Early media failures in B16 resignation story

Early media failures in B16 resignation story February 11, 2013

Well that’s not the news I expected to wake up to! Pope Benedict has announced he’ll retire at the end of the month. And as Michael Brendan Dougherty writes:

There is no way I’m prepared for the ignorance about to be on display in the media

Joshua Trevino snarked:

Summing up most media comment: “Is it normal for the Pope to also be the Bishop of Rome? Will we see future Popes focus on just the Papacy?”

NBC host Chris Hayes weighed in:

All in all, a pretty lackluster (dare I say crappy?) papacy, right @michaelbd ?

And CNN’s Piers Morgan came out as the first Vatican Truther of the day:

As a Catholic, I’m not buying this. Popes don’t just quit because they’re tired.

What about the more august media institutions? Well, let’s look at the New York Times. It starts fine:

ROME — Citing advanced years and infirmity, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic world on Monday by saying that he would resign on Feb. 28 after less than eight years in office, the first pope to do so in six centuries.

OK, then we get some phrasing that makes a quote look a little scare-quotey in the second paragraph (but it’s just quoting and not scare quoting) and this in the third paragraph:

A profoundly conservative figure whose papacy was overshadowed by clerical abuse scandals, Benedict, 85, was elected by fellow cardinals in 2005 after the death of his predecessor, John Paul II.

Sigh. If the New York Times wants to offer the opinion that the papacy was overshadowed by the abuse scandals from decades ago, that’s fine. It’s not straight news journalism, but whatever. However, to present it as fact when it’s more the narrow-minded focus and deeply-held conviction of the newspaper itself, that’s not fine.

Later we get more:

The announcement plunged the Roman Catholic world into frenzied speculation about his likely successor and seemed likely to inspire many contrasting evaluations of a papacy that was seen as both conservative and contentious.

The Times picks the adjectives for how the papacy “was seen” (by whom were they seen, you might be asking).  They are, you will be shocked, “conservative and contentious.” Do we even need to bother with further evaluations? Seems like we’re done.

It was at this point that I checked out of the article:

When he took office, Pope Benedict’s well-known stands included the assertion that Catholicism is “true” and other religions are “deficient;” that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak; and that Catholicism is in competition with Islam. He had also strongly opposed homosexuality, the ordination of women priests and stem cell research.

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. OK, it’s a lie that the pope opposed stem cell research. I imagine what the reporters are trying and embarrassingly failing to grasp is that some religious groups oppose that stem cell research which destroys human life. They don’t oppose the (wildly more successful, but don’t tell the media) forms of stem cell research that don’t.

Stupid error on the part of the Times.

Meanwhile, what does it mean to “oppose homosexuality”? That term is false and meaningless. As for Benedict believing that Catholicism is true … well, I’m not entirely sure we need newspapers to tell us that. It’s like the punch line of a joke, and says infinitely more about secular media than it does the Roman Catholic Church.

I’m sure there’s more, but I need a breather before I continue the New York Times article.

You know your job: Tell us the best and worst of the media coverage you see. I’m sure we’ll be hitting this over and over again.

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64 responses to “Early media failures in B16 resignation story”

    • Both Pope Benedict and Sarah Palin were viciously persecuted for their pro-family values by the powerful liberal elites who run the media. Both are brave and that’s where the comparison ends. Each had their own personal reasons for resigning but they loved their state/Church enough to do what they felt was best for it. Name another politician who has that humility.

  1. “It’s like the punch line of a joke, and says infinitely more about secular media than it does the Roman Catholic Church.”

    Looks like the rhetorical question “Is the Pope a Catholic?” is not considered rhetorical over at the “New York Times”. Other shocking exclusives: Dalai Lama considers Buddhism is valid spiritual philosophy, Chief Rabbi of Israel inclines to opinion that Moses did indeed receive divine revelation, and Richard Dawkins thinks it’s all a bit silly, really.

    Haven’t seen much coverage, as I’m still trying to digest the news myself, but already I would like to punch Chris Hayes in the nose, and I don’t even know who Chris Hayes is (memo to Chris Hayes re: “lacklustre” papacy, there are a lot more like me out there who never even heard of you but do know who Benedict XVI is).

    • I am shocked, SHOCKED, that the Pope is not only Catholic but thinks the Catholic religion is superior to other religions.

  2. For the NYT, I didn’t think the article was too bad. That is, for the NYT. They waited all the way until the third paragraph to mention the scandal, and then buried details of that debacle on the second page online. They also didn’t speculate much on the names being floated about as a successor, unlike the AP story featured on Yahoo, which couldn’t wait. (Yahoo has since replaced the AP story with one from Reuters, and the AP story that I now find there is also edited some. When I read it this morning however, it speculated on successors, which is just bad form – like vultures circling.)

