Friday's CBS This Morning heralded how supposedly, "Pope Francis is already being described as one of the most progressive popes in modern times" after six months as Bishop of Rome. Charlie D'Agata asserted that the pontiff is "the friendly face of the Vatican, the people's pope", and played up how Francis' apparent "spirit of spontaneity, openness, and inclusion has courted controversy...It includes extending an olive branch to the gay community." [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]
On Wednesday, NBC Nightly News also underlined how Pope Francis seemingly "has changed the tone in a church plagued by the sex abuse scandal, emphasizing Church teaching on helping the poor and social justice....it's not just what the new pope says that's a sign of a changing church – it's what he does – getting close to people...enjoying the crowds that flock to him."
Anchor Charlie Rose introduced D'Agata's report by emphasizing the Pope's personal style: "Francis is bringing more big changes just by keeping things simple." The CBS correspondent picked up where Rose left off, and outlined the specific differences between Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
CHARLIE D'AGATA From his first day on the job, Pope Francis made it clear things were going to be different around the Vatican....At his inauguration, he decided against the bullet-proof, air-conditioned Popemobile, instead opting for the open-top version and making stops along the way....This is the friendly face of the Vatican, the people's pope.
Instead of moving into the lavish Apostolic Palace of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, Francis opted for an understated guesthouse room. He finished his first Mass at St. Peter's Square on an informal note...[and] stepped out of the church and into the street like any ordinary priest, catching nervous security guards off-guard....And when 1,400 Harley-Davidson motorcycles lined a route in Rome, Pope Francis came along and blessed them all and their owners.
Of course, the Apostolic Palace wasn't built by Benedict XVI, but a 16th century pontiff, Pope Sixtus V, and has been used by the successors of St. Peter for centuries. Also, while Pope Francis doesn't live in the papal apartments inside the palace, he still uses other facilities in the building.
D'Agata ended the segment with his "one of the most progressive popes in modern times" line. This labeling is beyond premature. Early in his papacy, Francis seconded the findings of a doctrinal critique of a dissenting coalition of American religious sisters, which was released during Pope Benedict's tenure. The left-wing Daily Beast decried the Argentinian pontiff for this move: "For all the renewal that Francis promises, the cold, hard reality is still that the Catholic Church is still one of the most misogynistic organizations around, no matter how popular the new pope might be."
Exactly a week earlier on CBS This Morning, correspondent Mark Phillips hyped Pope Francis' prayer and fasting vigil for peace in Syria as a "religious street protest". Phillips also all but hinted that the pontiff had "taken sides" with Russia's Vladimir Putin and against President Obama in the international debate over military strikes in the Middle Eastern country.
Back on Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, Jansing gave a similar list to the one given by D'Agata of the Pope's "new management", as anchor Brian Williams put it:
CHRIS JANSING: In St. Peter's Square today, a huge and enthusiastic welcome for Pope Francis' weekly audience. In the six months he's been pope, crowds have quadrupled – drawn by his warm and welcoming style, and a new openness. Case in point: the suggestion from his new number-two that the idea of married priests is open to discussion....Nobody expects to see married priests anytime soon. But for this pope, subjects like this aren't off the table.
Pope Francis has changed the tone in a church plagued by the sex abuse scandal, emphasizing Church teaching on helping the poor and social justice....Today, in a surprising open letter to an Italian newspaper, Pope Francis extended a hand to agnostics and atheists. And it's not just what the new pope says that's a sign of a changing church – it's what he does – getting close to people, kissing babies, enjoying the crowds that flock to him.
But what about married priests? There are actually a few already, who married first, and then, converted to Catholicism....A different take on the priesthood, as Pope Francis shapes a new Catholic Church.
[Update, Friday, 5:05 pm Eastern: the full transcripts of Charlie D'Agata's report from Friday's CBS This Morning and Chris Jansing's report from Wednesday's NBC Nightly News can be read at MRC.org.]