Torture lost to Mafia coverage, at least in news on pope talks

If the coverage of Pope Francis this weekend was any indication, the Mafia is more interesting to mainstream journalists than torture chambers are. The reporters paid lots of attention to the pope’s anti-Mafia statement on Saturday, but hardly seemed to notice the next day when he urged all Christians to join in ending torture.

Meanwhile, torture is used in 141 nations in every region of the world, according to Amnesty International. Yet when Francis focused on it in his weekly Angelus address, it got little more than a brief in some media.

The Associated Press gave the story a mere five paragraphs. And only three of them had to do with the speech:

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis is urging Christians to work together to abolish every form of torture, condemning the practice as a grave sin.

Francis told the public in St. Peter’s Square Sunday he wanted to reiterate his “firm condemnation of every kind of torture.” He sought united efforts to work for torture’s end and to support victims and their families.

Francis said it was a “mortal sin, a very grave sin, to torture people” and noted that Thursday marks the United Nation’s day for torture victims.

The other two paragraphs mentioned that the military government of Argentina, Francis’ homeland, often used torture from 1976 to 1983. “Francis has been credited with saving lives of political dissidents while a Jesuit priest in Argentina,” the story adds.

Surprisingly, one of the best mainstream stories on the Angelus ran in the International Business Times:

In Sunday’s Angelus prayer, Pope Francis called for the end of all forms of torture. The Pope condemned the practice ahead of the United Nations’ International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26.

Pope Francis’ Angelus address Sunday focused on charity and forgiveness prior to the closing prayer, Vatican Radio reported. Closing the Angelus prayer, the Pope recognized the U.N.’s day for supporting victims of torture and called for an end of its practice.

“In this circumstance, I reiterate the firm condemnation of all forms of torture,” Francis said, calling on Christians to end the practice, saying it was a “mortal sin.”

And the International Business Times added admirable background on the planned anti-torture observance:

The U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture was enacted Dec. 12, 1997. In his message for 2013, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged “all member states to accede to and fully implement the Convention against Torture and support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Let us work together to end torture throughout the world and ensure that countries provide reparation for victims.”

One of the longer articles on the topic appeared in the Latin Post, understandable for a publication that serves Latinos in the United States. Yet it didn’t have much on the pope’s actual words.

Instead, the Post’s very simple prose said …

Pope Francis is taking a public stance against torture. He told an audience in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday that he wants to reiterate his “firm condemnation of every kind of torture.” He is seeking to end the practice and to garner support for victims and their families.

He said that it is a “mortal sin, a very grave sin, to torture people.” The pope also recognized that Thursday is the United Nations day for supporting victims of torture. He is calling for all Christians to come together and end torture.

… before adding five paragraphs on the use of torture in Argentina, an apparent copy from the AP story.

Some media, like The Blaze, gave the pronouncement only a short mention. And SFGate spent most of its scant 79 words on Argentinian torture and Francis’ effort to rescue dissidents.

In all of these stories, what I missed is an explanation of “grave” and “mortal,” the terms Francis used. For a populace that attends church less and less — especially in North America and western Europe — it’s a bad bet to assume that readers will know the language.

And it’s not hard for reporters to inform themselves. Googling “definition mortal sin” yields a section of the Catholic Catechism, right on the Vatican’s website.

“Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent,” the document says. It further defines “grave matter” as one of those offenses specified in the Ten Commandments.

If that language is too hard, reporters could turn to the Catholic Culture website, which dials back the jargon. For that site, mortal sin is defined as:

An actual sin that destroys sanctifying grace and causes the supernatural death of the soul. Mortal sin is a turning away from God because of seriously inordinate adherence to creatures that causes grave injury to a person’s rational nature and to the social order, and deprives the sinner of a right to heaven.

Grave sin? Catholic Culture says it’s “The transgression of a divine law in a grievous matter with full knowledge and consent.” From there, even religiously illiterate reporters can probably identify torture as one of those grievous matters.

It takes only a little time and effort to convey understanding, rather than just relay data. Do reporters and editors care anymore?

I think the readers and viewers do. If they’re interested in what this winsome, unpredictable pope says, they’ll likely want to know what he’s talking about.

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