You can’t visit social media without tripping over news or opinion about Pope Francis visiting the United States right now usually with the hashtag #PopeInUS. I’d say that it was finally drowning out political infighting, but that’s not actually true. After all, the majority of non-Catholic coverage of the Pope’s visit is first being filtered through the proverbial prism of politics.
Five years ago this week the previous Pope, Benedict XVI, was also going on a pastoral visit to an English-speaking country — the country that, in fact, invented the language. I came across some coverage of it I’d shared on Facebook at the time, and I was struck by the difference. The media coverage was going out of its way to bring up the protesters, the critics, the fierce calls that the Church should go away/change/repent.
I don’t have a problem with that, per se. Obviously, I have concerns with it as a Catholic — I’d like everyone to be a Catholic, in an ideal world — but as a media issue it’s to be expected. After all, controversy sells ads and subscriptions. We don’t have to look any further than our own site statistics here at The Catholic Geeks; Pope Francis articles get the most hits, and our most-read article is by the talented and opinionated Lori on what the Church teaches about guns, by over twice the hits on the second-place article.
But what struck me is that this so-common media focus, tried and true in every news category whether religious, political, or entertainment, was noticeably missing from Pope Francis’ visit to the US. Either all those protesters and critics have mysteriously dried up in a mere five years, or something was different in the media itself.
And I can tell you for certain that the critics are there. If it’s not a Protestant complaining about how the Pope is too Catholic, then just about the only criticism you’ll find is someone trying to complain about how the Pope isn’t matching up with that person’s personal politics. That seems to be universal even among Catholics, though most don’t go full Strawpope like Andrew Napolitano did.
The fact that the media has suddenly shut up on this common tactic seems suspicious, but perhaps it’s coincidental. Of course, as any reader of The Catholic Geeks knows by now, the media prefers Strawpope Frank to Pope Francis, and when comparing the two events, in which the two popes covered much of the same ideas of poverty, abortion, marriage, and moral teaching, it’s almost as if there is a shared attempt to portray the Church as suddenly a bastion of progressivism instead of their usual accusation of medieval backwardness. They’re avoiding criticism of Pope Francis in favor of criticizing the opponents of Strawpope Frank — which includes Francis himself.
It’s certainly not coincidental that the left in this country has been trying to cast Pope Francis as supporting their every political stance, while famously and obviously avoiding doing anything that said pontiff actually says. Even the Washington Post editorial board — not known as a bastion of opposition to left-wing politics — has criticized the way Obama is treating Francis.
A cynic might say it’s easy to explain the difference. The pope, famously, has no army — or, to update the cliche, no carrier-busting missiles, and relatively few U.S. Treasury bonds in his portfolio. On the other hand, Pope Francis, whatever you think of the Catholic Church’s policies on abortion and gay marriage, has been during his short tenure a powerful voice for more tolerance and inclusion, while Mr. Xi is responsible for ever-growing repression. Maybe that should count for something, too, as the guest lists are drawn up.
For more on that topic, please feel free to read Declan’s ever-reserved take on this subject, titled “Obama to Francis: Screw You.”
The Washington Post is not the only media outlet to realize that things are going a bit far with pontifical coverage at the moment. There’s been a noticeable step back in regular reporting that casts Francis’ words in diametrically opposite light, with most of the desperate attempts being relegated to opinion pieces, or small sites like Hollywood Life, the latter of which will probably win this week’s prize for Most Blatant Lying About the Pope. There’s still plenty out there, including at the Post itself (which provided fisking material very recently to both Lori and myself), but despite the more blatant falsehoods the number of individual incidents of this stuff is probably at its lowest in Francis’ reign.
It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis has been addressing this. Whether it means he’s wising up to how the media is out to get him or the media is wising up to how the ruse won’t last, one Italian reporter decided to ask the Pope about the topic directly. The following is taken from the transcript provided by The Catholic News Agency:
Gian Guido Vecchi, Corriere della Sera: Holiness, your reflections, also your denouncements of the inequity of the world economic system, the risk of self-destruction of the planet are also very uncomfortable, in the sense that they touch the powerful interests of arms trafficking, etc. Before this trip, there were some bizarre manifestations that came out. Also, very important world media picked them up and and sectors of North American society were even asking themselves if the Pope was Catholic. There have already been discussions about a communist Pope, now there are event those who speak of a Pope who isn’t Catholic. In the face of these considerations, what do you think?
Pope Francis: I’m sure that I haven’t said anything more than what’s written in the social doctrine of the Church. On another flight, a colleague asked me if I had reached out a hand to the popular movements and asked me, “But is the Church going to follow you?” I told him, “I’m the one following the Church.” And in this it seems that I’m not wrong.
If that line sounds familiar, you might remember me paraphrasing Cardinel Burke as saying that doctrine guides us, and not the other way around. Neither I, nor Burke, nor Francis came up with that idea.
EDIT: If you want to hear him say it in his own words, albeit in Italian with a slightly different translation, here’s a video.
We have plenty of disagreements with the Pope here at The Catholic Geeks, but none of them have been on theological grounds. The reason for that is because we haven’t found a single thing he’s taught with his authority that is not in keeping with the teachings of previous popes, and the Church as a whole, for the last two thousand years. The Church is both older and larger than any political movement, even the movements that are 100% Catholic.
The President tried to cast the Pope as agreeing with his policies, going so far as to thank the Holy Father for the latter’s “support.” The Pope, to the shock of no one but the current occupants of the White House, responded by arguing against abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and the value of human life. The only way you can think he spoke in favor of leftist social agendas is to ignore just about every noun he used. In fact, the Pope made a very pointed remark — almost like it was an accusation of failure — about how the United States was built on the idea of religious freedom, and that this right must be protected.
After the meeting at the White House, the Pope even went out of his way to make an unscheduled stop with the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Vatican has confirmed that this was to show support for their court case over the abortion-and-contraception mandate. Let it not be said that Francis has no ability to be in someone’s face while still coming off as someone’s favorite grandpa. USA Today covered it as well, looking into the political implications.
Incidentally, and despite constant Internet memes and news/opinion stories to the contrary, I think this is the first time I’ve witnessed Francis doing anything that could be described as deliberately political.
In a few hours, the Pope will be speaking before Congress, the first time a pope has ever done this. There has been a lot of speculation about what he’s going to talk about, but there’s only one prediction that I think is truly worth making: Whatever he says will be what the Church has always taught.
If you can find evidence to the contrary, I want to know about it. In the meantime, just remember that politics, by definition, is about the present. The present isn’t exactly what the Church, and therefore the Pope, is primarily concerned with.
Or, as a fellow Catholic convert, John C. Wright, put it so eloquently the other day:
The Church has, in history, blossomed under the Emperors of Rome and Byzantium, who were elected by the army; under sacred kingship, under parliaments, under republics, and even under the tyranny of the Turks. The Church has also opposed all these things because She opposes the world. The Church will be here long after America sinks under the weight of our own corruption, long after the collapse of the North American Federation which comes next, or the Co-Dominium World-State, or the Long Night, or the Instrumentality of Man or the whatever comes after that.
I dare say that the Church will still be here, and her teaching will be remembered, unchanged, as a magician once said of the unicorn, “she will remember them all when men are fairy tales in books written by rabbits.”