Will Pope Francis embrace all the ‘progressive’ nuns?

Journalists are rarely true prophets, but they often try to look into the future and see what they want to see — often with the help of long-time sources on one side of an issue who are also anxious to see what they want to see.

The sources for these wish-fulfillment stories are real. The quotes are real and almost always valid. The issue addressed in a trial-balloon story of this kind may be timely. However, it is crucial to note that these reports rarely feature quotations from people on the other side of whatever hot-button issue is being, allegedly, covered.

That appears to be the case with the recent Los Angeles Times story that ran under the headline, “Vatican observers look for thaw between Pope Francis, U.S. nuns.”

The lede is a picture perfect:

When the Vatican censured an organization representing thousands of American nuns, it did so in part because the group had not spoken out enough against gay marriage and abortion.

The Vatican said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had espoused “radical feminist themes,” adding, “Issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching.”

Now, some observers of the Roman Catholic Church are wondering whether the arrival of a new pope will thaw the frosty relationship between the nuns and the Holy See.

You can just feel the yearning, can’t you?

Now, all kinds of people observe the Vatican and some even know what they are talking about.

So who are the voices of conservative Catholic authority in this piece who believe that Pope Francis is going to embrace the DOCTRINAL STANDSclick here for a refresher — taken by these progressive nuns? As you read the piece, look for traditional Catholic voices who believe that this pope is going to be “inclusive” when it comes to their doctrinal views on abortion, salvation, Christology and, well, neopagan approaches to faith?

Again and again, it must be stressed that the Vatican, even under Pope Benedict XVI, praised these nuns for their stands on poverty and social justice. Yet the Los Angeles Times piece, as you would expect, notes:

In September, 17 months after the censure, Pope Francis said: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” Since he took office in March, the pontiff has also repeatedly spoken about the need for economic justice, which would seem to match the nuns’ emphasis on serving the poor.

Meanwhile, I can’t find a single conservative or centrist Catholic voice quoted in the piece. Did I miss someone?

Instead, the story does a fine job of repeating the mantra that “some observers” think this and that “some actions” of the new pope can be interpreted as favorable to the progressive nuns by these clusters of nameless observers at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, there are — as there should be — on the record quotes from some academics who back the editorial viewpoint of this story.

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Does ‘Pope Francis effect’ mean a Catholic growth trend?

The best journalists report what they know — and what they don’t.

Given the flurry of positive press for Pope Francis in 2013, a journalist easily could produce a three-anecdotes-make-a-trend story on how the new pope with a sky-high approval rating has brought a numerical resurgence to the Roman Catholic Church.

But Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazetteone of our favorite Godbeat pros — didn’t do that. He stuck to the facts (thank you, ma’am) in a recent story on Francis’ impact on the church:

It’s been called the “Pope Francis effect.”

Priests locally and internationally say they’re seeing a bump in interest in the church through the pope.

But while there are anecdotes of people joining or returning to the church under the influence of Francis, there’s no proof yet that such anecdotes add up to a broad trend.

Pope Francis’ name and @pontifex Twitter handle have become some of the most searched terms on the Internet. The pontiff has been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year and he enjoys high popularity in polls — rated favorably by four in five U.S. Catholics and more than half the American general public, according to the Pew Research Center. Italian priests tell researchers they see a rise in Mass attendance.

But since Francis became pope, there is no measurable increase in Americans either identifying themselves as Catholic (around 22 percent) or in reporting they’re attending Mass more frequently (with about 40 percent continuing to say they attend weekly), according to Pew.

But isn’t it a little early to see fluctuations in such statistics, you ask? Exactly.

Keep reading:

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LATimes: ‘Congregationalist’ Obama quotes Pope Francis

This is what passes for news in Washington these days: an immensely famous politician is having a speech prepared and instructs their speechwriters to quote another immensely famous person, because immensely famous person No. 2 says some things immensely famous person No. 1 likes.

Except, it turns out, when immensely famous person No. 1 actually disagrees with immensely famous person No. 2.

