Vote now! Time serves up correction of the year (updated)

It may be the religion-beat question of the year. So all together now: Why is Pope Francis so popular with mainstream journalists?

That’s the question that I keep hearing from a wide variety of readers and even journalists, no matter where I go — including a quick trip last week down to Buenos Aires for a conference on religion and the news. More on that in a minute.

To no one’s surprise, the media comet called Francis is in the short list to grace the cover of Time magazine as Man Of The Year for 2013.

Once again, the question is “Why”?

From the point of view of the professionals in the mainstream press, why is this pope so important and so, from their point of view, why is he so revolutionary?

Well, here’s why. Consider this tweet from Father James Martin:

Wait just a minute. What did the principalities and powers at Time actually write, in the online nomination promoting Pope Francis for this honor?

Does anyone out there have a screen shot they can share? The current version of the text has a fantastically symbolic correction and that’s that:

Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

As always, TIME’s editors will choose the Person of the Year, but that doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t have their say. Cast your vote for the person you think most influenced the news this year for better or worse – in both a straight yes/no poll and a candidate face-off. Voting closes at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 4, and the combined winner of our reader polls will be announced on Dec. 6. TIME’s Person of the Year will be announced Dec. 11. …

The first Jesuit Pontiff won hearts and headlines with his common touch and rejection of luxury.

And here comes the correction. Wait for it.

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Pope Francis’ affinity for liberation theology — wait, what?

For this post, we’re not going to critique past the first sentence of this New York Times story on Pope Francis headlined “Francis’ Humility and Emphasis on the Poor Strike a New Tone at the Vatican.” To be fair, that headline might have caused half of our Roman Catholic readers to spasm in response. But we’re not touching it. We’re going to look at just the first line. Here:

VATICAN CITY — He has criticized the “cult of money” and greed he sees driving the world financial system, reflecting his affinity for liberation theology.

Wait, what? Pope Francis’ “affinity” for liberation theology”? He sure has a curious way of showing that affinity, no?

Let’s go to John Allen over at National Catholic Reporter:

These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into “base communities” and political activism.

The Guardian:

A champion of those who rejected liberation theology, he was considered a candidate that everyone in the higher echelons of the church respects.

Catholic News Agency:

‘Chasm’ Exists Between Pope Francis and Liberation Theology
Even though the Holy Father has been praised by liberation theologians, he has always disagreed with that interpretation of the Gospel, even at the cost of finding himself isolated.

Catholic.org:

Bergoglio is an accomplished theologian who distanced himself from liberation theology early in his career.

From NPR and Michael Sean Winters:

Even as the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was blasting “the tyranny of the markets” and lamenting wealth inequality, he was standing firm against the spread of liberation theology — the leftist economic movement that swept the church in the 1970s and 1980s.

“He’s not afraid to duke it out with either the right or the left, inasmuch as neither system really delivers any authentic notion of liberation,” says Michael Sean Winters, who writes a blog for the .

Exactly. While neither this pope — nor many previous popes, to be honest — is a fan of capitalism, particularly capitalism uninformed by Christianity, that doesn’t necessarily make any of them liberation theologians.

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Any reporters out there still studying Pope Francis?

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This whole GetReligion operation, as regular readers know, exists to look at the good and the bad in the mainstream media’s attempts to cover religion news, events and trends.

Thus, we spend very little time focusing on essays published in advocacy journalism outlets.

Thus, we spend very little time focusing on coverage in religious publications that grind out news and information about individual religious flocks.

Thus, we spend very little time focusing on first-person journalism, since that often — but not always — is linked to journalism produced in a more “European,” opinion-driven style (see rule No. 1).

However, there are always exceptions to the rules. One of the most common exceptions is when we find first-person essays that are directly linked to the state of religion news coverage. There are also times when we come across a piece written by a world-class expert on some aspect of religion that we simply cannot imagine religion-beat professionals, and those who appreciate the subjects addressed by religion-beat professionals, would not wanting to read.

That is the case with the National Catholic Reporter piece that ran the other day by — naturally enough — the omnipresent John L. Allen Jr.

While armies of reporters are following each and every symbolic Vatican move made by Pope Francis, Allen hopped a plane and headed over to Buenos Aires to produce a piece with this logical headline: “Who Francis may be based on who Bergoglio was.”

It contains all kinds of information and quotes from real people who have watched the this quiet man for decades. Allen lets them talk, which means that when it comes time to sum up their words into observations and predictions about the new pope, it is highly likely that readers are going to believe him.

Religion-news junkies are going to want to read it all, but, in particular, I thought GetReligion readers would appreciate a few passages in which Allen shreds some of the early attempts to pin a simplistic label on Francis.

… It’s clear that despite the insta-hagiography that always surrounds a new pope, Bergoglio was hardly a cultural icon in Argentina before his election. He kept a low profile, and many Argentines say they’re getting to know him only now along with the rest of the world. …

It also seems clear that Bergoglio wasn’t perfect, despite the fact that it’s hard right now to find many Argentines willing to say so out loud. For instance, vocations to the priesthood have been falling in Buenos Aires on his watch, despite the fact they’re up in some other dioceses. Last year the archdiocese ordained just 12 new priests, as opposed to 40-50 per year when Bergoglio took over. (For the record, people say that Bergoglio did his best to support his priests and seminarians, taking a special interest in seminary life.)

