Yes! Pope Francis is not from Europe! (updated)

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All together now: Raise your hands if you wanted to throw something at the television screen the 666th time, or thereabouts, that CNN put up that graphic announcing that the newly named Pope Francis — formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina — was the “first non-European pope.”

For the moment, let’s set aside St. Peter himself.

Last time I checked, Africa is not part of Europe and, in the first millennium, there were popes from northern Africa. So what is the best wording to capture the historic nature of this choice?

Among the early coverage, I thought that this Associated Press lede was solid and did a good job of describing the importance of the new pontiff’s homeland. I am curious, however, about Bergoglia losing his Cardinal title right up front.

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope Wednesday, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He chose the name Francis, associating himself with the humble 13th-century Italian preacher who lived a life of poverty.

Looking stunned, Francis shyly waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement, marveling that the cardinals needed to look to “the end of the earth” to find a bishop of Rome.

At this point, it’s pretty clear that the new pope offered few early soundbites that will make life easy for the headline writers. At the Washington, D.C., bar at which I was sitting, some were rather amazed that he did not speak a blessing or greeting in Spanish.

In the Twitter age, everyone is rushing to post memorable reaction quotes from — of course — celebrities. Here is one early set care of CBS News. Here’s a spiffy list from The Wall Street Journal. Oh, and how is the word “notable” defined in this case?

As I rode home on my commuter train, I started thinking about the venerable tradition of trying to predict how various newspapers and magazines would react to the end of the world. You know, like this:

USA Today: WE’RE DEAD

The Wall Street Journal: DOW JONES PLUMMETS AS WORLD ENDS

National Enquirer: OJ AND NICOLE, TOGETHER AGAIN

The New York Times: MILLIONS SEE HUMAN IN SKY, CLAIM IT’S JESUS CHRIST; CLINTON ADMINISTRATION BLAMES RELIGIOUS RIGHT

Inside: Commentary by Stephen Hawking, Anthony Lewis, A.N. Wilson, Harold Kushner, Steven Jay Gould, Yanni

So with that in mind, I offered up a few commuter-train tweets along those lines, reacting to the news of the first Latinio pope. Please add your own in the comments pages! I’m stumped on The National Catholic Reporter angle.

Also, who will get the first reaction quote from the omnipresent Father Thomas Reese, who is, of course, a Jesuit.

We can also use the comments section as an open thread zone on reactions to early coverage, backed with URLs for the good, the bad and the obvious.

So let’s start with some of those tweets. Please excuse some of the typos. I have old, un-hip thumbs.

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The high cost of waiting for the action in Rome

Friends, Romans and other anxious news consumers, some of you may not have seen the following update from Poynter.org about the current status of one of America’s most skilled scribes on all things inside-Catholic:

During an interview this weekend with Philadelphia Inquirer culture reporter Stephan Salisbury, Vatican blogger Rocco Palmo whipped out his iPad and canceled his flight to Rome.

Palmo had planned to be near the Vatican for the next two weeks of historic doings, but the cost of the trip proved too much. “The hotels!” he exclaims. “The media people going over are getting hosed!”

“People in Rome were calling me up this morning saying, ‘If you don’t come now you’re finished on this beat,” Palmo said in a phone interview with Poynter Sunday night. “It wasn’t out of intimidation but it was out of a concern with me for my work: ‘You’ve worked for this, you’ve earned it to be here.’ ”

However, the patriarch of the popular Whispers in the Loggia site is not in Italy at the moment. I was hoping that some major news network would snatch him up as an expert commentator, but, alas, that has not happened. I emailed Palmo to confirm his current location and he just rang my cell to let me know that he is still in Philadelphia, reporting and writing away — as always.

The question, for Palmo, is whether reporters actually need to be there — other than the obvious fact that television professionals have to be on site to get footage of the white smoke, the first comments from the balcony, the light on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, etc., etc.

