Vatican

The papal encyclical: Challenging coverage and advancing the story

The papal encyclical: Challenging coverage and advancing the story

Remember Joseph Stalin's nasty and dismissive line, one version of which goes, "The pope? How many divisions does he have?”? Or maybe he actually said, “How many divisions does the pope of Rome have?”

Hard to say. Both versions are floating around the Internet.

No matter. The implication is clear in both instances. The Vatican long ago lost a considerable portion of its worldly power that once allowed it to impose its will not only on the preponderance of Roman Catholics, but on much of non-Catholic humanity.

This should be obvious to GetReligion readers. Should you require evidence, however, the recent vote legalizing same-sex marriage in once staunchly traditional, Catholic Ireland should serve as a clincher.

The Vatican's diminished influence is also obvious in much of the general media's coverage of Pope Francis' environmental encyclical, Laudato Si -- notwithstanding all the headlines it generated. 

Francis emphasized the moral challenge he believes is key to slowing human-influenced climate change and to furthering a sustainable global environmental policy that fosters economic justice. His moral argument -- a harsh critique of rapacious capitalist practices and unbridled consumerism -- warned of the negative consequences of current policies for all the world, but, in particular, for the poor and powerless. 

But get past the lede of most renditions of the story -- most prominently in the follow up coverage -- and you find that the Vatican's message was not the dominate theme.

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Welcoming sinners? Welcoming doctrinal change? Return of the pope as Machiavelli theory

Welcoming sinners? Welcoming doctrinal change? Return of the pope as Machiavelli theory

So the powers that be at the Vatican have released a crucial document -- a “instrumentum laboris” -- setting the table for this fall's much-anticipated gathering to hash out issues related to marriage and family life. The ever quotable blogger Rocco Palmo has called it the "fight card" for Rome's "Main Event of 2015."

So there.

As you would expect, that Palmo quote -- with many others from Vatican insiders and officials -- made it into the Religion News Service news feature about the document. Quite frankly, this piece does a decent job of quoting Catholics who yearn for doctrinal change, while also stressing that the document keeps repeating and affirming major chunks of the church's moral traditions that have stood for 2,000 or so.

It's not bad. It's not an editorial-page piece hidden under a news headline.

However, right at the top, the piece gently frames the whole debate -- as usual -- in a way that seems to pit Pope Francis against the basic doctrines of his church. Here's the top of this news feature. See if you can spot the key word that frames the piece (oh, right, while ignoring the art with this post).

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Vatican officials on Tuesday (June 23) released a document on family values -- a precursor to a major meeting in October -- that underscores the ongoing tension between Pope Francis’ desire for a more “welcoming” church and the need to hew to long-standing tradition and doctrine.

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Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

I realize that it's rare for your GetReligionistas to serve up one of our "think pieces" in the middle of the week, but, frankly, I am still digging out from the move to East Tennessee and missed this handy little essay this past weekend. So here we go.

Has anyone else been amazed that so much of the coverage of the papal encyclical Laudato Si (full English text here) has (a) tried to turn it into a truly radical political document and (b) seemed to suggest, as usual, that Pope Francis is the first occupant of the Throne of St. Peter to wade into these troubled waters.

I mean, this document has all kinds of things in it, including -- for liberals, surely -- some highly troubling language in which the pope's communitarian and Catholic moral vision is applied to, let's say, abortion:

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

Or how about that passage that many are interpreting as a statement addressing life choices facing those who see themselves as transsexuals?

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That other papal statement: Here's your rare 250-word RNS report on a gay-rights issue

That other papal statement: Here's your rare 250-word RNS report on a gay-rights issue

And now for something completely different. Let's take a glance at some mainstream news coverage of that other recent pronouncement by Pope Francis, the one that didn't get very much ink.

Why is that? Well, the problem is that the pope, in this case, warmly and publicly embraced a key element of Catholic moral theology linked to marriage and sexuality. This is not the sort of thing that ends up getting major play in major American newspapers.

What did the pope say? Speaking on issues linked to parenting, at a conference held by the Diocese of Rome, Francis noted the following while talking about the meaning of "communion," with a small "c":

… Being parents is based on the diversity of being male and female, as the Bible reminds us. This is the 'first' and most fundamental difference, constitutive of the human being. It is a wealth. Differences are wealth. …
"We men learn to recognise, through the female figures we encounter in life, the extraordinary beauty that women bear. And women follow a similar path, learning from male figures that the man is different and has his own way of feeling, understanding and living. And this communion in difference is very important also in the education of children”.

In the end, the pope issued a ringing affirmation of traditional marriage and the importance of children having both a mother and a father. In the current context, this is rather a rather shocking statement and worthy of coverage, even though it is basic, orthodox, 2,000 year-old Christian doctrine.

This is the kind of statement, in other words, that was granted a 250-word, bare-bones news report by the Religion News Service.

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Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

You may have heard of a spinning storm like Tropical Storm Bill -- but have you ever seen the spin before the storm?

You have if you’ve read much about Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. It hasn't even come out yet -- it's scheduled to be released today -- but already, tongues are waggin' and tweets are twittering.

