21 September 2013

On the media and the Church: Don't be a lemming!

Many members of the international media are pouncing on a series of interviews the Holy Father Pope Francis gave to the Reverend Antonio Sparado, S.J. published by America – according to the web site – on September 30, 2013 (I’m not sure how that works).  Please, read the full interview for yourself and compare the full context to how the media has reported the interview.

The various news articles that implied, suggested, or stated that Pope Francis said the Church should not be talking about abortion, marriage, and sexual relations were simply wrong and these reports were made by taking a few sentences from a lengthy interview very much out of context.  But, then, this is the way of the media, especially when it comes to reporting on events in the life of the Church.

Here I will not link to the numerous reports; you have likely read and heard them already and sending you to them will not really be of my help and will only encourage them to continue.

I had not planned to make any comment on the interview and the media’s distortion of his words, but because many of you have asked me to do so, I will.

First, a reminder and caution: Do not trust the secular media’s portrayal of what happens within the life of the Church!  How many times will so many be deliberately deceived and intentionally misinformed by the media before they finally begin to read the actual words of the Pope or Bishops or priests or religious or laity – whatever the case may be – for themselves?  Generally, none of these are difficult to obtain, thanks to the Internet, and they are generally not of great length.  Please, do not be a lemming!  Read and think for yourself, and take all of this into prayer!

That said, as I sat down to read the interview I was immediately struck by one thing the Holy Father said: “The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious.”

The "living room" of the Papal Apartment
The dining room of the Papal Apartment
The study of the Papal Apartment
If the media cannot correctly report on the physical condition of the Papal Apartment, why should they believed about anything else?  It is high time everyone began to think critically about everything the media says about the Church.  Look into the sources and check them for yourself; if they sources are "an anonymous Vatican official," read the report with a truckload of salt.

The cynic in me finds it exceedingly curious that the media has not trumpeted these words far and wide since they are, as they so often tell us, in the business of reporting the truth.  Remember how they fawned all over Pope Francis when he shunned the “luxury” of the Papal Apartment and chose to live instead in an apartment in the Domus Santa Marta?

The study in the Domus Santa Marta
The bedroom in the Domus Santa Marta
The sitting room in the Domus Santa Marta
Frankly, the rooms in the Domus Santa Marta have always seem more luxurious to me than the rooms of the Papal Apartment.

Why has the media not corrected this bit of misinformation?  The answer is obvious: it would begin the unraveling of their false narrative which is superimposed on every article they begin to think about writing.

What next caught my attention was a blunt admission on the part of the Holy Father: "My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative."  As we read reports of Pope Francis wanting my move the Church in a more "collegial" direction, this admission seems a bit striking.

It is true that over time he did develop a more collegial style and met frequently with those who worked closely with him, as he goes on to say; still, his admission would add an interesting context for this development and his desire to work with the group of eight Cardinals.

The attention of the media has disproportionately focused on these few words said by Pope Francis and so we come to the purpose of this post: "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible."

Let me first say that I have never encountered anyone the Church - cleric, religious, or lay - who only speaks of these three issues.

Second, these words are quoted as if they were said in a vacuum, as if the Holy Father were admonishing those who work so publicly in the defense of life and of marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality.  Yet just before he said these words the Pope spoke of the sacrament of confession:

This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?
It was immediately after these words that Pope Francis spoke the words the media so dearly loves.  Here the Holy Father is urging confessors not to focus solely on these three issue in the confessional because above all the penitent must encounter the merciful love of Jesus Christ, as he said earlier in the interview:
The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.
Sometimes a confessor rightly and mercifully heals the wounds of a sinner with a heavy penance and other times a lighter penance is needed; some sinners know that, for the good of their own souls and their growth in the love of God and neighbor, that a severe penance is needed and others know that a lighter one is needed, particularly for those who still question God's mercy.  If the confessor enters the confessional with the proper attitude, that is, to heal the wounded and not simply to cover up a wound, he knows that, as Pope Francis also said, "it is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing."

In their many reports, the media could easily have reported on what the Pope said when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

On abortion:
Abortion is never a solution. We must listen, support, and understand from where we stand in order to save two lives: to respect the smallest and most defenseless human being, to take steps that can preserve his life, to allow his birth, and then be creative in finding ways to help him reach his full development.
On gay marriage:
What is at stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother, and children. What is at stake are the lives of so many children who are discriminated against in advance, deprived of the human maturation that God wanted to give them with a father and a mother. What is at stake is a direct rejection of God’s law, which is also engraved in our hearts. Let’s not be naive: it is not just a political struggle; it is a destructive claim against God's plan. It is not merely a legislative bill (this is only the instrument) but a move by the Father of Lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.
I have not been able to find a quote from him on the use of contraception, but his opposition to its free distribution in Argentina is well known.

None of this is difficult work for a reporter who is not burdened by an ideology.

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