Once again, the pope is travelling. This means that, once again, readers get to observe one of the iron-clad laws that govern religion-news coverage at work.
This chunk of the mainstream journalism Grand Unified Theory states that, no matter what the pope cites as his reasons for visiting a land or region, he is actually there for political reasons. He is there in an attempt to impact the lives of real people through political ideas or actions (as opposed to through sacraments, biblical truth, etc.) Then again, he might be there because of something that is going on in church politics. Reporters are allowed to consider that option.
In this case, Pope Francis is back home in South America where, in a welcoming ceremony at Ecuador’s Quito International airport. he offered the following reasons for this trip:
Pope Francis ... spoke to a delegation which included Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, government authorities, and his fellow bishops. The Pope told the delegation that his reason for coming to Ecuador was to be “a witness of God’s mercy and of faith in Jesus Christ.”
Wait. That isn't the reason for the journey quoted in your main news source?
Oh, right. That quote is from the Catholic News Agency report, which actually used a lede that combined both the sacred and the secular language from the Pope Francis arrival rite.
Landing in Ecuador on Sunday afternoon, Pope Francis began his tri-nation visit to Latin America by stressing the Gospel’s role in fostering respect, dialogue, and care for the vulnerable, while praising the nation’s centuries-old Catholic heritage.
“We can find in the Gospel a key to meeting contemporary challenges, respecting differences, fostering dialogue and full participation, so that the growth in progress and development already registered will ensure a better future for everyone, with particular concern for the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.
“For centuries that faith has shaped the identity of this people and borne much good fruit,” he added.
Now, contrast that language with the top of this Reuters hard-news report, as circulated by the Religion News Service. My question: Did the Reuters editors assign political or religion-beat reporters to this event?
QUITO (Reuters) Laughing as his cap flew off in the Andean highland wind, Pope Francis flew into Ecuador on Sunday (July 5) to start a “homecoming” tour of South America, where he will champion the rights of the poor and the planet.
His visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay -- three of the region’s poorest and smallest countries -- is Francis’ first abroad since his landmark encyclical urging an end to man’s degradation of the global environment.
Then, after lots and lots of obligatory color from the crowd scenes, the story really gets down to business:
Celebrated by supporters as a champion of the poor but cast by critics as an autocrat, leftist leader Correa was elected in 2006 vowing to spread wealth more fairly and protect the country’s natural riches.
“Ecuador is the eco-center of the world,” Correa said in a welcome speech, noting the extraordinary biodiversity of his nation, which is thought to be home to more than one million species, or more than one-tenth of the world’s total. ...
Boasting some of the world’s most extraordinary habitats -- from the Amazon jungle to the Galapagos islands, yet heavily reliant on oil and mining, Ecuador in many ways illustrates the issues at the heart of Francis’ recent exhortations on the environment.
In his encyclical, the pope demanded swift action to save the planet from ruin and urged leaders to hear “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” whom he said were most affected by climate change.
Now, as I have stated many time in GetReligion's decade of work on these topics, I am not arguing that reporters should cover the pope's spiritual messages, while ignoring the fact that his trips have, yes, political overtones. No way. That would be bad journalism.
However, I am saying that it would be good to try to cover BOTH sides of these journeys, to cover the pope as a spiritual father (#DUH) as well as a diplomat. The bottom line: It is cynical and shallow to think that the pope's sermons on faith, prayer, sin, repentance, confession, doctrine and salvation have, well, nothing to do with his job.
Why not cover both sides of what the pope says and does, both sides of his work as shepherd and occupant of the Throne of St. Peter? Can a few mainstream reporters give this a try?