I suppose I’m taking my life in my hands, jousting with Jesuits. But come on, editors of America Magazine, I read your entire interview with Pope Francis, and I came away frustrated.
Did you Catholic journalists never hear of a follow-up question? Yes, it’s tough interviewing the big boss, but surely some of his answers simply begged for more elucidation.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Catholic Conference, gushed in a recent Washington Post blog that the interview was “a journalistic gold mine.” It may stand as “America Magazine’s greatest moment in its 104 years of publishing, a tribute to the Jesuits and the Catholic press and journalism overall.”
Sister Mary Ann may have a vested interest in rooting for her team. But the mainstream media was equally uncritical. Reporters from major print and broadcast media outlets savored tidbits from the interview as if they were truly revelatory.
Oh, isn’t that cool, the Pope loves Mozart and Fellini! And he thinks the hierarchy can be overly prescriptive!
The Pope’s quotes were good, but if you read the entire interview, you realized that America got “Reagan-ed.” You know, you let a powerful person’s wonderful sound bites prevent you from finding out what he actually has in mind and how he will govern.
It appears that the Pope is ushering in a kinder, gentler Catholicism, but what does that mean, exactly? Is this more a matter of emphasis than fundamental change? Are we talking more style than substance?
For example, the Pope brings up the important role of mercy for priests when the faithful approach them in the confessional. “The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which God’s mercy motivates us to do better,” the Pope says. He illustrates this with an example, perhaps from his own experience as a priest: a woman who’s had one failed marriage and an abortion, and now is happily married and the mother of five children. She remains guilty about the abortion and regrets it. The Pope asks “What’s a confessor to do?”
He then goes to more broadly comment on the church’s over-emphasis on abortion, contraception and gay marriage. But this example was begging for a more specific follow-up question – like: What is a confessor to do?.
I could not believe that Jesuits could let the Pope get away with this illustration without finding out. Should she leave her current family and return to her earlier broken marriage? Get an annulment before returning to the sacraments? Do some other form of penance?
And what about that softball question about the role of women in the church? The Pope gave nothing away. He’s going to study the role of women, “work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” The Pope already has expressed firm opposition to the notion of women priests. . But would he ask women theologians, some of whom have been censured by his predecessor, to help the church develop this new theology of women? Is he considering women deacons? Since he himself is emphasizing the social gospel, is he ready to say that the “nuns on the bus” were right to preach the gospel?
Interestingly, after this interview was conducted in August, but before it was published, the Pope’s actions gave a better indication of his views on women.
It is also noteworthy, in a development that captured much less attention from the mainstream media, that the Pope elected to impose his first excommunication not on a pedophile priest, but one who strongly advocated for women’s ordination. (The charges against the priest also involved a bizarre accusation that during a liturgy in which he was a celebrant a dog consumed Holy Communion, an incident the priest in question said he had not even been aware of.)
And in a recent shakeup of the Vatican hierarchy, he did not dismiss or demote the Vatican bureaucrat who criticized activist American sisters last year, and who also has been managing or perhaps failing to manage, the church’s response to the pedophilia scandal.
We are better off having this lengthy interview with Pope Francis. And his comments were somewhat refreshing and comforting. But journalism pushes the envelope, and this interview didn’t, even though the envelope was partly unsealed.