There are axioms flying everywhere these days, coming out of the mouths reporters and pundits. They’re obviously statements they picked up somewhere that they’re repeating to sound intelligent and informed on the papacy and the Catholic Church.
One of them is the phrase: “He who goes into the conclave a Pope comes out a Cardinal.” It’s supposed to mean that frontrunners are not elected Pope in the conclave. Unfortunately, it’s not true. For example, Pope Pius XII was the clear frontrunner before his conclave and no one was surprised when he was elected coming out of it.
Another is the quote from Joseph Stalin: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” Stalin actually said iit, but he didn’t say it about John Paul, he said it about Pius XII. Stalin was long dead before John Paul was elected. Granted, I haven’t heard anyone actually say that he said it about John Paul, but that’s the impression many of them leave with you. In this history-education starved age, I can quite imagine a lot of people thinking Stalin and Pope John Paul were contemporaneous.
I’ll be on the lookout for more of these cliches that are either misunderstood or just plain wrong.
Update: Another one is the claim that if Cardinal Francis Arinze is elected, he will be “the first African pope.” Sorry, but the first African pope was Pope St. Victor (189-199). What they really mean is that he could be the first black Pope, since we don’t know whether Victor was a black African or an Arab African or a transplated European African. But then the whole question is symptomatic of silly racial politics.