Wednesday, December 17, 2014



The Catholic Difference (From the Denver Catholic Register)

Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. His column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.

Francis, filtered

December 16, 2014

About a year ago, I suggested to one of the top editors of a major American newspaper that his journal’s coverage of things papal left something to be desired, as it seemed based on the assumption that Pope Francis was some kind of radical wild-man, eager to toss into the garbage bin of history all those aspects of Catholic faith and practice that mainstream western culture finds distasteful. My friend replied, in so many words, look, you know how these media narratives are: they’re like bamboo. Once they get started, there’s no stopping them. They just keep growing.

Alas, he was right. And while there’s been a lot of talk about the “Francis Effect,” it’s worth pondering, on the Holy Father’s 78th birthday, the Francis Filtration.

The Francis Filtration began in earnest during the impromptu press conference in the papal plane while the pope was en route home from World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro. That was the presser that produced the single-most quoted line of the pontificate: “Who am I to judge?” But as Cardinal Francis George pointed out in a pre-retirement interview with John Allen, that sound-bite “has been very misused…because he was talking about someone who has already asked for mercy and been given absolution…That’s entirely different than talking [about] someone who demands acceptance rather than asking for forgiveness.” (For the record, the entire quote, which is almost never cited, was “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”)

But as my journalist-friend suggested, the “bamboo” shoot of “Who am I to judge?” has continued to grow, until it’s now a virtual bamboo curtain. And what’s being filtered out? All the things the pope says that don’t fit the now-established “narrative” of “humane, progressive pope vs. meanie reactionary bishops and hidebound Catholic traditionalists.”

Things like what?

Well, things like the pope’s passionate defense of marriage as the stable union of a man and a woman, which he underscored in an address to the Schoenstatt movement right after Synod 2014, and in his keynote address to a November interreligious conference at the Vatican on the crisis of marriage in the 21st century.

And things like the pope’s defense of the Gospel of Life, a persistent theme in Francis’s November address to the European Parliament. The press reports I read focused on Francis’ concerns for immigrants and the unemployed. Fair enough; that was certainly in the text. But what about the Holy Father’s defense of those whom indifference condemns to loneliness or death, “as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned or uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb?” What about his insistence that “Europe,” past, present, and future, makes no sense without Christianity? What about his condemnation of those who subject Christians “to barbaric acts of violence,” and his plea for support for those Christians who are “evicted from their homes, and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many?” You didn’t read much about that, did you?

Nor did you read (unless you read the pope’s text himself) that Francis, having made a plea for environmental stewardship, went on to “emphasize” (his word) that “along with an environmental ecology, there is also need of a human ecology which consists in respect for the person.”

Another aspect of Pope Francis’ preaching that’s been too often filtered out of the coverage of his pontificate involves (if you’ll pardon the term) demonology. No pope in decades has so regularly referred to Satan as Pope Francis. The Evil One is no abstraction to this pontiff, nor does he think of “satanic” as a rhetorical intensifier to underscore one’s disapproval of, say, Hitler. Satan and his minions are very real to Pope Francis; it would be interesting for an enterprising reporter to draw him out on the subject in one of those freewheeling papal press conferences.

The Francis Filter may be bamboo. But if it keeps growing, so will the distortions that bamboo curtain creates.


JusadBellum said...

When Pope Francis published Evangelii Gaudium, most of the world's media (95% liberal progressive) branded it favorable to socialism and against Reaganomics/conservative fiscal and economic policies.

In reaction, the vast majority of conservatives called Pope Francis a Marxist or stupid.

And then the gleeful left pounced on the outraged right.

I think both are wrong. Because, having actually READ the encyclical and detailed the groups and agendas he condemns, I can't shoe horn "trickle down" theories into 1980's era Reaganomics.

He was pointing the finger at the CURRENT world socio-political-economic system as it IS, not as the various propaganda ministries CLAIM things to be. So, since the world is largely ruled by socialist regimes of various stripes (China, Russia, India, Middle East, EU, English speaking countries, Latin American countries...) and NOT by right-wing, conservative, tea-partiers... it follows that the boogie man condemned in the encyclical can't possibly be who the Left claims it to be. It's them. Pope Francis is looking left when he says "Pharisees".

Try it.

Next time he condemns someone for rigidity and pharisaical hypocrisy, put your typical left-wing hero into the Pope's target and see how wonderfully it actually fits the caricature and how actually difficult it is to shoe-horn in conservatives (which is why the right feels outrage for the Left's spin that Pope Francis hates the right but LUVS the left.)

The next time some smug liberal tells you that Pope Francis hates conservatives, show them how they actually fit the profile of his enemies better than you do.

Gene said...