    I find a defect of disingenuousness in both articles. For the NYT, if you’re gonna mention that scandal, then you have to speculate as to whether Cardinal Mahoney – with all the junk that happened under HIS tenure in LA and with his recently being censored by his successor out there – will have the bad taste to show up for the conclave since he is still a cardinal elector.

    As for the AP story, if you’re gonna speculate, do so, say, at the beginning of the conclave when THAT would be the news. But if you’re gonna do it now, then it would help to take a quick look at the list of current electors. Some will become too old to vote this March, many were appointed by B-XVI versus JP-II, and among the JP-II appointees, many were appointed early versus late in his pontificate as there is a difference in character. (Hint: Mahoney is an early appointee.)

    Anyway, from the standpoint of a Catholic reading the secular press, I do believe we’re in for a wild ride.

  3. “The Pope’s leadership of 1.2 billion Catholics has been beset by child sexual abuse crises that tarnished the Church, one address in which he upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.”

    Reuters treats this like a political story and misuses the Catholic meaning of the term “scandal” in referring to the butler stealing papers. That’s not a scandal. It was terrible but not a scandal.

    “Before he was elected Pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known by such critical epithets as “God’s rottweiler” because of his stern stand on theological issues.” Doh! That was his job.

    “John Paul, one of history’s most popular pontiffs,” This ignore the really bad press JPII often received. Benedict had many more people showing up in St Peter’s Square for his religious talks on Sunday and mide-week than John Paul ever did. How are they measuring popularity, anyway?

    “critics accused him of turning back the clock on reforms by nearly half a century” What official reforms are they talking about? I’m unaware of anything he cancelled. John Paul was actually more conservative, but neither of them cancelled any reforms. And it was John Paul who turned a blind eye to the beginnings of the child abuse situation, not Benedict who fought to get the bad priests out of ministry – even before he was Pope.

    “Under the German’s meek demeanour lay a steely intellect ready to dissect theological works for their dogmatic purity and debate fiercely against dissenters.”

    This sounds rather negative. “dogmatic purity” “debate fiercely” Intellectually he holds his own would be a more neutral way of describing it. This is so slanted. He’s a professor, after all, but none of his students would describe him as Reuters does. Maybe they have a problem with a church with a 2,000 year old intellectual history on “dogma” which they obviously think is a bad word.

    “never managed to draw the oceanic crowds of his predecessor.” This is actually NOT true.


    • While scandal has a particular meaning to Catholics, it also has a common meaning, sans the religious aspect, and was used appropriately.

      What bothered me about most of the articles was their negativity. Few people have the strength to walk away from a position of power. The media should interpret his decision as an act of love for the R.C.C. and its followers, not a sign of weakness.

      • “The media should interpret his decision as an act of love for the R.C.C. and its followers”

        I don’t think this should be assumed, even if it’s been stated. After all, lets say, next week, the story breaks that this Pope’s resignation is all part of a vast conspiracy to undermine Science and pave the way for the new Catholic Dark Age (I mean, why not?) – I’d prefer it if the media didn’t jump to ANY conclusions, and just let us know who he is and what he’s doing, without addenda reinforcing ANY opinion, minority or majority.

    • Whenever one reads a media report saying the pope is “stern”( or “rigid”) for merely doing his job of upholding Catholic practices or teachings you know the reporter is a typical American spolied brat who, when he doesn’t get his way, rolls on the floor kicking and screaming.

    • I still hope for Arinze, so we can get photo ops for “The ‘Black Pope’ meets the black Pope.”

      Over at “City of Brass” (http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass/), Moslem commenter Poonawalla hopes that the college will ” finally accept reality and nominate [sic] someone from Latin America as the new Pope”, mentioning Carrera and Bergoglio

        • Since I still await an explanation of why one transcription is more valid than the one we used for centuries, when the “correct spelling” is not even in Roman letters…. I elect to annoy the PC Police.

          • I don’t know what the stylebook says, but as an Arabic speaker I can tell you that “Muslim” is a closer transliteration than “Moslem” (for most dialects of Arabic, anyway.) That’s what makes it “more valid” – it has nothing to do with PC Police.

          • Hi, thanks for the link. To answer your question, either “moslem” or “muslim” is historically accurate as a transliteration, but if you are out to annoy the “PC police” then you probably want to use “mohammedan”


          • “Mohammedan” is considered to imply that Muslims follow Muhammed in the same way that Christians follow Christ, which both Muslims and Christians should find offensive and false (as Muslims consider Muhammed a human prophet, and in no way the Son of God.) It’s also essentially a made-up term – you would never encounter a Muslim using its equivalent in Arabic to describe themselves. We’re not even talking political correctness here – just plain old correctness.

