Parsing the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI greets foreign ambassadors to The Holy See - Rome

Whenever Pope Benedict XVI gives a homily or addresses a crowd, it's always fascinating to see how the media write it up. This week, Benedict addressed the Vatican's diplomatic corps that, by its nature, dealt a bit with broader political themes. How does a reporter sum up a 3,000-word address or figure out what aspect to focus on? To be sure, it's a difficult task. The Boston Herald headlined its Associated Press story:

Pope denounces failure to forge new climate treaty

The article says the Pope denounced world leaders, that he's been dubbed the "green pope" and that under his watch the Vatican is going green, etc., etc. The article does an admirable job of trying to explain how environmentalism is a moral issue for the church.

Reuters, on the other hand, took the exact same speech and said it was about gay marriage:

Pope says gay marriage threat to creation

So was the main point of the speech to denounce world leaders for failing to take action on global warming or was it to oppose laws that support same-sex marriage? What was this speech about?

Well, Benedict did talk about Copenhagen. He didn't "denounce" world leaders so much as say he "shared in the growing concern" about resistance to combating the degradation of the environment and added:

It is proper, however, that this concern and commitment for the environment should be situated within the larger framework of the great challenges now facing mankind. If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn? It is in man's respect for himself that his sense of responsibility for creation is shown. As Saint Thomas Aquinas has taught, man represents all that is most noble in the universe.

It might not be as sexy as denouncing world leaders or fighting gay marriage, but the speech was really about the Pope's view of creation and how it encompasses more than just the earth's natural resources but all life. It touched on politics but in order to make larger theological points. It's difficult for many reporters to grasp that. To be fair, both of the reports above did include a tiny bit of the Pope's theological statements in the stories. I read the Pope's remarks after I read the stories about his remarks and I saw very little resemblance between them. Not just in the story's content but in style and tone as well.

And, I have to note, what came off as the strongest denunciation to me was against the proliferation and maintenance of nuclear arms. In a different era, under different world leaders, I'm sure that would have gotten the headlines.

Like I said, it's difficult to sum up a big speech or figure out what to focus on. But I'm not sure how well served the folks interested in the speech's contents are by these summations.

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