Railing against the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI dedicated the Basilica of the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family in Barcelona this past Sunday. I was traveling from Denver yesterday and following a bunch of Catholic bloggers as they described the mass as one of the most exquisite and inspiring they'd ever witnessed. And the church itself is considered a feat of architecture, engineering and art. Though largely completed, it won't be totally done for another 15 years or so. It will be the tallest church in the world. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, it's replete with Christian symbolism. So I was anxious to see what the media had to say about the event. I read the homily and found plenty of interesting discussions. The Pope praised Gaudi, of course, saying he "kept the torch of his faith alight to the end of his life." He also praised the region for its abundance of Christian saints, founders, martyrs and poets. He discussed the theology of cathedrals and said this one was "a visible sign of the invisible God." Here's a sample:

In this place, Gaudi desired to unify that inspiration which came to him from the three books which nourished him as a man, as a believer and as an architect: the book of nature, the book of sacred Scripture and the book of the liturgy. In this way he brought together the reality of the world and the history of salvation, as recounted in the Bible and made present in the liturgy. He made stones, trees and human life part of the church so that all creation might come together in praise of God, but at the same time he brought the sacred images outside so as to place before people the mystery of God revealed in the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this way, he brilliantly helped to build our human consciousness, anchored in the world yet open to God, enlightened and sanctified by Christ. In this he accomplished one of the most important tasks of our times: overcoming the division between human consciousness and Christian consciousness, between living in this temporal world and being open to eternal life, between the beauty of things and God as beauty. Antoni Gaudí did this not with words but with stones, lines, planes, and points. Indeed, beauty is one of mankind's greatest needs; it is the root from which the branches of our peace and the fruits of our hope come forth. Beauty also reveals God because, like him, a work of beauty is pure gratuity; it calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness.

And it goes on to explain how the church itself is built on Christ, in pure docility to his authority and in service to his mandate. He says that the task of the church is to show everyone that God is a God of peace not of violence, of freedom not of coercion, of harmony not of discord. He ties this into 1 Corinthians 3 where believers are told that they are the temple of God and what this means about the dignity of man. It's a 2,000-word homily and you can read it yourself. But let's look at how the Associated Press put it. Here's the Los Angeles Times headline for the AP piece:

In Barcelona, pope criticizes Spain's social policies

Here's the lede:

Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended traditional families and the rights of the unborn Sunday, directly attacking Spanish laws that allow gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions as he dedicated Barcelona's iconic church, the Sagrada Familia.

Really? He did?

Leave aside the fact that apparently reporters are congenitally unable to understand anything in a sermon that is not directly tied to politics. And leave aside the fact that the AP is pulling out one portion of a sermon at the expense of the rest so as to completely conceal, manipulate or mislead as to what Benedict actually said. I just don't think that lede is accurate.

Here's the substantiation:

As he inaugurated the church's main altar, he railed against same-sex marriage and divorce, saying families are built on the "indissoluble love of a man and a woman" who should be provided with financial and social benefits from governments. The pontiff also consecrated the building for use as a church in a colorful ceremony seldom seen performed by a pope.

He criticized policies allowing for abortions, saying "the life of children (must) be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception."

Well, a few things. Those quotes aren't from an "altar dedication" but the "homily." And not once does he mention same-sex marriage or divorce. Sure, in his dedication of a temple NAMED AFTER THE HOLY FAMILY, he does talk about how we need to support the family and about the importance of the "generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman" and that bit about children. If these quotes -- pretty standard Christian fare for, oh, the last 2,000 years -- are interpreted as "railing against same-sex marriage and divorce," that might say something about how the reporter interpreted them, but it's not an accurate description of the homily.

Call me old-fashioned but in order to have one's homily described as "railing against" something, you should actually be "railing" "against" something. What I'm about to quote is the only part of the sermon that could possibly be interpreted as "directly attacking Spanish laws that allow gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions" or "railing against same-sex marriage and divorce":

For this reason the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family.

One wonders how the AP would write up the homily if he actually addressed Spanish laws or railed against same-sex marriage. I mean if saying the church gives its support to the institution of the family is described this way, what's left to say?

There's also the issue of what photo the Los Angeles Times chose to run with this story. Remember that this basilica is an extremely important architectural feat. Gaudi-designed and one of the top tourist attractions in Spain. Okay, so what's the photo? You guessed it -- a picture of gays kissing each other in protest of the Pope as he is driven past them.

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