By DANIELLE COHEN
Decades of popes have consistently been well spoken and have paid special attention on emphasizing the pastoral care of the Catholic Church. The current church leader, Pope Francis, does not differ from previous popes in his way off addressing his people. He is careful and has a very selective choice of words.
What the pope says is not always perceived the way it is meant to be by journalists and is released into the press with false statements that the pope did not actually say or mean.
Former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio picked his words carefully as an Argentine priest and then prelate of Buenos Aires. He was impeccable in his word choice, especially with the politics that attacked Argentina for many years.
Journalists are very interested in what the pope has to say, knowing it could potentially make international headlines. With this, the problem of journalists misunderstanding and misdirecting the media was noticed last spring after Pope Francis’s installation. There was a report in USA Today, for example, about the pontiff’s supposed “obsession with Satan,” of which many Protestants, Catholics and other Bible readers were skeptical.
The newspaper stated that the pope “mentioned the devil on a handful of occasions.” The reporter took an incident where Pope Francis gave a blessing to a handicapped man and speculated the idea the Jesuit pontiff was an exorcist, or from the film “The Exorcist.” The Vatican then went further to tell the international press that no priest performs “ad hoc exorcisms” and the popes usually pray with and bless’ victims.
Any reporter covering this story could have flipped through canon law, the Bible or Catholic catechism, which are available to the public.
A couple of days later, reports came out that Francis declared that atheists would go to heaven as long as they did good deeds. The media took his words out of context when really Francis spoke of “ecumenical communion between believers and good-hearted atheists.” Nothing Francis said had contradicted the belief that work for the poor and downtrodden people would provide a meeting place in people’s hearts.
Two months following this false media report, the media then again reported something out of context. They claimed that Francis declared that the church would no longer “judge” homosexuality. What he actually said was “Who am I to judge” in response to a question about the “gay lobby” and focused on “lobbies” of all kinds focused on the segment of society destroying Christian unity and brotherhood.
Last week, a lengthy interview with American Magazine took place with Francis, which was published by and for the Jesuit Society in America. What the media got from this interview was that the pope was going to change the doctrine — or at least soften it up a lot.
ABC then went on to report this as the pope scolding the Catholic Church over “divisive rules.” A European wire service reported that the “pope seeks easing of rigid Catholic doctrine,” which references other media sources that states he was “pushing a shift” in the Catholic Church. The abortion rights group, NARAL, went on with this false information and published a thank-you note to the pope, only to find him excoriate abortion a few days after.
Continued media failure upsets Catholics who truly understand Francis’s true message. This brings up the question of media credibility on religious matters and even more broadly than that. Catholic documents are easily obtainable and yet the media doesn’t appear to be checking facts before publishing news stories that change the words of Francis and the Catholic Church.