25 Jun 2013

Pope snubs Vatican concert

2:06 pm on 25 June 2013

A no-show by Pope Francis at a concert where he was to have been the guest of honour has reportedly sent another clear signal that he is going to do things his way and does not like the Vatican high life.

The gala classical concert on Saturday was scheduled before his election in March. But the white papal armchair set up in the presumption that he would be there remained empty.

Before the concert was due to start, an archbishop told the crowd of cardinals and Italian dignitaries that an "urgent commitment that cannot be postponed" would prevent Francis from attending.

The prelates, assured that health was not the reason for the no-show, looked disoriented, realising that the message he wanted to send was that, with the Church in crisis, he - and perhaps they - had too much pastoral work to do to attend social events.

"It took us by surprise," said a Vatican source on Monday. "We are still in a period of growing pains. He is still learning how to be pope and we are still learning how he wants to do it."

"In Argentina, they probably knew not to arrange social events like concerts for him because he probably wouldn't go," said the source, who spoke anonymously.

The picture of the empty chair was used in many Italian papers, Corriere della Sera newspaper on Monday called his decision "a show of force" to illustrate the simple style he wants Church officials to embrace.

Since his election on 13 March, Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, has not spent a single night in the papal apartments.

The day before the concert, he said bishops should be "close to the people" and not have "the mentality of a prince".

While the concert was in progress on Saturday, the pope was believed to be working on new appointments for the Curia, the Vatican's central administration.

The administration was held responsible for some of the mishaps and scandals that plagued the reign of Pope Benedict XVI before he resigned in February.

Benedict left a secret report for Francis on the problems in the administration, which came to light when sensitive documents were stolen from the pope's desk and leaked by his butler.