Pope Francis’ 1st miracle: media coverage of mercy

A day after Popocalypse 2013 happened, we have the actual transcript of the remarks that got journalists worldwide going. And it’s safe to say that a quick read of it gives a different impression than the headlines or tweets that blasted out the news.

But, hey, we are a culture of tweets and headlines, not contextualized remarks, so does it even matter? If it matters to you, here’s the relevant discussion on the Vatican’s “gay lobby.” Actually, let’s go ahead and look at them here:

The question posed to Pope Francis was:

Ilse: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question.  Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life.  I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question.  How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?

Here is Pope Francis’ answer:

Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation.  And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him.  We found none of that.  That is the answer.  But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the “sins of youth,” for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.

But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing.  That is the first question.  Then you spoke of the gay lobby.  Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby.  I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay.  They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!

So many interesting things to reflect on, upon seeing a bit of context. For example, why did so many media outlets omit the few words between “If a person is gay” and “who am I to judge that person?” Or why was his appeal to the catechism elided or ignored? Not the biggest deal in the world, but interesting. My point, made yesterday, seems vindicated with Francis’ line “This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.”

Very Christian stuff here. Breaking: Pope Catholic. So let’s look at how the New York Times views these remarks:

On Gay Priests, Pope Francis Asks, ‘Who Am I to Judge?’

ROME — For generations, homosexuality has largely been a taboo topic for the Vatican, ignored altogether or treated as “an intrinsic moral evil,” in the words of the previous pope.

In that context, brief remarks by Pope Francis suggesting that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation, made aboard the papal airplane on the way back from his first foreign trip, to Brazil, resonated through the church. Never veering from church doctrine opposing homosexuality, Francis did strike a more compassionate tone than that of his predecessors, some of whom had largely avoided even saying the more colloquial “gay.”

For those readers paying attention at home, yes, Francis really used the English word “gay” while speaking otherwise in Italian. It’s an interesting lede, eh? More for what it says about the Times than what it says about Francis. The same story could have begun: “Condemning homosexuals acts as sinful, Pope Francis repeats the call of previous popes and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to treat homosexuals with dignity.” That it doesn’t say that tells us something interesting about journalists’ reaction to Francis.

Elizabeth Scalia had a really interesting take on that over at First Things where she praised the media coverage, in a way.

[N]othing Francis actually said about homosexuality was new. In fact, in these two quotes Francis is doing nothing more than pronouncing long-standing Catholic teaching on homosexuality, sin, and the mercy of God.

Let that sink in for a moment: A pope is teaching the Christian faith, and the press is accurately quoting him, in blazing headlines that everyone will read.

I completely agree with Scalia. It’s kind of cool that Francis is getting the media to report on Christian teaching of the forgiveness of sins. For that miracle alone, he should be canonized in a few decades. For just one example of this, check out this NBC News report.

Anyway, back to the New York Times story. It mentions that, technically, Francis was keeping to Catholic teaching but it doesn’t actually quote anyone who holds that view. Instead, lots of space is given to the idea that using the term “gay” instead of “homosexual” is “revolutionary.” People who hold that view are quoted.

For more on how the media view Francis and predecessor (I’d caution against taking this as terribly much more than that), this is an instructive sentence:

While Benedict, the shy theologian, focused more on ethics and advocated a purer church, even if it might end up being smaller, Francis was elected for his belief that the Catholic Church must engage in dialogue with the world — even with those it disagrees with — if it wants to stay vibrant and relevant.

For more on how revolutionary Francis is:

Francis said that homosexuals should be treated with dignity, and that no one should be subjected to blackmail or pressure because of sexual orientation.

It almost sounds familiar.

men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies … must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.

One story that handled all of this context and put the same comments in the context of traditional church teaching can be found over at Religion News Service.

P.S. Have any reporters explained that Mason reference?

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  • oenthusiast

    I think the Pope may actually have been speaking in Spanish… I think this section of the interview was done with reporters from Argentina.

