From “Street Art” To “Street Theology.” The Two Faces of the Superhero Pope

Sandro Magister


From “Street Art” To “Street Theology.” The Two Faces of the Superhero Pope


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For a few weeks the souvenir kiosks in and around Saint Peter’s Square have been selling T-shirts with Francis dressed as “Superpope.”

The effigy is not new. It appeared in 2014 on a wall on Via Plauto, a short walk from the Vatican, and was removed a few hours later. But it brought fame to its creator, Mauro Pallotta, 45, who goes by the name Maupal. And since then it has gone viral:


Last October, Maupal once again depicted the pope on a new mural, on Vicolo del Campanile, this time playing tic-tac-toe and drawing peace symbols instead of O’s, with a Swiss Guard acting as his lookout. This new drawing was also erased in a matter of hours, but it too has gone down in history:


So when an apparel company got the idea to reproduce the first of the two drawings on a T-shirt, no one at the Vatican made any objection. On the contrary, Monsignor Dario Viganò, prefect of the newly created secretariat for communication and one of the pope’s closest confidants, expressed his full approval. Which, wonder of wonders, coincided with that of the artist, according to whom Pope Francis is “a man who with his simplicity and great openness toward the real needs of the people instills hope on a par with a Superhero.”

After getting the copyright from Maupal, the company successfully completed the steps for the necessary Vatican authorizations, with a formal contract and the approval of the secretariat of state.

In exchange for the license to commercialize the image of Francis as “Superpope,” the Holy See has had 9 percent of the sales price of each T-shirt set aside for Peter’s Pence, the fund of offerings made directly to the pope from all over the world.

No surprise so far with a pope like Jorge Mario Bergoglio, in perfect symbiosis with the mechanisms of the media and publicity.

But there is a book published last year that right from its cover, it too polemically inspired by street art, raises serious questions about the appropriateness of this happy-go-lucky adherence of the reigning pope to the current canons of communication:


The author, Enrico Maria Radaelli, a disciple of the Swiss philosopher Romano Amerio, is one of the most sophisticated voices of theological criticism of the tendencies of the Catholic Church from Vatican Council II until today. And he has a field day showing how with Pope Francis this tendency is not only one of image, but above all one of doctrine.

For him, the “street theology” personified by Bergoglio and by his magisterium is to classical theology as the “street art” of a Kendridge or a Basquiat – or why not, of a Maupal – is to the immortal art of a Giotto or a Michelangelo.

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One comment on “From “Street Art” To “Street Theology.” The Two Faces of the Superhero Pope

  1. Küng Fu: Modernism the Legend Continues

    Master Po: What is troubling you, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: I am confused, Master. If the current pontiff is a Superpope, why does he spread so much confusion regarding Catholic teaching?

    Master Po: Strange are the ways of the cycle of karma, are they not, Grasshopper?
    If a chicken did not cross the road, how would he ever know what is on the other side?

    Kwai Chang: Surely, a chicken could not know such a thing, Master.

    Master Po: The journey of life takes many turns and winding ways, Grasshopper. Answers to such questions do not always come easy. A chicken could cross the road to the other side only to be swept up by Colonel Sanders and end up on a KFC menu. We must always proceed with caution. For long is the quest for inner strength in the Tao of virtue, Grasshopper, as Lao-Tzu has explained in the Tao Te Ching.

    Kwai Chang: Yes, Master. I would not wish to be a chicken captured by Colonel Sanders. But if the Pope is a Superhero why is he so weak at defending Christian civilization and Catholic doctrine?

    Captain Kirk: Mister Spock! The pope pandering to anti-Western SJWs and being weak at defending Christian civilization while being portrayed as a superhero by misguided progressives…analyze using your usual superior Vulcan logic which we no longer call “superior” in order to avoid being accused of excessive rigidity and neo-Pelagian triumphalism by sensitive liberals and modernist SJWs who might find displays of Aristotelian logic to be triggering events and microaggressions creating a hostile environment due to lack of familiarity with logical reasoning as a result of progressive curriculum changes since the 1960s…

    Spock: Fascinating, Captain. Perhaps the kinder and gentler Superhero conceived by progressive SJWs is one who surrenders in the battle to defend Western Christian civilization. The logical contradiction is transcended by the progressive SJW disregard for logic and by postmodern Deconstructionism.

    Captain Kirk: You’re sure it wasn’t just ironic?

    Spock: That is possible, Captain.

    Dr. Gillian Taylor: What about the whales, Captain?

    Captain Kirk: Whales? What about them?

    Dr. Gillian Taylor: The Pope wants to help the environment. Don’t you see….that could help the whales.

    Spock: She does have a point, Jim.

    Captain Kirk: Does the woman always have to be right? Besides, I thought we saved the whales already.

    Gillian: Then you won’t mind doing it again?

    Robin: Holy Moby Dick, Batman! How can the Pope be a superhero to whales but not for European Catholics?

    Batman: That sounds like something from the Riddler.

    The Riddler: OK, let’s play. How can the Pope be a superhero for whales but not for Europe or Catholics?

    Batman: How’s your Latin homework at Fordham Prep coming, Robin?

    Robin: We’re still on summer vacation, Batman.

    Batman: Well, we can never do enough Latin homework. Always remember, Robin: civilization begins or falls with whether we are learning the proper Latin case endings.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Oh, yes, very good. Father Gannon always promoted the Classics at Fordham in the old days. Of course, things were very different at Catholic colleges then.

    Hans Küng: I would like to address that…

    Walker Percy: You’ve had your chance.

    Luke Skywalker: Did you study Latin in school, Ben?

    Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: How could the Jedi understand the Force without it?

    Luke Skywalker: But I thought all of that went out of fashion after Vatican II.

    Obi-Wan Kenobi: Not in my neck of the woods.

    Captain Kirk: Mister Spock, would a papal superhero need to know his Enneagram number?

    Kwai Chang: That was my next question, Master. Is this also covered in the Tao Te Ching?

    Reverend Neuhaus: That’s my opening….Forgive me for interrupting again as aggressive and pushy professional Protestant converts sometimes do, but speaking as a semi-recovering former Lutheran familiar with the pitfalls of eliminating reason and logic from discussions of religion, this might be a good time to discuss the Naked Public Square in modernity, Max Weber’s concept of disenchantment in modern culture, and Professor Taylor’s secularization theories….

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