Just Ignore Everything You Read About Pope Francis

That’s right.  Everything.  Sure, I get the irony since I’m writing about the Pope, but I’m speaking in hyperbole… just barely.  You might be able to find the occasional article about Pope Francis which is actually accurate, and usually they’re the ones explaining why some other article you read on Pope Francis is wrong.  But even then, those explanations are sometimes skewed, because the people writing them are sometimes basing their knowledge partly on other articles they are reading… which are also wrong.

So here’s my conclusion: Just ignore everything your read about Pope Francis.  You heard me.  Everything.  I truly feel this is a relatively safe, sweeping generalization, and that includes news reports on TV, the radio, or the Internet.  That latest article, or worse, that latest headline you just read on the Pope?  It’s wrong.  Even that article that came out after I wrote this—it’s also wrong.  What’s that?  You just read an article talking about some Cardinal who said something related to the Pope?  Yes, this article is also wrong.  If it’s an article or headline connected to the Pope in any way, shape or form, it’s likely to be at the very least misleading, twisted and serving some ulterior agenda.  It’s wrong.  But you say the article you read came from one of the sources in Rome?  Sorry to say, even some of the sources in Rome have been known to twist words and draw silly conclusions.  Now of course, there are a few golden articles that accurately report on what the Pope is doing, but as the strange phenomenon seems to prevail, mainstream media seems far more content with not knowing what on earth they’re talking about, or just plain making stuff up when it comes to Pope Francis.  This is the real “Francis effect”.

But… but… how will I ever know what the Pope is actually talking about?  Why is this happening?  Let me answer both these questions:

What can I read that isn’t wrong?

Want to know where to look?  The original sources.  Yes, this means you’re going to have to actually spend some time in reading and reflection, because pretty much the only place you will find accurate info is in the original documents themselves.  Read the encyclicals.  Read the letters.  Read the homilies.  Read them in full.  I know this goes against every facebook and twittering instinct in our bodies, but you’re going to have to spend time reading and reflecting on these original documents in full, if you want to really know what’s going on.  You are also going to need a basic understanding of the mind of the Church.  Here’s what I mean: the Church cannot change doctrine.  She can’t.  If you think the Pope is making changes to the teachings

of the Church, that’s because you read an article about him.  As I explained before, that article is wrong.  Also, there is a difference between an encyclical and a letter or a homily.  An encyclical contains authoritative, infallible teaching when discussing matters on faith and morals.  The latter two do not, strictly speaking.  They should be respected and held in high esteem, especially when coming from the Pope, but there is no grace of infallibility there due to the scope and nature of these forms of teaching.  This means that mistakes can be made and it is no big deal to correct them.  Keeping this in mind, when you read something that appears to be off from what the Church usually says, this is when it’s good to look up whether perhaps you are misunderstanding what is being said, not properly understanding the context in which it is said, or maybe even something is being lost in translation.  You might need some help from someone more well-versed in Church teaching to help you understand, or someone who can read the original language and explain the disparity.

Why is this happening?

brace yourselvesExcellent question.  Here’s my opinion.  And here’s where my article about Pope Francis may also be wrong.  There are currently two Pope Francis’.  No, I’m not hocking some silly conspiracy theory.  What I mean is, there is the real Pope Francis, and then there is what I would call, “Pseudo Pope Francis”—a skewed and altered version of the Pope that the media wishes he would be.  Let me explain.  As you may have noticed, the current secular culture is hardly in sync with the Church.  The popular moral perspective today definitely goes contrary to a number of the Church’s teachings, especially in regard to sexuality and life/death issues.  This is nothing new, but in a particularly strong way today, there is much disagreement with the Church.  The voice of this popular morality is mainstream media.  Those who work for, own, manage, and produce our media intake, for the most part, belong to this secular culture, and are none too happy with the Church’s ongoing defiance of these popular waves of thought.  Of course they’re going to try to “preach” what they believe and are so passionate about.  Why wouldn’t they?  Enter Pseudo Pope Francis.  By twisting the Pope’s words, taking them out of context, etc, the media is in a sense creating their own version of the Pope to act like and say all the things they wished and hoped he would say.  I can’t say whether this is intentional and malicious, or out of ignorance and wishful thinking (or some combination thereof), but for people who really want to change Catholics’ way of thinking, it is natural to use the Pope as a platform to change Catholic opinion.  As far as secular culture knows, Catholics just do whatever the Pope says, because he’s infallible, right?  This preys upon those people who A) do not understand the distinctions of Papal Infallibility and B) do not properly understand what the Church teaches and why, anyway.  Unfortunately this accounts for a large portion of Catholics.