What it is the kids say? Oh, yes: “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.”

Sorry to be so arch so soon after Christmas, but that’s how I felt after even a casual reading of The Los Angeles Times‘ nearly breathless report on President Obama quoting some of Pope Francis’ recent comments about income inequality.

If, in the recent near-deluge of reporting on the HealthCare.gov rollout you’re longing for a straight shot of fawning press coverage of the president circa 2009, I believe I found your “fix” — at least at the start of this report. (The admiration fizzles towards the end.) Read this:

WASHINGTON – When a White House speechwriter turned in a draft of a major speech on economic policy this month, President Obama sent it back with an unusual instruction: Add a reference to the pope.The final version of the speech quoted directly from Pope Francis’ recent letter to the faithful: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?” he said.

The citation marked a notable development in Obama’s complex and sometimes confrontational relationship with the Roman Catholic Church: After several years of high-profile clashes with U.S. bishops, Obama is seizing the chance to highlight common ground with the bishop of Rome.

Quoting the pope isn’t likely to yield direct electoral dividends for Obama’s party — the once-vaunted “Catholic vote” largely disappeared long ago. But in a string of effusive praise, the president has made clear he sees the pope as a like-minded thinker and potentially useful ally in a crucial battle of ideas, particularly on the importance of shrinking the gulf between rich and poor, a subject Obama has pushed repeatedly but with limited success.

White House officials described the president’s praise of the pope as merely a happy coincidence with no political motives. Obama, who has never spoken to Francis, simply found the pontiff’s recent statements impressive, they said.

“It’s something that is very much on the president’s mind,” said Cecilia Muñoz, chief domestic policy advisor to the president. “And, happily for us, it’s something that’s also on the pope’s mind.”

Yes, there’s a lot on this pope’s mind, and we’ll get to that in just a moment. Let’s go back to something that seems to have glided by editors at The Los Angeles Times: “Obama, who has never spoken to Francis, simply found the pontiff’s recent statements impressive, they said.”

I’ve never worked in The White House and can’t really judge how a president should or shouldn’t act, but is it really unheard of for a POTUS to at least schedule a phone conversation with a pontiff once said pontiff is elected? Vatican City is a “state” with which the United States has diplomatic relations, and Pope Francis is the chief executive of that state. Yet Obama has never spoken with him? Not even after both men became Time‘s “Person of the Year”?

Then again, perhaps there are some elements of Francis’ message that might make such a conversation a bit awkward, such as a politician treating the pope’s worldview as a buffet: sample this, but don’t touch the other. To its credit, the Times captures this, albeit with the seemingly requisite snark towards Obama’s GOP predecessors, (leaving one to imagine that Pope John Paul II and President Bill Clinton were perhaps soulmates):

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Pod people: What was top 2013 story for Pope Francis?

I am sure that GetReligion readers will be shocked, shocked to know that the Godbeat professionals in the Religion Newswriters Association selected the election of Pope Francis Superstar as the top religion-news story of 2013. It goes without saying that Pope Francis was also named Religion Newsmaker of the Year.

Click here to read the official RNA release about the Top 10 stories of the year.

Faithful GetReligion readers will also be shocked, shocked to know that I understood the logic of the RNA vote, but had a slightly different take on the top news event or trend in 2013.

And finally, GetReligion podcast patrons will be shocked, shocked to know that host Todd Wilken and I dissected all of this material, and more, in this week’s “Crossroads” episode. Please click here to listen to that.

So here is my logic about this No. 1 story vote.

Of course I understand that the election of Pope Francis produced more headlines and glowing ink over the last year than any other religion-beat story. In terms of mainstream news coverage, the election of the charismatic, yet walk-his-talk humble, pope had to be one of the most powerful earthquakes in this past year’s news — period.

But stop and think about it.

