick children.  Pope Francis did it for the kids.

According to Bible scholar John J. Pilch, Jesus had a "pun-oriented sense of humor" which he "exhibited (in Aramaic) on many occasions."

The snapshot is much less offensive than the headline.

Amusing front page story in the NYT today about how "some" Catholics "feel left out of the Pope's embrace."

The only clown masses I have ever seen are those with the likes of Raymond Burke et al prancing around in a getup that self-respecting members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence wouldn't be seen wearing.;

Clown masses today ... polka masses tomorrow!   The sky is definitely falling.

I wonder what her reaction would be to this thread?

"From "From sour-faced saints and silly devotions, good Lord, preserve us!"  (St. Theresa of Avila)

And one of my all-time favorites:     “The reason that there are no more freak shows is because we have become a society that has no place for freaks.” (Christopher Lasch)





Then there are some other words of wisdom of Flannery O'Connor.  When asked why there are so many freaks in Southern novels she replied "Because we know one when we see one".

@Ann Olivier

There you are again.  Your comments are so infrequent that you must have a day job.  Nice quote about so-called freaks.  

About the other one, from Terence: as far as I know, there are really no significant variations.  Sometimes the line has "nil," other times "nihil."  As for your translation, my fussbudget comment would be that it suggests an impersonal construction, a wish or decree, in the subjunctive.  Instead, it is a first-person assertion in the indicative: "I regard nothing human as foreign to me."  Other than that, I'd note again (as I did right near the beginning of the comments) that in the original context the high-minded statement is produced by a self-justifying busybody.  It's a bit like the windbag Polonius pronouncing that brevity is the soul of wit.

Julian --

Me not say much?  Ha!  As you've probably gathered, I know about a thimbleful of Latin, but  I wish I knew more, so I enjoy your explanations.  I"m an old Wittgensteinian so I do appreciate how easily language can lead us astray, and translations are the worst.  Wittgenstein felt so strongly about translations that he insisted that his original German text be printed opposite the English translatiaon. 

@Ann Olivier:

Yep, as they say on the seven hills, traduttore traditore.  And the saying exemplifies what it states.  While the English cognate of traditore is traitor, both derived from tradire, or trans plus dare, to give over (or across), traduttore, from trans plus ducere, to lead over or across, does not have an English cognate with the same meaning.  English translator is from trans plus ferre, to carry across or over, while the meaning of traduce is close to that of betray.

Then again, English does have transducers and transduction...

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