      • According to what’s up online, there are 118 cardinals currently of voting age (that is, below 80 years of age) and from this Wikipedia list, the largest single block is that of the Italians (26 eligible cardinals). Now, they won’t all vote for the one guy, so there will be horse-trading and politicking going on.

        I can’t see Cardinal Oeullet getting it, and much as I’d love to see Cardinal Arinze as pope, I don’t think he has a second bite at the cherry since the last conclave. The chances of a South American cardinal? Who knows? With a living if retired pope, there is going to be a lot of guessing about who he would favour as a successor.

  4. So far I haven’t seen anybody cite what Benedict said some years ago about there being no reason why a Pope could not resign if he thought he couldn’t carry out his duties. I think it was in one of those books that are essentially long, extended interviews.

    • I’ve seen that mentioned – though I’ve surfed so much coverage this morning that I can’t remember where! It was in “The Light of the World”, and Benedict essentially said that he thinks that no only *can* a pope resign, but that he *should*, if he were of weak mind or otherwise unable to carry out his duties.

    • T, the reason for the 600 years was because Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 in order to clear the way to resolve the Western Schism in which there were three popes at one time.

  5. In La Stampa, Tornielli does the citation:

    The Pope had alluded to the possibility of resignation – mentioned in the Code of Canon Law – in his interview with Peter Seewald published in a book entitled “Light of the World”, in November 2010: “When a Pope arrives at a clear awareness that he no longer has the physical, mental, or psychological capacity to carry out the task that has been entrusted to him, then he has the right, and in some cases, even the duty to resign.”


    • The authorised English translation (see p.30 of Ignatius Press edition) reads:-
      “Yes, if a Pope clearly recognises that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right, and under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”
      In answer to the preceding question (“Have you thought of resigning”) he said:-
      “When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the difficult situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it.” (ibid., p.29)

      The Holy Father was speaking in the last week of July 2010. What had MSM media been up to at around that time? It was in Lent 2010, remember, that numerous outlets were trying to pin direct complicity on him with regard to (a) the case of Peter Hullermann when JR was Archbishop of Munich and Freising [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/world/europe/14pope.html?ref=europe], and (b) the case of Lawrence Murphy in Wisconsin when JR was Prefect of the CDF [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/25/world/europe/25vatican.html?pagewanted=all]

  6. I think Benedict saw the shenanigans that occurred while John Paul was infirm and didn’t want that to happen on his watch. The story in my neck of the woods is that some papers were put in front of JP that named Braxton as new bishop of Belleville, but that by that time JP was not aware of much any more. Probably other things happened, too.

  7. “When he took office, Pope Benedict’s well-known stands included the assertion that Catholicism is “true”…”

  8. One thing for sure– some of the shoot-from-the hip instant media comments lay bare for all the world to see the media’s sometimes bottomless ignorance about the Catholic Church and its not unusual seething bigotry with regard to things Catholic and Christian.
    Sadly, hearing or reading some of the early media “takes” reminds one of the Paris sewers in Les Miserables. Pope Benedict XVI is (Egad!) a Catholic . And so wasn’t the fictional bishop-hero of Les Miz (who was based on a real bishop) . Saints come in many different models and are some of the instruments the Holy Spirit uses to guide the churches of apostolic foundation (Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, etc.)

  9. This just in from the communist loving NBC blog Jon Snowblog
    “The Pope’s resigned, so?
    It’s probably the most innovative thing he’s done as Pope.” …with this absurd admonition… “And I haven’t mentioned contraception and the implication that the church’s teaching has on the spread of AIDS in the developing world.”

    • Oh, really? How about the persistent statement that Catholics pray “to” the Pope?

      That made me want to cry.

  10. “The announcement plunged the Roman Catholic world into frenzied speculation”

    Well that’s just crappy clichéd writing. Things “plunge” people or groups into something else as often as tropical storms or hurricans “roar” ashore, “packing” so-and-so mile-per-hour winds. I guess the intent is to add color to the story, but this sentence is a brush with one bristle left. And I suspect the speculation will be one of the most measured and deliberate frenzies on record.

  11. Wolf Blitzer just asked the mayor of Los Angeles if as a Catholic, he hopes the next pope will “take a different position” on gay marriage. The mayor basically said “yes”.

    So it purported Catholics don’t get religion, why would the media?

    • Awwww, Thomas – you mean the Baptists or the Methodists or the Scientologists aren’t going to get a turn? No fair!