Talking to Poynter, he also added:

Palmo also questioned the utility of covering the conclave on the scene: He expects cell phone service to be overwhelmed in St. Peter’s Square during the announcement of the new pope, and he may end up watching the big moment on TV in his room just so he can file.

Indeed, what Palmo keeps referring to as the first “social media conclave” means not just more competition but that he might be able to suss out developments better from home. … The announcement of a new Pope is a story “that lasts three seconds,” Palmo said, adding that “what matters is what happens once he starts hitting the ground.”

I would trust Palmo to know that his key sources will remain in touch with him through the same channels they have used in the past. The man is what he is.

But we are also seeing one of the truths of this digital age lived out in this conclave. There are fewer mainstream sharks in the news ocean, right now, which means that the make-up of the press army in Italy has almost certainly changed. To be blunt, there are fewer veteran Godbeat reporters around and, on top of that, there are fewer from organizations that afford the high cost of staying on the scene.

Which brings us to this sad reality: Opinion is cheap and information is expensive.

You can expect lots and lots of opinion from Rome in the days ahead. Many of the true pros couldn’t make the trip, because the expenses are just too high. The longer this story rolls on (with late arriving cardinals holding up the proceedings), the higher the bills will get.

That leads me to this question: Is there some chance that the Vatican powers that be are rather enjoying making the press cool it? Yes, I know that the Vatican’s leaders are concerned about leaks.

But still, what is the message between the lines in this Washington Post report and others like it?

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That minister of humor unloads on the pope coverage

The thought for the day and, perhaps, for the next week or two, care of Father James Martin, the chaplain of The Colbert Report and author of the essential “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.”

The problem, as you will see in this Facebook entry, is that — other than a choice poke or two — I don’t think this particular Jesuit is laughing at the moment. Hang on.

The conclave hasn’t even started, and I’m already submerged by a sea of stupid articles, idiotic commentary and boneheaded op-eds about the Catholic Church, by people who have no clue what they’re talking about. I’m not talking about people with whom I disagree, or who challenge me with new ways of thinking about the church, but writers who seem completely clueless about the most basic concepts. Some of this is to be expected: the church is a highly complex institution with 2,000 of history behind it.

But the number of misinformed articles I’ve read about celibacy, the priesthood, the papacy, the church in this country, the causes of the sexual abuse crisis, church authority, papal infallibility, the role of the magisterium, life in a religious order, the vow of chastity, and Benedict XVI, just boggles the mind. Or at least my mind, which perhaps is too easily boggled. Needless to say, I don’t expect commentators to know everything about the church. (I sure don’t.) But I think it’s a reasonable to expect that people should refrain from commenting (especially publicly) on stuff that they clearly don’t know much about.

Wait, there’s more! Trust me on that.

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‘Resignation,’ ‘abdication’ and worries about an ‘antipope’?

I visit the Twitter-verse every now and then, but don’t munch all the way through the streams of data the way some folks do.

However, the Divine Mrs. MZ Hemingway does dwell therein and sent this tweet my way:

Grant Gallicho @gallicho

Hey @GetReligion, are you planning correcting your egregiously incorrect claims about the papal resignation? #pope

This shot over the bow refers, of course, to the item I put up the other day pointing GetReligion readers toward a post at the new website, “Religion Q&A: The Ridgewood Religion Guy Answers your Questions.” The “guy” in question is, of course, one of the top religion-beat professionals of the late 20th Century — Richard Ostling, now retired after decades at Time and then the Associated Press.

