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I fear this love affair between the press and the Pope will end in tears

Sooner or later, Pope Francis will make a statement that the media decides is not ‘nice’ at all

By on Monday, 16 September 2013

Pope Francis speaks to the media aboard the papal flight from Rio de Janeiro

Pope Francis speaks to the media aboard the papal flight from Rio de Janeiro

Fr Lucie-Smith has blogged about the Guardian editorial of September 8 2013 entitled “Pontiff with the popular touch”. Now there has been an editorial in the Telegraph on Friday September 13, also about Pope Francis, entitled “The Christian soldier.” Like the Guardian, the Telegraph approves of the Pope’s informal style, probably because it is in contrast with his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI (and to some extent, even with the late John Paul II).

For the time being the new Pope has caught the imagination of the world’s media with the simplicity of his dress, his style of living and his way of making spontaneous gestures, such as “cold calling” the faithful to offer moral support – including a victim of rape and a man whose brother had been murdered”, as the Telegraph editorial puts it.

Personally, as I blogged soon after his election, I like these characteristics of Pope Francis; they show that the man hasn’t been swallowed up by the office and that he has his own way of breathing new apostolic life into an ancient, tradition-encrusted position. They make the Pope more accessible in the minds of ordinary people. This is not to criticise his two most recent predecessors; it simply gives the world and the Catholic laity a fresh perspective on the man who is head of the largest religious community in the world.

What I dislike in the two editorials is the slightly unfair spin they given to the comparison between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict, such as the former’s refusal “to live in the opulent Apostolic Palace”. This suggests that because Pope Benedict followed tradition rather than breaking with it, he had somehow chosen Renaissance pomp and luxury. This is untrue; it is a question of two holy men with two very different characters.

Again, I like Pope Francis’s off the cuff remarks – though I worry that they will be misread by a media looking for sensational stories and the hope that the Church will “change” on fundamental moral teachings. The Telegraph editorial picked up on the Pope’s remarks, in a letter to the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, that God’s mercy extends to atheists and agnostics if they follow their consciences. You can see how both Catholic hard-liners and secularists will have a field day with this statement because it appears to be the “Gospel of niceness” – and God is not “nice”.

But the Holy Father is using language in the way of someone of faith, prayer and theological understanding. God died for all men, not just Christians or just Catholic Christians, and his mercy extends to all – with the qualification of the “if” clause about conscience. An article in Crisis Magazine by Anthony Esolen discusses a recent book on this subject by author Robert George. Called “Conscience and its Enemies: confronting the dogmas of liberal secularism”, its author argues that “The duty to follow conscience is a duty to do things or refrain from doing things not because one wants to follow one’s duty but even if one strongly does not want to follow it. The right of conscience is a right to do what one judges oneself to be under obligation to do, whether one welcomes the obligation or must overcome strong aversion to fulfil it.”

In other words, “conscience” is a tough proposition. Esolen comments, “That’s why we spend so much time trying to circumvent it” – precisely because to live according to the moral imperatives urged by conscience is hard, whether you are a Christian or an atheist. To follow your conscience can lead to dishonour and death, as St Thomas More discovered. There is nothing nice about it.

Sooner or later, Pope Francis will make a statement that the media decides is not nice at all. I fear this love affair between the press and the Pope will end in tears.

  • $20596475

    I am commenting on his appeal to NON Catholics, of which I am one, and therefore am qualified to offer an opinion.

    This is therefore not just an internal issue. For the avoidance of doubt I regard those as only things which happen only within the confines of your Churches and other non public issues. As soon as things enter the public square, and media comment certainly fits that criteria, I might comment.

  • I Italo

    Oh, yes, those ever catholics against communisme.
    What we have now is Economic Communisme, and I do not hear a thing!.

  • Jcar

    Cold calling people in their hour of need. How Chiratian is that. It’s an inexpensive way to help someone. More of us should try this. AT&T should make a commercial about it.

  • Jcar

    Aiken. The wisdom of the ages from the Son of Man. The Bible. What a gift to mankind he has given. Thank you brothe.

  • Tridentinus

    Francis did explain this some time ago, it was the name she was christened with.

  • Marta Ross

    Just like it happened to Jesus. What came of it, SALVATION! Let not despair but hope in the MERCY and LOVE of our Father in heaven.

  • http://www.thepopebenedict.com/ Kurt Underkofler

    He is very smart, and I think he realizes the press is not validating his message.

    Thank You Kurt Underkofler

  • Athelstane

    SIMPLY……… it’s because Francis says it better!

    Does he?

    Are people responding to certain gestures rather than what he’s saying – or worse, responding certain things that they think he’s saying (that seem to suggest a liberalisation of Church teachings)?

    Being a brilliant theologian is wonderful, but it doesn’t make you a good evangelist.

    And I think Pope Benedict would be the very first to acknowledge that point. Not just that he is a theologian at heart, but also an introvert, unlike John Paul II and Francis.

    The popular media has its own agendas, which are very different from that of the Church. The challenge for Francis is going to be trying to break through the filters those agendas create. When he shows up in person at a pro-life march (as he did in May) there’s hardly a whisper. When he makes an off-the cuff remark about homosexual clergy, it gets spun as the Church accepting homosexuality as good. That’s the challenge.