Who is Pseudo Pope Francis?

superhero francisHe’s the guy who is making huge waves in the Church, cleaning house, kicking butt and taking names.  He’s changing the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, and wants to make homosexual marriage a possibility within the Church.  Remember when he said “who am I to judge?”  Yeah, that guy.  He’s always struggling to say what he really wants to say about why the Church is all wrong because those stupid Cardinals keep “correcting” him.  Who do they think they are?  But in spite of the opposition, Pseudo Pope Francis is fighting those fatcat, Cardinal beaurocrats in a war to allow for divorce and for all people to be able to receive the Eucharist.  He’s demoting those awful conservative Cardinals right, left and center, and changing the structure of the curia to fix the corruption so deeply set into every single male chauvinist pig to ever don a red hat and cape.  Soon the Church will be more with the times and not stuck in the stone age.  He’s changing the system, man.  He’s taking down the man, man!  He’s paving the way for women to become priests, and soon there will be equality and liberty for all!  What a great guy, a real modern-day hero.  Sticking up for the little guy (or girl!)  You can be sure that if there’s a cause that’s dear to your heart, Pseudo Pope Francis is already 10 steps ahead in taking care of that.  But most importantly, he’s the guy who only exists on paper.  He’s not real.  Sorry to disappoint, kids.

You monster.

noOf course, this may be how you may feel about me for saying that this Pope Francis described above does not exist.  In fact, everything said above is not true, or at least, it is a twisted version of the facts.  Sure, Pope Francis did say “who am I to judge?”—something the media repeats ad nauseam—but this meaning is skewed without understanding the context and intent properly.  And sure, he’s also making some changes with those working in the Vatican, but this is nothing new, nor is it necessarily as cutthroat as the media paints it.  The issue is that the media keeps guessing at the Pope’s intentions—that, or they’re just making things up purposefully to mislead people.  They see something he does or hear something he says, and make large assumptions or twist the Pope’s words.  They present these assumptions as “facts”, so that well-intentioned, good-hearted people like yourself are led to believe that they have been well-informed.  Ever heard of clickbait?  You know those endless Buzzfeed articles that show up in Facebook saying things like “You’ll never believe what happened next!”?  That’s clickbait.  It’s an article title that is purposefully misleading or over-exaggerated in order to make you curious enough to click on the link.  This method is used a lot in articles on Pope Francis.  The article title will make a radical claim, but when you read the article you see that the claim is not so radical or is downright false—that is, if you actually read the article.  Be honest, you often don’t, do you?  At the very least I am sure you have friends who go around claiming something about the Pope which they got from only reading the article title, and now they have built even further, inaccurate assumptions about the Pope.  Of course, you haven’t read this far in the article if you are one of those people (or at least you do it less frequently).  Kudos.  Share this article with others and even if they only read the title, it might influence them to “just ignore everything they read about Pope Francis”.  But I digress.  One step worse from clickbaiting article titles about Pope Francis, are the pictures of Pope Francis with a quote on it.  I hate these so much.  Occasionally you can make a good point with a short “sound bite”.  Often, especially when it comes to quotes from Pope Francis, these quotes are so far out of context that they can be used to promote any ridiculous thing.  And they often do.  We should be smart enough to know by now that it’s highly unlikely that we will get an accurate sense of someone or what they stand for from just a short quote, especially if we don’t know the context.  But we forget.  I forget.  #thingspopefrancisneversaidWhat’s worse is that sometimes these quotes are completely made up.  I’ve seen pictures of Pope Francis with what claims to be a quote from him that is not at all something he’s ever said.  A quick look at snopes in this case usually confirms the fraud.  So don’t think me crazy for saying that through various forms of media we are being presented with an alternative, pseudo Pope Francis that is saying and doing what other people want him to say and do.

But I always take the media with a grain of salt…

Of course this happens with all kinds of the information we get, but the phenomenon I have noticed surrounding Pope Francis, or the “Francis effect”, is that reports on the Pope are almost exclusively slanted or false.  I am simply amazed by how often it happens.  This is probably because it wouldn’t be newsworthy otherwise.  Actually, if an article about Pope Francis doesn’t seem all that newsworthy, it’s probably correct.  But to make it newsworthy we need to spice it up, add a little scandal or shock value so that people will want to talk about it.  Assuming that the articles you’re reading and the news reports you’re hearing are the ones that are making headlines, then just ignore them, because those are the ones that are wrong.  You likely are not interested in the ones that are true.  So my recommendation, which you are free to ignore, is not to simply take the reports you hear on Pope Francis with a grain of salt, but rather to just ignore them entirely, because they are sensationalized, inaccurate, and it is difficult to separate the truth from the Pseudo Pope Francis.  Just go read the original texts, they’re actually really good stuff!  That’s what Pope Francis said we should do.  (He actually did, as far as I’ve read).

