Pope Francis answers reporters questions during a news conference aboard the papal flight on the journey back from Brazil, Monday, July 29, 2013. Francis’ remarks came Monday during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil. (AP Photo/Luca Zennaro, Pool)
In an attempt to find a headline for Pope Francis’ news conference aboard his return flight to Rome from Brazil, reporters mangled the message.
I don’t really blame them; I don’t think it was intentional. But I do believe that when dealing with theology, it’s important to understand context and nuance; these were lacking in most of the reports I read.
The reporters traveling with the Pope (or the editors back home) missed what he actually said, and in this age of instant news that ricochets around the world with the speed of Twitter, the misinterpretation wound up spreading like an out of control virus.
Father Jonathan Morris, who is a Fox News contributor, put it this way:
“….unfortunately, if you were reading the headlines from some media outlets, you would have learned just one thing. As the Huffington Post put it: “Breakthrough: Pope OK with Gays.”
This is the worst coverage of a religious story I have seen to date.
Let’s begin with the fact that the pope has always been ‘OK’ with homosexuals. In fact, by the demands of his own religion he is required to be much more than just ‘OK.’ The Christian faith teaches that every person is endowed by God with an inviolable dignity and therefore deserves our unconditional respect and love.
A section of an Associated Press report also got the story very wrong. Summarizing the pope’s comments on homosexuals in the priesthood, the AP reported: ‘Francis was much more conciliatory [than Pope Benedict], saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.’
Pope Francis didn’t say that, and the report is wrong on so many levels.
First of all, it suggests that being gay itself, is a sin. What Pope Francis really said, in response to a reporter’s question about homosexual priests who are living a celibate life was this: ‘If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’
Pope Francis simply and compassionately reiterated Biblical teaching. The Bible and the Catholic Church have never taught that it is a ‘sin’ to be homosexual. They teach it is a sin to have homosexual sex because it goes against the laws of God’s nature, specifically his plan for human sexuality.
When Pope Francis says ‘who am I to judge’ he is saying—and I think we need to hear more of this from religious leaders—that active homosexuals deserve the same kindness, love, and mercy that all of us sinners would hope to receive from God and from others.
We don’t make judgments about anyone’s personal worth—God has already done that when he created us out of love.”
I have always been a proponent of “beat reporting” – employing journalists who specialize in a particular subject. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter is an excellent example of someone who deeply understands his subject. Rocco Palmo, who writes a blog called Whispers in the Loggia, is another. In the days when networks made extensive use of beat reporters, Winston Burdett of CBS was a master of religious reporting in Rome.
Assigning reporters who know a little bit about a lot of things doesn’t do our industry, or the public, any favors.