  • Timothy Reid

    Yes, that is the challenge. I pray he’s up to it and so are we as the faithful laity to represent Christ to the world.

  • Jacob Suggs

    What you say is clearly true, but non-Catholics as well as Catholics must do their best to form their consciences. Being non-Catholic, this will not necessarily involve incorporating all the teachings of the Catholic Church, but such a person still must use what resources he has.

    Basically, a person who has an immature conscience because of laziness on his part – he just doesn’t bother to think about these things, or what have you – may not gain much by following it. Or he may. Such things in the end are up to God, of course, but it is a thing worth mentioning that the conscience is a thing that must developed.

    I think this is assumed as part of the “follow your conscience” statements, but there are those who interpret such statements as nothing more than “do what feels right at the time and don’t worry,” which is missing a fair bit. So formation of conscience is worth mentioning.

  • Jacob Suggs

    Actually, I think the reason the press has been paying attention to him, is because he’s much DIFFERENT at being a pastor to the Church than the others have been, and novelty is something that news people like. I do think he will be good for the times we are in, but I also thought the last two were good as well, and I see no particular reason, so far, to say that Pope Francis is “better.” I would hesitate to make such comments at all even with more evidence though, simply because a papacy is a many faceted thing and such comparisons are hard to make and, in fact, not really worth making.

    But yeah, Pope Francis has only said solid Catholic teaching. But again, I would hesitate to say that he has said it better than Pope Benedict. In fact, he has often said it in very nearly the same words. I suspect the reason why the press is all smiley about Pope Francis when it wasn’t about Pope Benedict is because a) personality differences and b) the press already had an idea about Benedict that they were loath to change (God’s Rottweiler – which I actually liked as an image, but apparently some people thought was bad).

    Will the media turn on Francis? Well, it depends – so far the media has avoided making a big deal of Francis’ positions that are contrary to the prevailing culture, even if they had to misunderstand him in order to do so. And eventually they will have to notice that Pope Francis is not going to say that homosexual activity or abortion or what have you is a good thing. And normally the media is not kind to people that fall into that category. But could they react differently to Pope Francis than to most others?

    Well, yes. And I hope they do. The media seems to like Cardinal Dolan well enough, at least some of the time, so perhaps it will continue to like Pope Francis. We’ll just have to see. I’m not optimistic, but I hope I turn out to be wrong.

  • NYer

    I agree with you, but I don’t believe that Benedict’s introverted personality means that he was not a good evangelist…or a lesser one than Francis.

    Benedict evangelized in a different, but very effective way. His way was not as mediagenic, but he planted seeds in very fertile ground which is already bearing fruit. He knew that a dichotomy between faith and reason is a major obstacle to faith for a great many people of today.

    His profound writings continue to be devoured by seminarians, writers, artists, intellectuals, agnostics and ordinary Christians and who want to deepen their understanding of our faith. A smaller number of people may initially be effected by his type of evangelization, but Benedict XVI’s influence will grow exponentially because these people have been greatly nourished by his wisdom.

    Francis’ beautiful, simple and more direct style will also undoubtedly bear fruit in a more general way. What concerns me is that the ignorant and uncharitable comparisons that have become so commonplace in the media will prevent some from discovering the riches left to us by Francis’ predecessor.

  • NYer

    Intellectual agnostics who sincerely searched for the truth responded very positively to Benedict XVI, of whom they had great respect. He often engaged them in fascinating debates and even co-authored a book with one. In fact, the most famous and outspoken of Italian atheists, Piergiorgio Odifreddi, recently wrote an article in response to Pope Francis’ letter to Eugenio Scalfari (also an atheist) in La Repubblica:

    “It was a mistake on the part of Scalfari to address Pope Francis,” he said. “He is the person least qualified to respond, Bergoglio is nothing but a country priest – that we know by now. Not like Ratzinger, who set up the Court of the Gentiles under the
    Pontifical Council for Culture to facilitate the dialog between believers and non-believers”…”Scalfari ought to have posed
    those questions when Benedict XVi was Pope – and the answers would have been detailed and well-articulated not disappointing and not up to the
    mark.”

    Now, I don’t agree with his dismissive attitude about Pope Francis, who is certainly not “nothing but a country priest”, but am using this example to illustrate how effective Benedict’s outreach was to non-believers.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    That some Catholics have reacted badly to Pope Francis, but really value Benedict as a hero” >< "I am commenting on his appeal to NON Catholics

    Your description of your statements is incoherent with their contents, private. Do you understand what you’ve written yourself ?

  • $20596475

    Exceptions always prove the rule and for sure there would have been a few non believers who found Benedict easier than Francis.

    We are not though discussing “intellectual agnostics” but the great mass of ordinary people, and the way they receive their information via the mass media. With these people it must be obvious that Pope Francis is reaching them more effectively.

  • NYer

    But it is better to reach both ordinary people as well as the “intellectuals” since ultimately, the latter has greater influence. I am not convinced that Francis is reaching them.

  • $20596475

    It is an opinion, but not one I share. However this isn’t what the media are saying is it? They are welcoming the way Pope Francis seems to be reaching out to the common man, and making the Church seem more human.