Pope Francis and the press: What Elizabeth Tenety said!

First came the religion-beat buzz about Pope Francis being named Person of the Year by the powers that be at Time magazine.

I had some thoughts on one or two elements of that piece that some GetReligion readers thought were a bit unkind (if not snarky), in part because I thought that the cover story — while very admirable in its coverage of this man’s life and pre-Vatican ministry — ended up telling us just as much about the cultural views of the Time editors (concerning the Sexual Revolution, of course) as it did this pope’s statements and actions on matters of the Catholic faith.

In particular, I stand by the following:

Simply stated, the pope wants the emphasis in his church to be on showing mercy to sinners — an equation that connects the repentance of sin with sacraments that bring healing and forgiveness. The problem, of course, is that the Time essay has little to say about what Pope Francis does or doesn’t believe about sin. …

If the Time editors insist on judging Pope Francis primarily by his stands on culture-war issues — to a degree that is strikingly similar to the pope’s harshest critics on the right — then they will need to be careful, paying close attention to the actual content of his actions and words. Hint: Heed and study his thoughts on sin.

Stay tuned.

Now, the Time cover story has inspired a remarkably candid essay from “On Faith” editor Elizabeth Tenety, whose writings on all things Catholic are always worth dissecting and then stashing away for later reference.

The headline was certainly a grabber and provoked some buzz online and in email circles that reach me from time to time: “Like Pope Francis? You’ll love Jesus.”

Read it all, of course, but here are some key samples. Right up top, after samples of go-Francis-go raves from The Huffington Post and Gawker, there is this:

“You know who I freakin’ love?” gushed MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who grew up Catholic but stopped attending church during his freshman year at Brown. “This new pope. Pope Francis. … Are you watching this guy? Because you should be. It’s early, but I’m thinking … best pope ever.” Of course, Hayes noted, Francis’s church still opposes “gay marriage, women in the priesthood, a woman’s autonomy over her own body.” But, hey, he explained, at least Francis isn’t “a jerk about it.”

As a practicing Catholic blogging my way around Washington for the past six years, I never imagined I’d see the often snarky mainstream media — including some of its more liberal outposts — falling so hard for a 76-year-old celibate guy who believes that God had a son, born to a virgin, who was sent to redeem the world from sin. But that’s the Francis Effect. …

These are the forces that see Francis as a progressive reformer, a long-awaited Catholic antidote to the religious right. None of that theological or doctrinal stuff, thank you. Just give us the humble pontiff, not like the other guy with his high church pomp and fancy red shoes. Francis — the pope who kissed a man disfigured by a gruesome disease! The one who lives in humble quarters! The pope who took it to trickle-down economics! By critiquing the excesses of religion and politics — a criticism that resonates in media circles — Francis has given the press permission to change its narrative about the church.

But woe to those who remake the pope in their own image. If you focus only on what you like about Francis’s papacy — whatever makes you feel comfortable and smug about your own religious and political convictions — you’re doing it wrong. And you’re not seeing the real Francis.

Yowzers. Tell us what you really think, Ms. Tenety. And then there is that quote from Matt Yglesias of Slate:

… Yglesias caveats his praise: “There’s a lot of stuff about Jesus in his thinking that I can’t really sign on to.”

Yes, that pesky Jesus stuff. But there’s just one problem: Without Jesus, there is no Pope Francis. If Francis’s embrace of the disabled, focus on the poor and mercy for the sinner sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because you’ve heard it before. From that Jesus guy. …

Francis is doing the work that Jesus not only modeled, but that has been practiced by countless Christians in his name for millennia. To Catholics, Francis may feel refreshing, but he isn’t surprising. We’ve seen his example at work in Catholic homeless shelters and hospitals, though the humble service of the priests, brothers and nuns who taught us, in the lives of anonymous heroes and canonized saints. It’s the Christianity we’ve learned in our CCD classes and read in classic spiritual texts. It’s the Christianity that’s inspired for 2,000 years.

This is a must read piece, friends, and I hope people keep discussing it.

OK, one more quote — the kicker at the end.

Don’t worry if you’ve misread Francis till now, or projected your own political projects or fears onto him. Francis, after all, attends confession every two weeks. He believes in repentance.

Go and sin no more.

Let us attend.

IMAGE: From the home page of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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