Yes, this is an op-ed piece by George Weigel who is a Catholic conservative. But every now and then, it really helps to read advocacy pieces by thinkers on the right and the left, especially when they bring up interesting facts that cut against then grain of normal coverage in the mainstream press.
In this case, Weigel is noting what many doctrinally conservative Catholics have noted, as of late, which is that the contents of remarks made by Pope Francis the media superstar are often more complex when viewed in context. This is the latest piece noting that, yes, this pope is in fact Catholic. Here is how this piece was framed in the morning memo from Religion News Service:
... Catholic theologian George Weigel says the Francis Effect is overdrawn. The pope is pretty conventional on a bunch of Catholic issues. That may be true, but he did just buy 400 Roman homeless sleeping bags as part of his birthday celebration. So maybe another way to look at it is that he’s a doer, not just a talker.
Uh, what is unconventional -- in terms of basic Christian doctrine -- about a shepherd providing aid for the poor?
Meanwhile, back to Weigel's "Francis filtered" piece. The metaphor here is that once journalists decided that Francis was learning to the left on doctrine, that narrative spread like bamboo. Here's a key chunk of his pro-Francis piece:
The Francis Filtration began in earnest during the impromptu press conference in the papal plane while the pope was en route home from World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro. That was the presser that produced the single-most quoted line of the pontificate: “Who am I to judge?” But as Cardinal Francis George pointed out in a pre-retirement interview with John Allen, that sound-bite “has been very misused … because he was talking about someone who has already asked for mercy and been given absolution. …That’s entirely different than talking [about] someone who demands acceptance rather than asking for forgiveness.” (For the record, the entire quote, which is almost never cited, was “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”)
But as my journalist-friend suggested, the “bamboo” shoot of “Who am I to judge?” has continued to grow, until it’s now a virtual bamboo curtain. And what’s being filtered out? All the things the pope says that don’t fit the now-established “narrative” of “humane, progressive pope vs. meanie reactionary bishops and hidebound Catholic traditionalists.”
We've made the same point about that quote several times here at GetReligion and, well, people (including journalists) who are interested in Pope Francis really need to read that infamous transcript for themselves. Please do so.
However, Weigel notes that Francis has been filtered by journalists in other circumstances on hot-button issues -- like his defense of Christian marriage. And there was that recent speech to the European Parliament:
The press reports I read focused on Francis’ concerns for immigrants and the unemployed. Fair enough; that was certainly in the text. But what about the Holy Father’s defense of those whom indifference condemns to loneliness or death, “as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned or uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb?” What about his insistence that “Europe,” past, present, and future, makes no sense without Christianity? What about his condemnation of those who subject Christians “to barbaric acts of violence,” and his plea for support for those Christians who are “evicted from their homes, and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many?” You didn’t read much about that, did you?
Nor did you read (unless you read the pope’s text himself) that Francis, having made a plea for environmental stewardship, went on to “emphasize” (his word) that “along with an environmental ecology, there is also need of a human ecology which consists in respect for the person.”
You get the idea. What about this pope's many remarks on the confession of sins? How about his steady drumbeat of commentary on the work of Satan?
This idea that Pope Francis is one thing, while Pope Francis the media hero is another, has also been addressed several times at Crux, including in remarks by an American archbishop who has been sparring with the press for many years.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput ... told Crux that the problem isn’t the pope, but those interpreting him.
“It’s misinterpretation, but there’s also baiting by people on the other side,” he said.
According to Chaput, who will host the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September with Pope Francis in attendance, one side of the ideological spectrum is accusing the other of not loving the pope enough.
“They want to make it a problem,” he said.
Chaput said the only political perspective that ought to matter is “the ideology Pope Francis has spoken about, the ideology of the Gospel.”
What's the point? When in doubt, read the transcripts of papal statements. Also, journalists may also want to seek out commentary from pro-Francis conservatives, as well as pro-Francis Catholic progressives. The bottom line: News consumers may not know ENOUGH about Francis to judge his impact, at this point.