I'm getting dizzy from the spin from all sides. This Pope has spoken and acted irresponsibly on countless occasions. If his behavior does not reflect his true feelings, then he is either stupid or schizophrenic. He has had plenty of time to become aware of the fecal storm he has stirred up. If he is not aware of it, you can add slow to the above options. Sheesh!

Anonymous 2 said...

Then stop allowing yourself to be “spun around,” Gene. It is no more complicated than that. Not all of us are dizzy. Caveat lector, caveat auditor.

Anonymous said...

“evicted from their homes, and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many?”

Maybe our coverage has been different here on the Canadian side of the border, but I've definitely seen that one reported in the mainstream media. Demonology, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Any priest let alone a pope who is trying to rationalize sacraligeous communions is evil.

Gene said...

Anon 2, When you think you are above being spun around is when you are most vulnerable to be spun. It is like propaganda…if you think you are above it, you are sure to be its victim.

Anonymous 2 said...


I agree and disagree – not always. Like propaganda, it is quite possible to recognize the “spin” and not fall for it. This is called critical thinking – a quality that, admittedly, is in increasingly short supply given our (on the whole) intellectually bankrupt educational system and social media infested culture. Hence, as I say, caveat lector, caveat auditor.

Gene said...

Again, Anon 2, you and I agree on what is going on in our culture. It is just that our responses to it are often drastically opposed. However, propaganda is far more subtle and pervasive than we sometimes think. There is a very good book, written by Jacques Ellul, entitled, "Propaganda." I would recommend it to everyone because it is one of the best treatments of the subject ever. It forms a trilogy with "The Technological Society," and "The Political Illusion." Ellul is French, a lawyer by training and a devout and unapologetic Christian, but is also a sociologist and theologian. He spares no one, Left or Right, Christian or heathen, in his incisive and disturbing critiques of modern culture. If you want to delve into his theology, try,"The Theological Foundation of Law," and "The Meaning of the City." His little book, "Jonah" is priceless.

Anonymous said...

The positive things Pope Francis say [enumerated by Weigel] are not his own words but by his ghost writer, Manuel Fernandez. And it's all right for him to have a ghost writer, as most important people have.

The problem comes when the Pope goes off the script and extrapolates with some really weird stuff. Apologists like Weigel blames the press for misinterpreting him, but even reliable Vaticanistas know something goes off all too often, you cannot really blame them all on the press.

Weigel said Cdl. George said Msgr. Ricci has gone to confession and had been forgiven and that's why the Pope said that if someone is seeking the Lord with all his heart, "who am I to judge?"

Trouble is, Francis did not say that Ricci had repented. Cdl. George was merely speculating when he explained what might have been on the Pope's mind. [How else to spin it?]

How would the press know what the Pope really meant if he's so unclear? Vaticanistas reported that Ricci came back from South America to the Vatican still with his ex-Swiss Guard lover in tow, and deposited their combined luggage at Santa Marta.

Even the late saintly Vaticanista Mario Palmaro had to cry out as he was dying, "We can't take it anymore!" referring to Pope Francis's strange teachings on the sacraments, his seeming worship of the poor instead of God, and his strong support of Cdl. Kasper's sympathy for unrepentant adulterers and practicing homosexuals. Quite prophetic, that late writer Palmaro.

So blame the press. They are a convenient whipping boy. [Francis has a lot of convenient whipping boys, not the least of them are the traditionalists "self-absorbed neo-pelagian prometheans."]

I really think that Weigel is copping out in his defense of this papacy's words and actions.
I hope he never gets tired doing it.

Anonymous 2 said...

Thanks for the Ellul reference, Gene.

Let me return the favor. As it happens a friend sent me a link just this morning about a book that examines the chilling phenomenon of personalized internet searches. Thus when you and I search using the same term (Pope Francis, for example), it seems that since 2009 Google will deliver quite different results to each of us. This is yet another another reason why the need for critical thinking is vital. I don’t know what we should call this exactly – propaganda or something else – but it is quite alarming to me. So yet again, caveat lector:

I haven’t read this book (The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser) yet but it will also go on my list.

Anonymous 2 said...


Perhaps you have provided another example of the need for critical thinking to resist “spin” including Vatican spin.

Gene said...

That is why I don't use Google…however, I'm sure the other search engines have their own sins.

Jdj said...

Wow, Anon2 @ 8:37, thanks. I did not know that.
And thanks, Gene for the Ellul reference; I "Amazoned" him and can't decide where to start--very prolific writer. Which book would you begin with as a novice to his works?

George said...


"Cdl. George said Msgr. Ricci has gone to confession and had been forgiven and that's why the Pope said that if someone is seeking the Lord with" all his heart, 'who am I to judge?'"