    • MollieZHemingway

      He did speak in Spanish for a portion of the interview, but the transcript I see in the link above for the portion we’re discussing is in Italian.

  • MollieZHemingway

    If you’re into Onion-type satirical takes on things, here’s one that pokes fun at the NYT interpretation: http://www.eyeofthetiber.com/2013/07/29/pope-francis-declares-homosexuality-obligatory-for-all-catholics-new-york-times-reports/

  • JFY

    The video is in Italian but “gay” is not an exclusively English word, it’s used in Spanish and Italian as well

    • John Pack Lambert

      It may be used in Spanish and Italian, but it began in English, and its historic meaning is coded in English. This is also why English-speakers for so long resisted its use for homosexual. The very use of the term was a propaganda act in the pro-homosexual agenda.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Re: the Masonic reference — I haven’t seen any reporting on that, but Masonic lobbying and plots are a reality in Italy. They’re not quite the fairly innocuous Masons we have here in the U.S. There have been in the past, and there probably are today, clerics of all ranks in the Holy See who were/are Freemasons. Just about two months ago, a French bishop was ordered by the Vatican to get rid of a priest who was an open member of a Freemason lodge (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22656659). According to a talk by Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid (http://www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org/store/title/attack-on-religious-liberty-battle-for-the-faith-in-mexico), Freemasons were behind the Mexican persecution of the Church in the early 20th century. And there’s much more to it. So the Masonic lobby is a very real thing for Pope Francis.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    The incompetent (or purposely censored) coverage of the pope’s words show the media’s refusal to accurately transmit the Church’s teachings on sin, repentance, and forgiveness. The 3 go together, but the media likes to slice and dice them to promote its agenda.
    The pope stated specifically that he embraced the teachings of the Catholic Catechism as his own. Thus a reporter should refer to the CC if he or she is looking to accurately transmit what the pope’s words should be taken to mean.

  • wlinden

    I just saw a copy of today’s Times, and it had the subhead “No Change in Doctrine”. Can the GetReligion Intelligence Agency tell us if this was added in response to complaints, or was it there all along?

    Of course, that leaves the implication that a) the Pope can simply change doctrine at will’; b) that if he could change “doctrine”, and wanted to, he would do it on the spur of the moment in response to an interviewer’s question.

  • FW Ken

    Poor Grandfather Benedict, he can’t get a break from the media. Bl. John Paul II was for years excoriated as a reactionary out to undo Vatican II. Upon his death, the narrative changed and he magically became charismatic, popular, and a world traveler; the new Pope Benedict then took on the mantle of reactionary out to undo Vatican II. God’s’ Rottweiler. Now the quiet retiring theologian takes heat over his charismatic successor. So unfair.

    And Papa Francis really is charismatic, spontaneous and gregarious.

    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-weeps-with-brazilian-child-who-wants-to-be-a-priest/

  • Joe_R6

    Perhaps conservative Christians need to decide what the word “gay” means and stick to a single definition . For the people who use it to describe themselves it simply means “same-sex attracted” (nothing should be inferred about the lifestyle or private life of someone who says “I am gay”). That definition fits with this story about the Pope’s statement and an unchanged church doctrine.

    But in other contexts conservative Christians insist that “gay” implies much more than “same-sex attracted” and recommend that Christians who “struggle with same sex attractions” should avoid using the term gay.

    The Pope, addressing an international audience, has gone for the global term (many languages have adopted the English word) and it’s commonplace definition. Maybe everyone else should do the same?

    • John Pack Lambert

      Wait, you expect Evangelicals, many of whom would say the Pope is the head of the great and abominable Church, to fall in line just because the Pope used a term in a given way? Also, I am not convinced that people generally use the term “gay” to mean “same-sex attraction”. I think in many context, they mean engaging in homosexual behavior, and I further thing that many people in the pro-homosexual lobby consistently avoid being clear or concise on what they mean. What is most clear is that to expect everyone to fall in line behind the Pope, or even take a cue from the Pope, ignores how much many people dislike the Catholic Church.

