Dear Justin,

Knowing that you yourself suffer from intermittent bouts of agnosticism, I am taking the liberty of sending you a copy of my recent letter to Dr Scalfari. I don’t suppose you are a regular reader of La Repubblica, so you have probably not seen it – though you will have got the gist of it from The Guardian.

We Popes have to write in that rather stilted way in case someone mistakes us for the Magisterium; but the gist of the thing (as your Guardian rightly pointed out) is that I am on a charm offensive to show that I am far more user-friendly than poor old Benedict.

I can’t tell you how restricting it is having predecessors like mine. John Paul is now a saint and Ratty is still going strong. (I even use him as a ghost-writer from time to time!) So I can hardly contradict them directly, however much I might want to. Things being what they are, I go carefully (apart from the occasional outburst). But I know I can be Frank with you.

Don’t worry; not believing in God is no big deal! ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.’ That’s what they used to say – and I agree with them.

Happy Hogmanay, as I think you say in your country,
Your friend,


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