Ostling had stressed that the proper word for the action taken the other day by Pope Benedict XVI was “abdication,” not “resignation.” The Guy added:

The timing is notable, coming just before Ash Wednesday without waiting till after Holy Week. Far more amazing is the resignation itself. Like England’s monarchs or certain other religious dynasts, popes simply do not resign. The last one who did, Gregory XII, stepped down in a 1415 A.D. emergency deal to end the ruinous Great Schism with its rival pontiffs. Benedict’s move, by contrast, was purely personal. He said he “repeatedly examined my conscience before God” and decided he lacked the physical strength for “an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

Now, ever since then I have followed the debates back and forth about this about the proper translations of the Latin laws, etc., etc. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the word “abdicate” is the appropriate term, but it would be a stretch say — as I did in the headline on my post — that “resign” has been proven wrong, or inaccurate.

In my own writing, I have been using phrases such as the “pope’s decision to end his papacy” or that he decided to “step down” from St. Peter’s throne. This is a case where copy desks are making their own decisions, which often happens when laws are written in one language and news copy is written in another.

The glass is kind of half full or half empty, at the moment, and I’m seeing some interesting points of view on both side.

Which raises another complex and even more interesting issue, in the eyes of some Catholic thinkers.

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WWROD: No, Pope Benedict XVI did not ‘resign’

To my shock, no one out in cyberspace filed a pope-retirement question over at veteran religion-reporter Richard Ostling’s handy new website, “Religion Q&A: The Ridgewood Religion Guy Answers your Questions.”

Come on folks! The retired Time and Associated Press scribe is out there willing to give you input on the kinds of news-related questions that often pop up here in the GetReligion comments pages. Ostling wants to provide basic info. Take him up on it!

Lacking a question from a reader, Ostling provided his own topic.

The obvious topic for the day: The decision by the elderly Pope Benedict XVI to abdicate — not resign — the Throne of St. Peter.

Yes, “resign” is easier to fit into news headlines. The problem is that a pope has no one to resign to, other than God. The correct word is “abdicate.”

This passage struck me as especially interesting. Take it away, Ostling:

The Guy leaves it to expert Vaticanologists to assess this Pope’s accomplishments during a reign of just under eight years. But the resignation will surely be regarded as his most significant act. A highly traditional priest has taken a highly radical step. He may be implicitly questioning his close colleague and predecessor John Paul II, who felt a duty during decline to hang on till death.

Regardless, Benedict has forever changed his sacred office. All future popes will face the question of abdication when they reach a phase of physical or mental limitations. The resignation signals to the world Benedict’s awareness that John Paul permanently altered expectations for the ancient office. Popes are now globe-trotters and media stars, not the mysterious and remote figures of old. And in the age of the Internet and cable news, important policy moves (e.g. how to handle those unending and dispiriting priestly molestation scandals) can no longer to delayed for months — or years.

In short, a revolutionary act by a very traditional Catholic leader.

How long ago was it that he went live on Twitter?

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Cardinal Dolan dares to tweak the NYTimes

If you’ve paid attention to religion news at all in recent days, you probably know that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has responded to the latest attempt by the White House (.pdf here) to draw a legal line between religious liberty in church pews and freedom of religious expression in the marketplace and the rest of American life.

The bishops’ key point appears to be that this latest version of the Health and Human Services mandate “falls short” of the mark.

The New York Times put it this way:

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the latest White House proposal on health insurance coverage of contraceptives, saying it did not offer enough safeguards for religious hospitals, colleges and charities that objected to providing such coverage for their employees.

The bishops said they would continue fighting the federal mandate in court. … The bishops said the proposal seemed to address part of their concern about the definition of religious employers who could be exempted from the requirement to offer contraceptive coverage at no charge to employees. But they said it did not go far enough and failed to answer many questions, like who would pay for birth control coverage provided to employees of certain nonprofit religious organizations.

In the eyes of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is also the current leader of the U.S. bishops, that simple word “rejected” does not capture the full intent of his organization’s response. Thus, he took to his blog to say:

Unfortunately, there were some news reports today that claimed the bishops “rejected” the White House proposal, ignoring the fact that we bishops said, “we welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.”

Now, my goal here is not to argue with Dolan on his point about the accuracy of that “rejected” paraphrase.