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About Fr. Steve

I am happily a priest of Diocese of London, Ontario, as of April 25, 2015! Hooray!!! Some people are afraid to ask clergy questions sometimes, because they are worried about "what he'll think of me". I am happy to engage in any discussions you might want to have with me about the faith, and trust me, I have heard and probably even lived many of the crazy stories people might share and am not seeking to look down on you, but to help lift you up, wherever you are, to whatever degree you are willing to go. It's about you, and your relationship with God. That is what is most important to me. Since the Lord loves you without qualification, I try to impart the same courtesy.

Posted on February 2, 2015, in Catholic, Pope Francis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Well, yes and no. Not reading media reports about Pope Francis would certainly improve my indigestion. But to go back to reading the original documents — like the midterm report from the Synod on the Family — doesn’t always help matters. Evangelii Gaudium also has some ambiguous passages that seem to agitate for change.

    Most importantly, I’ve recently discovered that “doctrine can’t change” is not accepted by all Catholics. The idea of development of doctrine (which perhaps originated with Blessed John Henry Newman) has spawned an entire theology that many Catholics (call them liberal, if you like) adhere to strongly. It’s not enough to say that doctrine can’t change. You need to show that development of doctrine on a particular issue and under particular circumstances is also impossible.

    • Thanks for your reply Karee. I’ll respond to your comments part by part:

      1. While I am advocating reading the original documents, I also outlined understanding the difference between different types of documents. A midterm report on a synod is mostly talking about how the discussion is going so far. It is hardly a definitive document but rather, exactly as it would suggest, discussion on the work in progress.

      2. Evangelii Gaudium is a more definitive document, and as I said before, it is important to think with the “mind of the Church”. When we understand the Church’s teachings as a whole, then if we should find something that might be ambiguous, we are more likely to understand how to take that statement, or whether it is an issue with the translation, or whether it is the type of thing that is actually doctrinal or just about policy, and therefore is subject to change.

      3. You are correct that the unchangeable nature of doctrine is not accepted by all Catholics. There are also many teachings that are not accepted by all Catholics. This is a problem we have in our Church, and I would hazard a guess that the desire to believe that doctrine is changeable is directly linked with the struggle over certain teachings in the Church that people don’t like regarding things like gay marriage, contraception, premarital sex, female priests, etc etc. Alternatively, it could be the result of a fear that the Holy Spirit won’t be able to safeguard the faith in the Church and one day our teachings will change and we’re going to have to explain that disparity somehow. (… even though we’ve gone over 2000 years without changing doctrine so…)
      Now the development of doctrine is something different entirely. It does not mean at all that doctrine changes or even slightly changes. It means that we come to understand it more deeply. It never changes any truth of the past, but simply makes that truth clearer. For example, I can look at someone from a distance and recognize there’s a creature of some kind standing there. Then if I get closer I can make out that it is a human being, and then even closer I can tell it is a woman, and then even closer I can tell perhaps who that woman is, and many of her detailed features. Knowing who the person is doesn’t change that it’s a woman, or a human, or a creature. There is no contradiction. So it is enough to say that doctrine can’t change. Sometimes we misunderstand what things are doctrinal, like for instance some think that every action we do in the liturgy is doctrine, when in fact liturgy is subject to change, as we have seen this happen over the years. That would be the distinction I’d make.

  2. Thank you for this article. I am so weary of the attacks on Pope Francis (and the other popes before him who were supposed to be the anti-christ….oops, I guess he’s the antichrist now right?) I appreciated being able to post this article on my FB to speak up against all the ridiculous accusations about him.

    • Yeah especially with his visit to the US now, people are throwing around every agenda and conspiracy theory that it’s ridiculous. For those who are throwing around “anti-Christ” theories about our Popes, it makes me wonder whether they’re really hoping for one, and so they’ll just keep going saying, “no wait… THIS time, this is REALLY the real anti-Christ”. ain't nobody got time for that

  1. Pingback: Waking the Sleeping Giant | Team Orthodoxy

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