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.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, 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). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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