Choosing a New Pope: Why the Media Cares about the Next Italian Idol

What the klieg lights give, the klieg lights take away. Such is the double-edged sword of media coverage.

My Catholic friends would do well to remember it in the rush of media coverage over choosing a new pope. The 24/7 coverage of papal smoke signals all seems like a twisted dream sequence of American Idol — just in Rome — and without the horiffic singing. Call it The Search for the Next Italian Idol. (No offense intended to my Catholic friends, but it might be cool if one of the Cardinals did get a record deal, or at least a fashion design sponsorship out of this conclave.)

My friend Dr. Brian Mattson wryly points out the anachronistic irony of the coverage:

Why the Media Circus?

As an Evangelical Christian and grateful product of the Protestant Reformation, I obviously disagree strongly with Catholicism on many fronts. Yet I count the Catholic Church as an institutional ally in cultural battles and many Catholics as good friends in my faith journey. And frankly, I’m not sure the Evangelical world gets it much better with a plethora of mega-church pastors charting the course for how evangelical Christianity gets perceived in our culture. Or Pat Robertson leading with his concerns over devilish cardigans. But I digress.

What has my attention these days is how much coverage the choosing of a new pope is receiving from a media that is decidely secular in its ideology. And so I wonder, why does the media care? Is it just ratings? Certainly the millions of Catholics aroudn the world care about the choice to some degree. But 24/7, breathless coverage? Judging from Catholic voting behavior here in the US, many rank-and-file Catholics pay little attention to what the Pope says anyways.

Coverage Equals Control

I think the coverage has more to do with an opportunity to take some control over the Catholic church. Coverage is control. If you cover a story, you can control it, tweak it, potentially bend it in your desired direction. You can raise false expectations of the hope for a more progressive pope. You can focus on outlying complaints and shine a spotlight on them, such as these stories of protests demanding women be included in the church hierarchy — as if such things were to be determined by popular vote and not scared Scripture:

Demonstrations took place across the United States and internationally to  protest the male-only conclave to elect the next pope.

Members of a church in Sarasota sent up their own smoke signals Tuesday —  not black or white, but pink.

They gathered at the St. Andrews UCC Church in Sarasota. The vigil was one of  many held on Tuesday around the globe. Not all were so peaceful though: a melee  ensued outside the Vatican Tuesday when two female activists who went topless  were dragged away from St. Peter’s Square.

Nice. But you get my point. Two activists who are likely not even Catholic get some air and print time. Why?

Why not stories from the European and American heartland from devout Catholics praying fervently for God’s wisdom in choosing a new pope? I think that image would hardly fit the media agenda here. Plus, most of the secular media begins by assuming God cannot exist, or is at best irrelevant; therefore, such devout Catholics clearly live in denial of reality.

A Worldview Disconnect

Coverage of events like these simply points out the glaring misunderstanding that most of the secular media has regarding Christianity and the place of divine revelation in it. Apart from divine revelation, there is no Christianity. The Reformation happened precisely because Christians disagreed on the nature of that voice of authority. But they agreed that a divinely ordained voice did, in fact, exist. Essentially so.

But such beliefs are eliminated at the outset by the presuppositions of secular humanism. Therefore, they are only to be mocked or destroyed. Both if possible. Where, we might ask, is the tolerance for Biblical truth in the coverage?

I’m not saying that the choosing of a new pope is not important for the Catholic church and, as a cultural ally, for the Evangelical world, as well. Certainly, it will impact the health of Western culture. But I find the incessant media coverage disturbing in its insincerity.

Why do you think the media is devoting so much coverage to the choosing of the new pope?


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  • Jennifer

    For the same reason they cover Royal weddings and anything to do with the Kennedys. We are hard wired to respond to stories. We grow up with tales of Princes, knights and dragons. Anything or anyone who is larger than life stirs our curiosity and pulls us into the story mode – however badly disguised as “news”. The Pope story contains raised floors, jamming devices, chimney repairs and coloured smoke, a mysterious (to non-Catholics) election process, robes and rituals, a “castle” ….”princesses” wanting the right to do more than embroider…..

