More imaginary papal wars

I wrote yesterday about Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to the diplomatic corps, in which he called for a focus on religious liberty. That didn’t get much news coverage, but guess what is! That’s right, remarks that Pope Benedict XVI didn’t even make. And such is the state of affairs in reporting on the pontiff.

Here’s how The Telegraph headlined its article:

Pope rails against rise of un-Christian names
The Pope has warned parents against giving children celebrity-inspired names and urged them to turn to the Bible for inspiration instead.

And now I will give you the entire substantiation for the charge that the Pope “railed” and “warned parents against celebrity-inspired names”:

During Mass at the Sistine Chapel, he said: “Every baptised child acquires the character of the son of God, beginning with their Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit causes man to be born anew in the womb of the Church.” He added that a name was an “indelible seal” that set children off on a lifelong “journey of religious faith”.

OK, now if you’re waiting for the railing part, much less the discussion of celebrity names, you will be waiting for a long time. It didn’t happen. At all. In any way. I’ve read both the devotion following the angelus and the homily from the mass, and this bit about celebrity names is not even close to being there. The words above, incidentally, come from the angelus. You can find translations of both here (scroll down, if needed). And here’s another translation of the devotion from the angelus.

Apparently the Pope’s words weren’t newsy enough without inventing an angle and inventing quotes. This reminds me of the time that we were told by the Los Angeles Times that the Pope “railed against same-sex marriage” when in the real world he hadn’t even mentioned it. I think we now know that when mainstream journalists say the Pope “railed against” something, they mean he didn’t mention it.

The Independent appears to be a source for the faulty information (which has spread to US papers). By which I mean they appear to have made up a quote! The piece is headlined “For heaven’s sake, Pope hopes to end trend for exotic names” and is written by one Michael Day “in Milan.” He ramps up the rhetoric, too:

The pope has declared war on parents’ growing insistence on shunning the saints and naming their children after fashion designers, Sanskrit titles and things that don’t mean much.

The Holy See fears that parents are choosing modish names such as Chanel, Swami and Pesche at the expense of Maria, Martina and Giuseppe, egged on by celebrity examples.

“Every baptism should ensure that the child is given a Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit will allow the person to blossom in the bosom of the Church,” Benedict XVI said, while baptising 21 infants in the Sistine Chapel on Sunday. “Do not give your children names that are not in the Christian calendar.”

Now the Pope isn’t just railing, he’s DECLARING WAR. Keep in mind, again, that the pope hasn’t even mentioned the topic. And apparently Michael Day in Milan has a direct line into the Pope’s head because he reports that he “fears” something. No corroborating quotes are given to substantiate that claim.

Anyway, on to the invented quote. It’s true that the Pope said something similar to the first part, except that you’ll note it’s changed slightly into a command from the blessing above. But, then again, I’m not entirely sure on which translation is more accurate. Translator experts, feel free to weigh in.

But that second part? Nowhere to be found in the translations of the Pope’s words. Is it just made up? And even if it wasn’t made up, you’ll note that it’s not a declaration of war or a mention of Chanel, Swami or Pesche. Maybe British journalists were jealous of American journalists this week and they wanted to just sit around and invent storylines, too.

Fact is that the Daily Mail had the best piece of the bunch. And even they had many inaccuracies and a completely wrong angle in their “Pope makes a plea to parents to give their children traditional names (are you listening Posh and Becks?).”

What’s so ridiculous about these inventions and hystrionics is that the baby-naming topic is fascinating on its own. And a non-fantasy discussion of the Pope’s words on Christian naming could still be used to discuss naming trends and mock people who made different naming decisions and what not. In fact, you have to be particularly uninspired to need false quotes and angles in order to discuss these things.

Major hat-tip to Opinionated Catholic on this one.

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  • Martha

    Hmm – this makes me wonder if some Italian bishop gave a sermon on trendy names, and then this became translated into “The Vatican says” which of course then morphs into “Pope rails!”

