A synthesis of how the media has misinterpreted Pope Francis - Fr. Pio Maria, CFR
"Look, I wrote an encyclical, true enough, it was a big job, and an Apostolic Exhortation, I´m permanently making statements, giving homilies; that´s teaching. That´s what I think, not what the media says that I think."
–Pope Francis, Dec. 7, 2014
There is so much to rejoice over and repeat from the Holy Father’s words in the Philippines but most of it was lost to us due to media manipulation and to Catholics reacting to the media’s take.
Some Catholics were bothered for the wrong reasons and others were bothered for the right reason; the former taking their cue from the New York Times and the latter from the Holy Father’s words (see: “What happened to the Nice Fluffy Pope Francis” or “Feeling Devastated by this Pope”).
Because of this, I have laid out a few “Did you know?”’s for you to fill out the picture and help keep you from going the way of the lemming.
Did you know that:
• The Holy Father had a special gathering in Rome on December 28 to encourage and praise large families?
“The fact of having brothers and sisters is good for you: the sons and daughters of a large family are more capable of fellowship from early childhood. In a world often marked by selfishness, the large family is a school of solidarity and sharing; and this attitude then becomes a benefit for the whole society. … The presence of large families is a hope for society. … Dear parents, I am grateful to you for the example of love towards life, that you preserve from conception to natural end, despite all the difficulties and burdens of life, and that unfortunately, the public institutions do not always help you. … Each family is a cell of society, but large families are a more rich cell, more vibrant, and the State has an interest in investing in it. … I always thank the Lord in seeing mothers and fathers of large families, together with their children, engaged in the life of the Church and society. For my part, I am close to you through prayers, and I place you all under the protection of the Holy Family of Jesus, Joseph and Mary.”
Did you know that:
• There is tension in the Philippines between the Church and the government because of the recently passed Reproductive Health Bill?
• The Holy Father called the Filipinos to be aware of, and reject, an “ideological colonization” which undermines and redefines marriage and discourages openness to life?
“Beware of the new ‘ideological colonization’ that tries to destroy the family. … And just as our peoples were able to say in the past ‘No’ to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and strong to say ‘No’ to any attempted ideological colonization that could destroy the family. … The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”
[As the Pontifical Missionary, Fr. Bernardo Cervella wrote:
“It is impressive to see the figures of the funds that the UN dedicates to so-called ‘reproductive health’, which includes contraception, abortion, gender education: almost 70 billion US dollars for Sub-Saharan Africa alone; 1.75 billion for South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, added to which is the contribution of the World Health Organization which provides 7 billion US dollars a year to prevent ‘unwanted complications of motherhood’ and 16 billion for 2015 for generic ‘care of the mother, newborn, baby,’ which include ‘family planning.’
“The Pope asked Catholics in the Philippines and in the world to combat this colonization. The division created by the controversy about the "rabbits" has overshadowed this decisive message.”]
• The Holy Father broke from his prepared text to praise the courage of Bl. Paul VI in upholding openness to life against those who spoke of overpopulation?
Did you know that:
• When a reporter pressed him on “ideological colonization,” the Holy Father used the example of a poor school that was to be given funding only on the condition that they accept books that promoted a gender theory opposed to Church teaching? (After that, he brought up the testimony of the African bishops at the recent Synod to this type of colonization. Then he went on to say that this is the same as the approach that was used by the Fascist youth and the Hitler youth.)
• In the rest of the answer he recommended Robert Hugh Benson’s book, The Lord of the World, on the final battle of the Church and the world, then brought up Paul VI again, and then reaffirmed that “openness to life is a condition for the sacrament of matrimony”?
“If it can be proved that he or she married with the intention of not being Catholic [on this point] then the matrimony is null. [It is] a cause for the annulment of the marriage, no? Openness to life.”
• It was here that he brought up the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood?
Did you know that:
• He did not teach that having three children or more is irresponsible?
