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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NYTimes: Just WHO you callin’ a ‘conservative’ Catholic?

Sometimes I wonder if the leaders of The New York Times,among other media titans, take the late Justice Potter Stewart approach to obscentiy when deciding who is a “conservative” Roman Catholic.

The famous jurist, you may recall, said of so-called “hard-core” pornography:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” [Emphasis added.]

While many of our readers would probably place Pope Benedict XVI in the Catholic Church’s conservative wing, they’d also know he isn’t, say, in the “ultra-traditionalist” camp of, say, the Society of St. Pius X, a group whose relations with the Vatican are tenuous at best. His differences with Pope Francis, so far, are best described as differences of emphasis and style.

Hang in there with me: I do have a journalistic point to make.

The journalists who produced the recent Times piece under the headline, “Conservative U.S. Catholics Feel Left Out of the Pope’s Embrace” pin one label on all sorts of people who are disappointed in one way or another with the work of Pope Francis, without making much distinction as to who fits where under that broad label. They seem to “know it when [they] see it,” but the rest of us are left guessing.

The beginning is poignant enough:

When Pope Francis was elected in March, Bridget Kurt received a small prayer card with his picture at her church and put it up on her refrigerator at home, next to pictures of her friends and her favorite saints.

She is a regular attender of Mass, a longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement and a believer that all the church’s doctrines are true and beautiful and should be obeyed. She loved the last two popes, and keeps a scrapbook with memorabilia from her road trip to Denver in 1993 to see Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day.

But Ms. Kurt recently took the Pope Francis prayer card down and threw it away.

“It seems he’s focusing on bringing back the left that’s fallen away, but what about the conservatives?” said Ms. Kurt, a hospice community educator. “Even when it was discouraging working in pro-life, you always felt like Mother Teresa was on your side and the popes were encouraging you. Now I feel kind of thrown under the bus.”

All right, it’s clear that Kurt doesn’t like something that the pope has said.

However, this article doesn’t specify which statement made her upset — readers can only presume, given the “longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement” tag. I’d sure like to know a bit more of her thinking, and why she’s dubbed a “conservative” Catholic. There are and were, after all, politically “liberal” Catholics who also opposed abortion. Dorothy Day comes to mind here, and even Day might have been disappointed in some of the pope’s comments.

Perhaps there was more detail when the story was turned in. We’ll probably never know.

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Der Spiegel: Never let a good @Pontifex go to waste

The clear differences in the style of Pope Francis as opposed to his predecessors, both as Bishop of Rome and in his former position as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, have electrified the world media. Here, they exclaim, is a clergyperson who is “walking the talk” about living to serve others.

Few places seem to relish this new approach more than Der Spiegel, the German newsweekly issued forth from Hamburg, in the mostly-Protestant north of the country. On Sep. 14, in an article now translated into English, the magazine declares:

Last week Rudolf Voderholzer, 54, the bishop of the Bavarian city of Regensburg and one of Germany’s younger church leaders, was taken to task at the Vatican by the pope himself. In an admonishment to the German bishop and others attending a seminar for new bishops in Rome, Francis said: “Be close to the people and live as you preach. Always be with your flock, do not succumb to careerism and ask yourselves whether you are truly living as you preach.”

Now, there’s nothing in the official text of the speech to suggest a direct attack on Voderholzer or anyone else. In fact, the official text doesn’t even contain the exact words Der Spiegel is quoting here, though the English Spiegel text is a translation from the German; there might have been some modification in the process.

Regardless of translation, the current pope’s emphasis on austere and authentic living is clear, and it gives Der Spiegel a chance to bash both the German Catholic hierarchy and Francis’ predecessor, who just happens to be German as well:

“This is a new message for German princes of the church. Many of them have long cultivated a lifestyle oriented toward strict dogmas, prestige and a career within the church, much like former Pope Benedict XVI. But now that his successor arrives at meetings in an old car, there has been a fundamental shift. Loyalty to the pope is being completely redefined, and not just in Regensburg, where Voderholzer’s predecessor Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a fervent devotee of former Pope Benedict, alienated many Roman Catholics.”

After repeating the much-told bit about Pope Francis’ eschewing of the papal apartments for more modest quarters, Der Spiegel again hones in on national Catholic officials:

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Fox forces the Mass into Christmas

A friend put this picture up on Google+ (so I guess that answers the question of whether people still use Google+!). Around the same time, a reader submitted this story from Fox News, headlined:

Church devastated by super storm Sandy looks forward to Christmas mass 

At first I thought the reader submitted it because of the redundancy of calling worship on Christ’s Mass a “mass.” But that’s not why it was submitted, although it’s related to that issue.

For years The Oasis Christian Center had been a gathering place for the residents of Midland Beach, on the Eastern shore of Staten Island, New York.

“We’ve done our best,” Pastor Tim McIntyre said, “to reach our community with God’s love through food pantry and children’s programs, youth programs as well as our Sunday service.” …

McIntyre saw his church the day after the super storm. He says he didn’t think it would ever open its doors again, much less in time for Christmas mass.

Oasis Christian Center? Pastor Tim McIntyre? Mass?

The Mass is “the celebration of the Eucharist.” It is a term most commonly used by Roman Catholics, although other sacramental church bodies also use the term. Is Oasis Christian Center one of those?

I reviewed the quotes in the article and the church’s web site and I never found any mention of a Mass, Divine Service, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Communion, sacrament or the like.

Instead, there is information such as this:

What kind of church are we?

Oasis is a nondenominational church that is Biblical in practice and charismatic in expression. We are a Christ-centered community of faith that believes we have a mandate from heaven to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in our community.

We choose not be contentious about the non-essentials of the Christian faith, which version of the Bible we read, spiritual gifts, predestination, etc. There are a number of secondary beliefs that the leadership of Oasis is passionate about. Complete agreement is not required for those who choose to worship with us, but it should be known that we will preach, teach, and counsel in accordance with these theological convictions. It is important that we are all striving to diligently preserve unity and peace concerning these secondary beliefs.

It’s pretty clear that this is just a straight up error by the reporting. But it is somewhat funny, at least.


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