      I know, I know: they mean that the next guy is not likely to be the dream fulfilment of all the hopes of the Spirit of Vatican II where the Womenpriests would finally be legitimated and progress blossoms for great justice!

    • Thomas: a perfect example. Since we need a NYT trifecta of bad articles, how about “In keeping with his previous post as head of the church’s doctrinal office, Benedict used his papacy to discipline those who questioned church teaching.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/world/europe/for-benedict-clear-teachings-and-many-crises.html?ref=europe

      So the NYT would expect him to use his office to reward those who question his leadership? Did Punch Sulzberger do this? President Obama? Nancy Pelosi?

  12. Sari said: While scandal has a particular meaning to Catholics, it also has a common meaning, sans the religious aspect, and was used appropriately.

    What is the new common meaning? It seems to me to not fit a butler lifting papers. What “religious aspect” do you mean?

    • http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scandal


      An employee’s action reflects on his or her employer. When your employer is a person of stature, and you steal from them, especially confidential documents which contain sensitive information, your behavior provokes a scandal.

      In the links above, one reference makes no mention of the religious meaning (though that meaning does not hold cross-culturally) but includes the meaning in the history and etymology. The other does include the religious meaning, but also makes clear the secular and widely accepted meaning used by the media as well.

      The word was used correctly.

  13. It’s almost like postmodernism has descended into self-parody. I mean, who holds to a worldview if they don’t think it’s “true” and other worldviews are “deficient”? Maybe the folks at the NYT do, which would actually explain a lot.


  14. Sari: why not use the way the Catholic church has used the term for eons? The article is about the Catholic church after all. It has a technical meaning every bit as much as “terms of art” are used in the law. Words mean something.

  15. Sari: It would have been better for a secular newspaper to use “disgraceful” or some such.
    Just as a lawyer will interpret somebody’s use of the term manslaughter in a particular way, a Catholic is going to to interpret “scandal” in the way with which he/she is familiar. Why should the public be able to subvert the real meaning of a term that has been co-opted from a very long tradition when writing about that tradition?

    • Because Reuters writes to the general public, Julia, not exclusively to Catholics -and- because most people, many of whom happen to be Catholic, and probably the reporter, as well, are unfamiliar with the religious aspects of the word. I had never heard it, for instance. Neither had my husband. Or any of my friends, including those who attended Catholic schools K-12. All of which suggests that the religious meaning has or is becoming obscure and has fallen out of common parlance.

      Newswriters are best understood when they use the same vocabulary as their target audience. Disgrace is not synonymous with scandal; it lacks the publicity component, for starters. And it fails to acknowledge the potential for damaging *other* people’s reputations, including the Pope’s, as a consequence.

  16. Sari: scandal is giving very, very bad example that disheartens people from making the effort to act morally. That is not necessarily a religious issue – Catholics did not think this up yesterday – non-religious people can be moral and understand the problem of admired people or people in positions of authority doing public wrong which lessens young people’s respect for adults and the rules in their society.

    I can’t believe that an educated person, especially a Catholic person, never heard about “giving scandal” – really bad public behavior that lessens people’s beliefs in society. That’s why it’s scandalous when a Senator publicly does something really bad – it lessens people’s trust and belief in the honesty of their government. For most people that has nothing to do with religion. That’s why it’s scandalous (altho nowadays the horse has probably left the barn) when a popular movie star publicly has a child out of wedlock, doesn’t marry the father, and has public liasons with lots of guys – it sends a very bad message to teens about what is acceptable behavior. That’s not necessarily connected to religion, either.

    There’s also a problem with how people are using the term hypocritical, among others. I’ve noticed in doing crossword puzzles that many of the folks who make them up no longer understand the context of words. Perhaps it’s like students not being able to understand Shakespeare any more. The other day I saw a PBS program where Ethan Hawke had to have somebody explain to him that “murther” is “murder”. doh

    If a term is still important to a billion people, the classical, precise definition should not be chucked. Neither should “alienation” be chucked even if only lawyers know what it means. The meaning of words is important.

  17. Why would the Pope’s reputation be damaged because his butler stole official papers?
    Nothing in the stolen papers reflected badly on the Pope.

  18. Scandalous is transliterated into the English from the Greek denoting the broad range of meaning, including discern, think, and doubt. The ancient Greek word must be interpreted in accord with context. I view the English use of the word scandal in the same way. Current usage still includes the traditional meaning of the word, with slight variance in connotation. It doesn’t mean to the readers whatever the editors and reporters want it to mean, but the meaning in the readers’ minds when reading. The control the reporters exercise over this is their selection of words. This should not be done accidentally!

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