Cardinal George was just giving the full context of what the Holy Father said. Just because someone confesses a sin does nor mean that the person can't sin again. Neither Pope Francis nor anyone else can prevent someone from sinning, if that is their intent.
As far as the story about the ex-Swiss guard coming back from South America with Msgr. Ricci, that is not enough to draw any definite, unequivocal conclusion from.

George said...

What we are seeing with Google and others is the marriage of marketing, psychology, and high speed computing power. Search patterns are written to a database and referenced for future searches . While the information can (and is) used for search optimization and more efficient use of the web, it could be a bad thing in the hands of those who are unethical.
When it comes to broadcast journalism, we have been getting filtering and the subtle (and not so subtle) imposition of opinion and advocacy in factual stories, for years..

Anonymous 2 said...


It was on the periphery of my awareness but the article sent to me this morning really focused my attention on it. This evening I did a bit more digging around and here are two items that might also interest you:

(1) Eli Pariser TED talk on “The Filter Bubble” in March 2011:

(2) Amazon Book entry and description for Pariser’s 2012 book “The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think.”

The book description includes the following passage:

“The race to collect as much personal data about us as possible, and to tailor our online experience accordingly, is now the defining battle for today’s internet giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Behind the scenes, a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking our personal information to sell to advertisers, from our political leanings to the hiking boots we just browsed on Zappos.

As a result, we will increasingly each live in our own, unique information universe—what Pariser calls “the filter bubble.” We will receive mainly news that is pleasant, familiar and confirms our beliefs—and since these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation and the democratic exchange of ideas.”

Of course, most of us are already aware of the tribalism of Network News (especially MSNBC and FOX) but “the filter bubble” and its potential for creating and reinforcing internet tribalism is all the more insidious because it seems to be much less known.

I need to do more research (including about trends since 2012) but here is the Wikipedia entry that collects some contrasting views about the extent of the phenomenon and its effects:

Of course we should examine critically all of these claims, but it is good to be alerted to the issue and the potential problems it may be causing.

Jody Peterman said...

Oh please! There is a reason my Episcopal friends call Francis the first Anglican Pope. Weigel is a company man, who could and would have defended Alexander VI and his illegitimate children, if he had been alive and writing in 1495. Weigel is also a Neo-Con and a
prio backer of intervention in Iraq, which has lead to the end of Christianity in Iraq. I have no respect for him whatsoever.

Gene said...

Wow, Anoin 2. I gotta' read that book. So, we are basically being made into little monads. Good reference. Thanks.

Gene said...

I enjoy Weigel sometimes, but he is sort of the George Will of Catholic journalism.

Православный физик said...

At some point, people are responsible for the things that they say...or for phasing things in such a way where context would be so obviously missed, one can't screw it up.

MR said...

Here's a great article from George Weigel:

Gene said...

The Leftist Bishops and Cardinals are already looking forward to the next synod, where they hope the watering down of the resistance to gays, adulterers, and perverts of all kinds will be ratified. This is far from over, and I fully expect the Church to gradually go the way of the Methodists. Dogma means nothing anymore…their mantra will continue to be "pastoral practice"…which means, pay lip-service to doctrine but, basically, ignore it. These people believe that the Church is nothing more than a great big social action committee and an arm of the Leftist government. I'll bet few of them, if any, believe a single article of the Creed.

JusadBellum said...

Personnel is policy Gene.

If you would save the Church from these wolves you must step up and volunteer at the parish and eventually diocesan level.

If you have the faith but don't aggressively network, reach out, assemble anyone who'll listen and strengthen the brothers...who will?

Are you waiting for an official calling?

If you are doing that already, bravo and keep it up. The more orthodox laity involved on all levels in the Church the better we will be salt, light, and leaven in society.

JusadBellum said...

Found this on the web:

"It's worth pointing out that this Pope has to be read in context. After all, based on the typical interpretation of his famous line "who am I to judge", what he's doing is hypocrisy. But read in the original context "if someone has converted and is sincerely seeking the Lord, who am I to judge" then it makes perfect sense as the condition: repenting and sincerely seeking the Lord is the interpretive key. Suddenly the Pope is not a Left-wing anti-Conservative, he's an equal opportunity Pastor calling everyone to conversion to Christ and healing in and through Christ and not our own, Left or Right wing efforts. Pelagianism is a threat to anyone of any 'wing' or ideology. We all need a Savior."

The interpretive key is found in the need to repent and SINCERELY seek Jesus.... if you are gay but celibate, an alcoholic but sober, a right-winger but humble, a liberal "progressive" but humble...and you repent of your vices and seek Jesus' grace.... then sure, who are any of us to judge?

But if we are not sorry for our sins and don't seek God's mercy, then don't we call down the universe' condemnation and judgment on ourselves?