Railing against the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI dedicated the Basilica of the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family in Barcelona this past Sunday. I was traveling from Denver yesterday and following a bunch of Catholic bloggers as they described the mass as one of the most exquisite and inspiring they’d ever witnessed. And the church itself is considered a feat of architecture, engineering and art. Though largely completed, it won’t be totally done for another 15 years or so. It will be the tallest church in the world. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, it’s replete with Christian symbolism.

So I was anxious to see what the media had to say about the event. I read the homily and found plenty of interesting discussions. The Pope praised Gaudi, of course, saying he “kept the torch of his faith alight to the end of his life.” He also praised the region for its abundance of Christian saints, founders, martyrs and poets. He discussed the theology of cathedrals and said this one was “a visible sign of the invisible God.” Here’s a sample:

In this place, Gaudi desired to unify that inspiration which came to him from the three books which nourished him as a man, as a believer and as an architect: the book of nature, the book of sacred Scripture and the book of the liturgy. In this way he brought together the reality of the world and the history of salvation, as recounted in the Bible and made present in the liturgy. He made stones, trees and human life part of the church so that all creation might come together in praise of God, but at the same time he brought the sacred images outside so as to place before people the mystery of God revealed in the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this way, he brilliantly helped to build our human consciousness, anchored in the world yet open to God, enlightened and sanctified by Christ. In this he accomplished one of the most important tasks of our times: overcoming the division between human consciousness and Christian consciousness, between living in this temporal world and being open to eternal life, between the beauty of things and God as beauty. Antoni Gaudí did this not with words but with stones, lines, planes, and points. Indeed, beauty is one of mankind’s greatest needs; it is the root from which the branches of our peace and the fruits of our hope come forth. Beauty also reveals God because, like him, a work of beauty is pure gratuity; it calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness.

And it goes on to explain how the church itself is built on Christ, in pure docility to his authority and in service to his mandate. He says that the task of the church is to show everyone that God is a God of peace not of violence, of freedom not of coercion, of harmony not of discord. He ties this into 1 Corinthians 3 where believers are told that they are the temple of God and what this means about the dignity of man. It’s a 2,000-word homily and you can read it yourself. But let’s look at how the Associated Press put it. Here’s the Los Angeles Times headline for the AP piece:

In Barcelona, pope criticizes Spain’s social policies

Here’s the lede:

Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended traditional families and the rights of the unborn Sunday, directly attacking Spanish laws that allow gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions as he dedicated Barcelona’s iconic church, the Sagrada Familia.

Really? He did?

Leave aside the fact that apparently reporters are congenitally unable to understand anything in a sermon that is not directly tied to politics. And leave aside the fact that the AP is pulling out one portion of a sermon at the expense of the rest so as to completely conceal, manipulate or mislead as to what Benedict actually said. I just don’t think that lede is accurate.

Here’s the substantiation:

As he inaugurated the church’s main altar, he railed against same-sex marriage and divorce, saying families are built on the “indissoluble love of a man and a woman” who should be provided with financial and social benefits from governments. The pontiff also consecrated the building for use as a church in a colorful ceremony seldom seen performed by a pope.

He criticized policies allowing for abortions, saying “the life of children (must) be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception.”

Well, a few things. Those quotes aren’t from an “altar dedication” but the “homily.” And not once does he mention same-sex marriage or divorce. Sure, in his dedication of a temple NAMED AFTER THE HOLY FAMILY, he does talk about how we need to support the family and about the importance of the “generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman” and that bit about children. If these quotes — pretty standard Christian fare for, oh, the last 2,000 years — are interpreted as “railing against same-sex marriage and divorce,” that might say something about how the reporter interpreted them, but it’s not an accurate description of the homily.

Call me old-fashioned but in order to have one’s homily described as “railing against” something, you should actually be “railing” “against” something. What I’m about to quote is the only part of the sermon that could possibly be interpreted as “directly attacking Spanish laws that allow gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions” or “railing against same-sex marriage and divorce”:

For this reason the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family.

One wonders how the AP would write up the homily if he actually addressed Spanish laws or railed against same-sex marriage. I mean if saying the church gives its support to the institution of the family is described this way, what’s left to say?