    Honestly, it sounds (“From our Milan correspondent”) like yet another case of a stringer having a cup of coffee in an agreeable café with some low-level chancery drone which is then puffed up into “Vatican says” and “Pope slams”.

  • melxiopp

    Is it not possible there is a discrepancy between the transcript that was released and the actual statements uttered? Could the The Independent have had an eye-witness account of the event and the words uttered by the Pope? Nowhere in the account does it attribute the Pope’s words to either the transcript or to one present at the event.

    I’m not sure it is unheard of for an official transcript to be ‘tweaked’ for publication, or for a public figure to ‘paraphrase’ or ‘go off script’ from a previously released text of the statement to be given.

    I’m not saying this is what happened (your read is more likely to be true), I’m simply pointing out an alternative explanation or narrative.

  • Mollie


    It is possible, although it is tonally completely off. Also, though, it says the reporter was “in Milan” which makes you wonder . . .

    But the point you raise is the precise reason why I couldn’t be sure.

    Either way, of course, there is YET to be a quote about the Pope declaring war on the Beckhams or anything close to that.

  • michael

    Is this in any way surprising?

  • Ryan

    I would say yes it is surprising Michael. Maybe this is still changing, but when I pick up a paper or read an article from a news source I still do expect a modicum of journalistic standards.

    The sad part is there is no consequences it seems. I doubt the editors care at all and consider the matter to be of little importance. Still I would think just out of personal work ethic someone would want to do better with their craft.

  • Stoo

    Got to admit I’m not seeing a lot of railing in what i’ve seen quoted so far.

    I wonder where the “Do not give your children names that are not in the Christian calendar” bit came from. I mean presumably the guy from the Independent didn’t make it up in his head. Has some quote from elsewhere in the catholic hierarchy gotten mixed in?

  • michael


    If you are surprised, then I’m guessing that you probably do not follow the secular media’s ‘reporting’ of the Pope’s many speeches and homilies very closely. While this coverage does not all rise (or descend) to the level of complete fabrication as this seems to have done, the media–at least in the English speaking world–routinely exhibit NO interest or aptitude in understanding, much less conveying, the substance of papal remarks. Rather they extract from those remarks only those (often incidental) excerpts which can be plugged into pre-fabricated templates or story lines. The British Press is the worst in this regard, but really, we’re talking about a scale here.

    If you are actually interested in understanding what the Pope has to say, then you must find his remarks and read them for yourself, unmediated by the media. You simply cannot trust the press corps responsible for reporting him to actually, well, report, much less to convey understanding. If you rely on the media for a clear understanding of him, you will be misled. It is indeed sad, not to mention tiresome, but it is simply true.

    The really interesting question is, ‘why?’ Is it simply a matter of ‘bad will’? Is it a failure of journalistic standards? Or is it something built-in to the nature of journalism itself as a form of reason, such that even ‘good journalism’ is constitutively incapable, qua journalism, of ‘getting religion’ (and many other things besides)? Cases of complete fabrication or obvious malice suggest a mixture of all three, but I’m willing to believe that most journalists are bright, relatively well-educated people operating from good will. Some are even religious. Which means that the deeper problem is ‘structural’. Journalism cannot ‘get religion’, I would suggest, because ‘getting religion’ would call into question journalism’s own animating assumptions–the neutrality of the secular sphere and journalistic method, the transparency of facts, e.g., all of which harbor a host of further, invisible presuppositions (epistemological, metaphysical, anthropological) that bear directly on the religion journalist’s subject matter. These assumptions inscribed into the journalistic craft lead even good and sympathetic religion journalists to transpose their subject matter into an idiom that is antithetical to it.

    But that argument, unsurprisingly, has never gained much traction here.

  • Jerry

    Good grief. What more needs to be said than thisalthough I disagree with quoting christening?

    Christian name

    The term Christian name is often used as a general synonym for given name. Strictly speaking, the term applies to a name formally given to a child at an infant baptism or “christening”

    The level of ignorance, whether willful or otherwise, is truly sad.

