There he goes again.
You remember Pope Francis, of course. He’s the guy who, whenever he says something provocative (often speaking off the cuff, or during in-flight press conferences), journalists rush to file stories and editors serve up bold headlines. This is especially true whenever the Holy Father speaks about issues linked to sexuality and LGBTQ issues in particular.
Then happens on a fairly regular basis. Perhaps you have heard about the “Who am I to judge?” soundbite that is used over and over, almost always out of context?
So, in a way, it’s not surprising that Pope Francis has shared this thoughts on the theory at the heart of global debates about transgender issues.
What is surprising is that his statements have received little or no coverage in elite news media here in the United States. Now why is that? Let’s look at the top of a short Reuters report on the subject:
Pope Francis warned on Saturday of a "global war" against traditional marriage and the family, saying both were under attack from gender theory and divorce.
Francis made his comments in an impromptu response to a question at a meeting of the small Catholic community in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia.
"You mentioned a great enemy of marriage: gender theory," the pope said in response to a woman who had asked about it being taught in schools. He did not elaborate.
Actually, he did elaborate in remarks just after that, but hang on for that update.
Just in case readers have missed the tsunami of mainstream media trans coverage in the past year or so, the Reuters team helpfully defined “gender theory” as “the concept that while a person may be biologically male or female, they have the right to identify themselves as male, female, both or neither.”
Pope Francis addressed this topic -- as he has in the past -- while using a very blunt and powerful image, for people in lands previously controlled by giant empires. To its credit, in such a short story, the Reuters team explained his hot-button language:
"Today, there is a global war out to destroy marriage," Francis said. "Not with weapons but with ideas ... we have to defend ourselves from ideological colonization."
The pope has used the phrase "ideological colonization" in the past to denounce what he says are attempts by rich countries to link development aid to the acceptance of social policies such as those allowing gay marriage and contraception.
Pope Francis also made another statement on gay marriage, once again affirming Catholic teachings on the subject.
Just to be on the careful side (but I have to admit I chuckled when I read this), Reuters said that the pope “appeared” to be addressing gay marriage when he said "marriage is the most beautiful thing that God has created" -- then adding that God created “man and woman” to become one flesh.
That’s pretty much the whole Reuters story. Did many newspapers run it?
Probably not. As I said, these statements by Pope Francis are not receiving major coverage. It is possible that leaders in some elite newsrooms -- think NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc. -- decided to wait on this story for reaction.
Minutes after I started work on this post, this offering from CNN -- another very short story -- popped into my online searches. This story included some of the pope’s follow-up remarks on the flight back to Rome:
Pope Francis reaffirmed his disagreement with teaching gender identity in schools on Sunday, after earlier calling it a "war against marriage."
On a return flight to Rome at the end of a three-day trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Pope recounted a meeting with a French father whose young son wanted to be a girl after reading about it in a textbook.
"This is against nature," he said. "It is one thing when someone has this tendency ... and it is another matter to teach this in school."
"To change the mentality -- I call this ideological colonization," the Pope said.
Flashing back a few weeks, the story added this earlier Francis statement:
"Today, in schools they are teaching this to children -- to children! -- that everyone can choose their gender," Pope Francis said.
This CNN story may have received a green light from producers because of a reaction statement from New Ways Ministry, an LGBT advocacy group that has for decades called for changes in Catholic church doctrines on sexuality.
"The pontiff's remarks are further evidence that church officials need desperately to educate themselves about the lives and experiences of LGBT people," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry. "Nobody chooses a gender identity. They discover it."
Readers who want to know more about what Pope Francis has to say on these issues can, of course, read publications dedicated to Catholic and religious news.
Thus, the report on these remarks at Crux was much more complete and nuanced. This bit of context was especially helpful:
The pontiff was talking off the cuff, after taking down notes on the four questions posed to him by a priest, a seminarian, a married woman, and a young man. ...
