Where they in parallel universes? And why did they bother? Readers who scanned the American press reports about the brief meeting this past week between Pope Benedict XVI and American Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi could have had either reaction.
Perhaps both are legitimate--the reports made it sound like theater of the absurd. But I think there's also an ongoing report with the coverage-that reporters make assumptions that they think their readers are making too.
Here's the lede from the report about the visit from the New York Times
Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday told Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Roman Catholic who supports abortion rights, that Catholic politicians must protect "human life at all stages of its development."
Ms. Pelosi is the highest-ranking Democrat to meet with the pope since the election of President Obama, whose administration's support of abortion rights worries many in the Vatican.
In a statement, the Vatican said Benedict "briefly greeted" Ms. Pelosi and her entourage after his weekly public audience and "took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death."
Where is the reporter getting her information? From a Vatican statement. So it's impossible to figure out whether the Pope engaged in a conversation, read from a text, or started with some chit-chat about her family. It sure sounds like a reprimand, and one I have a feeling that she's heard before.
Does the Pope even consider Pelosi a Roman Catholic in good standing? Why did he consent to see her at all? What exactly occured?
I'd assume that he spent (what seems to be as short an amount as possible) time with Pelosi because she has a leadership position in the United States government. In that regard, the Associated Press story does a better job of connecting the dots, detailing the political climate and how its changed since Barack Obama took office.
The U.S. House speaker, a Catholic, was the first top Democrat to meet with Benedict since the election of Barack Obama, who won a majority of the U.S. Catholic vote despite differences with the Vatican on abortion.
On his fourth day in office last month, Obama ended a ban on funds for international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option , a sharp policy change from former President George W. Bush's Republican administration.
The Vatican's attempts to keep the Pelosi visit low-profile displayed its obvious unease with the new U.S. administration.
Ah, but which Catholic votes did Obama receive? To say that he received a majority, without analyzing the way the numbers broke, is to say almost nothing.
Clearly, one can't go into pages of analysis in relatively brief stories. And there's some good stuff in both of these. While the AP story does better on analyzing the nuances of such meetings and their precedents, the Times reporter does a decent job of recounting some of the more recent controversies around American Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.
But looking at Pelosi's statement (this taken from the New York Times), you know this had to be a weird gathering.
In a statement issued by her office on Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi said it was "with great joy" that she and her husband, Paul, had met Benedict.
She said she had praised "the church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel." Ms. Pelosi's statement did not mention the pope's comments on abortion.
Doesn't sound like they were on the same planet, does it.
What did the Speaker get out of this meeting, if anything? What was the Pope's purpose? That kind of discussion is what we are missing when we read these stories. That's where quotes from an ideologically diverse group of analysts would help the reader take an educated guess as to the purpose and implications of such a meeting. We can guess-but we're given precious little to go on.
Picture of Pelosi with former President Bush and Congressman Boehner from Wikimedia Commons