  • Jay Saldana

    Bill! Really you would find evil in a girl scout cookie. It is so wonderful to be an Evangelical so I can live my life (according to you) filled with fear of what “the other ” is up to. I so love your ” be careful if you are happy that means you are under the devil’s power” theology. We are a humanity created to group together. That is the plan of nature and God the Creator. Yes, in a fallen world people take things too far, so what? Deal with it just like we have for thousands of years. In plain English where is your Faith in God’s world? According to you it is all so hopeless and out of control.
    The process of electing a Pope is no more “mysterious” than the election of a President. Except it is done by a religious organization. Like theology, it requires some study and a willingness to deal with your own presuppositions (which seems to be your particular challenge). I know Mr. Hewitt, your mentor and boss, is one of the great anti-catholic apologists in the Reformed Church Movement but I think you have carried it too far.
    Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to denigrate a brother or sister in Christ and the attention they get from media, how about seeing this as a chance to grow the Body of the Church as people ask questions. Your blog could provide information and an opportunity to lead them to God. Instead, you run with this semi-bigoted clap trap. I hope you face turned red when you saw he was a prayerful man from Argentina and an Italian. same on you.
    Have a God filled Day.


    • Jennifer

      Hi Jay,
      Your reply reminded me of a quote that influenced me a lot when I was young – “You will be in heaven when you have learned to love hell”. …if only we could start finding Girl Scout cookies in the evil.

      Someone tweeted the question “why are so many non Catholics saying “we” have a Pope”? I think it is for the reason you mentioned. We are a humanity created to group together. The expression ‘”We” have a Pope’ is used in the same way that “We” as a nation, even if not individually, are experiencing economic troubles. There is a recognition that something of great impact to a portion of society has an effect on us us.

    • Words fail me, Jay. I have no idea what you are talking about. It was not my intent to denigrate Catholics in any way. I think I even stated that explicitly. As to “Mr. Hewitt” — who is not my “boss” but a fine friend — being an “anti-catholic apologist.” Nothing coud be farther from the truth. If anything, he might take grief from some Protestants for being just the opposite.

      I really shouldn’t but I can’t resist challenging the premise of the question you asked, “Where is your faith in God’s world?” I have no faith in God’s world, only in God. His creation is fallen. I would be foolish to place my faith in it. Instead I trust in the one who made it and is redeeming it through the atonement of Christ. Jesus himself warned repeatedly that the gospel will often divide because “no man can serve two masters.”

      Other than that, I don’t know what to say to your criticisms other than that I believe them to be unfounded.

  • Paul T. Bennett

    Very interesting article. I actually found it searching the questions myself “Why are so many news outlets covering this event”, particularly political shows on Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. I admit I’m a political junkie, so I find myself watching a lot of these shows, and certianly I believe the selection of the Pope IS a political process, but I thought the coverage was incessant, given the political realities here in America with our President and Congress trying to deal with economic issues here at home.

    But I guess that can get weary too, so coverage of such as the Papal election may be a refreshing break from talks of sequestration, which seems to have no light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Excellent point, Paul! Anything beats sequestration. Just saying that word sounds painful.

  • Henry Thompson

    I’m never surprised at what the media circus dishes out. This is just another one of those establishment extravaganzas that the public seem to love. What really depresses is me is that, in the 21st century, so many ostensibly intelligent people still believe this medieval, superstitious nonsense.

  • Larry

    I think there was so much media coverage because the media were in giddy anticipation of the next religious figure they could trash.

    • Given that so much of the media disdains religion I suspect you may be right. For some. Not all. Thanks.

  • Larry

    I think there was so much media coverage because the media were in giddy anticipation of the next religious figure they could trash.

    “What really depresses is me is that, in the 21st century, so many ostensibly intelligent people still believe this medieval, superstitious nonsense.”
    A. It predates medieval. I know some of you Evangelicals aren’t so good with history so you are forgiven.
    B. The Holy Spirit isn’t superstition.
    C. Don’t be depressed. As Jesus said “be not afraid” (it’s in the Gospels–I know, as a former Evangelical, that the Gospels tend to get ignored in favor of the St. Paul’s work).

  • Saman Suri

    pope Francis is doing something to change and eradicate these things.
    It is still our big responsibility, as catholics, to be vigilant against
    these corrupt acts of the clergies

    Nail Designs