The mainstream media are in love with Pope Francis, but it's not because of his conservative theology. It's because they see him as a potentially liberal pioneer for the Catholic Church. On Saturday’s CBS This Morning, the network ran a story that cheered on the pope in his supposed struggle against more traditional voices within the church.
Vatican correspondent Allen Pizzey drew the battle lines at the top of his report and let his viewers know who is winning the fight: “Well, the Easter celebrations are highlighting a struggle between the new, simple ways of Pope Francis and the conservative old guard of the Catholic Church. So far, Francis is keeping one step ahead of his critics.” [Video below. MP3 audio here.]
However, there was little explanation of the “conservative old guard” or their position. Pizzey only said there was “outrage from some conservatives” because Francis washed the feet of two women and performed the foot-washing ritual in a prison instead of a basilica. But that was it. Pizzey didn’t mention any conservative critics by name, and he didn’t discuss the nature of the “outrage.”
Towards the end of the report, Pizzey thumbed his nose at those who might criticize the pope’s inclusion of women in the foot-washing ritual: “Church liturgical law says that only men can take part in the rite. But as pope, Francis is the church’s chief lawmaker, so in theory, he can do whatever he wants.”
In other words, take that, conservative old guard!
Pizzey was not done slapping at faceless critics. After quoting Francis as saying the foot-washing gesture came from his heart and didn’t have an explanation, Pizzey concluded the story with his own analysis: “The sub-text for those who don’t relish change might well be ‘get used to it.’”
If one side in a story is presented as a crusading hero, and the other is presented as an abstract enemy, it is no surprise that the vast majority of viewers will come away supporting the former and despising the latter. What Pizzey did was tilt the playing field dramatically in the new pope’s direction. By refusing to put a name or face to the “conservative old guard,” he implied that conservatism itself is the enemy. This is irresponsible behavior coming from a supposedly objective reporter at one of the three major broadcast networks.
Pizzey, like other liberal Vatican watchers, seems to be hoping Francis's personal and liturgical simplicity are signs that his theology is liberal, even though there's scant if any evidence that that's the case. So on the bright side, it will be highly entertaining to watch Pizzey's spin when Pope Francis fails to alter traditional church teachings in areas where the liberal media want the Church to "evolve" to meet the spirit of the age.
Below is a transcript of the report:
ANTHONY MASON: We turn now to the Vatican where new Pope Francis is preparing to celebrate his first Easter as head of the world's Roman Catholics. Tonight he'll celebrate the first of two Easter masses at St. Peter's Basilica, but Francis has already ruffled a few clerical feathers by going his own way instead of following tradition. Allen Pizzey is in Rome with the latest. Good morning, Allen.
ALLEN PIZZEY: Good morning, Anthony. Well, the Easter celebrations are highlighting a struggle between the new, simple ways of Pope Francis and the conservative old guard of the Catholic Church. So far Francis is keeping one step ahead of his critics. (Voiceover): The way of the cross in Rome's Coliseum, scene of the martyrdom of early Christians, stuck mainly to the traditional with torches lighting the way as the faithful prayed at each of the 14 stations representing Christ's route to crucifixion. The pope watched and prayed silently from the Palatine hill overlooking the Coliseum. The procession was dedicated to the suffering of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. In his homily, Francis spoke of the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many others. The ritual is among the most dramatic in the church calendar. This year the prayers were composed by young Lebanese Christians and called for an end to violent fundamentalism, terrorism, and wars and violence which in our days devastate various countries in the Middle East. But Francis made a dramatic break with tradition on Thursday when he conducted the ritual that commemorates Christ washing and kissing the feet of his disciples by including two young women. And in another first, he chose to do it in a prison for young offenders instead of a basilica. In response to outrage from some conservatives, the Vatican spokesman issued a statement saying that the pope's gesture should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness, and mercy. Church liturgical law says that only men can take part in the rite. But as pope, Francis is the church’s chief lawmaker, so in theory, he can do whatever he wants. When one young prisoner asked why he had come to see them, the pope said it was, ‘to keep me humble.’ The gesture, Francis said, ‘came from my heart,’ adding things from the heart don't have an explanation. The sub-text for those who don’t relish change might well be "get used to it."