Irina, mother of two children, had spoken about the challenges both Catholic and Orthodox families face in Georgia, such as globalization, which “doesn’t take into consideration the local values, the new views of sexuality as gender theory, and the marginalization of the Christian vision of life, particularly on our choice of educating our children as Catholic.”
So what is the big idea here? Once again, the basic principles of the universal theory of Pope Francis news coverage are easy to spot.
Whenever this pope affirms 2,000 years of Christian doctrine on matters of sexuality, this isn't big news because it is old news.
However, when he makes statements that might be seen as weakening or modernizing church teachings on marriage and sex -- even if his statements are later clarified with additional commentary from Pope Francis, often in authoritative forms -- then these statements are treated as ground-breaking events worthy of big headlines and even coverage on television news.
Yes, new things are newsier than old things. I get that. However, it's never good to ignore papal statements that clarify off-the-cuff remarks. Right? Can you imagine that happening with global political leaders?
I think, in this case, that it's especially important to read the full text of the Pope Francis in-flight press conference statement on these issues. Here is is, care of the Catholic News Agency. The question:
Josh McElwee, National Catholic Reporter: Thank you, Holy Father. In that same speech yesterday in Georgia, you spoke, as in so many other countries about gender theory, saying that it is a great enemy and a threat against marriage. But, I would like to ask you, what would you say to someone who has struggled with their sexuality for years and feels that there is truly a problem of biology, that his aspect doesn't correspond to what he or she feels is their sexual identity. You, as a pastor and minister, how would you accompany these people?
Then the answer:
Pope Francis: First of all: in my life as a priest and bishop, even as Pope, I have accompanied people with homosexual tendencies, I have also met homosexual persons, accompanied them, brought them closer to the Lord, as an apostle, and I have never abandoned them. People must be accompanied as Jesus accompanies them, when a person who has this condition arrives before Jesus, Jesus surely doesn't tell them 'go away because you are homosexual.' What I said is that wickedness which today is done in the indoctrination of gender theory ... a French father told me that he was speaking with his children at the table, he and his wife were Catholics, 'rosewater Catholics,' but Catholics! And he asked his 10-year-old son: 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' -- 'a girl.' The father realized that at school they were teaching him gender theory, and this is against the natural things. One thing is that a person has this tendency, this condition and even changes their sex, but it's another thing to teach this in line in schools in order to change the mentality. This is what I call ideological colonization. Last year I received a letter from a Spaniard who told me his story as a child, a young man, he was a girl, a girl who suffered so much because he felt he felt like a boy, but was physically a girl. He told his mother and the mom…(the girl) was around 22 years old said that she would like to do the surgical intervention and all of those things. And the mother said not to do it while she was still alive. She was elderly and she died soon after. She had the surgery and an employee of a ministry in the city of Spain went to the bishop, who accompanied (this person) a lot. Good bishop. I spent time accompanying this man. Then (the man) got married, he changed his civil identity, got married and wrote me a letter saying that for him it would be a consolation to come with his wife, he who was she, but him! I received them: they were happy and in the neighborhood where he lived there was an elderly priest in his 80s, an elderly pastor who left the parish and helped the sisters in the parish. And there was the new (priest). When the new one he would yell from the sidewalk: 'you'll go to hell!' When (the new priest) came across the old one, he would say: 'How long has it been since you confessed? Come, come, let's to so that I can confess you and you can receive communion.' Understood?
Life is life and things must be taken as they come. Sin is sin. And tendencies or hormonal imbalances have many problems and we must be careful not to say that everything is the same. Let's go party. No, that no, but in every case I accept it, I accompany it, I study it, I discern it and I integrate it. This is what Jesus would do today! Please don't say: 'the Pope sanctifies transgenders.' Please, eh! Because I see the covers of the papers. Is there any doubt as to what I said? I want to be clear! It's moral problem. It's a human problem and it must be resolved always can be with the mercy of God, with the truth like we spoke about in the case of marriage by reading all of Amoris Laetitia, but always with an open heart.
Stay tuned. And please let me know if I missed any major coverage of these Francis statements.