Amoris Laetitia

Digging between the lines in UK media responses to the testimony of Archbishop Viganò

Digging between the lines in UK media responses to the testimony of Archbishop Viganò

The flight from reporting to opinion and advocacy journalism is on full display in the first day reports from the British secular press of the Viganò affair. Like their American counterparts, leading mainstream news outlets are portraying the revelations of coverup and abuse in political left/right terms.

While none have gone farther over the edge than the New York Times’ article: “Vatican Power Struggle Bursts Into Open as Conservatives Pounce," journalists at the Guardian and the BBC have spent more time denigrating the accuser, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, than in reporting on the content of his “testimony." Conservative and centrist papers like The Times and Daily Mail focused instead on the misconduct of Pope Francis and Vatican insiders alleged by the former papal nuncio to the United States.

The British and American media responses to the publication of Viganò’s testimony in four conservative American and Catholic religion outlets confirm the December 2016 thesis put forward by Francis X. Rocca in the Wall Street Journal. In the lede to his article entitled: “How Pope Francis became the leader of the global left," Rocca wrote: 

When Pope Francis delivers his Christmas message this weekend, he will do so not just as the head of the Catholic Church but as the improbable standard-bearer for many progressives around the world.

In 2016 Rocca argued:

With conservative and nationalist forces on the rise in many places and with figures such as U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande on their way out, many on the left -- from socialists in Latin America to environmentalists in Europe -- are looking to the 80-year-old pontiff for leadership. … Pope Francis has taken bold positions on a variety of issues, including migration, climate change, economic equality and the rights of indigenous peoples. 

Reading the first day reports from Britain in the BBC and the Guardian leaves one with the impression that they will stand by their man -- Pope Francis.

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Your weekend 'think piece' game: Once again, it's time to play 'Name that pope'

Your weekend 'think piece' game: Once again, it's time to play 'Name that pope'

This weekend's think piece is a kind of game -- a journalism game, to be precise.

It's a game that I have written about in the past, in part because of the billions -- OK, maybe just millions -- of news stories and commentaries that are built on the assumption that the theological content of the work of Pope Benedict XVI is sharply different than that of Pope Francis on just about any issue that you would want to mention.

Now, there are important differences and I know that. That is not my point. My point is that the mainstream press tends to ignore the many things Francis says on hot-button topics that support Catholic orthodoxy (thus, statements that sound like Benedict). There have also been times when journalists have taken statements that, in context, are not all that unusual and turned them into Google-dominating soundbites. Hey, who am I to judge?

In a 2014 "On Religion" column about this "Name that pope" game I offered these examples, among many:

 "The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion."
Name that pope: That's Pope Francis, believe it or not. ...
"It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs."
Name that pope: That's Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, it's time to play "Name that pope" again. Are you ready?

On the subject of the church's traditional doctrine of marriage, stating that marriage is between a man and a woman:

"We cannot change it. This is the nature of things."

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Parade of 2016 yearenders: Crux takes several looks at surprising year in Catholic news

Parade of 2016 yearenders: Crux takes several looks at surprising year in Catholic news

So how much Catholic news was there in 2016.

Apparently quite a bit, and we are not just talking about angry Catholic voters in depressed corners of the Rust Belt, as in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Thus, the journalists in the team at Crux didn't produce one list of Catholic stories, when preparing to mark the end of 2016. They went with four lists, I think. Maybe there are more.

It won't surprise you that the ever quotable Pope Francis got one list all by himself. Of course, there's quite a bit of info linked to Amoris Laetitia and the reaction to it. 

Then there's a list of developments at the global level. This includes updates on clergy sexual abuse and the persecution of Catholics in various locations. However, the section that I think will interest most readers is the take on the role of faith in the Brexit debates, battles over the treatment of refugees and the struggle to define what is and isn't "European," in terms of thinking about the future.

Finally, there is an essay with this headline: "Looking back at 2016, the Year of Surprises: Church in the U.S." Yes, the elections get some digital ink. However, the really interesting material is related to the elections on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here is a long chunk of that:

... The election of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as president and vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops just ten days after Trump captured the White House was also noteworthy.

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Bishops facing Amoris Laetitia: Thinking along with Ross Douthat and John L. Allen, Jr.

Bishops facing Amoris Laetitia: Thinking along with Ross Douthat and John L. Allen, Jr.

What Ross Douthat said.

While most American journalists, and many scribes overseas, continue their meltdown about the election of Citizen Donald Trump, there is another amazing puzzle out there in world affairs that simply must be contemplated.

