This is an actual news story: It ran in the L.A. Times (on the front page, in fact) on Jan. 13, 1914. 

The previous month, the New York Times had reported on the Vatican’s efforts “to suppress the tango dancing mania in Italy” but noted that those efforts had “proved a failure.” In the last days of 1913, Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III banned the dance at a state ball. 

But by Jan. 14, 1914, a story was being told in the salons of Rome, memorably related in this L.A. Times article:

Two representatives of one of the old patrician families of Rome were admitted to private audience, and, humming softly well-known music, initiated His Holiness into the mysteries of the tango steps. As they danced, the Pope’s brow furrowed with a look of stupefaction. Finally he ejaculated:

"Is that the tango?"

"Yes, Your Holiness," was the reply.

"Well, my dear children," commented Pius X, "you cannot find it very amusing."

There and then the Pope raised the interdict, for, as he pointed out with an ironical smile, if the tango were made a penance, it would be looked upon as sheer cruelty.

A century later, the tango has a well-placed fan at the Vatican: In an interview featured in the book “Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio: His Life in his Own Words,” the current pope described himself as a fan of tango and said that he had “danced it as a young man, although I preferred the milonga.”

Lindsay Barnett