Pope Francis, formerly a Jesuit, gave a series of interviews to the Jesuits. The interviews have been edited together, with parenthetical commentary and descriptions of the setting and so forth, and translated by lay people and Jesuits for publication in Jesuit publications. The English version is at the site of Jesuit-run America Magazine.
The interview is dense. There is a LOT going on in it. It is too much for the brain to take in at one sitting.
As you read the interview, and media coverage of the interview, you will find – and this is consistent with Pope Francis’ style of talking off-the-cuff – some truly quotable quotes, leap-out quotes that sit up and beg to be taken out of context. Look at what the MSM is doing with some of them.
For example, the New York Times leads with a headline “Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion (By Laurie Goodstein).” Oh really? Is that what Pope Francis did? CBS has “Pope Francis: Catholic Church must focus beyond “small-minded rules” and goes on to say “Pope Francis has warned that the Catholic Church’s moral structure might “fall like a house of cards” if it doesn’t balance its divisive rules about abortion, gays and contraception with the greater need to make it a merciful, more welcoming place for all.” Oh really? Is that what Pope Francis really said? The CBS statement makes the Pope sound as if he thinks that the Church has to change it’s teaching about abortion and homosexuality or it will collapse like a house of cards.
Even if you haven’t read the whole interview/article, some 12000 words, common sense tells you that that is not what the Pope said.
It is important when reading the interview, and media coverage of the interview, to keep your eyes on those leap-out quotes. When you see the MSM using those leap-out quotes in a way that doesn’t pass the smell test, go back and look at the context, the whole paragraph.
The whole context of the paragraph deconstructs the leap-out quotes and makes those quotes make sense.
Also, think about the “Francis Effect” in the reporting of this interview. [People are picking up on "Francis Effect". Nice! Maybe I should make it FrancisEffect™?]
For example, if Benedict XVI – talking in an interview about the need for a theology of women and a deeper discussion of the role of women in the Church – had said what Francis said, the headlines would have screamed “POPE DENIES EQUALITY TO WOMEN!”. On the other hand, Francis, in this interview, spoke with real disdain for “female machismo” as a solution to the question of women’s roles. When you read the paragraph on women and women’s roles in the Church you discover that Pope Francis is NOT a fan of radical feminism. Francis spoke about what Popes before him have called “feminine genius”. Nothing new. He said, “a woman has a different make-up than a man” and “we must not confuse the function with the dignity.” But since this is Francis being interviewed, and not Benedict or John Paul, journalists will go with something like, “POPE WANTS GREATER ROLES FOR WOMEN!”. You won’t read what the Pope really communicated: Yes, women must play an important role in the Church, but men’s roles and women’s roles are different, and that also means that women can’t be ordained.
That’s one example. Another example we will have to look at along the way is what Pope Francis meant by “right winger”. I don’t think he meant by that what the MSM – and the catholic media - is going to make of it. I think there is more to it that the leap-out quote says in those few words. I’ll get to that in another post.
Here is an overarching concern I take away from my first readings.
Through interviews – and the coverage of interviews – a “virtual Francis” is being created. An interview, by its nature, can only go so far. Short questions and short responses only go so deep.
We have to make sure that, with all the media attention, with all these interviews, that the “virtual Francis” is not stronger than the real Francis.
That is exactly what Benedict XVI – in his last days as Pope – said and warned about how the Second Vatican Council was interpreted. The media and others created a virtual Council. Remember that? There is a Council of the Media and a Council of the Fathers.
Week by week a Francis of the Media is being crafted.
Pope’s don’t govern through interviews.
Pope Francis’ speaks about a lot of heavy and burning issues: the role of women, abortion and homosexuality, to name a few. There is not a word in the interview that changes the Church’s teaching. He indicates what his interests are and his focus for his limited time and energy is going to be. That is an important take away from the interview.
If this Pope isn’t going to speak out a great deal about abortion or homosexuality, it’s because he knows that everyone is perfectly clear about what the Church teaches on these points. Francis – as is consistent with his old-fashioned Jesuit training – wants to be efficient in the use of his time and energy.
Because the Church’s teachings are clear, Francis will spend his precious time and energy showing a side of the Church that people, especially the MSM, hasn’t paid attention to: that the Church is not a museum of the perfect, it is a field hospital for sinners. Pope Francis is reminding the whole world that we are sinners and that we have to have compassion for each other, patience with each other, that we have to work to help each other even at some great cost. Francis is, to put it simply, touching up the Church’s human face and presenting her anew to a jaded, fallen world.
I’ll have more thoughts about particular segments and statements in the interview along the line. I wanted, however, to offer a few thoughts and lenses that might help you in your own reading of the interview and of the media coverage of the interview.