Let’s look at the way the print media reacted to Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis after their first six months as pontiff.
We looked at the editorials in 15 of the nation’s largest newspapers to see what they said about the current pope, and his predecessor, after their first six months in office (Pope Francis will celebrate his first six months on September 13).
The papers we examined were: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Kansas City Star, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel, USA Today, and Washington Post.
There were 14 editorials on Pope Benedict XVI and 11 on Pope Francis. The difference can probably be chalked up to the familiarity of the former versus the unfamiliarity of the latter. But there were more similarities than dissimilarities.
Two segments of the population dominated the media’s interest in the two popes: homosexuals and women. In the 25 editorials, homosexuals were cited 13 times, and women 15. With the exception of a few editorials that gave faint praise to Pope Francis for not judging gays of goodwill, they were uniformly critical of the teachings of the Catholic Church on both subjects. Only two newspapers, USA Today and the Washington Post, did not mention either subject explicitly.
There is no other religion that is subjected to this kind of micro-scrutiny. The elite media react to Islam and Judaism with cautious restraint, and with voyeuristic intrusiveness to Catholicism. Yet when it comes to teachings on homosexuality and women, there is very little difference between the three monotheistic religions. Judaism is respected, Islam is feared, and Christianity – especially Catholicism – is loathed.
For a brief analysis of each newspaper’s editorials, look below:
(4-20-05): It bemoaned the Church’s “hard-line” on “the ordination of only men to the priesthood.”
(4-20-05): It said Catholics will continue to ponder issues such as “women priests.”
( 4-3-13): “No one expects Pope Francis to be ordaining women priests any time soon.”
(4-19-05): Pope Benedict XVI is “feared” by those who want to “ordain women.”
(4-20-05): It said the quickness with which the selection of Pope Benedict XVI was made meant the cardinals “weren’t consumed with mollifying Catholics” on the subject of women priests.
(3-14-13): It noted that Pope Francis has “forcefully opposed” such subjects as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Dallas Morning News
(4-20-05): Pope Benedict XVI “will not hesitate to wield a sword in defense of authentic Catholic teaching—even if it drives many away.”
(3-14-13): Pope Francis was criticized for his opposition to the Argentine government’s legalization of “same-sex marriage.”
(4-20-05): Prior to being named Pope Benedict XVI, he was “the driving force behind crackdowns” on “homosexuality” and “women’s ordination.”
Kansas City Star
(4-20-05): “Benedict likely won’t bend” on women’s ordination.
(3-13-13): Pope Francis will not “waver from the church leadership’s strident opposition to abortion, gay marriage….”
Los Angeles Times
(4-20-05): Pope Benedict XVI “probably will tolerate no talk of loosening church views on women priests.” He was also accused of “condemn[ing] gays.”
(3-14-13): It regretted to note that Pope Francis is not going to change the Church’s teachings on “same-sex marriage.”
(3-16-13): Pope Francis is “an outspoken opponent of gay marriage” and he is a traditionalist on “the role of women.”
(7-30-13): Although Pope Francis was praised for saying he would not judge a gay person of goodwill, he “did not signal a doctrinal change in the church’s position that homosexual acts are a sin,” nor did he “retreat” on women’s ordination.
New York Times
(4-20-05): Pope Benedict XVI is not going to change on “homosexuality.”
(3-14-13): It is hoped that Pope Francis will “bring a new perspective on inflammatory social issues, such as abortion and homosexuality.”
San Francisco Chronicle
(4-20-05): Pope Benedict XVI needs to “knock the sharp edges off Catholicism by admitting women as priests.”
(3-14-13): Citing his opposition to gay marriage, it said, “The new pope is no free-thinking reformer.”
(7-30-13): It was encouraged by Pope Francis’ statement about not judging gays, but noted with disapproval that the “door is closed” on women’s ordination.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
(4-20-05): “Those who hoped, against the odds, that the new pope might soften the church’s teachings” on “the ordination of women,” it said, “will be disappointed by the choice [of Pope Benedict XVI].”
(4-20-05): “There is nothing in Pope Benedict’s background to suggest he will give ground” on “the ordination of women as priests.”
(8-1-13): It was happy to learn that Pope Francis would not judge gays, but it noted “Francis offered no hope that they [women] may one day be ordained priests.”
(4-20-05): It noted that “millions ignore church teachings” on moral issues.
(4-20-05): It took Pope Benedict XVI to task for impeding “the distribution of condoms in Africa and other developing countries.”