There’s also the issue of what photo the Los Angeles Times chose to run with this story. Remember that this basilica is an extremely important architectural feat. Gaudi-designed and one of the top tourist attractions in Spain. Okay, so what’s the photo? You guessed it — a picture of gays kissing each other in protest of the Pope as he is driven past them.

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  • Jeffrey

    What’s newsworthy about dedicating a building, even one as famous as Segrada Familia? Does the pope’s mere presence make a building dedication newsworthy? IOW, when is a ribbon-cutting just a ribbon-cutting?

  • Jon in the Nati

    Can we get a transcript of the homily?

  • liberty

    In the car the other day I heard a BBC report on the Pope’s triip to Spain which started off along the lines of “Spain hasn’t seen reports of clerical abuse like the US, Ireland and Belgium…”

    I realize that the media only sees religion through one filter – Gays, and sex abuse – but would it be really difficult to report on what is happening in Spain without dragging other nations into it? It’s like reporters are incapable of writing anything about Catholicism without referencing these two issues – even if they have to be shoehorned in.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jon in the Nati — I linked it above but here it is.

    Jeffrey — Well, I think the dedication of any building that’s taken 100 years to construct and is designed by Guadi and is as unique as Holy Family is newsworthy. But it’s also the first church Pope Benedict XVI has consecrated. And the last time a church was inaugurated by the pope and made a basilica on the same day was also newsworthy. It happened in 1990 when Pope John Paul II did the same with the St. Peter’s replica in Yamoussourkro, Ivory Coast.

  • http://amywelborn.wordpress.com Amy
  • http://www.jochopra.blogspot.com Jo McGowan

    What an excellent and funny (sad-funny) piece. It is astonishing how events can be twisted and turned to suit the purposes of the person reporting. But how dull and boring to use EVERY Catholic event or statement or trend to trot out the same tired old rhetoric about the Church against gays, the Church against divorce, the Church against abortion.

  • Martha

    “Inaugurating” an altar? I thought you only did that with presidents?

    Anyway, naturally he “railed”. Just as “The Vatican slams”, so “The Pope rails”. Didn’t speak, say, preach, observe, comment, or deliver; no, it was the pejorative “railing”.

    My, my: language choice by the paper could not be indicative of a certain assumption as to what the consensus of all right-thinking folk is, and that anything counter to this is wrongthink?

  • Martha

    Jeffrey, there’s a bit more to dedicating a church than just cutting a ribbon.

    There’s a whole slew of liturgy for it, and it also makes a difference whether the church is dedicated or simply blessed.


    “(2) The solemn ceremony of dedication, or consecration is found in the Roman Pontifical and is performed de jure by a bishop (see CONSECRATION). The simpler rite, which is given in the Roman Ritual, is generally reserved to bishops, but may be also undertaken by a priest with episcopal delegation.

    (3) All churches, public oratories and semi-public, if destined for Divine worship in perpetuum, must be at least blessed before the Sacred Mysteries can be regularly celebrated in them (Cong. of Rites, Sept., 1871). Purely private or domestic oratories may not be thus dedicated, but simply blessed with the Benedictio loci (cf. Roman Ritual or Missal) on each occasion Mass is said in them. As a rule the principal churches in every district should be consecrated in the solemn manner, but as certain conditions are required for licit consecration that are not always feasible (cf. Irish Ecclesiastical Record, April, 1908, p. 430) the ordinary simple dedication rite is regarded as practically adequate. Both forms render the place sacred, and contribute, as sacramentals, to the sanctification of the faithful, but they differ in this that while a church that is consecrated must, if polluted, be reconciled by a bishop, a church that is simply blessed may be reconciled in similar circumstances by a priest (cf. Roman Ritual).

    (4) Another difference in the effects of the two forms of dedication is that a consecrated church is entitled to celebrate each year the anniversary feast of its consecration, which is to be held as a double of the first class with an octave, by all the priests attached to the church. A church that is only blessed has no right to this anniversary feast unless per accidens, that is, when it is included in the special indult granted for the simultaneous celebration of the anniversaries of all the churches in a district or diocese. In this case the Office and Mass must be celebrated in every church, within the limits of the indult independently of their consecration (Cong. of Rites, n. 3863). Though any day may be selected for the dedication of a church, yet the Roman Pontifical suggests those “Sundays and solemn festive days” which admit the dedicatory Office and Mass, as well as the anniversary celebration.”

