MSM Papal Trip Postmortem: Benedict Did 'Better Than Expected'

April 21st, 2008 1:59 PM | Screenshot of Newsweek.comWith Pope Benedict back in Rome, the media are rendering their verdict of the pontiff's U.S. visit. The pontiff did "better than expected" seems to be the verdict coming from secular journalists, who, of course, found that the pontiff bested the low expectations of unnamed "experts."

Take the following from Washington Post staffers Michelle Boorstein and Jacqueline L. Salmon (emphasis mine):

NEW YORK, April 20 -- After thanking the United States for his "many memorable experiences of American hospitality," Pope Benedict XVI headed back to Rome on Sunday night, ending a six-day visit in which he directly confronted the clergy sex-abuse crisis and surprised many by drawing large, enthusiastic crowds.


Benedict is known as a shy theologian, and experts predicted his homilies would leave many Americans unengaged. But his trip drew huge crowds, from Fifth Avenue in New York to Nationals Park in Washington.

Boorstein and Salmon were not alone in being shocked by Benedict's warm reception. Daniel Stone and Matthew Philips echoed a similar storyline in their April 21 Web Exclusive, "What the Pope Accomplished." The for the teaser featured on the front page (pictured above): "In first U.S. visit, Benedict connected better than expected."

From Newsweek's writers (emphasis mine):

From the day of his election three years ago, church watchers have labeled him a "transition pope," mostly because of his age (he was 78 when elected) but perhaps equally because Benedict didn't embody the qualities most members of the faithful thought their leader needed in order to continue what John Paul had begun as a redefined papacy, built on global connectedness and political involvement.


But his U.S. tour seems to have successfully combined showmanship and quiet spirituality. Leading masses for more than 100,000 people and offering blessings to faithful crowds that lined street routes for a glimpse of the pontiff and his Popemobile clearly had an invigorating effect on both the man and the crowds. In some ways it didn't really matter which pope came to America. Just as touring the Capitol building can reinforce feelings of patriotism, a glimpse of the global Catholic leader, the successor to St. Peter, conjures a feeling of elation. Devout Catholics would have lined the streets for any pontiff, regardless of how long his papacy was expected to be, or whether he was considered a strict hardliner or a people's pope. But Benedict, a reclusive academic, brought a new perspective to members of the American church, many of whom probably don't remember any pontiff before the crowd-pleasing John Paul. So if this week was a test, Benedict distinguished himself.

For more critique on the media's coverage of the papal visit, check out my colleague Tim Graham's April 19 NewsBusters post. For the NewsBusters archive of blog posts related to Pope Benedict XVI, click here.