frame game

Framing Pope Benedict XVI: What, pray tell, is the opposite of a Catholic 'reformer'?

Framing Pope Benedict XVI: What, pray tell, is the opposite of a Catholic 'reformer'?

At the moment, Catholic leaders and news consumers are in a kind of holding pattern during the crisis linked to the life and career of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Everyone is waiting to see if Rome's current strategy -- silence at the Vatican and the slammed doors (metaphorically speaking) in most Catholic offices -- is going to work. Will it inspire journalists to dig deeper or will pros in elite newsrooms retreat, since many may not want to hurt progressive Catholics (who are on the right side of history, after all)? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the coverage has slowed down a little, with most stories focusing on the kinds of background details that frustrate editors yet keep the chess match alive.

Take, for example, the Washington Post story that ran the other day with this headline: "Pope Benedict, in retired seclusion, looms in the opposition to Pope Francis."

The old news is that there are currently two popes and this could -- repeat COULD -- change games of Vatican chess. More old news: The retired pope has, once again, remained silent. The potential news there? What does Benedict's silence mean, in light of the public testimony offered by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano? Inquiring minds want to know, and all that.

The answer to that question is certainly above my pay grade and, besides, this Post piece does a decent job exploring some of the theories linked to Benedict. No, what struck me about this feature is that it is a perfect example of what your GetReligionistas call the "frame game." Early on, big issues that loom in the background are framed in such a way that the whole editorial product leans to one side. Pay close attention to this crucial section:

Although many people hoped to hear from Benedict amid new allegations that a coverup of sexual misconduct reached the highest levels of the church, he has established that an ex-pope should maintain a vow of silence about church matters — even during crises and even though he is particularly well positioned to affirm or knock down the accusations.

Some Vatican watchers and insiders say the mere fact of Benedict’s 2013 abdication has made the modern papacy more vulnerable, emboldening voices of dissent. They say it’s hard to imagine a letter like the one released last week by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, provoking Pope Francis with a call to resign, without Benedict having created the possibility that modern popes might give up their seats before death.

Wait for it.

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