Early in Benedict’s pontificate, at least one commentator described him as “Pope of the Internet age.” This was in contrast to John Paul II, who was “Pope of the television age.”
The rationale was intuitive. JPII was charismatic, telegenic, and had an aptitude for dramatic gesture. Ideal for TV. BXVI, in contrast, had none of his predecessor’s visual flair, but he is a talented writer. Ideal for the written word which in 2005 dominated the Internet.
Of course, the Internet has changed a lot in the 8 years since. So much so, that Pope Francis, who has an entirely different style again, could also be characterised as “Pope of the Internet age,” or maybe more specifically, “Pope of the Twitterverse.”
Sandro Magister shows why:
[The oratory typical of Pope Francis] is a concise, simple, conversational oratory, tethered to words or images of immediate communicative impact.
- the image of “God spray,” used by Pope Francis on April 18 to warn against the idea of an impersonal God “that is a bit everywhere but one does not know what it may be”;
- or the image of “babysitter Church,” used on April 17 to stigmatize a Church that only “takes care of children to put them to sleep,” instead of acting as a mother with her children;
- or the formula “satellite Christians,” used on April 22 to brand those Christians who allow their conduct to be dictated by “common sense” and by “worldly prudence,” instead of by Jesus.
Stefania Falasca, an old friend of Bergoglio – who telephoned her on the evening of his election – asked him after one morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae: “Father, but how do these expressions come to you?”
“A simple smile was his reply.” In Falasca’s judgment, the use of such expressions on the part of the pope “in literary terms is called ‘pastiche,’ which is precisely the juxtaposition of words of different levels or different registers with expressive effect. The ‘pastiche’ style is today a typical feature of communication on the web and of postmodern language. This is therefore a matter of linguistic associations unprecedented in the history of the Petrine magisterium.”
Later in the article, Magister considers the media’s silence on Pope Francis’ more provocative statements. He describes it as a gentle honeymoon. I’m inclined to view it more ominously. A pope who is censured by the world is at least more easily heard than a pope who is censored.
Over a month ago now, a juvenile court in Steubenville, Ohio, found two local high-school football stars guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl. They each received the maximum sentence available to the court.
The case attracted national headlines, and the media post-mortem expressed a lot of sympathy for two promising teenagers whose adolescent mistake had cost them so much.
When the verdict was reported on CNN yesterday the discussion once again focused on the least relevant part of any case involving rape and sexual abuse — that being the devastating effect the judicial outcome would have on the perpetrators’ lives.
“What’s the lasting effect though on two young men being found guilty juvenile court of rape essentially?” CNN’s Candy Crowley wondered aloud to CNN legal contributor Paul Callan.
“There’s always that moment of just — lives are destroyed,” he responded. “But in terms of what happens now, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law. That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
Clementine Ford tears the coverage to pieces. The details of the case make for harrowing reading.
More edifying is a blog post from Ann Voskamp which responds to the case:
When you’re the mother of four sons, Steubenville is about us.
Steubenville is about having a conversation with sons about hard things and asking you to do holy things.
What follows is an open letter to the eldest of her six children, who will soon turn 18. It is not only a beautiful articulation of “real manhood,” but also an authoritative condemnation of sexual abuse by someone who has confronted it in the past.
It’s well worth reading: After Steubenville: 25 things ours sons need to know about manhood.
I’m too young to remember Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership, but I watched The Iron Lady recently, and enjoyed it immensely. No surprise there. I think Meryl Streep is the greatest actor of her generation.
The Iron Lady is a great film. This trailer depicts Margaret Thatcher’s “public makeover” as she prepares to challenge for leadership of the Conservative Party:
And here’s some authentic footage which demonstrates the change:
Fr Longenecker (whom I’ve now quoted twice in two days!) has an interesting article on the cultural impact of “Thatcherism,” and its Catholic credentials: Was Thatcherism Catholic?
And finally, here is a remarkable video which captures Margaret Thatcher’s inimitable style. As radical as her policies were, I think this is the reason she is loved and loathed to such differing degrees.
“They’re a weak lot, some of them in Europe, you know. Weak. Feeble.” I have to admit: I laughed out loud.
Last June I learned of plans to launch a home-grown version of Catholic Voices. I offered my support, and I have been consistent with my prayers!
The original Catholic Voices initiative is British. In the lead up to Pope Benedict’s 2010 visit to the UK, a small number of media veterans trained twenty young Catholics in media skills, and organised media briefings on controversial Catholic issues. Catholic Voices quickly became a go-to resource for journalists seeking a local voice on Catholic news developments.
Since then, the initiative has been replicated all over the world. The Australian version was slow off the ground. The official launch was postponed at least once. Maybe it was twice. But then the pope did something nobody expected him to do. He resigned! And Catholic Voices Australia quickly mobilised.
Just as a papal visit was the ideal launching pad for the UK’s Catholic Voices, a papal election became CVA’s launching pad. Sky News, Channel Seven and the ABC all called on Catholic Voices in their coverage of the conclave. The challenge now is to provide young and faithful voices to the regular media panel of Catholic ‘talking heads,’ which is currently dominated by older, and often dissenting, voices.
