Dominican posts handy guide to Pope Francis press myths

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Every now and then a scribe at some other weblog (and we’re not just talking about once-and-always GetReligionistas such as M.Z. Hemingway) writes what amounts to a perfect GetReligion post. I mean, we may as well stick a guest byline on these things and put them right online here.

This is not one of those cases — but it’s very close.

In case you haven’t noticed, the mainstream press has pretty much gone crazy in the past week or so noting the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis, the new patron saint of pull quotes. Some of the articles have been pretty interesting and others have been — Well, who are we to judge? — rather warped.

What I have noticed is that much of the commentary from conservative Catholics (conservative in terms of doctrine) has been shaped by one simple reality. While the mainstream press seems to think that many conservatives are terribly upset about the new pope, what I have noticed is that most of them are actually rather upset about how the pope has been quoted out of context.

In other words, they are rarely upset about what this pope has actually said, when his words are taken in context. Instead, they are upset about how the pope is being quoted by you know who.

The bottom line: They are convinced that many, many mainstream journalists simply do not get Pope Francis. Journalists seem to be covering the pope that they wished existed, rather than the pope who actually exists.

This is not a new theme here at GetReligion, of course.

However, over at the Dominicana weblog, Brother Gabriel Torretta has written a post that pulls many of these themes together into one handy collection. It’s must reading for any journalist, or consumer of mainstream news, who wants to take a step back and look for patterns in the past year’s worth of mainstream-news coverage of Pope Francis.

The title of the piece: “Top Ten Myths About Pope Francis’ First Year.”

No, the No. 1 myth has nothing to do with gay priests and the existence of a gay “lobby” in the Vatican. We will get to that in a moment. Instead, Brother Gabriel’s top myth is rather theological in nature. Here is that complete item:

Myth #1: That the hermeneutic of continuity no longer applies now that Pope Francis is pope.

I suspect that this myth, while only implicit in discourse about Pope Francis, is at the root of the previous nine myths, and all the others we haven’t been able to examine. Speaking of the reception of Vatican II, Pope Benedict famously taught that theologians needed to reflect on the Council as a theological event in continuity with the rest of magisterial tradition, rather than as a dramatic rupture proposing a totally new vision of the Church, God, and the world.

But the hermeneutic of continuity is a useful principle to apply to papal teachings as well, be they from John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis, or any other pope. Anyone who speaks and writes as much as a modern pope will, on occasion, say things that could be taken out of context and cast as a totally new theological creation. But a prudent reader — or listener — would be better advised to approach papal pronouncements sympathetically, positioning them with respect to the pope’s wider teaching, and to the larger tradition of the Church.

Rather than succumbing to sensationalism or skepticism, those of us who attend to what Pope Francis says and does may find that a patient response that assumes Pope Francis is actually what he purports to be — a faithful Catholic and the custodian of the unchanging deposit of faith — will help even the most perplexed reader out of the mazes of papal myth.

Now, some of the other myths are really fascinating. Such as (hello Rush Limbaugh):

Myth #3: That Pope Francis is a Marxist.

Or how about this one?

Myth #4: That Pope Francis isn’t pope.

But we all know that, for far too many journalists, the only item that matters in this list is this one:

Myth #9: That Pope Francis changed Church teaching on homosexuality.

This old chestnut takes its origin from Pope Francis’ impromptu press conference on the flight home from Brazil on July 28, 2013. The headline-making phrase was this: “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?” This little nugget, reduced to a banner-friendly five-word slogan (Who am I to judge?), has been written up in almost every major newspaper in the Western world, and regularly appears on protest signs for Catholic activists pressing for the normalization of homosexuality in the Church.

Here again we might detect the heady aroma of wishful thinking. In 2010, Bergoglio famously made enemies with the government in Argentina over their same-sex marriage policies, declaring what the Huffington Post called a “war of God” against the legalization of same-sex unions. Shortly after Pope Francis’ election, this history was appearing all over the Internet as a stick to beat the Vatican with, that even as the cardinals courageously chose a South American pope (+10 diversity points), they still chose one who held to Church teaching on homosexuality (-100 diversity points).

Nor does the actual context of Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge” statement suggest a radical change in perspective from his earlier stance: the quotation comes in response to a question about a priest accused of a notorious gay lifestyle and the supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican. Pope Francis’ tactful and pastoral response was to affirm the humanity and call to holiness of all people, including those who identify as gay, while criticizing the reification of homosexuality as a political and social ideology. The sentences that immediately precede the famous one provide useful context: “I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good.” In other words, love the sinner but hate the sin. That sounds familiar.

Yes, that sounds very familiar, but many people still need to read it again.

Just saying.

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.

  • James Stagg

    Now…..if we could just get the “journalists” to read this list…………….

  • FW Ken

    That really is a very good list to keep as a reference. I notice that in Myth #2, they link to a website post that slanders my own bishop, so if I may, here’s a local article I think is really well-written.

    http://www.star-telegram.com/2014/03/06/5628821/bishop-forbids-latin-mass-at-fort.html

    I’ve never been a fan of this particular reporter, but the balance in the article is noteworthy. With a few minutes more on the internet, he could have found more about the underlying issues at the school, but that’s a quibble from someone who has done a fair amount of reading for personal interest. The basic issues are covered well, I think.

    I suppose the overarching theme of this is how the media, as well as groups on the left and right, use Pope Francis to promote their own agenda, instead of honestly looking at what he says.


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