• His words were in response to a reporter who brought up the claim that “the poverty in the Philippines is due to the fact that Filipino women have an average of three children each?”
• The Holy Father responded with the claims of scientists that three is the minimum for the health of a nation to keep it from falling into extreme difficulties and then gave the example of Italy and its underpopulation?
• He brought up responsible parenthood again – as well as the counsel of one’s pastor – in discerning correct spacing of children?
• The Holy Father knows that the Church is derided by its enemies who claim that the Church wants us to “be like rabbits,” apologized before using that expression, and clarified that this is not the Catholic approach?
“Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood!”
• He went on to say that the reason why the poor in question have so many children is not because they are irresponsible but because they are generous and willing to sacrifice since they recognize that each child is a treasure?
Did you know that:
• He brought this up again at the next Wednesday Audience?
“It gave us consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift of God. They know that every child is a gift of God. I heard it said that families with many children and the birth of so many children are among the causes of poverty. It seems to me to be a simplistic opinion. I can say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center and put the god of money there; an economic system that excludes, that always excludes, children, the elderly, the youth, without work…- and that creates the throwaway culture that we live in. Recalling the figure of Saint Joseph, who protected the life of the “Holy Child,” so venerated in that country, I reminded that it is necessary to protect the families that face different threats, so that they can witness the beauty of the family in God’s plan. It is also necessary to defend them from the new ideological colonizations, which threatens their identity and their mission.”
Did you know that:
• Through Avvenire (the newspaper of the Italian bishops) and his Substitute for General Affairs (Archbishop Giovanni Becciu) the Holy Father has apologized to those who were offended by his words?
“’The Pope is truly sorry’ that his remarks about large families ‘caused such disorientation.’ Archbishop Becciu said the pope ‘absolutely did not want to disregard the beauty and the value of large families.’”
There are five recurring weaknesses which lead some of the faithful to miss all these things:
- being quick to distrust and abandon the Holy Father,
- being quick to criticize and speak ill of him (“with all due respect,” of course),
- accepting too easily the lead of the secular media with its distorted reporting,
- not spending time with words of the Holy Father which the media does not find reportable,
- not reading the context of the words spun by the media.
On “rabbits” and engaging the world
I know couples with large families who felt offended and others who laughed at the rabbits comment. I also know some couples with smaller families who sometimes feel judged by large families. We all need a bit of patience and humor. The Holy Father did not say that generous parents are like irrational animals – I’ve read some who are frothy on this point: “He’s saying that large families are like beasts that can’t control themselves!”
It is an inconsistency for us to gripe about the State when it wants faith and life to be sundered in society and then go down the same path when Pope Francis makes us uncomfortable. “The Church needs to stay out of ‘non-Churchey’ things!” But this is not our Catholic style. This “either/or” is a false dichotomy. The Church will not withdraw from addressing the world. We have an obligation to help promote the common good and will continue to encourage that good in the world, especially while we have a responsive audience.
St. John XXIII’s intervention led to the end of the Cuban missile crisis. St. John Paul II’s interventions brought down the Iron Curtain. Pope Benedict XVI spoke to anyone and everyone (non-Christian volunteers, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, football teams, acrobats, astronauts aboard space stations, Chinese orchestras, etc). Pope Francis is not unusual in engaging the world.
Misunderstandings are not the worst evils that we face. Our Lord was often misunderstood and his words were taken out of context. Closer to our day, there were several times that the words of Pope Benedict XVI became opportunities for confusion (think of the condom controversy in his interview Light of the World and also of his Regensburg lecture). Misunderstanding can be a great opportunity for sharing the Faith with others who are already talking about it and might not have wanted to discuss it otherwise.
May the sheep be quicker to defend the shepherd than to throw him (before the eyes of the world!) under the bus. May these occasions open our mouths to explain the Faith to those who do not know it, and not close them even tighter.
Viva il papa!