Instant replay for journalists: Pope Francis asks news umpires to take a second look

The arguments began immediately after the start of the Pope Francis era.

Faced with wild headlines about what the pope had said, or pieces of what the pope had said, doctrinal conservatives in the Catholic blogosphere (and in some official church settings) would immediately debate whether to get mad at Pope Francis or mad at the press.

I mean, you had the Associated Press saying things like this. Note the total lack of attribution in this sentence in what was supposed to be a hard-news report, not a work of analysis:

Francis has largely shied away from emphasizing church teaching on hot-button issues, saying the previous two popes made the teaching well-known and that he wants to focus on making the church a place of welcome, not rules.

What does "welcome" mean? Are "rules" the same thing as "doctrines"?

You could see the Catholic insider camps forming early on. As I noted at the time:

There may be a few -- repeat few -- who see him as a secretly liberal Machiavelli who is steering the Catholic boat toward icebergs in order to cause massive doctrinal changes. There are others who think he is fine, when you read him in context, and that the press is totally to blame for any confusion that exists. There are others who think he means well, but that he is naive when it comes to how his off-the-cuff papacy will be presented in the media.

Right now, we have reached the point where even the unflappable Francis has begun to get a bit ticked off.

Consider the top of this recent Catholic News Agency report, covering a statement by the pope that -- surprise -- did not draw much coverage in the mainstream press. The headline: "Pope Francis 'angry' over media slant on women deacons."

Pope Francis told journalists ... that he was somewhat angered when reports emerged that the Church was allegedly paving the way for the ordination of women to the diaconate, since no such change is in the works.
“The first to be surprised by this news was me,” the Pope said June 26 during an in-flight press briefing en route to Rome following his three-day visit to Armenia.
“They said: 'The Church opens the door to deaconesses.' Really? I am a bit angry because this is not telling the truth of things.”
His remarks were in reference to reports last month following a Q&A session with women religious, in which he said he would like to form a commission to study the diaconate and the role of deaconesses in the early Church. ...
When asked about it again during his flight, the Pope jested that one Argentine president had said that “When you want something not to be resolved, make a commission.”

Here at GetReligion, we have always urged news consumers who care about papal statements, or religion news in general, to look up the full texts of papal documents and transcripts of his press events. You can find them 99.9 percent of the time at the must-bookmark Whispers in the Loggia website.

What you will find -- surprise -- is that the pope's statements almost always have something to do with church doctrines, as opposed to politics. The classic case of this remains the infamous "Who am I to judge?" media storm, which rolls on and on and on, with zero corrections from major newsrooms.

Now, the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., of Crux has taken this whole drama to another level, with a wonderful thumbsucker entitled "What if papal statements had play-by-play like baseball?" He goes out of his way to tweak the Catholic left and right, by the way.

Here are two examples of his method:

On his June 26 return flight from Armenia to Rome, Pope Francis agreed with the idea that perhaps Christians owe gays an apology for past mistreatment. Less quoted was the fact that Francis situated the remark in the context of several other groups to whom he felt apologies are probably due, and also referred to being gay as a “condition.”
Bloggers fired off responses, mostly focusing on the idea of an apology to gays, and here’s the chatter I hear in my head.
“X steps up to plate, swinging a hot bat … he’s been knocking papal pitches recently all around the park, driving them deep. You know he’s got to be looking for something out over the plate, maybe a high hanging fastball, that he can square up on.”
“Here comes the pitch from Francis …”
“X takes a mighty cut … oh baby, he got all of that one, it’s a towering shot out to right field … but hold everything, the ball is veering foul, because he didn’t cite the full quote but only the part that ticked him off.”

Oh, and what about that dispute about Pope Francis saying, or not saying, that the vast majority of modern marriages were, well, not really valid?

... Francis also made headlines by claiming that the “vast majority” of sacramental marriages today are null because couples don’t understand what permanence really means.
Protest ensued, as various commentators insisted the remark was both an insult to faithfully married couples and also discouraging to people considering marriage. The next day, the Vatican corrected the transcript to read “a part” of marriages are null, reportedly with the pope’s approval.
Here’s the call, with Francis at the plate.
“Francis takes a couple of practice swings, and looks ready for the pitch … you’ve got to think he’s geared up to unload, since he’s been talking marriage and the family since he came up to the big leagues three years ago.”
“Here’s the delivery, right out over the middle of the plate …”
“Can you believe your eyes? Francis takes a huge cut and foul-tips the ball straight into the catcher’s mitt … listen to that crowd, because it sure isn’t happy … it’s an out for the hot-hitting pontiff, and let me tell you folks, I bet he’s going to want to have that one back!”

You get the idea.

Enjoy! And time one of this papal firestorms takes place, don't forget to look for the full texts and transcripts. Then listen for the baseball commentary online. It's never boring.

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