    Anyway, I think that even in secular matters, the media might find it newsworthy if a government minister (or even the Prime Minister/President) turned up to officiate at a ribbon-cutting of a building, as distinct from the mayor.

    I know our own national media were very interested in the circumstances in which, in 2001, the Minister for Health used a government jet for the purposes of travelling to open a friend’s off-licence:


    “In December 2001, Harney used a Government plane which was 50% funded by the European Commission to travel to County Leitrim to open a friend’s off-licence in Manorhamilton. Harney later apologised for having abused her position in using the plane for non-government business and admitted that using the plane was wrong. The aircraft was to be used 90% of the time exclusively for maritime surveillance.”

  • Julia

    a colorful ceremony seldom seen performed by a pope

    Does the writer mean Mass or the consecration of a new church and declaration of its status as a basilica?

    “Colorful” meaning quaint?

    “Colorful” meaning strange?

    “Colorful” meaning wild, colorful vestments? – that would be fitting for a building designed by Gaudi.

  • Julia

    A quick Google search produced these headlines:

    In Spain, Pope Benedict XVI lambasts ‘aggressive secularism’

    Christian Science Monitor

    Pope tilts at gay marriage

    The Times (of S. Africa) with text from Reuters

    Pope denounces gay marriage and abortion in Spain
    The Irish Times

    Pope rounds on abortion as he consecrates Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia; POPE Benedict XVI sprinkled holy water to consecrate Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church and used the opportunity slam Spain’s new abortion laws.

    The Herald of Australia

    But, there were just as many headlines about the consecration of the Guadi church. It probably depends on the newspaper’s perception of its reading public.

  • Julia

    Sorry about the blockquote mess-up.

    And it’s GAUDI, not Guadi.

    FYI He’s being proposed as a “Blessed”.

  • Jerry

    Of course saying “reaffirmed” Catholic teaching would not have made for sexy headlines. But this was to be as expected as sunrise.

    Oh, how I wish we lived in a world where the headlines would have echoed what I thought was the most beautiful part of his dedication:

    we are presenting to the world a God who is the friend of man and we invite men and women to become friends of God.

    Being a “friend of God”, a saint, a Wali-Allah (Sufi), is a very high goal as this story makes it clear:

    A student asked his teacher: “Sir please tell me how I can see God” “Come with me, said the teacher and I shall show you”.

    He took the student to a lake and both of them got into the water. Suddenly, the teacher pressed the student’s head under the water. After a few moments he released him and the student raised his head and stood up. The student said; “Oh I thought I shall die. I was panting for breath.”

    The teacher said, “When you feel like that for God then you will know you haven’t long to wait for his vision.”

  • Martha

    Where are all these reporters getting this extra content that the rest of us aren’t? Thanks to Amy’s link, I went to the Vatican website for the text of the homily, and the only relevant part I could see was this:

    “This church began as an initiative of the Association of the Friends of Saint Joseph, who wanted to dedicate it to the Holy Family of Nazareth. The home formed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph has always been regarded as a school of love, prayer and work. The promoters of this church wanted to set before the world love, work and service lived in the presence of God, as the Holy Family lived them. Life has changed greatly and with it enormous progress has been made in the technical, social and cultural spheres. We cannot simply remain content with these advances. Alongside them, there also need to be moral advances, such as in care, protection and assistance to families, inasmuch as the generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end. Only where love and faithfulness are present can true freedom come to birth and endure. For this reason the Church advocates adequate economic and social means so that women may find in the home and at work their full development, that men and women who contract marriage and form a family receive decisive support from the state, that life of children may be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception, that the reality of birth be given due respect and receive juridical, social and legislative support. For this reason the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family.”

    Now, maybe I’m blind or stupid or something, but can anyone point out to me where the Pope in so many words says “Abortion is wrong”, “Gay marriage is wrong” or “Spanish law is wrong and should be changed” in that? Yeah, maybe if you’re used to reading tealeaves, you might extract a “Pope slams/denounces/lambastes” from that, but those kind of usages would – to me – mean not a veiled reference but an out-and-out “This is what the Catholic Church disapproves of” statement.

