This is not the first article about how television in particular and media in general get it wrong every time Pope Francis sneezes, and I am confident it will not be the last.
Recently we have had a kind of miscommunication double header with the Holy Father’s actions regarding two of America’s favorite media hot buttons, abortion and marriage. But what were doctrinal and cogent papal actions created a swirling vortex of angst and unnecessary consternation despite both having the power of mercy as their lynchpin. I guess we could file this under “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Now, even though my brothers and sisters sometimes accuse me of speaking on behalf of the pope, I am going to tread carefully on this terrain again due to the way the truth was so badly mauled by television and social media reporting. I think Pope Francis would be the first to agree that, in regard to his restructuring the absolution process when it comes to the sin of abortion, he was standing on the shoulders of his two most recent predecessors.
In fact, St. Pope John Paul II had made the very same papal action during a year of mercy. But if you read MSNBC you certainly would be getting a completely different “story.”
When Pope Francis granted priests the faculties to absolve those who had acquired or helped procure an abortion without going through the process of having a bishop “sign off” on it, the cable news outlet put this headline on its online version — “Pope says priests can allow this Catholic sin.”
I have my own confession to make. I have been a Catholic my entire life and when I first read the news about the pope’s action, I did not fully comprehend. I understand that the Church teaches that there are venial and mortal sins, but I was not aware that certain sins require certain remedies for the process of absolution.
Abortion is one of those sins which can render someone automatically excommunicated. That is a bell usually only a higher authority can “un-ring,” yet in America most priests already had been given that permission. Watching media, one would have gotten the distinct impression that the pope was “finally” showing a little mercy and forgiving people for sin when the obvious truth of the matter is that the sacrament of reconciliation is nothing if not the living, breathing example of God’s mercy.
But there are consequences to sin. If somebody robs a bank of $100,000 and goes to confession, they have to give the money back … sorry.
One of Pope Francis’ earliest statements as pontiff was to declare churches hospitals. That is exactly what his Year of Mercy abortion statement is all about. He was giving the “doctors” extra medicine and tools with which to repair the injured.
Abortion is as grave a sin as it has always been and it is as forgivable as it has always been. MSNBC notwithstanding, the Church is as merciful as she has ever been.
The Los Angeles Times, I guess in an effort to compete with television and the Internet for being able to get the most misinformation out to the widest audience in the shortest amount of time, chimed in on another papal action … the streamlining of the annulment process. The Times had a sub-headline on page 3 which declared, “Pope ruling makes it easier, faster and cheaper for Catholics to end their marriages.”
This is like the trick questions we used to get in seventh-grade math classes about trains traveling in different directions at different speeds and leaving different stations. There was one giant error in the Times headline that renders the entire thing incoherent. Nothing the pope decreed ends a single marriage.
Annulment is the declaration, after careful review, that a marriage never existed in the first place. Again, an act of mercy for some in suffering relationships who may now access relief with this new, shortened version of a very complicated, and never easy, issue.
The Court of Tiberius is no more and countless other empires have turned to sand. Yet the Church, a human institution with a divine mandate, continues.
And a human institution that has been around for two thousand years and with a billion adherents, is bound to accumulate things … even rules and regulations.
The pope has given mercy a high place of honor in both of these instances without losing sight of the reason mercy is being provided or minimizing the seriousness of the issues.
Mercy and forgiveness are just not as “marketable” to mainstream television media, though. It prefers people getting what they think they have coming to them and the lack of understanding of what Church teaching has always been regarding fundamental truths such as marriage and the sinful nature of abortion is enough to fill a thousand blogs on the Internet.
Our faith is all about not getting what should be coming to us thanks to the blood of Christ and the institution of the Church and her sacraments … if we avail ourselves to them.
It reminds me of an anecdotal story about a mother who begged the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte for the life of her son, who was going to be shot in the morning for desertion. Napoleon asked the mother why did her son deserve mercy? The mother responded, that if he deserved mercy he wouldn’t need it.