So, a faithful GetReligion reader was working his way through a story printed by The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., when a most unorthodox turn of phrase reared up and slapped him in his Catholic face.
The story focused on the fact that the sudden death of the local Catholic shepherd, Bishop Joseph McFadden, was going to provide Pope Francis his first opportunity to oversee the full process of selecting a new diocesan leader.
The outcome would offer the experts another opportunity to see what makes this pontiff tick, in terms of church doctrine and tradition. Thus, in that context, the story noted:
A few weeks ago, Francis marked the 50th world day of prayer for vocations by ordaining 10 men to the priesthood to serve in the Diocese of Rome.
Francis, who is widely considered a reformer, has received early criticism in some circles for his lack of doctrinal orthodoxy. He has selected eight cardinals to find ways to reform the Church.
Now wait just a minute!
Yes, there are people who have raised questions about the new pope’s less formal approach to liturgy, especially in comparison with the very traditional Pope Benedict XVI. But very few Catholics have raised their criticisms to the level of doctrine. In terms of his actions in the past, Francis has been a very solid Catholic on issues of morality and doctrine.
What was going on here? Didn’t the team at The Patriot-News realize it was making a very, very serious accusation?
Thus, Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz sent a note to the reporter in question (while also copying your GetReligionistas). The note said, in part:
In your article headlined “Naming successor to Bishop McFadden: For Pope Francis it will be a first of sorts,” you stated the following: “Francis, who is widely considered a reformer, has received early criticism in some circles for his lack of doctrinal orthodoxy.” I would like to know who has made that criticism. I read widely in Catholic circles and I have yet to see anyone criticize him for lacking doctrinal orthodoxy. I have seen him criticized because of how he conducts his liturgy and because he has put aside many of the trappings of the papal office, but to my knowledge, no one has said that he lacks doctrinal orthodoxy.
You may not realize it, but that’s a huge statement. For a pope to be unorthodox in doctrine would be huge news.
To the newspaper’s credit, the story was quickly tweaked — with a correction at the end.
Thus, if you visit the newspaper’s website to read that particular story, this is what you will now find:
Francis is widely considered a reformer, which in some circles has been mistaken for a lack of doctrinal orthodoxy. Francis has put aside many of the trappings of the papal office and been criticized for how he conducts his liturgy but has shown no indication of abandoning doctrinal orthodoxy. He has selected eight cardinals to find ways to reform the Church.
That’s much better and, of course, every attempt to correct printed mistakes should be applauded. I also recognize that this is a short story about a local church development, not an in-depth look at the work of Pope Francis.
Nevertheless, the heart of the problem demonstrated in this case is the whole “in some circles” wording, a touch of journalistic fog that — in the age of online search engines — could easily be replaced with one or two phrases pointing toward real criticisms by real traditionalist critics who have real names.
So, this correction was a nice gesture. But the newspaper only needed to add one more sentence to complete the job. Maybe next time.