It centers on Pope Francis, of course. However, this is not your normal Pope Francis conundrum, one in which the pope picks a controversial issue and says something off the cuff that is complex and possibly confusing, the The New York Times and its disciples pick one sound bite out of the mix ("Who am I to judge?") and proclaim it as evidence that this pope is open to, well, becoming an Episcopalian, or something close to that.

The pope then makes a second statement, or releases a written document, that restates his own thought framed in basic Catholic doctrines and the world press basically ignores the second story. Something like this.

That's not what we are dealing with right now, in the Douthat op-ed called, "His Holiness Declines to Answer." For those who have not followed this story, here is some background, courtesy of Douthat:

Two weeks ago, four cardinals published a so-called dubia -- a set of questions, posed to Pope Francis, requesting that he clarify his apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia.” In particular they asked him to clarify whether the church’s ban on communion for divorced Catholics in new (and, in the church’s eyes, adulterous) marriages remained in place, and whether the church’s traditional opposition to situation ethics had been “developed” into obsolescence.
The dubia began as a private letter, as is usual with such requests for doctrinal clarity. Francis offered no reply. It became public just before last week’s consistory in Rome, when the pope meets with the College of Cardinals and presents the newly-elevated members with red hats. The pope continued to ignore it, but took the unusual step of canceling a general meeting with the cardinals (not a few of whose members are quiet supporters of the questioners).

You need to read the whole thing, of course. However, one of the many angles of this flap that make it newsworthy is that people on BOTH SIDES of the debate have started hinting that they may need to use the H-word -- as in "heresy."

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On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

So we have another major document from Pope Francis, with yet another wave of coverage in which the pope's intentions -- just as much as his words -- are the focus of a tsunami of media coverage.

Of course, "Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family)" wasn't just another 60,000-word church document. This apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis followed tumultuous synods on issues linked to marriage, sex and family life. The stakes were higher.

After reading waves of the coverage, and commentaries by all kinds of Catholics, I was struck by the degree to which journalists continue to view the work of Pope Francis through a lens that was perfectly captured in the following Associated Press statement (note the lack of attribution) about an earlier papal media storm:

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.

The "Amoris Laetitia" coverage offered more of the same formula, which can be summed up as,"The pope didn't change any church documents, but it's clear that he's trying to change such and such (wink, wink)." Thus, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) returned to a familiar question: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever, stealth-mode liberal Machiavelli?

To be perfectly frank with you, I was intrigued by the degree to which traditional Catholics were divided on this issue, in their discussions of this document -- especially on the issue of Catholics receiving Communion after second, civil marriages. I am always intrigued when conservatives take stands that make other conservatives nervous and liberals take stands that make other liberals nervous.

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That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

Wow, they didn’t rely on clichés.  Major media scrambled today after Pope Francis pulled off a Friday surprise, releasing his eagerly awaited statement on the family. And they didn’t fall back on the tried-and-untrue "Who am I to judge?" and "Pope Francis broke with centuries of tradition, saying that …"

Well, most didn’t. More on that later.

The book-length, 256-page Amoris Laetitia makes for hefty weekend reading, and church officials are calling for careful consideration. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said today:

Amoris Laetitia is unusual for its size – more than 250 pages – and the Holy Father himself cautions us to read it with patience and attention.  This is sound guidance, especially in the scramble that always takes place to stamp a particular interpretation on important papal interventions.  My own more developed thoughts will be forthcoming.  In the meantime, we can be thankful for the Holy Father’s thoughts on an issue of real gravity.  Nothing is more essential to any society than the health of marriage and the family.

In the letter, Francis strikes balance between law and grace, restating both church doctrine and an understanding of what contemporary families go through. In turn, media seem to take a sympathetic view of the document -- for now, at least.

Despite a tight deadline, the Washington Post produced an almost feature treatment:

He called for divorced and remarried Catholics to participate more fully in church life. But he closed the door on gay marriage. He quotes Jorge Luis Borges and Jesus Christ. There is an entire chapter on love.
But more than anything, Pope Francis’s long-awaited document on family life, released Friday by the Vatican, amounts to an exultation of traditional marriage while recognizing that life, in his own words, isn’t always “perfect.” Yet rather than judging, he commanded, the church should be a pillar of support.

WaPo sees an ambiguity in Francis' words on divorced and remarried Catholics. It says he maintains that some are living in an “objective situation of sin,” but " he seemed to suggest that such cases should be studied and ruled on one by one."

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