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Pope Francis’ tough talk about media spin rings hollow

The Holy Father’s condemnation of those “who twist reality and invent stories for their own benefit, without concern for the good name of others” is hard to square with how he has handled the Viganò scandal.

Pope Francis blesses the faithful with holy water during Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 25. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Pope Francis brought the Church into Holy Week with Mass in St. Peter’s Square this past Sunday, during which he delivered a homily that was remarkable not least for its frankness — not to say bluntness — in decrying what amounts to an abandonment of our duty to the truth. It was a powerful homily, and timely.

Expounding on the cry of, “Crucify him!” Pope Francis called this, “[T]he voice of those who twist reality and invent stories for their own benefit, without concern for the good name of others,” saying it is, “[t]he cry of those who have no problem in seeking ways to gain power and to silence dissonant voices,” and, “the voice of those who want to defend their own position, especially by discrediting the defenseless.”

The full paragraph is bracing, situated in the center of what was, again, a trenchant homily.

Crux editor John Allen noted that those powerful lines read as “a sort of media criticism” that identified Jesus as “the original target of false public ‘spin’.” One might quibble with the assertion — Allen’s, not the Pope’s — that Jesus was the original victim, though there are no bones to be made with the idea that Our Lord was an exemplary and even archetypical victim of such treatment. Truth in the flesh was the victim of the most appalling slander and the most vicious maligning.

That eloquent denunciation hit very close to home after a week in which the Holy Father accepted the resignation of his hand-picked media czar, Msgr. Dario Viganò, precisely for making partial use of the truth in an ambitious spin game that became a disaster when the press discovered it.

One would like to think that this was an instance of the Holy Father’s famed capacity for reproof, or one in which — as is his wont in his ferial fervorini at the Domus Sanctae Marthae — he was preaching to himself. The Pope, however, asked Viganò to stay on as “Assessor” to the dicastery he had led from its foundation, in the very letter he wrote to accept Viganò’s resignation from the post of Prefect in it. Francis’ refusal to allow Viganò simply to step aside and out of the way makes such a surmise of self-critical intent measurably more difficult to ground.

Then this week opened with speculation that Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, the former number two man at the Secretariat for Communications under Msgr. Viganò and current Prefect ad interim, may be at the top of the short list to replace his former boss permanently. Whatever else a Ruiz in the Prefect’s chair would mean for Vatican media, it would mean more of the same for the reform of it — a reform that is in its “final stage” and that has been implemented entirely under the tutelage of a man whose relationship with the truth is apparently a complicated one — a reform that nevertheless apparently cannot do without Viganò’s “human and professional contribution” to hear Pope Francis tell it, anyway.

Perhaps the Holy Father feels that Msgr. Viganò is the victim in all this: a well-intentioned and basically honest fellow, who may have innocently miscalculated the optics of an operation, but whose intentions were blameless, at least. It would be a happy thing, indeed, to know that there are sound reasons to believe so, and happier still to know them.

About Christopher R. Altieri 39 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is co-Founder and general manager of Vocaris Media and the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.

16 Comments

  1. I happen to be a national publisher, and even I could not understand what you were trying to say in your article. When was it that journalism morphed into more of an effort to confuse readers, rather than inform them? One would literally have to be a mind-reader to understand many of your points here. Honestly, you might as well have been writing to yourself, because I can assure you that the majority of readers would not understand what you were trying to convey. The clearest language you used was in your title. Thereafter, I felt like I was trying to solve a crossword puzzle. This is an indictment of the colleges and universities that teach journalism today. It is unfortunate that by the late 80’s journalism transitioned to more of a “creative writing” practice than an effort to effectively communicate to the masses… very sad.

    • Ironically enough, the article is classic example, both in its intent and its practice, of exactly what the Pope is talking about. It might have been better if both writer and editor spent more time on what the Pope actually said in his homily and less time dissecting recent papal pronouncements so as to extract any kind of ‘ammo’ that will fit, in the fruitless pasttime of criticizing the current Pope irrespective of what he does or does not say. Just a tad Sanhedrin!

    • Well put, Peter. I too have found Mr. Altieri’s frequent articles on this site a source of perplexity and confusion since the hard and often bitter facts of this papacy about which he writes become dissolved in a mist of ambiguity and uncertainty. What needs to be said and often repeated and emphasized is that one must look to Pope Bergoglio’s actions in order to understand his words. In the infallible judgment of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it is by their fruits and actions that a man is known. By that standard, the Vigano scandal is an exercise in dishonesty, duplicity, hypocrisy, and cynicism by all parties involved.

