Your weekend 'think piece' game: Once again, it's time to play 'Name that pope'


This weekend's think piece is a kind of game -- a journalism game, to be precise.

It's a game that I have written about in the past, in part because of the billions -- OK, maybe just millions -- of news stories and commentaries that are built on the assumption that the theological content of the work of Pope Benedict XVI is sharply different than that of Pope Francis on just about any issue that you would want to mention.

Now, there are important differences and I know that. That is not my point. My point is that the mainstream press tends to ignore the many things Francis says on hot-button topics that support Catholic orthodoxy (thus, statements that sound like Benedict). There have also been times when journalists have taken statements that, in context, are not all that unusual and turned them into Google-dominating soundbites. Hey, who am I to judge?

In a 2014 "On Religion" column about this "Name that pope" game I offered these examples:

 "The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion."
Name that pope: That's Pope Francis, believe it or not. ...
"It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs."
Name that pope: That's Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, it's time to play "Name that pope" again. Are you ready?

On the subject of the church's traditional doctrine of marriage, stating that marriage is between a man and a woman:

"We cannot change it. This is the nature of things."

Name that pope: That's Pope Francis.

Now, look through this Google News search and look for news coverage of this statement in mainstream American media, especially at the elite, Acela Zone level. What did you see?

Ready for another quote?

On the subject of whether the term "marriage" can be used with same-sex couples:

“Let’s call this ‘civil unions.’ We do not joke around with truth.”

Name that pope: That's Francis, again. And what happens when you do a Google News search for that blunt "joke around" soundbite on truth? Pretty much the same thing.

One more? This time the subject is confession, and which kinds of sins deserve the most attention from priests:

“The most minor sins are the sins of the flesh. ... The most dangerous sins are those of the mind."

Now, was this a trick question? Not really. That's Pope Francis again, visiting familiar territory -- since he talks about confession all the time.

All of these quotes, you see, came from a book-length interview that the pope did with 70-year-old French sociologist Dominique Wolton, who is also an expert in media and political communication. There is quite a bit of material there to discuss, most of it linked to the pope's apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

If you want to know more about that massive interview, you will -- apparently -- need to read Catholic publications. You can start with this Catholic Herald piece or, as usual, turn to Crux.

There are Francis quotes here to upset the left. There are Francis quotes here to tweak the doctrinal right. I am simply asking, once again, what is it that makes a certain kind of blunt, pushy, hot-button Pope Francis quote ultra-newsworthy and what factor pushes others over into alternative publications.

Quote that pope?

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