How long has it been since the occupant of St. Peter’s throne resigned his post? That would be 600 years or so, right? Thus, one could make the case that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was one of the most important stories in Catholicism, and thus, Western Christianity in, well, decades — at the very least. Try to imagine the long-term ramifications of Benedict’s astonishing exit.

So how can a story be one of the most important stories in Western religion in DECADES and not be the most important religion story of the YEAR?

I know, I know. Pope Francis was the religion-news earthquake of 2013 and that’s that. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI finished in second place.

Well, I have one more angle I would like readers to pause and consider. Here’s how I put it in this week’s “On Religion” column for the Universal Uclick syndicate:

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Pope Francis and the press: What Elizabeth Tenety said!

First came the religion-beat buzz about Pope Francis being named Person of the Year by the powers that be at Time magazine.

I had some thoughts on one or two elements of that piece that some GetReligion readers thought were a bit unkind (if not snarky), in part because I thought that the cover story — while very admirable in its coverage of this man’s life and pre-Vatican ministry — ended up telling us just as much about the cultural views of the Time editors (concerning the Sexual Revolution, of course) as it did this pope’s statements and actions on matters of the Catholic faith.

In particular, I stand by the following:

Simply stated, the pope wants the emphasis in his church to be on showing mercy to sinners — an equation that connects the repentance of sin with sacraments that bring healing and forgiveness. The problem, of course, is that the Time essay has little to say about what Pope Francis does or doesn’t believe about sin. …

If the Time editors insist on judging Pope Francis primarily by his stands on culture-war issues — to a degree that is strikingly similar to the pope’s harshest critics on the right — then they will need to be careful, paying close attention to the actual content of his actions and words. Hint: Heed and study his thoughts on sin.

Stay tuned.

Now, the Time cover story has inspired a remarkably candid essay from “On Faith” editor Elizabeth Tenety, whose writings on all things Catholic are always worth dissecting and then stashing away for later reference.

The headline was certainly a grabber and provoked some buzz online and in email circles that reach me from time to time: “Like Pope Francis? You’ll love Jesus.”

Read it all, of course, but here are some key samples. Right up top, after samples of go-Francis-go raves from The Huffington Post and Gawker, there is this:

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On Pope Francis: What matters most is, ‘Who am I to judge?’

Pope Francis has been warned. The powers that be at Time magazine have named him the Person of the Year, but they are watching him carefully to make sure he measures up to their expectations.

This magisterial cover story, as readers would expect, covers a tremendous amount of ground as it moves from the pope’s roots in the slums and decaying power structures of Argentina to the often troubled halls of power inside the Vatican. Over and over readers are reminded — appropriately so — of the degree to which the humble Pope Francis has tried to walk the talk when ministering to the poor and needy.

The lovely opening anecdote describes the annual visits — via ordinary mass transit and shoe leather — of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to a parish in one of the darkest and most dangerous neighborhoods in greater Buenos Aires.

Traveling alone, he would transfer onto a graffiti-blasted tram to Mariano Acosta, reaching where the subways do not go. He finished the journey on foot, moving heavily in his bulky black orthopedic shoes along Pasaje C. On other days, there were other journeys to barrios throughout the city — so many in need of so much, but none too poor or too filthy for a visit from this itinerant prince of the church. Reza por mí, he asked almost everyone he met. Pray for me.

When, on March 13, Bergoglio inherited the throne of St. Peter — keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven — he made the same request of the world. Pray for me.

This is the overarching theme of the piece: Pope Francis covets the prayers of ordinary people as he bravely attempts to make changes in an ancient bureaucracy. He is pictured — accurately, according to many who know him — as a pragmatic pastor who is more interested in actions than mere words. He wants to change structures as well as how the Catholic church is perceived. He wants to reach out to marginalized people, rather than focusing primarily on winning policy fights in the public square.