    • I don’t understand the basis of your criticism. The opinion piece seemed clear enough to me. What was ambiguous?

    • I agree – I had to read half way through the article to figure out what was trying to be said. That is why I prefer some Catholic sites over others – clear reporting without ambiguity, that’s my cuppa tea.

  2. I think I understand what he is saying. I think we all need to work on assuming the best of others and stop crucifying each other with our tongues.

  3. Pope Francis, in that homily, proved that he is either totally detached from the reality of his own trespasses, or worse, projects his own trespasses onto others, in a double-minded play at wrongly accusing others and wrongly exonerating himself.

    He stirs up trouble every day, and then pretends he is above the fray.

  4. Is there any utterance emerging from this pontificate which does not ring hollow? Five years of deafening vacuousness on good days, pandering, mendacity and vindictiveness more commonly. A culture of third world corruption reigns upon the Chair which should be above culture. We have sunk to the depths. Pope Captain Kangaroo with Cardinal Mr. Greenjeans Maradiaga. We live in the saddest of days.

  5. I thought the author did a nice job in framing the words of the Holy Father and the problems occurring around him. Pope Francis called this, “[T]he voice of those who twist reality and invent stories for their own benefit, without concern for the good name of others,” Yes, the good name of others. Words have meaning as the Holy Father has used so eloquently. Like when he said that those women who have many children “dont have to be like rabbits” (Oh how my protestants friends howled with laughter, my sister wept). Or when the Holy Father pointed to the former mayor of Roma and said, “that man, he is a pretend catholic”. that one had me rolling..

  6. This is an excellent article. Altieri, as usual a loyal son of the Church, tries to leave Francis and his gang of thugs a “way out”. And so, I guess we all should, except that I find it increasingly hard to do.

    • Sin and heresy should be called by its name. Christ was very clear on hypocrites and the like. The “Francis effect” has been devastating for the Catholic Church – Our Lady’s prophecy is clear – the final battle will be against marriage and family, bishop against bishop, cardinal against cardinal . Who has orchestrated all of this – POPE FRANCIS – aka Jorge Bergoglio. The smoke of Satan has flooded the church.
      Now he is trying to mitigate his actions by means of messages and a film – the truth is now well known in the Catholic blogosphere. The Political Pope cannot pull the wool over our eyes any more.

  7. Well, this is really a commentary, but I think the point is actually very clear…

    “That eloquent denunciation [of fake news] hit very close to home after a week in which the Holy Father accepted the resignation of his hand-picked media czar, Msgr. Dario Viganò, precisely for making partial use of the truth …
    One would like to think that this was an instance of the Holy Father’s famed capacity for reproof… or he was preaching to himself. The Pope, however, asked Viganò to stay on.”

    So, the Pope preaches about fake news, lets fake news be broadcast from under his own roof, and essential confirms the faker. For me that’s not hard to get. What is hard to get, or take, is a pope using the Crucifixion to makes points about sociopolitical stuff.

  8. Well, this is really a commentary, but I think the point is actually very clear…

    “That eloquent denunciation [of fake news] hit very close to home after a week in which the Holy Father accepted the resignation of his hand-picked media czar, Msgr. Dario Viganò, precisely for making partial use of the truth …
    One would like to think that this was an instance of the Holy Father’s famed capacity for reproof… or he was preaching to himself. The Pope, however, asked Viganò to stay on.”

    So, the Pope preaches about fake news, lets fake news be broadcast from under his own roof, and essential confirms the faker. For me that’s not hard to get. What is hard to get, or take, is a pope using the Crucifixion to make points about sociopolitical stuff.

  9. Blaming the messenger on this matter gets us nowhere. The clumsy attempt to get Benedict’s endorsement of items Benedict wouldn’t endorse was painful. And it doesn’t seem to matter what happens – Francis has a tin ear for any kind of criticism. His supporters never do wrong – he never does wrong – so if there is criticism it must be vindictive and self-evidently dishonest. Personally I think Mr. Altieri like most writers trying to make sense of the Francis papacy bends over backward to be fair. After all, if the author speaks ill of the Pope, he must be vindictive and dishonest – the Pope tells us so.

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