GetReligion readers: Please help me out on something. I am somewhat confused. Maybe.
Looking back in my email files from the past few days, I just reread a New York Times news story that ran under the headline, "Italy Divided Over Effort to Legalize Civil Unions for Gays." This story ran on Sunday, Jan. 24. Let's assume that this means the final edit was on the previous day (knowing that major weekend reports are usually planned days earlier).
OK, then I read a new analysis piece at Crux, written by the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., that ran under the headline, "Pope Francis sends mixed signals on civil unions for gay couples." This story ran on Jan. 27.
Both articles contain lots and lots of information about the complex cultural politics of Italy. I was, of course, primarily interested in what was said about the role of Pope Francis in the public debates about this hot-button issue in this highly symbolic land.
So let's take this in the order that I read these news material. Shall we?
The Times has this to say about papal moves on this issue:
In the past, the Catholic Church would probably have played a major role in opposing the legislation (as happened in France, where Catholic groups tried in vain to prevent passage of the country’s same-sex marriage law in 2013). But in promoting a more merciful, tolerant tone, Pope Francis has discouraged bishops around the world from diving into culture war issues that have alienated some faithful from the church.
This has created a divide within the Italian Episcopal Conference as Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the conference, has encouraged Catholics to join opponents of the legislation at a coming “Family Day” rally. Supporters of the bill held rallies across Italy over the weekend. Yet the conference’s secretary-general, Msgr. Nunzio Galantino -- who was appointed directly by Francis -- has been more cautious in directly aligning the church in such a contentious fight.
In an interview, Monsignor Galantino said he recognized that the government has the right to establish laws that prevent discrimination against all people but that he opposes the current bill because he believes it equates civil unions with marriage and because of the clause allowing stepchild adoptions. He agreed that there were “different visions” within the Catholic Church on how to engage the debate but noted that Francis had encouraged priests to “accompany people in the streets” and listen to all the different positions.
Massimo Franco, a columnist for Corriere della Sera, a national newspaper, wrote recently that Francis apparently canceled a meeting with Cardinal Bagnasco after the Italian prelate went public with his support for the opposition rally.
Once again, this is the "more merciful, tolerant" pope who is so beloved by the college of cultural cardinals at The New York Times.
Please remember that this passage ran in the world's most influential newspaper this past Sunday, Jan. 24. Remember that date. In this text the most recent papal activity, apparently, is the alleged snub of Cardinal Bagnasco.
Now, let's turn to Crux. We will start right where the Times piece seemed to end, in terms of papal signals n this issue. Pay attention to the changing time elements here.
... Pope Francis abruptly canceled a meeting last Wednesday with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference and a vocal proponent of Family Day. Many took that as a snub, suggesting that Francis wants to keep his distance from the fight.
Two days later, however, Francis reversed course and stepped directly into the debate.
In an annual speech to a Vatican court, Francis issued a blunt warning that “there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and any other type of union,” which was taken by Italians as a criticism of the Cirinnà bill and, at least indirectly, an endorsement of Family Day.
Two days after that Wednesday would have been on Friday, Jan. 22, correct?
Now, let me confess that I do not read Italian. However, I imagine that the Times team includes people in Italy who know the language. Also, there is the Google translation option, which manages to render that crucial Jan. 22 statement by Pope Francis, posted online by the Vatican, like this:
The Church, in fact, can show the unfailing merciful love of God to the families, especially those injured by sin and trials of life, and together proclaim the essential truth of marriage according to God's design. This service is primarily entrusted the Pope and the bishops.
In the synodal path on the family, which the Lord has granted us to accomplish in the past two years, we have been able to accomplish, in the spirit and style of effective collegiality, a depth wise discernment, by which the Church has -- among other things -- indicated to the world that there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and every other type of union.
With this same attitude spiritual and pastoral, your business, both in the judge both in contributing to lifelong learning, assists and promotes the 'opus veritatis. When the Church, through your service, it is proposed to declare the truth about marriage in this case, for the good of the faithful, at the same time keep in mind that those who, by choice or by unfortunate life circumstances,  live in an objective state of error, still the object of the merciful love of Christ and thus the Church itself.
The family, founded on indissoluble marriage, the unitive and the procreative, belongs to the "dream" of God and his Church for the salvation of humanity.
Can you spot the source of my confusion, after reading these two news reports in the order that I read them?
My journalistic question is this: What did the pope say and when did he say it?
My next question is this: Why isn't the papal speech on Jan. 22 -- the one stating "there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and every other type of union" -- relevant to the Times report that was published on Jan. 24?
Again let me stress that I know weekend stories are often worked on pretty far in advance. However, couldn't this text have been updated on the 22nd or the 23rd?