In other words, saith the lords of Time:

… (This) new Pope may have found a way out of the 20th century culture wars, which have left the church moribund in much of Western Europe and on the defensive from Dublin to Los Angeles. But the paradox of the papacy is that each new man’s success is burdened by the astonishing successes of Popes past. The weight of history, of doctrines and dogmas woven intricately century by century, genius by genius, is both the source and the limitation of papal power. It radiates from every statue, crypt and hand-painted vellum text in Rome — and in churches, libraries, hospitals, universities and museums around the globe. A Pope sets his own course only if he can conform it to paths already chosen.

And so Francis signals great change while giving the same answers to the uncomfortable questions. On the question of female priests: “We need to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” Which means: no. No to abortion, because an individual life begins at conception. No to gay marriage, because the male-female bond is established by God. “The teaching of the church … is clear,” he has said, “and I am a son of the church, but” — and here he adds his prayer for himself — “it is not necessary to talk about those issues all the time.”

And what? “And here he adds his prayer for himself?”

The key to this cover story, which has a sobering tone than many readers might expect, is that the editors of Time make it clear that it is ultimately not up to Pope Francis to end the culture wars, in Rome or anywhere else. The bottom line is that the Catholic church is divided and, no matter what the pope says, the church’s “progressive” wing will also need to wave the fight flag if there is going to be a declaration of peace.

Yes, this pope is asking people on both sides of the Catholic divide to quit bickering and to roll of their sleeves and get to work helping the poor and the lost. That would be nice, suggests this piece, but everyone really knows that other issues are more important. What are the key issues for Time?

That is made perfectly clear in this lengthy passage that is at the heart of the essay:

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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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Hey WPost: What did Pope Francis say about abortion?

It is a serious understatement to note that Pope Francis has made more than his share of news during the honeymoon months of his papacy. Mainstream reporters have rushed to cover almost everything this charismatic leader has had to say.

The “almost everything” clause is, however, rather important.

It was news, for example, when the pope said that the church has been unbalanced in its approach to promoting it’s teachings on the sanctity of life, stressing public-square politics over pastoral care. Yes, the word “obsessed” was worthy of big headlines. However, days later, journalists on this side of the Atlantic ignored his ringing words at a global conference focusing on abortion and other family life issues. So some pronouncements on abortion are newsworthy and others are not.

Now, Pope Francis has released an important “apostolic exhortation” — the title is Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) in which, in very popular language, he addresses a wide range of topics, everything from global economics to improving the preaching in local pulpits.

So what is grabbing the headlines? Consider the top of this The Washington Post report:

Pope Francis on Tuesday sharply criticized growing economic inequality and unfettered markets in a wide-ranging and decidedly populist teaching that revealed how he plans to reshape the Catholic Church.

In his most authoritative writings as pontiff, Francis decried an “idolatry of money” in secular culture and warned that it would lead to “a new tyranny.” But he reserved a large part of his critique for what he sees as an excessively top-down Catholic Church hierarchy, calling for more local governance and greater inclusiveness — including “broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church.”

The 50,000-word statement is the latest sign that Francis intends to push the church in a new direction.

Viewing the document through a DC Beltway lens, the Post team also jumped — appropriately, I think — on the fact that Pope Francis used a strikingly American term during his discussion of the weaknesses of unfettered capitalism. His content was very similar to similar statements by the Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, but in this case the style is crucial.

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Francis wrote in the papal statement. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

“Meanwhile,” he added, “the excluded are still waiting.”

Although Francis has previously raised concerns about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, the direct reference to “trickle-down” economics in the English translation of his statement is striking. The phrase has often been used derisively to describe a popular version of conservative economic philosophy that argues that allowing the wealthy to run their businesses unencumbered by regulation or taxation bears economic benefits that lead to more jobs and income for the rest of society. Liberals and Democratic officials have rejected the theory, saying it is contradicted by economic evidence.

This is certainly a very important section of “The Joy of the Gospel.” However, it is very, very interesting to note that the Post article — after the earlier media firestorm about this pope’s words on abortion — completely ignores the strong passage in the new document about abortion and related issues. The passage even, like the “trickle-down” reference, includes a word that can be seen as linked to political and theological battles in America and elsewhere.

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