There is an abundance of news items on the Vatican Information Service page today, but two of those stories are especially interesting to me. The first is about a papal audience held last Saturday with members of the “Corallo” Association, “a network of local Catholic-inspired broadcasters from all regions of Italy. The Pope gave an off-the-cuff address to those present, in which he defined the virtues, mission and sins of the communication media.” The Holy Father focused on three “routes” necessary for the work of media: “the path of truth, the path of goodness, and the path of beauty.” He said:
But truth, goodness and beauty are consistent – they come from within, they are human. And, on the path of truth, along these three routes, we can find mistakes and even traps. ‘I think, I look for the truth …’: be careful not to become an intellectual without intelligence. ‘I go in search of goodness’: be careful not to be an ethicist without goodness. ‘I like beauty’: yes, but be careful not to do what is frequently done: do not look for cosmetics to create an artificial beauty that does not exist”.
He then emphasized that both large and small media entities have necessary and important roles: “No one should consider themselves to be too small in relation to another that is too large. Everyone is important in this harmony, for the Church is harmony in diversity. … It is important to seek unity, and not to subscribe to the logic that the large fish swallows the smaller fish”. And he took up a topic—clericalism—that he has touched on many times previously. Finally, he focused on the sins of the media, three in particular:
With regard to the latter, the three most significant are those which “take the road of lies: … disinformation, slander and defamation. The last two are serious, but not as dangerous as the first. Slander is a mortal sin, but it is possible to clarify the situation and become aware that it is slander. Defamation is a mortal sin, but it is possible to say: this is an injustice, because this person did something at that time but has now repented and changed their life. But disinformation means telling half-truths, the part that is most convenient to me, and not saying the other half. Therefore, those who watch the television or listen to the radio are not able to arrive at a perfect judgement, because they do not have all the elements necessary to do so, and the media do not give them. Please, shun these three sins”.
Last Friday, Francis visited the “Roman Church of San Gregorio VII, where he met with more than 700 families of the victims of the mafia, representing approximately 15,000 persons who have lost loved ones as a result of mafia violence.” He spoke about hope and healing, noting that healthy social and personal relationships are needed “so that justice gains space, spreads, takes root, and supplants iniquity.” He thanked victims of mafia violence for their witness and courage: “But at the same time let us pray together, to ask for the strength to go on, not to be discouraged, but instead to continue to fight against corruption.”
He then made a strong and direct appeal to mafia members:
Pope Francis continued, speaking off the cuff, “I feel that I cannot finish without saying a word to those who are absent today, to the absent protagonists: to the men and women of the mafia. Please, change your lives, convert, stop what you are doing, stop doing harm. And we pray for you. Convert, I ask you this on my knees; it is for your own good. This life you are living now will not bring you pleasure, it will not bring you joy, it will not bring you happiness.
Power, the money you have now from your many dirty dealings, from your many mafia crimes, is blood money, it is power that is stained with blood, and you will not be able to take it with you to the next life. Repent, there is still time, so as not to end up in hell. This is what awaits you if you continue on this path. You have a father and a mother: think of them. Cry a little, and repent”.
The voice of Francis is, as the past year has shown, marked by directness, a certain rawness, and moments of open emotion. It occasionally sacrifices precision for the sake of immediate, sometimes startling, impact. The remarks above are statements of judgment; they provide further evidence that the much-abused line, “Who am I to judge?”, was given in a certain context, and it was not about public sins and open conflicts with Church teaching, as Dr. Leroy Huizenga has explained well. Finally, I have to wonder: when will the secular media begin to notice Francis’ remarks about the devil, evil, sin, and hell? My guess is that most outlets will continue to ignore it, thus giving further support to Francis’ remarks about disinformation and half-truths.
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