  • Ed Mechmann

    Martha — There’s no need for the Holy Father to have said any of that explicitly, because the story is written even before the event it describes. All the “reporter” does is find some support for his/her pre-determined interpretation.

  • Chris

    Perhaps the author used “railing” because the Pope was standing beside an altar rail….:-)

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Ed makes a good point. The anti-Catholic bias of so many sections of the news media leads them to look ignorantly, dishonestly, and blindly at any Catholic event. Then they produce an incompetent story that is so filled with trite ignorance, dishonesty, and blindness that it appears it could have been written long before the event.

  • Julia

    I like Chris’ explanation of the use of “railing” – except that Catholics in the US below the age of 50 have no idea what he’s talking about.

  • Passing By

    From the LA Times:

    to protest his visit and church policies that consider homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered.” Later, a few hundred women marched to protest their second-class status in the church

    First, it’s “teaching”, not “policy”. Interesting that “intrinsically disordered” comes in quotes, but “second-class status” is not. A bit of punctuation-based editorializing, eh? But then, the Times clearly knows it’s target audience and their obsessions. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh. At least they didn’t claim that the pope “cracked down” on anyone. That’s always a favorite.

    I will admit that “the pope railed” is definitely over the top.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Passing By:

    That “second-class status” line is in the AP story but it was cut from the LA Times version. I didn’t realize it was in there until later today or I would have complained about that, too.

    Here’s the LA Times piece.

  • Passing By

    Mollie –

    I cut and paste from a version of the story different than what you linked. I got it by going to the main site and searching on “pope”. The picture in that version isn’t the “kiss-in”, but the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Passing By,

    Thanks! Yeah, that looks like they also have a feed directly from the wire. Very interesting.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Evidently praising the union of a man and a woman is now a form of “railing against the government” for allowing same-gender marriage.

    If the article was upfront in admitting that this is as close as Benedict XVI got to mentioning the latter matter it would be much more truthful.

    However, I agree with Mollie and think if they are going to report on the homilie by the Pope, they should report accurately the general themes he covered, and not take one or two phrases, augment them with things he did not actually say, and then turn it into something it was not.

    Since I have seen relatively similar taking out of context done in the last year to speeches given by President Boyd K. Packer and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, both of the Quorum of the 12 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am not surprised to see the same sort of distorted reports about the Pope’s speech. At least with the Pope the media has the excuse he is not speaking in English, so maybe they just had an extremely poor translation of his homilie when writting about it. OK, I really do not believe that is possible, but I am trying to put a little positive spin on it.

  • http:kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    re Jeffery: One only has to recall the coverage of the consecration of Washington National Cathedral (exactly 83 years after groundbreaking) to see the difference. Maybe it’s because nobody could find a political angle back in 1990 (Barry Stopfel wasn’t ordained until the next day) but the coverage was largely about the architecture and the superlatives it embodied. Nobody led their articles with comments about Jack Spong. Gaudi’s astonishing building should have provided much of the same opportunity for commentary (wanna bet that none of them stated that the central spire will be the tallest in the world when it is finally finished?).

  • J. Stevens

    Praise God!

    I more often than not regret ever reading “Comments” left behind by people after a story regarding Mother Church or the Holy Father. Just look to CNN’s comments after the Dedication ceremony. The amount of vitriol spewed by a majority of people was heartbreaking.

    Thank you all for standing up and calling it for what it is; shameful! This world is in desparate need of witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ, and the church which he founded.

  • Julia

    For anybody still checking out this thread, here is a link to the most “colorful” parts of the consecration although most of the participants are wearing white. A church consecration truly is not done very often by a Pope. However, the Catholic ritual is the same all over the world. Last year I found about 4 of these rituals on YouTube including the one for the new LA cathedral, which was actually “Gaudi”er.


  • Julian

    It’s not just a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The pope’s visit is important and he is dedicating it as a minor basilica. Also, the vision of Gaudi which has taken over a century to complete and still not yet complete, is not just another church. Well, there is much more, the problem is the business of this culture makes us used to soundbytes and we don’t have an in-depth understanding of things and the rich tradition and symbolism in these kinds of acts.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    I would say the National Cathedral love-fest reporting is due to the fact that the Episcopal Church is the Established Church of the MSM and they show it all the deference they possibly can.