The future pope also certainly had his critics. Some conservatives grouse that he was too committed to the social gospel and not enough to proclaiming the faith; some liberals saw him as an enemy of liberation theology and social emancipation. Others say Bergoglio could come off as fairly inscrutable and a bit “political.”

More than once, I heard a version of the following quip: “I didn’t know what he was really thinking … he is a Jesuit, you know!”

And the ultimate takeaway from this first-person study? Here are two of Allen’s conclusions, in abbreviated form:

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Was Pope Francis ‘anointed’ today? (UPDATED)

The New York Times has run, at last count, 10 pieces in the past six days bringing up the allegations that the new Pope assisted the old Argentine junta in the “Dirty War” period. Which is quite a lot for a story based on hearsay and supposition as opposed to evidence, no?

You can read George Conger’s post about other media outlets pushing the story.

Pope Francis was installed earlier today during a mass that received quite a bit of media interest.

One reader noted something about a CNN story on the matter. Here’s the relevant portion:

The Vatican geared up for the inauguration of the pope on Tuesday, a ceremony ushering in a new era for the Roman Catholic Church.

Anticipation mounted among the faithful across the globe awaiting a joyous and solemn chapter of Christian history. St. Peter’s Square will bustle with tourists, locals and pilgrims during the official Mass to install Francis as the bishop of Rome.

The choice of day to anoint him as the holy father of the Roman Catholic Church carries a rich symbolism: It is the day that Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph to honor Jesus’ father on Earth, the carpenter Joseph. It also happens to be Father’s Day in Italy.

So is it right to say that today he was “anointed” as the holy father of the Roman Catholic Church? Anointed has a few definitions. Let’s look at the Merriam-Webster offerings:

1: to smear or rub with oil or an oily substance
2:
a :to apply oil to as a sacred rite especially for consecration
b : to choose by or as if by divine election; also : to designate as if by a ritual anointment

From the reader:

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Is CNN pushing the “Dirty War” story?

Suggestions that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was morally complicit in the crimes of the Argentine junta during the 1970s “dirty war” have made the rounds of the press following his election last week as pope. However, the American and French newspapers have diverged in their coverage of the story with the French reporting the accusations but giving them little credence.

GetReligion reader Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz argues some American outlets have been pushing the story.

CNN decides to keep up the appearance that there’s something wrong with Pope Francis after the Vatican has very forcefully denied any wrongdoing on his part during the Argentine Dirty War.

Given the denials put out by the Vatican and the lack of evidence to substantiate the charge’s Mr. Szyszkiewicz notes:

This is simply keeping the story alive after it should be killed. Kinda like Pius XII.

In support of his argument the sites this piece in CNN entitled “Vatican denies claim that Pope Francis failed to protect Argentina priests”.  The article begins:

Vatican City (CNN) — The Vatican pushed back Friday against claims that Pope Francis failed to protect two fellow Jesuit priests who were kidnapped during Argentina’s military dictatorship. The accusations have resurfaced since the Argentine cardinal’s unexpected election to the papacy two days ago.

As pope the A book by investigative reporter Horacio Verbitsky accuses Francis, who was then Jorge Mario Bergoglio and was head of the country’s Jesuit order, of deliberately failing to protect the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, when they were seized by the navy. They were found alive five months later. But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, dismissed the claims — which date back to Argentina’s so-called Dirty War from 1976 to 1983 — as false and defamatory.

The CNN story then moves to quotes from Fr Lombardi and other church spokesman rejecting the accusations made by Horacio Verbitsky. (As an aside, context as to who was making the accusations might be helpful. Verbitsky is a supporter of Pres. Cristina Fernandez Kirchner and late husband Pres. Nestor Kirchner. Pope Francis as cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires has been a vociferous critic of the Kirchners that has led the fight against gay marriage, abortion, and governmental corruption and incompetence.)

Mr. Szyszkiewicz cites this transition in the CNN story as evidence of editorial bias trumping news reporting.

Nonetheless, the incident led to rumors and allegations that Francis was complicit in the dictatorship’s appalling atrocity — that he didn’t do enough to expose it and perhaps was even partly responsible for the priests’ prolonged detention, said Jim Nicholson, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Although the allegations against Francis have never been proved, they continue to haunt him, so much so that the human rights group Center for Legal and Social Studies in Argentina opposes Francis’ selection as pope. During the years of military dictatorship, up to 30,000 students, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftists disappeared or were held in secret jails and torture centers.

The claims against the new pope have cast a shadow over what has otherwise been widely viewed as a positive start for the new pontiff, who has embraced humility and simplicity. As pope, he will have other tough questions to deal with. He takes the helm of a Roman Catholic Church that has been rocked in recent years by sex abuse by priests, and claims of corruption and infighting among the church hierarchy.

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