Instead, I would like to voice a hearty “amen” to the post written by the omnipresent Rocco Palmo over at “Whispers in the Loggia” in which he notes a significant trend — which is the willingness these days of Catholic leaders to use social media and/or the Internet to directly debate major newsrooms about issues of content and interpretation.

Palmo writes:

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GetReligion turns nine: Thoughts on comments and trolls

So, friends and neighbors, if we are going to do some intense navel-gazing here at GetReligion (nine years into this project), then I will assume that it’s fair game to briefly pay some attention to a different set of navels.

So a blogger named Baldur Bjarnason decided to do a bit of reflecting on the lessons he learned about online writing during 2012. All of his reflections were worth reading, but I was especially struck by his blunt thoughts on what kind of material draws comments from readers (and the nature of those comments).

As I have said many times, GetReligion is not an opinion blog about religion news and trends, it is a commentary blog about the highs and lows of mainstream media attempts to cover religion news and trends. We are strong advocates of old-school American journalism, with an emphasis on accuracy, balance and fairness to voices on both sides of hot-button topics.

Many readers simply cannot grasp what we are doing, or choose to ignore the journalism angle.

That has always been the case, but since this blog’s move to the Patheos universe there has definitely been an increase in the number of readers who click “comment” and then comment on the religious and cultural issues in the posts, rather than on the journalism hooks in the posts. I would say that, on my posts, I end up spiking about 50 percent of all comments. The goal is to try, try, try to discuss religion-news coverage.

Bjarnason faces different challenges, but several of his comments, for me, hit close to home. Some samples:

* There is little to no discourse online. What you get are dug in factions and people’s opinion on you are based solely on whether your argument supports what they have chosen to be ‘their team’. If you try and stick to facts and logic, most factions will reject you. It’s ideological trench warfare and the best you can hope for is that the machine-gun nests don’t notice you. …

* People love to send you argumentative, angry, or otherwise negative emails. That is, if they aren’t asking you to work for free.

* Praise is generally only handed out on disposable media, like Twitter, and rarely anywhere where it counts (like blogs, reviews, or other writing). … A remarkable number of people will only say nice things to your face, in private, and never in public. …. The end result is that positive feedback is ephemeral while negative feedback gets preserved forever on angry blogs, comments and forums. …

* You can trust that ideas that are new and unfamiliar to an audience will be either ignored or met with anger.

* Nobody cares when you’re right but a lot of people really enjoy it when you’re wrong. They will rub it in your face.

* There’s no way to tell beforehand which bits you make will take off and which won’t. That nicely written, funny, and informative post will go down like a feminist speech at a men’s rights convention while the quick info-dump written and posted in less than an hour takes off and gets stratospheric traffic.

* There is absolutely no correlation between how much work you put into a post or a piece of writing and how much attention it gets.

* Nasty people are incredibly persistent while nice people go off having lives of their own (they have lives because they are not nasty).

* The only thing people like more than a post that states the obvious is an angry post that states the obvious. Angry and unreasonable will easily get ten times the attention of even-handed and rational. …

There’s much more, but I focused on the really negative stuff (cue: rim shot and cymbal splash) so that more people would comment.

Please keep reading.

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Nah-nah-nah-nah: Navel-gazing at ninth anniversary

So tmatt kicked off the GetReligion ninth anniversary celebration over the weekend.

As we contemplate the future of this site dedicated to critiquing the mass media’s coverage of religion news, we want to hand the microphone to you, kind reader.

Why do you read GetReligion?

Yes, we’re fishing for compliments. But hey, it’s our birthday, so indulge us, OK?

And if you’ll say something nice, we’ll let you offer a little constructive criticism, too.

Here are a few questions to consider:

What kinds of posts do you enjoy most? Least?

What could we do to increase our number of comments and foster better conversations?

What improvements could we make in our content, approach or presentation?

The microphone is all yours.

Image via Shutterstock

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