The media’s mind-boggling failure to understand Pope Francis

As a practicing Catholic working in the media, perhaps the five most frightening words I hear are “Pope Francis gave an interview.”

They aren’t scary because of anything Pope Francis actually says; the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio spent decades choosing his words carefully as an Argentine priest and then prelate of Buenos Aires, emphasizing the pastoral care of the Catholic Church while the extremes of politics from both left and right engulfed Argentina for decades.

The first Jesuit pontiff knows how to speak about faith and clearly enjoys doing so — and Catholics aren’t alone in their enthusiasm for listening.

So where does my anxiety come from? Well, from having to read what the media think Francis said.

Often, I find out from U.S. newspaper headlines that the pope has declared faith irrelevant to salvation or that same-sex marriage is acceptable. I stumble on these breaking-news bulletins before most Catholics are even aware of the interview itself.

But here’s the truth: The media seem incapable of understanding the pope, and Catholicism itself.

It’s not as if they haven’t had the practice.

The problem first became apparent in the spring, shortly after Pope Francis’s installation, when USA Today reported about the pontiff’s supposed “obsession with Satan,” which must have come as a shock to Catholics, Christians, and others who have, er … actually read the Bible.

Having “mentioned the devil on a handful of occasions,” the newspaper took an innocuous incident in which Pope Francis gave a blessing to a disabled young man and speculated that the Jesuit pontiff was an exorcist. Or perhaps from The Exorcist.

The Vatican had to inform the world press that no priest performs ad hoc exorcisms, and that popes usually pray with and bless visitors to St. Peter’s Square.

There is nothing secret about exorcisms in the Catholic Church, nor about papal blessings or the belief that Satan is a real and malevolent force in the universe.

Any media organization could have flipped through the Catholic catechism, canon law, or even the Bible — all of which are online.

Instead, USA Today and other media outlets around the world seemed stunned that a pope would talk about Satan, which led Fox News’s Kirsten Powers to quip on Twitter, “The @AP should just change the title to this story to BREAKING: Pope Francis believes the Bible.” Continue reading


Edward Morrissey writes for Hot Air and hosts several internet and radio talk shows.

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