Francis, Faith, and False Assurances | Carl E. Olson | Editorial | Catholic World Report
There are a lot of people who are going to be surprised by how Catholic the Pope really is
Who, exactly, is reassuring whom? And about what?
Those were my thoughts upon reading David Gibson's spin-laden, cliché-soaked piece, “U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke: Pope Francis opposes abortion and gay marriage” (Feb 21, 2014), for Religion News Service. Gibson's report was on an essay by Cardinal Burke, who is Prefect of the Sacred Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, titled, “The Pope’s radical call to the new evangelization”, for L'Osservatore Romano earlier the same day.
Gibson's first sentence immediately tries to stuff Cardinal Burkes' essay into a narrow, politicized framework:
As Pope Francis led the world’s cardinals in talks aimed at shifting the church’s emphasis from following rules to preaching mercy, a senior American cardinal took to the pages of the Vatican newspaper on Friday (Feb. 21) to reassure conservatives that Francis remains opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
Cardinal Burke, you see, isn't so much interested in reflecting upon the words and actions of Pope Francis as he is in gently patting the furrowed brows of fretting, simplistic Catholics who might wonder if the Holy Father is, in fact, on board with the Church's perennial teachings on issues of life, sexuality, and related matters. Or, more bluntly: Cardinal Burke is a politician first, and pastor second.
Gibson's piece is an outstanding example of bad Catholic journalism—both as the work of a Catholic and in its representation of the topic at hand. Two rhetorical tactics are immediately evident: the skewed portrayal of Cardinal Burke as a disgruntled, even angry, reactionary and the use of Gibson's favorite negative descriptive: “conservative”:
Cardinal Raymond Burke acknowledged that the pope has said the church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” But in his toughly worded column in L’Osservatore Romano, the former archbishop of St. Louis blasted those “whose hearts are hardened against the truth” for trying to twist Francis’ words to their own ends.
Burke, an outspoken conservative who has headed the Vatican’s highest court since 2008, said Francis in fact strongly backs the church’s teaching on those topics. He said the pope is simply trying to find ways to convince people to hear the church’s message despite the “galloping de-Christianization in the West.”
For those who rely only on Gibson's description, Burke's essay sounds like the shrill manifesto of a man desperate—the term “conservative unease” is used twice!—to spin the words of Francis to his own, well, “conservative” agenda. In fact, it is Gibson who is spinning—slyly, if not shrilly—the words of Burke. To take just one more blatant example: