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Faulting media on Francis coverage, again

Carl A. Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, writes for the National Review that the news media have created false narratives about both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. He argues that Benedict made comments similar to those Francis made in his recent interview, but that they were not covered:

One might think this is the first time a pope said something like this. It isn’t.

Though it garnered little media attention, Pope Benedict XVI made a similar statement in 2006. Asked why he hadn’t spoken about same-sex marriage, abortion, or contraception in a speech, he noted that “Catholicism isn’t a collection of prohibitions; it’s a positive option.”

With neither pope has the full story been told. Furthermore, as Francis went to great lengths to point out in his encyclical Lumen Fidei, continuity is a hallmark of the papacy.

I wouldn't want to defend all the reporting done on either pope, especially the work done by journalists who don't write about religion regularly. But I think that Anderson has missed the big picture here and instead cherry-picked various quotes that support his argument.

Good journalism is all about context, and Francis's comments need to be considered within the full context of the many steps he has taken in just a few months to change the tone of the Catholic conversation. It's obvious something significant has occurred. It would be journalistic malpractice to miss that.

As for Anderson's assertion that the news media are neglectful for focusing only on the church's positions on public-policy issues rather than on prayer, charity and pastoral outreach, that's true for a lot of media coverage of religion. It's something that concerned me when I was on the religion beat; I didn't want to cover religion only where it intersected with the liberal social agenda.

But there is no denying that especially around election time, many bishops and their conservative advocates forcefully push their positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and the contraception mandate, not the church's pastoral ministry or even other social issues. Anderson must know that. He's not in a position to blame the media on this.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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I remember when Pope Benedict  said that, and i was very encouraged by it at the time.  I wonder why some people react to the popularity of Pope Francis as some kind of attack on the previous Pope? We should all be happy Francis is popular; it's good fro our Church.

It's just a small but crucial shift of perspective -- a restoration of the integral ecclesiology of the Council, which somehow tended to disappear from view or become fragmented in Benedict's rhetoric.

In fact, isn't that the genius of Catholic Development? 

It is very hard for me to distinguish Carl Anderson’s Kof C leadership from his political background.

Talk about obsession.

I had never seen so many bishops united and vocal about an issue as I did in the protest against Notre Dame's invitation to Obama to their 2009 commencement. That was a tipping point for me.


Publicist's Handbook, Chapter 1. When events are running your way, point to the news. When events are running against you, point at the media.

Doesn't it occur to him that If two popes said it, maybe it IS a real problem and not a nasty media invention??

The subtext I am hearing is that "we were wrongly accused by both popes, and don't intend to pay the slightest bit of attention now either."

I wish Catholic periodicals (like Commonweal) would publish more articles on the K of C and other similarly powerful organizations whose focus is political rather than religious.  

E.g., how much, exactly, did the K of C contribute to the investigation of American nuns?  How much, exactly, have they contributed to the fight same sex marriage?  How much, exactly, do they contribute to Republican candidates?   

Are editors afraid of the powerful organizations?  

I keep wondering if Carl Anderson is really running for President of the U. S.  and is off to a very early start.

I expect that one critical difference between the two popes is that Benedict, by the time he was elected, already had been a high profile Vatican official for a couple of decades.  The Vatican media contingent believed (probably rightly) that they knew him pretty well already.  There was a basis for certain expectations as to how his papacy would proceed.

On the other hand, when Cardinal Bergoglio's name was announced from the balcony, I believe the most common initial response from media representative was, "Who?" There were no pre-existing impressions or expectations.

And then, Pope Francis did a brilliant job of signaling that things would be different.  This was done in part by what he said in those early days, but even more so by what he did.  Choosing the name Francis, paying his own hotel bill, cancelling his own newspaper subscription, continuing to live in the guest hostel - all of these items sent a signal, "This will not be business as usual".  All of this paved the way for his public comments.  Overall, a certain impression is built up, brick by brick.  Benedict may have said some things that are similar to what Francis has said, but he did it in a context of being kind of a same-old, same-old pope - in some cases, even more so (e.g. didn't he resurrect old vestments from the storage closets?)

At the risk of having it both ways, I expect that under Francis, things will be quite different, and also, things will be the same.  Which will change, and which will remain the same, is what is still unclear.


Good journalism is all about context, and Francis's comments need to be considered within the full context of the many steps he has taken in just a few months to change the tone of the Catholic conversation. It's obvious something significant has occurred. It would be journalistic malpractice to miss that. 

I think this is a really good observation. Where I think the media is caught in a Catch-22 sometimes is in raising anticipation of Bigger News based on a change in tone ... even while tamping down that anticipation. For example, a lot of stories seem to run like this: While speaking to a group of blah blah, Pope Francis said blah blah, a departure from the hard line his predecessors took on blah blah. This has led many to wonder if the Church is about to change its teaching about blah blah. But longtime Vatican observer Cardinal Bigwig says that a doctrinal change on blah blah is not in the works. "The Pope wants the faithful to remember that the Church is not just about blah blah, and to deepen Catholics in the scope and breadth of their faith.

​The reporter wants to be sensitive to the tonal shift, but he realizes that a lot of non-Catholics could mistake a change in tone for Impending Big News. So the reporter has to address that misconception by explaining that there is no other Impending Big News ... thus making readers wonder if the Church is playing coy about possible Impending Big News.

Fr. James Martin told Stephen Colbert this week that big news is happening, i.e., more disaffected Catholics are going back to Church, presumably because they believe the "smaller, purer" faction isn't going to freeze them out sight unseen. But do a non-Catholic, I'm not sure that's really big news.



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