Unfair Questions: Are you stoned?

The CNN Belief Blog continues its slavish attention to every word uttered by Pope Francis, even though it is admitted in the article itself that his comments are nothing new.  I do wonder sometimes if their staff is stoned at key points in the fact-checking process.

The beginning of the article starts by putting words in the Pope’s mouth, a delightfully symbolic move given that much of the media coverage of the Papacy past and present has been to put words in the Pope’s mouth, either by omitting context or by employing  conveniently sensational paraphrasing.   This is of course not unique to coverage of the Catholic Church and impacts many other faiths as well, though on a rare occasion there is a moderately useful article with only a few minor problems.

In his usual frank manner, Pope Francis calls drug addiction an evil and suggests that there can be no compromise with evil.  In the article, the editors propose that this is relevant because he is lending his voice and the authority of the Catholic Church to the movement to curtail drug legalization.  I have very serious doubts that Pope Francis is going to sway anyone away from favoring the legalization of various drugs.

The only group of people who tend to weight the words of a Pope very strongly on political matters are the ultramontane traditional Catholics, and most of them are either not enamored of Pope Francis, actively dislike him, or see him as a borderline heretic.  Most Catholics in the pews will go right on holding to their existing political beliefs, probably not even stopping to examine them for coherence.  And because the Pope’s doctrinal authority only extends to matters of faith and morals according to official Catholic teaching, they are certainly well within their rights to do so as long as their political position is not rooted in dissent from Catholic teaching.

The idea that the Pope’s stated political views are going to sway anyone seems dead on arrival.  Anyone who has watched media coverage about the Papacy over the past few years knows exactly how this works.  The people who agree with his views on a particular issue (whatever they are) will use it as a favorable talking point that the Pope agrees with them.  Those same people will suddenly ignore or downplay Papal authority when the Pope opines on a political issue and they disagree with his statements.  Many conservatives love it when the Pope talks about the evils of abortion or supports traditional marriage and back away from him on economic issues.  Many progressives love it when the Pope talks about love and peace and compassion for the poor, but keep their distance carefully when he talks about the evils of abortion or supports the traditional definition of marriage.

I don’t know if either group spends much time getting stoned, as dedicated to their daily outrage as they seem to be, but neither group does a good job of taking a principled stand on what weight we should give to the Pope’s words when he speaks on policy matters.

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