Lost in Translation

As has been the case for hundreds of years, the appointment of Pope Francis was announced in Latin. But the BBC and Sky News didn't know their quas from their elbows

Read my lips: correspondants were left speechless by the use of Latin at the Papal introduction

Those who bemoan the decline in teaching Latin in our schools must have felt vindicated when the name of the new Pope was announced from the Vatican balcony last month. After the famous white smoke, the curtains opened and out stepped Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s proto-deacon, with the big news the crowd in St Peter’s Square and billions around the world had been waiting for.

As always, the announcement was made in Latin. You might have thought that British television news organisations would have known this, and made some preparation: a classics professor, perhaps, or a Catholic priest in the studio to deliver an instant translation.

Not so. Cardinal Tauran revealed the new Pope’s surname — Bergoglio — and then his papal name in Latin: Franciscum. Sky News swiftly realised that the Archbishop of Buenos Aires had been elected, though it took the BBC rather longer. Several minutes passed while the commentators waited for the new Pope to appear and filled in the time with the usual waffle that accompanies these longeurs. Sky’s men even admitted they were looking him up on Wikipedia.

But of his papal name they said nothing until excitedly announcing that various international news agencies were running the story that he was to be known as Francis. To viewers with O Level Latin this had been blindingly obvious for several minutes. Back to school, chaps, and repeat after me: Amo, amas, amat . . . 

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