      • Joe_R6

        Yes, gay people generally use the term “gay” to mean “same-sex attracted”. You can easily infer this by how the word is used in the mainstream press or by popes and presidents. The vast majority of people who call themselves gay do “engage in homosexual behavior” but referring to that fact (or any other aspect of the persons private life) is not the purpose of the public label.

        Clearly, I’m not suggesting evangelicals should “fall in line” behind the Pope.

  • John Pack Lambert

    After having read this in context, I do not see it as at all a counter-point to what Pope Benedict XVI said about ordaining people with homosexual tendencies to the priesthood. Pope Benedict did not make any comment on that, and the report I read originating from the AP clearly misrepresented the statement by speaking of that. They also failed to mention the “gay lobby” question, or the fact that Pope Francis condemned the gay lobby (along with other lobbies). It still feels like the media will shoehorn any statement by Pope Francis into a “Francis different from Benedict” rubric, even if it requires ignoring context on both ends. Until we get Pope Frnacis response to “should people who have strong homosexual tendencies be ordained to the priesthood”, saying he is breaking with Benedict on this matter is unfounded.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I also think that Pope Francis’s drawing the a clear line between “sins” and “abuse” is likely to not hold up under close scrutiny. The problem is what to some may be “sins” are to radicals in SNAP clearly abuse. The problem is that most people assume abuse is limited to relations that are illegal, but the rhetoric about “priestly power” on the part of SNAP would suggest any sexual relationship between a priest and any non-priest of any age is probably abusive, and definitely SNAP would argue the relations of a 30-year-old priest and a 40-year-old parishioner would always be abusive. While most people would accept that some relations involving major power differences between adults are abusive, as long as SNAP does not go around denouncing Bill Clinton as the biggest sexual abuser in history, most people will figure that they engage in selective attacks on religious figures that ignore the reality of interpersonal authority.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I suspected the articles were hatchet jobs from the beginning. Although, I think including Pope Francis’s statement would not have helped much. The bigger problem is that Pope Francis means one thing when he says “gay”, he means a person who experiences same-gender attraction. Many other people though on hearing the term will assume someone who is engaged in homosexual relations. The media is doing no one any good by not pointing out clearly that the Pope is speaking of those with a tendency, not those who act on it.

    • Joe_R6

      I’ve followed the story on several gay news websites and they all immediately flagged-up the fact that the pope was not saying anything new about catholic teaching. Reader comments on the same articles complain about the same lack of changes to the teaching. They are however pleased the pope has adopted the more colloquial term gay – which implies he is willing to have a conversation with gay people instead of talking at them. His choice of words fit in with the message about not marginalising people. It is a common courtesy to address people by the name they call themselves.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Wait, Pope Francis really used the term “gay” in an otherwise Italian conversation, in part because his questioner did the same thing? I don’t think the NYT understands what this means.
    Having paid attention to changes in how Mormon leaders speak on this issue from the mid-1990s to the present. In the mid-1990s they were very clear in trying to discorage the use of the term gay, feeling that it caused people to identify too deeply with the situation as defining them. However at some point they gave up on this campaign to try and change use, and instead went to speaking clearly and distinctly about the differences between behaviors, which are sinful, and urges, inclinations and desires, which are not by themselves sinful. At some point people have given up on trying to change the terminology, but they still clearly see some behavior as sinful.
    Of course to me the extreme of this is the unjustified attempts to attack President Packer of the LDS Quorum of the 12 as having a-said that homosexual desires can be changed and b-backed away from this statement. Reading his comments both in context, and before and after he revised them, my impression always was that he was speaking about behavior, and arguing that no behavior is forced on us, that we have free will. Interestingly enough, President Packer also consistently declares a clear message of all being able to repent, but when he says it people seem to attack him because he dares say that homosexual behavior needs to be repented of. It leads me to wonder why the media has neglected to point out that Pope Francis has clearly said that homosexual behavior is sinful.