By now, most people who read written media, go on line, listen to the radio, watch television, use social media or have an interest in current events, should have discovered that all the hoopla about Pope Francis saying anything about pets and heaven was a fabrication.
For those who have not read, heard or discovered this fact for themselves, I write this article. The entire account was false. It never happened.
After the fact efforts to dig up comments made by Pope Paul VI in the 1970’s and claim a mistaken attribution to Francis are a juvenile effort by journalists and pundits who propounded the falsity, to make excuses and find cover.
Over the weekend, Father Cero Benedettini, a spokesmen for the Vatican, was charitable, saying “There is a fundamental rule in journalism, that is double-checking, and in this case it was not done.”
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I am not a spokesman for the Vatican. I will not be as charitable.
This silly story spread throughout the integrated media like a computer virus. It is a sign of how far journalism and media have fallen in a culture on a downward spiral.
Corrections, retractions and denials are flooding the integrated media. Too late. The ruse of reporting on this papacy in too many media sources has been exposed.
The passing on of this complete fabrication, as well as the embellishment which accompanied it, were not simply a matter of the secular press failing to comprehend this Pope. In fact, religious news sources, both Catholic and Protestant, jumped in.
This all points toward two growing problems as the papacy of Francis continues.
First, what I call the new papal paparazzi. Their numbers are growing exponentially. They seem to sit poised, waiting for anything Pope Francis says or does in order to build a tabloidesque account.
Some of these folks suffer from an abysmal lack of understanding of the Catholic Christian faith and the teaching office of the Catholic Church. They think Catholic Christians somehow believe that everything a pope says or does becomes some sort of new teaching or doctrine.
In fact, popes can and do have opinions, likes, dislikes, and personal positions, like all human persons. They even make mistakes, for goodness sake! Those do not constitute the teaching of the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Even a Pope cannot change the teaching of the magisterium.
Second, it points to the growth of what I now call the propaganda media. This propaganda media consists of those with agendas, be they political, theological, personal, or professional, who have decided to use this Pope as an instrument to promote those agendas.
In my opinion, between those two, the worst problem is the propaganda media.
The secular political movement which calls itself “progressive” while it promotes regressive ideas, are more than happy to use Pope Francis. In addition, some within the Catholic Church, as well as the larger Christian community, who have their own religious versions of some of the ideas of the secular progressives, are doing the same thing.
But, with this latest story, something else became evident. It is what I call the pile on effect. Notice how many stories were generated after the initial false reports. They took on a life of their own by some in the media who have given up on journalism and adopted a sloppy model of covering important events. The cutesy titles, used to garner reads on line and generate rewrites and publicity, were nauseating.
Finally, I must point out the role of the opportunists. They operate on many fronts. They jump in at every opportunity to even use a fabricated story. One example, in this instance, is the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), whose headquarters is in Norfolk, Virginia, right down the road from my own home.
PETA called on Catholics to stop eating meat. They do not even want us to eat fish. No-one told Jesus that. PETA has more concern for animals and fish than children in the first home of the whole human race, their mother’s womb. At least the Humane Society used the fabrication intelligently, noting that animals are “sentient beings, and they mean something to God.”
Classical Christians, those who believe the Bible, affirm the ancient Creeds, and see the two thousand year tradition of the Church as valuable, profess belief in in the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.
In other words, we will not be disembodied souls floating around somewhere for eternity. We will be raised from the dead. We will be transformed by the power of God and live in a new world to come.
I recently wrote on this subject in an article entitled Do We Really Believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the World to Come?
There have been differing views on the nature of that new world to come since the first centuries of the undivided Christian Church.
For example, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon, spent much of his energy refuting the multiple varieties of Gnostics of his own age who wrongfully taught that matter and the body were evil. That is NOT a Christian position. In fact, Jesus Christ was raised bodily and those who follow Him will be as well. In addition, we will live in a new kingdom which He will inaugurate upon His return.
Irenaeus of Lyon was a proponent of the stream within the Christian tradition who hold that the Kingdom to come, this new world which comes when Jesus returns, will have everything which is good and beautiful in the current world, only completed, redeemed and perfected. That includes animals.
Other early Christian Fathers disagreed about the presence of animals.
There are some very interesting dialogues on this issue in the tradition. They offer intelligent theological reflection on the nature and reach of the redemption accomplished in Jesus Christ. That redemption will only be complete upon His return. Those various traditions within the Church have continued to this present moment.
Even the last two occupants of the Chair of Peter seem to hold differing views of the coming kingdom. That is just fine. There is plenty of room for respectful and prayerful discourse on the subject. After all, we will only find out who is correct when we live in that new heaven and new earth.
Some media reports alluded to this distinction. However, they failed to understand the precision of language used in this acceptable disagreement in Christian history. The word soul, when used by some early Christian Fathers in reference to animals, is entirely distinct from the word soul as used to refer to human persons. Human persons alone are created in the Image of God.
This latest incident adds a bold underline to the growing problems of media reporting on this Pope. They must be addressed. Perhaps the absurdity of this concocted story will wake some in the media up. At least I hope it forces those in Christian and religious media to be more careful and do the work necessary before piling on.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.