CVA’s Facebook page gives a rundown on its media input to date. Perth’s Archdiocesan paper, The Record, reports on CVA’s official launch. And CVA itself is now seeking applications from “practising, committed Catholics aged between 20-45,” who can add to its pool of voices. If you’d like to get involved, visit their website.
Most English interviews with Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, are translation from Spanish, and you know what they say: “Traduttore traditore.” “The translator is a traitor.” (= Translations are unreliable.)
Nonetheless, they provide some insight into the mind of the new pope, and as you might expect, they reinforce first impressions. A 2012 discussion on priestly celibacy and the scandal of pedophilia is a prime example. Cardinal Bergoglio speaks frankly and honestly.
When I was a seminarian, I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle’s wedding. I was surprised by her beauty, her intellectual brilliance… and, well, I was bowled over for quite a while. I kept thinking and thinking about her. When I returned to the seminary after the wedding, I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing. I was still free because I was a seminarian, so I could have gone back home and that was it. I had to think about my choice again. I chose again – or let myself be chosen by – the religious path. It would be abnormal for this kind of thing not to happen.
The blogosphere’s favourite canon lawyer, Dr Edward Peters, who is always precise and thorough, unpacks and clarifies one of the Pope’s remarks in this interview.
Cdl. Bergoglio: If a priest comes and tells me that he got a woman pregnant, I listen. I try to help him have peace and little by little I try to help him realize that the natural law takes priority over his priesthood. So, he has to leave the ministry and should take care of that child, even if he chooses not to marry that woman. For just as that child has the right to have a mother, he has a right to the face of a father. I commit myself to arranging all the paperwork for him in Rome, but he has to leave everything. Now, if a priest tells me he got excited and that he had a fall, I help him to get on track again.
First, I like Bergoglio’s observation—which I think applies to all scenarios of conception outside of marriage—that marriage is not always the “right thing” to do. Marriage among Christians is a sacrament for the future, not a fix-it for the past. But I am not sure what Bergoglio means when he says that ‘natural law takes priority over priesthood’.
In a recent gathering, Bishop Javier Echevarría, the prelate of Opus Dei, reminded his audience that the Catholic Church has only one pope, not two. He insisted that Catholics stop comparing Francis with Benedict.
“The pontificate of Benedict XVI has passed and now we have Francis. We should fight hard to get rid of any temptation to make comparisons! We should be Catholics who are on the move, who pray a lot for Pope Francis, many times each day.”
It’s good advice I think, especially in view of the relentless comparisons in the media, which create an impression that Francis is implicitly criticising his predecessor. Here’s an example from The New York Times:
[Francis] wore simple black shoes and an ordinary wristwatch with a thick black band to his first Mass as pontiff…. In an ancient institution where style often translates into substance, Francis, in his first 24 hours as pope, has dramatically shifted the tone of the papacy. Whereas Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, was a theologian who favored red loafers, ermine-lined cloaks and erudite homilies, reviving papal fashions from centuries past, Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, appeared Thursday to be sending a message of radical humility.
Reading that, you might think that Pope Francis’ choice of black shoes is a deliberate rejection of Benedict’s red shoes. But I don’t remember anyone suggesting eight years ago that Pope Benedict’s choice of red shoes was a deliberate rejection of John Paul’s brown shoes.
I’m not denying that the choice of shoe colour says something about a papacy. Benedict wore red shoes because it is a centuries-old tradition, and as pope, Benedict restored or revived many traditions which were diminished or abandoned in recent decades. It spoke, I think, to an attempt to rebuild Catholic identity in a secular world. Francis wears black shoes because they’re brand new and in a spirit of poverty he will not throw them out. We can reasonably expect that spirit of poverty to impact his papacy and the Church.
But it’s drawing a much longer bow to suggest that Francis’ love of poverty is a repudiation of Benedict’s love of tradition. That’s like comparing apples and oranges, which is what journalists do, but which Catholics should resist.
Fr Julian Large, provost of the Brompton Oratory and a former journalist, wrote an excellent letter on this subject.
Soon after the election of Pope Francis, the Oratory telephone exchange was crackling with calls from the press. All of the journalists who telephoned seemed to ask the same question: “How will the new pope compare with the old one?”
How could one possibly answer? To say it was refreshing to have a pope from the new world and to suggest that we could surely expect a different style of pontificate might look, in print, like a vulgar criticism of Pope Benedict, whose deep humility, selflessness and penetrating insight will be esteemed by all decent men and women for centuries to come.
Most of us probably hope that a new pontificate will be marked by continuity with Pope Benedict’s project to re-establish a sense of Catholic identity among the faithful and to restore the mystery that makes us active participants at the most profound level in the Church’s liturgy. To say so much to the press, however, would sound presumptuous, as if we were telling the new Supreme Pontiff how to do his job.
Fr Julian suggests the media might fabricate “a virtual papacy,” in the same way it created “a virtual Council” fifty years ago. That’s not proposing a media conspiracy. It’s a comment on the wrong impressions and false expectations that excessive commentary can produce. I recommend reading his letter in full.
Journalists will naturally view Pope Francis as a Pope Benedict’s replacement. But as Catholics, we should view Pope Francis as St Peter’s successor. These understandings are quite different. For that reason alone, we should not allow the media to determine our attitude on the pope.