Pumping the Papacy for Headlines

A comment came up in my combox the other day which said, “Why so much time analyzing the pope and his message? Why can’t we hear more about Jesus?”

I was suddenly sympathetic. My own writing revolves increasingly around the papacy. That’s because a major Catholic website, Aleteia, has commissioned me to be their “pope watcher.” When the secular press comment on the papacy I am encouraged to write an article which puts the true Catholic perspective and brings a deeper insight into what is happening in the church.

The secular press know that celebrities sell. That’s why the articles and comment on Pope Francis continue to be pumped out every day. Furthermore, they know that celebrities sell whether the news is good or bad. In fact, they usually continue to sell the celebrities by creating some drama. First they pump the celebrity up then they pull him down. Then they pump him up. Then they pull him down. The drama of a person being first flavor of the month and then a fall guy of the month is a regular part of the manufactured news cycle.

This was what they did to that poor soul, Diana the Princess of Wales. First she was everybody’s dream princess and one of the world’s most beautiful women. Next she was a neurotic, bimbo–a stupid girl who was out of her depth. Then she was back up again as a wounded victim, a poor helpless waif–and underdog persecuted by the establishment. They’ll do the same thing with the pope if they can.

With the present two popes the news hounds have a perfect combination. They can write glowing reports about Francis on the one hand, while they paint Benedict as the Dark Sith Lord Palpatine on the other. This kind of self induced drama provides a narrative which can go on and on. Anybody who knows soap operas, screenwriting or writing of any kind knows that you need a good guy and a bad guy–a white hat and a black hat.

So, for example, take this news article which reports that Pope Benedict had to issue a statement to counter all the absurd rumors that he 1. was forced to resign by the gay mafia 2. He wears the white cassock and zuchetto because he secretly still thinks he’s pope. 3. That his resignation was invalid because he was forced to step down.

When it pleases them I expect they will make Francis into an authoritarian pope who is all smiles on the outside, but a tyrant in secret. I can just see how it will turn. Francis will be portrayed as a smiling hypocrite who doesn’t deliver on the progressive agenda. Then who knows, Benedict may be portrayed as a kindly grandfather who is a kind of victim of the wicked world and who stands helplessly by as the church goes down the drain. Be prepared for most any manufactured narrative, as long as it sells.

Too many journalists submit to the temptation to either take a tidbit of news and pump it up into an attention grabbing headline or they exaggerate the importance of a story or manufacture complete lies. Why all the stupid, shallow obsession with red shoes or brown shoes and the determination to set Benedict against Francis? It is all a media manufactured soap opera–as substantial as bubbles. We’ve already had vile rumors that Pope Benedict was held ransom by the gay mafia because he himself is homosexual–and it is proven by how handsome Archbishop Ganswein is.

In the meantime there seems to be remarkably little truly informed, intelligent and wise comment on the papacy or the Catholic faith. When they’re not producing As the Vatican Turns they’re grinding out hysterical, ill informed hatchet jobs like the PBS Frontline documentary. Secret of the Vatican. Deacon Greg gives a round up of opinions about that program here.

In many ways my commenter makes the best point. While we continue to be fascinated by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, let’s use these men to point people to Jesus Christ–whose vicar on earth they are. Let’s treat them with respect and listen to their message. Let’s honor them, but stop treating them like celebrities.

The great thing about the papacy is that we really do believe that the Pope is the steward of Christ the King. He represents the King in the daily running of the Kingdom. In this role he stands in for the once and future King and it is right to focus on the pope in our daily attempt to focus on Christ the King.

If we are not careful we use the pope and our religion not only as a distraction from Christ the King, but as a substitute or even a barrier from the real encounter with Christ. As Lent begins it is my intention to turn my eyes once again on Christ the Lord. I’ll be sharing here on the blog and my homilies some practical ways to fix our eyes once more on the Lord and within our gaze keep focused on the reality and the reasons of our calling.

I’ll also be doing this throughout Lent in my free weekly newsletter FaithWorks! The newsletter is where I write not about issues and news, but focus on the practical practice of the Catholic faith. There are features articles on prayer, resources for Lent, points to Ponder, Catholic art and more. If you haven’t signed up to receive this by email go here.