Although Pope Francis is a learned man in the field of language and culture, it is quite understandable for one to favor a language in order to avoid any issues with misinterpretations, misquotations, or incorrect contexts. According to the Vatican, the Argentinian Pope’s primary language is that of Spanish but after picking up various languages over the years, he is also known to be fluent in Italian, Piedmontese (a language found in the northern region of Italy), Portuguese, Ukrainian, French, German, and of course, Latin (the official language of the Holy See). While he can speak most of these languages without a translator, it has also been noted that the Pope may be rusty in some of them, which is why he prefers to be quoted accurately by an interpreter to assure that the people understand the heart of his speeches with clarity and sincerity.
Not as linguistic as his predecessors
While Pope Francis understands and speaks a number of foreign languages, he is most comfortable with Spanish and Italian. His predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI seem to be more articulate and well versed with their linguistic abilities and have been noted as masters of many foreign languages. For instance, Pope John Paul II was notably fluent in 12 languages but practiced 7 of them more often while Pope Benedict XVI could speak in 7 with French as his most proficiently learned language. It was also mentioned that Pope Francis had put a stop to a tradition started by John Paul II by no longer greeting the world a happy Easter in 65 languages. A humble and honest pope, Pope Francis has been open with his reason for letting go of such tradition. He has always expressed his lack of practice and did not want his difficulty in intonation, pronunciation, and phonetics to get in the way of his speeches. In terms of English, he noted his biggest hurdle was his being tone deaf in the area of phonetics.
In a surprise twist of events, it was decided by Pope Francis that Latin would no longer be the official language of a bishop’s gathering in the Vatican last October 2014. Known as a synod, the gathering of bishops from all over the world used Italian as the primary language. This was in fact a break from tradition after Pope Benedict XVI’s institution of a new department in the Vatican to educate and promote the use of Latin in and beyond the Roman Catholic Church. The use of Latin in the church has weakened in the last 40 years following many years of breakthroughs within the church as well as an emphasis in the importance of using native languages and dialects.
Simplicity before anything
According to Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, the Pope has decided not to discriminate by selecting one language over the other, however, he does not also deem reading summaries in all languages important due to his desire for simplicity. Thus, to appear from being received as foreign, it is the responsibility of the Vatican to ensure that the Pope’s words and thoughts are being interpreted and translated in various languages to reach the homes of many people in the world.