Tags: complimentarity, Francis, Humanum, Nicholas Okoh
An example of this shift comes in an article in this week’s Independent from London. It is written in a tone of suffused anger, disappointed that Francis is not the man they thought him to be.
Entitled “Pope Francis declares union between man and woman ‘at root of marriage’ in blow to gay rights,” the story is written in an advocacy style. The author presents an argument, and then the facts are marshalled in support. The lede opens with this proposition:
Pope Francis has apparently spoken out in defence of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, hurting the hopes of those who see him as a liberal driving force in the Catholic Church.
Note the “apparently” offered in a “can you believe this” tone. The following sentence indicates what the Independent thought the pope was doing.
Last month the Pope warned Catholics not to fear change following an angry synod backlash against a softening of the Church’s stance towards homosexuality.
But the Independent admits it may have been wrong as the pope appears to have changed course (in its view).
But in his address at the opening of a three-day conference on traditional marriage hosted at the Vatican yesterday, Francis called family “an anthropological fact… that cannot be qualified based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history”.
The Humanum Colloquium on the Complementarity of Men and Women appears to be the best kept secret in religion reporting. The media hype (really hysteria) that surrounding the Synod on the Family is all but absent this time round. While not a gathering of specially invited bishops, this gathering has equal significance in that it, too, will advise the pope on the contentious issues of divorce, remarriage, same-sex marriage, civil unions and the like.
The Synod on the Family saw a push by some to bring the church’s moral teachings in line with the liberal or secular worldview on marriage and the family. The Humanum conference saw the traditionalists — supported by non-Catholic scholars from a variety of denominations and faiths — reaffirm existing moral teaching.
The Independent notes that at this conference, Pope Francis made his views on gay marriage clear.
And though he did not refer to gay unions directly, the Pope said: “It is fitting that you have gathered here to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is at the root of marriage and family.”
Francis said: “Children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. Today marriage and the family are in crisis,” he continued. “We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. The revolution in mores and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”
In the pope’s emphasis on the necessity of a mother and father and in his rejection of the “revolution in mores and morals,” the Independent saw a “declaration in support of traditional marriage”. And the Independent found this to be utterly appalling.
The balance of the article consisted of comments from outraged gay activists, and it closes with the Independent’s view of what happened in Rome.
Francis’ comments seem to represent a shift towards placating conservatives in the Church from a Pope who once asked “who am I to judge gay people” and whom Elton John described as “my hero”. In March, Cardinal Timothy Dolan reportedly claimed that the pontiff had paved the way for support of civil partnerships at some point in the future, saying it was time the Church studied same-sex unions “rather than condemning them”. But in October the Vatican was forced to backtrack on liberal new guidelines of openness toward gay people by the intransigence of a majority of bishops.
Judging by the standards of traditional journalism, this story comes up short. Only one side of the story is presented. No supporters of traditional marriage appear in the article, apart from Pope Francis. There is no balance of views. Instead we get shallow slogans from the supporters of change, but no intelligent arguments in support of or opposition to these moves. Emotion and narcissism are offered as reason enough.
Nor does the article tell us anything about the Humanum Colloquium. Why does the colloquium matter? What is its relevance to the debate? From a theological or sociological perspective the Independent appears confused over the term “complementarity”. It may think it understands what the word means, but from what little it has written on this point, it appears to be speaking in ignorance.
In short, as a traditional news story this piece is unbalanced, lacks context, makes unverified assumptions as to the meaning of words, and is short on facts. An editor could rescue this piece however, by altering it to a story about the reaction of gay activists to the pope’s words.
Rearranging the story’s paragraphs by placing the comments and responses at the top might make this piece work. It would also allow the Independent to discuss openly the issue at the heart of this piece: “Who is Pope Francis and what does he believe?”
However, if you are seeking actual information on what happened at the Nov 17-19 Humanum Colloquium in Rome – what was said, who said it, and why it matters – then you are better off looking elsewhere.