Who am I to judge?

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

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, among many:

 "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."

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In your newspaper? Vatican reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality and the priesthood

In your newspaper? Vatican reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality and the priesthood

The big news out of the Vatican today really isn't all that surprising, if you know anything about the Catholic Catechism. However, grab your local newspaper and look for this story anyway, because I will be surprised if you find coverage of it there.

The Washington Post online headline proclaims: "The Vatican reaffirms its position suggesting gay men should not be priests."

Yes, we are returning to Pope Francis and the most famous, or infamous, quotation, or sort-of quotation, from his papacy. I am referring, of course, to the 2013 off-the-cuff airplane press conference in which he spoke the phrase, "Who am I to judge?"

The pope said many things in that historic presser and news consumers have had a chance to read about 90 percent of what he actually said. Click here for previous GetReligion material about this media storm. By the way, here are the latest search engine results for these terms -- "Who am I to judge" and "Pope Francis." There are currently 7,520 hits in Google News and 140,000 in a general search.

So what did the Vatican say that is, or is not, in the news? Here is the top of a Washington Post "Acts of Faith" item, which is one of the only major-media references I could find to this story. I would be curious to know if this appears in the ink-on-paper edition:

People who have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’” cannot be priests in the Catholic church, the Vatican said in a new document on the priesthood.

The document said the church’s policy on gay priests has not changed since the last Vatican pronouncement on the subject in 2005.

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(Cue: audible sigh) 'Who am I to judge?' errors continue in basic AP wire report

(Cue: audible sigh) 'Who am I to judge?' errors continue in basic AP wire report

One of the most positive developments of the online age, for journalists, is the number of full verbatim texts of interviews and speeches that are only a few mouse clicks away.

Of course, this is a positive development if journalists actually use those resources. At some point, one still has to care about the details of what people actually said.

Like what? Several weeks ago, while working on a Universal syndicate column ahead of the papal visit to the United States, I ran a simple online search for the terms "Pope Francis" and "Who am I to judge?" The results, I thought, were pretty eye opening, with nearly 200,000 hits, including 4,540 in current news articles and commentaries.

Trust me that very, very few of these articles actually focused on what Pope Francis actually said in that 2013 encounter -- here is that link to the full text again -- with reporters on Shepherd One. We will come back to that subject.

I just ran the same search and, to my surprise, the current Google News files contain even more references than in the past -- with 5,300 in recent stories -- even though the we keep moving further and further from that event. Also, the the pope has had more to say on this and related topics that illustrate his actual views.

This flawed coverage includes the following in a new Associated Press story about Francis and the 2015 Synod on marriage and family issues. As always, AP reports are especially crucial since they go out to, literally, several thousand newsrooms across the nation and around the world and are seen by the copyeditors as basic, accurate stories. Let's walk through some of the summary material about what happens when the synod is done and submits its report to the pope:

What Francis does with the final paper is up to him: He can use it as a basis for a document of his own, he can ignore it, or he can publish it as a synod document. During Round One of the bishops’ family meeting last year, Francis not only published the final document in full, he published the three paragraphs that didn’t receive the necessary votes to pass -- those that dealt with the vexing issues of ministering to gay Catholics and civilly remarried Catholics.
The key question of Round Two has been how the bishops would pick up those two outstanding issues, after Francis called for a more merciful, less doctrinaire approach.

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