The Italian press has placed an interesting interpretation on Pope Francis’ Friday comments on the clergy abuse. It reports that in the pope’s mind clergy abuse of children is tied to the “abomination” of abortion. Look for this theme in the Anglo-American press and tell me if you can find it? I can’t.
Francis’ comments to the International Catholic Child Bureau meeting at the Vatican on April 11 received wide spread coverage. CNN reported:
Pope Francis made his strongest condemnation yet of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy on Friday, asking for forgiveness and pledging to impose penalties on “men of the church” who harm children.
“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests — quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests — to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the Pope said in remarks quoted by Vatican Radio.
As an aside, I chose CNN’s story over the others because of its aesthetic and journalist quality. It is really quite good. To my mind Daniel Burke is one of the most highly skilled writers covering religion and this article shows why he deserves that accolade. The language is tight, conveying the story in a minimum of words. The story is told well with very little fluff or filler. The article is balanced — offering comments from abuse activists while also allowing Francis to speak. The author’s views on the issue can be discerned by the layout of the story — paragraph placement is one of the key elements in constructing an article — yet there is no preaching or bombast in a topic (clergy abuse of children) that is often spoilt by opinion masking as news. A great job all round.
Yet, Burke is back in America and must rely on material provided by others when reporting on Rome. Has he been given the full story by his stringers in Rome?
For on the same day as the pope spoke to the International Catholic Child Bureau, he addressed a pro-life group. For the Italian press, the messages Francis offered on the clergy abuse scandal and abortion were intertwined. The lede to the story “Pedofilia, il Papa chiede perdono per gli abusi commessi dai sacerdoti” in the Milan-based Corriere della Sera makes this clear. (N.b. with a circulation of over 350,000 Corriere della Sera is one of Italy’s largest and most influential newspapers. It’s main competitors are the Rome’s la Repubblica and Turin’s La Stampa.) It states:
Pope Francis has asked “forgiveness” for the child abuse perpetrated by men of the Church. In unambiguous tones, Francis said: “I am called to this burden” to “ask for forgiveness”, and to assure you that we will not take any “step back” in addressing this problem and seeing that “penalties will be imposed.” Children should be protected and have a family, the pontiff said. “They have a right to grow up with a father and mother.” And before that children must be protected in the womb, he added, because “the unborn child is the innocent par excellence.” Drawing upon the words of the Second Vatican Council Francis added “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”
The Corriere della Sera article gives a fuller picture of Francis’ views on the clergy abuse scandal than the CNN piece by stressing Francis’ argument that both are crimes against children and against God.
It could be argued that a pope condemning abortion is not news. However, Francis was the center of a media frenzy last year when in an interview the the Jesuit publication America, he said:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.” …“The teaching of the church … is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
This was interpreted by some media outlets as evidence that Francis would change, perhaps not the substance, but certainly the tone of church teachings. The New York Times lede to its September 19 story on the interview followed this line:
Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics.
Why the silence from the Anglo-American press on the pope’s latest abortion comments? GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly has addressed the dichotomy between the coverage and reality of Francis’ views on abortion in other posts. Is there something in the mindset of American reporters that prevents them from making the link between abuse and abortion that the Corriere della Sera has made?
Vatican Radio and the Holy See Press Office / Vatican Information Service released reports on the addresses made by the pope, but these came out in separate stories. If all you had to work with were the press releases, connecting the dots may not have been obvious to US based reporters.
The “why” should also be examined in the context of “should”. Should CNN and other news outlets linked the abortion and abuse stories? Is this an editorial step too far by Corriere della Sera? Or have they offered the insight and context expected of quality newspapers?
My imperfect knowledge of the situation does not allow me to say CNN or the Corriere della Sera had it right. My instincts though tell me the Italian report gives a broader, and ultimately better, picture of what is actually happening in Rome.