Tags: Fox News, Francis, Raymond Burke
Fox News has waded into the murky waters of Catholic news analysis, seeking to explain to its viewers (and readers on its website) the church’s battles over liberalizing its moral teachings.
It is encouraging to see a secular news outfit address these issues. Fox understands that these issues are of interest to its viewers. The conservative demographic that is the core of its viewership is also likely to find favor with the opinions proffered. Yet, the fulcrum of the argument in this piece is based upon an erroneous supposition.
The story entitled “Cardinal’s demotion helps Pope Francis quell ‘conservative backlash’ — for now” is founded on the notion that Cardinal Raymond Burke was dismissed from his post as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura as a consequence of his vocal opposition to calls for a change in church teaching backed by Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family. Fox posits a cause and effect, but its theory is not supported by the facts.
Burke was on the way out before the Synod met. His demotion was not a consequence of his activism at the gathering.
The lede sets the story’s parameters:
Pope Francis is drawing rock star raves for softening the Vatican’s image on such issues as homosexuality, capitalism and divorce, but his celebrated tolerance doesn’t seem to extend to dissenters within the church, whose conservative revolt came to a halt when the pontiff exiled their de facto leader to obscurity.
The first half of this opening sentence is not that controversial — and has been the topic of numerous postings at the Media Project and its sister site, GetReligion. The second half of the sentence sets forth the author’s argument — that conservative opposition to the liberalizing moves of Francis’ curia has been stifled.
The article continues:
A recent meeting of bishops unleashed what one Vatican watcher called “a tsunami of conservative backlash” against the pope when it followed an agenda that sought to revisit long-held doctrine on controversial social issues. The most vocal critic was American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who described the Church under Francis as like “a ship without a rudder.”
But as conservative bishops and lower-level clergy in the U.S. began to signal their agreement, Burke quickly found himself demoted from his powerful Vatican post to a purely ceremonial role.
The move sent a chill through the ranks of American conservative bishops, nearly two dozen of whom declined comment when contacted by FoxNews.com, despite many having previously expressed strong doubts about the church’s leftward swerve under Francis, who assumed the papacy in 2013.
The article offers comments and observations offered by respected Catholic commentators such as John Allen of the Boston Globe and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. But these comments speak not to the cause and effect argument — that Burke’s demotion silenced conservatives — but to the general state of unrest within the hierarchy.
The article takes these opinions and uses them as a foundation for its discussion of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October, noting the conservatives led by Burke were in “near mutiny”.
It then slides in comments American bishops made shortly after the synod that were critical of Francis.
“Pope Francis is fond of creating a mess,” Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, wrote in a blog post. “Mission accomplished.” Said Archbishop Charles Chaput, a leading conservative bishop: “Confusion is of the devil.”
But the demotion of Burke silenced these critics, Fox argues:
But both Tobin and Chaput declined comment, following the stunning demotion of Burke, who blasted Francis for allowing Kasper to exercise such powerful influence over the Church’s direction. … Cardinal Raymond Burke’s stunning demotion seems to have stopped a conservative revolt against Pope Francis, at least for the time being.
The announcement of Burke’s demotion may have been made public around the time of the synod, but reports of his departure proceeded the synod by over a month — and it was no secret that Burke was a “lame duck” in the curia when he spoke at the synod.
The article also appears unaware of last week’s Colloquium on the Complementarity of Men and Women — an event of equal significance to the Extraordinary Synod, I would argue. At that meeting Francis reinforced the church’s unequivocal opposition to gay marriage, while in a speech to Italian doctors last week the pope also denounced in no uncertain terms abortion and euthanasia.
The point of my critique is not to take issue with, or support, the argument offered by Fox News. Rather my aim is to address the reporting upon which the article bases its arguments. The analysis Fox offered may well be true, but the particular facts they cite do not advance their argument.
First printed at The Media Project.