Understanding the Pope

It has been suggested that Catholic newspapers spend too much time interpreting the words of the Holy Father, explaining away his thought so that it coincides more with traditional Catholic teaching. It has been suggested that perhaps the Catholic Press should just let the words stand as they are.

But our question is – where do you learn what he is really saying? And how do you understand it unless you know the background, context and history? The secular press exploits the sensational and often gives us the papal story without the proper context. Sales is the overwhelming factor.

The New York Daily News ran a story on Feb. 6, by Deborah Hastings titled: “Pope Francis says it’s ok to smack your child.” Did the pope say this?

Judge for yourself. Here’s the transcript:

“Certainly, he (the father) also knows how to correct with firmness: he is not a weak father, submissive and sentimental. The father who knows how to correct without humiliating is the one who knows how to protect without sparing himself. Once I heard a father at a meeting on marriage say: ‘Sometimes I have to strike the children lightly… but never in the face so as not to humiliate them.’ How beautiful! He has a sense of dignity. He must punish, but he does it in a just way, and moves on.”

Is the headline not true? Well, yes, but… it has to be seen in context, a context which is not given by most of the press!

In our Twitter age, when news is transmitted in 140 characters or less, for Catholic newspapers (and for that matter, the Vatican itself) must constantly present the words of our Holy Father in context. We’re not explaining away the pope’s intentions; we’re not reinterpreting the Holy Father’s words. We’re placing them into a context into which they can be better understood within the actual event in which these words were uttered and within the framework of the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church.

Commentator Father Thomas Rosica, a frequent interpreter of Pope Francis for Salt and Light Media commented to the Guardian of London:

“Who has not disciplined their child or been disciplined by parents when we are growing up?

“Simply watch Pope Francis when he is with children and let the images and gestures speak for themselves.

“To infer or distort anything else … reveals a greater problem for those who don’t seem to understand a pope who has ushered in a revolution of normalcy of simple speech and plain gesture.”

No one is downplaying or trying to distort the message of the Holy Father. All that the Catholic Press, by and large, is trying to do is to avoid headlines like the ones in the secular media.

People read headlines, sadly, more often than stories! It’s our job to give not only the sound bite, but also the complete picture.

One thought on “Understanding the Pope

  1. Re: Editorial “Understanding the Pope” (2/14/2015). My recent comment (taken out of context, perhaps?) was directed to those in the Catholic Church – liberal or conservative, clergy or laity, L’Osservatore Romano or Catholic blog – who are quick to put a spin on the words and actions of Pope Francis lest he appear to be breaking with the Church Magisterium or tradition. To some, it may be true that “no one is downplaying or trying to distort the message of the Holy Father,” yet, no other Pope in memory has ever been subject to as much scrutiny by members of our Church as he has. And no other modern Pope has given us more pause to think about the poor, the family, the forgotten, the orphan, the sick, and the unwelcome. For most of us, Pope Francis is coming in loud and clear.

    Deacon Fred Ritchie
    2301 East 14 Street
    Brooklyn, NY 11229