Laudato Sii, or "Praised Be," is supposed to balance reflections on science, economics and compassion for the poor surrounding climate change. But the message is already in danger of being drowned out by spin doctors, both liberal and conservative -- and anger over media that leaked a version of the document.

Among the cheerleaders is the Los Angeles Times' breathless advance piece. The story throws a bone to conservatives who think the encyclical could "roil the American presidential race by injecting religion into the already contentious politics of global warming." But all the direct quotes go to liberals who applaud what they think Francis is about to say (remember, the letter hasn't even come out yet!).

And the newspaper's own attitude is evident from this:

Viewed by some as a bold act by the pope to sway opinion on a controversial issue, the encyclical in many ways reflects a movement that has been growing for decades, sometimes on the margins, with some Catholic and Christian academics and individual church leaders and congregations increasingly making “creation care” a theological pursuit and a central ministry. In some cases, the approach has helped churches reconnect with people who felt Catholicism and other denominations had become too concerned with divisive cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Many of those groups believe they have a formidable new ally.

Reuters chimes in, saying how "keenly awaited" has been the encyclical, which is "destined to become a signature document of his papacy."

Reuters puts Francis on the side of the angels, aka scientists:

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Crux offers exotic, National Geographic-style look at Catholic traditionalists? Or not?

Crux offers exotic, National Geographic-style look at Catholic traditionalists? Or not?

Try to imagine the mayhem that would be created in the religion blogosphere if a major controversy hit the news that involved gay rights, Mormonism, atheism and (wait for it) the Latin Mass. I think you'd need to call in the online equivalent of the U.S. Marines to control it.

Everyone who covers religion news knows that the Latin Mass is a hot-button topic, a Maypole around which a number of other emotional Catholic issues dance. As the old saying goes: What's the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.

So the folks at Crux just ran a massive on-site report about the recent Sacra Liturgia USA meeting. To say this is a colorful piece would be a great understatement.

This is, on one level, a classic example of the neo-National Geographic feature in which the tiniest details of life in an exotic tribe are placed under the microscope in order to contrast these folks with normal people. Yes, think trip to the zoo. In this case, "normal people" are the progressives in the post-Vatican II academic establishment and their journalism friends. Here's the view of one faithful GetReligion reader of the Crux feature:

In this article and the accompanying photos it seems to me as if Crux Now is treating this like they were reporting on and taking pictures at a zoo. "Oh, look! There's the scarlet Cardinal with flocks of admirers around him! Oh, and see over there? That's the white-hatted, red-breasted lionheart with an old-fashioned chasuble on!"

I can see some of that, in this coverage of the Cardinal Burke show. However, I was impressed with two elements of this story, which we will get to in a moment. There is one major wince moment at the very end for the suddenly old new Catholic left.

My problem with this piece?

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How quickly will journalists grant O'Malley that 'Pope Francis Democrat' label?

How quickly will journalists grant O'Malley that 'Pope Francis Democrat' label?

If Martin O'Malley hired an army of public-relations pros he could not have produced a better White House campaign slogan than the one offered by Religion News service the other day in an online headline about the former Maryland governor. This short news-you-can-use feature was part of its ongoing series offering background on the religious views of various candidates. It proclaimed:

5 faith facts about Martin O’Malley: ‘A Pope Francis Democrat’

Some folks in pews on the cultural and doctrinal right may want to contrast the tone of that with this selection from another RNS digital newsletter:

Southern Baptist bruiser:
5 faith facts about Sen. Lindsey Graham: religious right spear carrier

The RNS mini-feature -- as is the norm with this handy series -- did contain some direct links to information about O'Malley, while editorially stressing that he is, well, read this:

He’s a pray-every-morning, church-every-Sunday (St. Francis of Assisi in Baltimore) believer who sent all four of his kids to Catholic schools. Democratic Party activist and author Jonathan Miller called him, “the rare progressive to frame his strongly felt policy positions in the language of faith.

And toward the end there is this:

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Buffalo paper posts intirguing piece on would-be nuns that omits a few questions

Buffalo paper posts intirguing piece on would-be nuns that omits a few questions

There’s been a lot of press in recent years about the newer more conservative type of American nun and how influxes of 20-something women joining fairly new religious communities.

That is, the new breed of nun isn't joining up with some of the traditional orders. They are inventing their own or joining communities that have taken old, old traditions and pulled them into the modern world, trusting that they are still relevant and will appeal to the young.

Here’s a story of a quintet of young women who are doing just that, care of the team at The Buffalo News

Nuns have long been the bedrock of the Catholic Church in Western New York. At the height of their numbers in the late 1960s, more than 3,500 sisters ministered in the region, teaching and healing hundreds of thousands of people in schools and hospitals. Hundreds of sisters remain active in the area today, but most are well into their 60s and 70s, and their communities have long passed the stage of being able to replenish themselves with fresh-faced recruits. Most communities of women religious in the area haven’t welcomed a new nun in decades. Some have given up on looking for candidates.
Yet, on the Lake Erie shoreline in Derby, a Catholic retreat house now teems with the youthful exuberance of Martin and four other women, all in their 20s and hoping to become nuns together in what could be the first religious community built from scratch in the Buffalo diocese.

That's a nice punch statement in a summary paragraph. Now, here are some additional details.

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State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

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