“A tremendous drumbeat”

When Vatican expert Ulrich Nersinger speaks of a "tremendous drumbeat" in the Vatican, then one could imagine sonstwelche clerical developments. But it is about something completely different: the prohibition of the sale of cigarettes.

Interviewer: An end to tax-free cigarettes in the Vatican – is this to be seen as a drumbeat from the Pope?

Ulrich Nersinger (theologian, author and Vatican expert): Yes. I think this is a very big bang. I have the suspicion that the pope is getting much more trouble and criticism than with any discussion about "amoris laetitia".

Interviewer: So what do we know about Francis’ personal relationship with tobacco?

Nersinger: Relatively little. I suppose – since he has problems with his lungs, they say that a part of the lung is missing in him – that there was no discussion about smoking for him from the beginning. And we also see that the popes who have spoken negatively about smoking and have ied bans have always been non-smokers. But these were actually always in the minority.
Interviewer: Traditionally, popes were more inclined to tobacco until modern times. Do you have examples from the 20th century?. Century?

Nersinger: Yes. Toward is actually still much too cautiously expressed. We also have popes, and especially holy and blessed popes, who were already heavy smokers, or rather snuffers in the past. Leo the XIII. was a very famous tobacco snuffer. There is a novel by Emile Zola that describes that. Sometimes in not-so-subtle puffs, as then also the snuff trickles down onto the Pope’s white cassock. But there were also very heavy smokers. And also persons and popes from whom one would probably not have expected it. Pope John XXIII. was a smoker who needed at least one pack a day.

Interviewer: Now is that inside information or did they make that public as well?
Nersinger: There is a pope who made this public. Blessed Paul VI., of whom one also rather ames that he led an ascetic life. He did, but when it came to smoking he never held back very much. And of him we definitely know that during state visits, when he went to talk with his guests, he even offered them tobacco and cigarettes.
Interviewer: What about the role model function? Was there any criticism? Have there advisers said, you can not smoke in public?
Nersinger: That was so. In the 17. There was a Jesuit priest in the sixteenth century, Jacob Balde, who – I think – published a pamphlet against smoking in 1660. And he has gotten into a lot of trouble for it. More than if he had started any theological discussion. Because smoking was definitely considered normal. And it was also considered healthy. A very famous preacher, Abraham a Santa Clara, has seen in the moderate use of tobacco even a promotion of health. So at the time, people didn’t know about the dangers of tobacco either.
Interviewer: It is rumored that until then the cardinals in the Vatican were also entitled to a monthly quota of 500 packets. Francis now wants to put an end to these tax-free cigarettes and is sure to incur the resentment of die-hard smokers in the Vatican. Is there public protest to be expected?
Nersinger: I do not know if it is made public. We had it in the past the last time in 2002 when John Paul II., also a non-smoker, banned public smoking in the Vatican. And there was even a call from a curia bishop to make a novena to Blessed Pius IX. which would keep the tobacco in the 19. It was very much promoted in the nineteenth century. I imagine that there is now resistance across the theological spectrum, or at least grumbling and rumbling in the Vatican.
Interviewer: There are smoke-free zones in the Vatican?

Nersinger: Yes, actually everything should be smoke-free. I was walking through the Vatican gardens in March and had sat down in a place that was a little hidden. I also saw a butt lying there. So it’s done because it also has a certain tradition in the Vatican. Under Paul VI. was then Jean Villot Cardinal Secretary of State. This was a tremendously strong smoker. And some monsignori feared a promotion to the Secretariat of State because they knew that the cardinal smoked a lot. All the files and rooms were really saturated with nicotine.

The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.

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