A few days ago we looked at Russell Shorto’s big New York Times Sunday Magazine piece on Pope Benedict XVI’s first two years in office. I mentioned a few quibbles with it but was overall very impressed. Readers shared their mixed responses.
But if some of you thought that was bad reportage, I have no idea how you’ll respond to this. Newsweek International has a shockingly bad and almost silly analysis of the same issue. You really have to read the whole thing. I want to excerpt it all and I’m undecided which parts show the least balance.
Angry hackReporter Joseph Contreras begins by noting that Benedict will head to Brazil in a few weeks. He then proceeds to compare Pope John Paul II to the current pope, and it doesn’t look pretty. I find it funny that the previous pope is now the model of perfection. I don’t seem to recall that being the case even a few years ago. Anyway, the piece is truly horrible. Quotes, such as the one from an angry Milanese housewife, seem pulled from nowhere. Statistics contradict the premise of the article, such as the one showing a decline in Roman Catholicism in Latin America during the previous pope’s time in office. The language is loaded. It’s obsessed with politics. I could go on. Here’s a sample:
The pope should choose his words carefully; on one of his last trips, to his native Germany, he sparked a firestorm when he quoted in passing scathing comments about the Prophet Muhammad. Within days Benedict was being burned in effigy. He can expect a warmer greeting in South America. But there’s no denying he’s been a disappointment to many faithful there and elsewhere. Some U.S. Catholics condemn him as aloof, Europeans resent his intrusions into their affairs and he’s never been popular in Latin America. The region, home to 450 million Catholics, had hoped to see one of its own succeed John Paul. Many there have felt ignored by the man who ultimately did.
Part of the problem is style. The last pope was a former parish priest who recast himself as an international player (he spoke eight languages, including Spanish and Portuguese). Benedict is a colorless academic who spent much of his career teaching theology and philosophy.
Oh, JPII spoke eight languages? Well, Ratzinger speaks ten, a point Contreras didn’t seem to think was worthwhile. The article gets more loaded and less worthwhile to read. I know other countries have different journalistic standards than we do here, but I don’t think that quite explains what happens with this piece. Benedict doesn’t care about the developing world, Contreras argues. He’s irrationally preoccupied with Europe. He doesn’t have any fans. He’s homophobic, is imposing a clerical dictatorship in Italy, and he hates Katrina victims. He’s unsuited for the job. He’s a reclusive intellectual only interested in old rituals and disputes. Oh, and he opposed liberation theology, which struck some as mean-spirited. Get this part:
It also underscored just how conservative — and far from the mainstream — Benedict is. That will cause more trouble in the future, especially in Latin countries that already believe he is behind the times. Later this month, the Vatican is expected to permit congregations to celebrate [M]ass in Latin without seeking prior approval. This represents a big step backward: Pope Paul VI abolished the Latin rite in 1969, and relatively few modern Catholics can even recall it. But that doesn’t worry Ratzinger. “He’s an old-fashioned guy who wants to go back to what [the church] was before,” says David Gibson, the author of an acclaimed 2006 biography of the pope.
I hope it felt good for Contreras to spew this piece, because it sure doesn’t serve any other purpose. I certainly don’t think Pope Benedict is above reproach, but this piece is just infantile.