We've certainly seen some abysmally bad religion news coverage ever since Pope Benedict XVI announced he was stepping down. But we've also seen some absolutely fantastic coverage. (Before we continue, please note the wording on this image -- "Specializes in pastoral work, an important skill as Pope." Funny, no?) I sit in awe -- every day -- at the wonderful work done by John Allen, Jr. If you are likewise impressed with this man, you may want to read this Time profile of his work.
Anyway, I also rather liked the Washington Post's serious coverage. Just in the last few days, we've seen extensive live coverage, and multiple angles for exploring the new pope. You can read about "Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, known for simplicity and conservatism," for instance. And there's been great local coverage from a variety of viewpoints -- as you can read in "D.C. area Catholics embrace symbolism of the election of first Latin American pope."
There was a nice look at the significance of the name chosen by the new pope in "Pope Francis: His name reflects ‘his ministry for the poor’."
And there were even some fun, lighthearted blogs:
Maybe it's that I'm hopped up on painkillers but I just want to thank the editors and reporters for all their hard work covering this story from around the world. It paid off.
As for problems, the only ones I saw were that last blog item, which I think displays some minor confusion about the papacy (such as whether the modern papacy is equivalent to the old bishops of Rome) and an error of missing at least one non-European pope we have discussed (Gelasius).
There was also the oddly hostile piece headlined "Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina elected pope, takes name Pope Francis." It began:
VATICAN CITY — The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church broke Europe’s millennium-long stranglehold on the papacy and astonished the Catholic world Wednesday, electing Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglioof Argentina as the 266th pope.
The choice, on the second day of deliberations in a papal conclave, opened a direct connection to the Southern Hemisphere at a critical juncture when secularism and competing faiths are depleting the church’s ranks around the globe and dysfunction is eroding its authority in Rome.
Heh. Stranglehold. I think that sometimes you need to fluff up the words to make things sound exciting and sometimes you have enough drama and criticism to just let things be said without getting melodramatic. Less melodrama might have been in order here.
One last note. E.J. Dionne finished his lovely column on the new pope by saying:
For many Catholics, a great deal of hope rests on the new pontiff’s choice of the name Francis, the saint who disdained formal authority, devoted himself to a simple life, cared passionately about the marginalized and saw actions as counting far more than proclamations.
It is said that Saint Francis once declared, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” For a pope, it’s a challenging approach.
It is said that St. Francis said this -- but it's not true that Francis ever said this. And so we should stop saying that he said this.
One of the many reasons we should stop spreading this quote is that Francis was a powerful preacher who believed in the power of preaching. In that sense, the name is fitting. As Pope Francis said in his first homily yesterday:
"[W]we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. . . . When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil."
Anyway, I know that much of the coverage has been bad, but it's also true that we're getting to see some great work from Godbeat professionals all over.