Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.


Blame it on Rio

08-04-2013Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Following the media coverage of Pope Francis's visit to Brazil for World Youth Day was at first disappointing and then very disappointing. The media coverage was at best sparse considering this was the Pontiff's first trip and more significantly the first Pope from Latin America to visit Latin America.

The blog for NPR didn't even mention the Papal trip but rather offered a long and extensive piece on a former Brazilian priest who has been excommunicated and is spending his days advocating for the usual litany of things for the Church to change. Now if this were 1968 that might be news but today it's just a rehashing of old news. I realize these people are unbelievers but do they have to be so clueless?

The media is good at finding people and groups who dissent from Church teaching in order to support the narrative the media has about how the world should be and how the Church needs to change to fit their vision. But they some how missed the bigger story of how the Church actually is: three million mostly young people gathered in Rio de Janeiro to listen to the Pope challenge them to revolutionize the culture by bringing the Gospel to their brothers and sisters.

Of all the Pope said and did in Brazil, which was extensive and heart warming, the thing the media zeroed in on was the Pope's remarks to journalists on the flight back to Rome. And only one single word that the Pope uttered was necessary to bring the mainstream media into apoplexy: gay. Even the front page of the Wall Street Journal headlined the story: "Pope signals openness to gay priests". That was not what the Pope did nor said. He simply reminded the reporters, in response to a question about a priest at the Vatican who is rumored to be gay, that anyone who sins and seeks forgiveness is given it from God and we should do the same. This includes even a priest who acts on same-sex attractions but repents and lives a chaste life. The Pope even gently chastised the reporters for making people's personal moral failings, which are not the same as crimes, fodder for news reports. The Pope was not whitewashing sins, sins are still sins, but reminding us all that sins can be forgiven. Maybe that is news worthy come to think of it.

Still the media got the story mostly wrong on so many levels. But I guess that is to be expected. Nuance is not their strength especially when it comes to religion. The modern day journalist tends to see everything through the lens of politics. Pope Francis spoke a lot about becoming a more just people, caring for the poor and dealing with the ever -increasing disparities between the rich and poor so as to form a society that is more reflective of human solidarity. This somehow for reporters became "the Pope taking a swipe as leaders in South America". Really? It was nothing more than a religious leader reminding each individual of the demands of justice, which are integral to being fully human.

I think one of the reasons the media gets religion wrong is that it sees it in competition with the political world. The truth is that both the state and the Church are public institutions and as such each have their own competencies and spheres of influence. It is the Church's task to remind and inform the state of its proper purposes and goals. For instance the Church defines the parameters of justice. It is up to the state to make that happen in the political sphere. And when it fails to do so the Church can remind it of what a just society should look like. If the state were to define justice for itself it would be self-serving and not rooted in a morality that pre-exists the state.

After reading the lopsided coverage of the Pope's historic visit to Brazil I am starting to think maybe no news is actually good news.

Love, Fr. John B

P.S. One other thing the Pope did say to reporters was that he wants to reform and streamline the annulment process for the divorced. Yeah! Seems the Pope heard my loud laments about how the bureaucratic incomprehensibility of our Marriage Tribunals put the US Immigration Service to shame. To all who are waiting and waiting and waiting for a final disposition of your marriage case: the Pope has heard your frustrations with the process!

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