  • jh

    Thanks for the Shout Out

    The Pope on occasion has know to go off the text and Ab lib. However it is not that common but happens. So there could that not be there in text ? Well maybe. I think there is a video at the Vatican web site of the remarks (go to Angleus section) but I don’t understand Italian of course

    Looking at the google translate of that Italian blog I linked the comments indicate that perhaps someone put quotation remarks in one Italian papers piece that should have not been.

  • Kris D

    Although I agree that this has been reported incorrectly, the sentiment of this has been around for several decades. When I was preparing my daughter for baptism, the pastoral associate made comments about the number of “soap opera” names that were being given out (Tiffany, Brittany, anybody?). My daughter’s first name is Colleen (not a saint’s name) but her middle name is Rose (a saint’s name). She made up for any shortcomings by picking the name of Catherine for her confirmation name. OTHO, none of the people that are saints now started out being named after saints. Here’s hoping that a Tiffany or Brittany lives a life of such worth that future generations will be proud to name their children after them.

  • Passing By

    You mean the pope didn’t CRACK DOWN on this trend?

    Clearly, another story is needed.

  • Julia

    A well-known canon lawyer chimes in on “Christian” names:

  • Maureen

    Tiffany is an Anglicized form of a French form of Theophany. It’s a valid Christian name.

  • bob

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the idea (I think it’s pretty old) of a baptizing priest naming the child for a saint — and it might not be the name the parents have on the birth certificate. In old Orthodox Christian times, it was whatever saint was celebrated the day the child was born. You might add something else on, but the name the child used for communion was the saint’s. Then you can name the unfortunate kiddo “Moon Unit” or “Hunter” the other days of the week.

  • mattk

    People name their kids Pesche? Like DePesche Mode?

  • Mark Tardiff

    I do quite a bit of translating from Italian to English. On the Vatican website the original Italian for the section in question reads:
    “È davvero il Messia, il Figlio dell’Altissimo che, uscendo dalle acque del Giordano, stabilisce la rigenerazione nello Spirito e apre, a quanti lo vogliono, la possibilità di divenire figli di Dio. Non a caso, infatti, ogni battezzato acquista il carattere di figlio a partire dal nome cristiano, segno inconfondibile che lo Spirito Santo fa nascere «di nuovo» l’uomo dal grembo della Chiesa.”

    The Vatican translation of this is quite accurate:
    “He is truly the Messiah, the Son of the Most High who, emerging from the waters of the Jordan, establishes the regeneration in the Spirit and opens, to those who desire it, the possibility of becoming sons of God.
    Not by chance, in fact, does every baptized person acquire the character of son, based on the Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit gives birth to man “anew” from the womb of the Church.”

    The translation used by “The Telegraph” is close, but no cigar. “Beginning from the Christian name” is a more literal translation than “based on the Christian name.” On the other hand, in the Telegraph translation, “acquires the character of THE son of God” makes it sound like the baptized acquire Jesus’s character, whereas the Vatican translation makes it clearer that it is a case of acquiring the character of “son,” that is, of becoming an adopted child of God. The words put in quotes by “The Independent” are a very free paraphrase, not a translation at all.

  • Maureen

    In this case, “the Christian name” means not a first name or baptismal name, but being baptized into Christianity and hence bearing the name “a Christian”. Christians bear Christ’s name by virtue of being called Christian (much as they become members of Christ’s body at their baptisms, and hence “put on Christ” and become little Christs), and a lot of the early Fathers like to rhapsodize on this.

    So yeah, that’s quite a misunderstanding.

  • Maureen

    Oh, and Chanel’s a Christian name too, after the martyred missionary St. Peter Chanel (Pierre Louis Marie Chanel).

  • jh

    The Vatican english translation of the Angelus is finally up. The Independent’s papal quote is not in the text

  • Will

    Well, Eyewitness News has managed to top that one: