Steve Jalsevac

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Vatican’s handling of Pope’s interview “another public-relations debacle”?

Steve Jalsevac

It has been a wild ride for the pro-life, pro-family movement since the release last Thursday of the lengthy Jesuit magazine interview with Pope Francis. Most of the world's secular media have taken the most self-serving interpretations of what the pope said. And those reports have just kept coming and coming.

One particular AP story was picked up by many news outlets. Friday morning I sat down to read a national newspaper, and had to endure the following disturbing, front page intro to that article which I knew millions of others were likely also reading:

"Pope Francis has warned that the Catholic Church’s moral structure might “fall like a house of cards” if it doesn’t balance its divisive rules about abortion, gays and contraception with the greater need to make the church a merciful, more welcoming place for all.

But his vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals around the globe" - blah, blah; blah.

Another AP story noted:

"But in blunt terms, in an interview published Thursday in 16 Jesuit journals worldwide, the new pope Francis called the church’s focus on abortion, marriage and contraception narrow and said it was driving people away. Now, the U.S. bishops face a challenge to rethink a strategy many considered essential for preserving the faith.

“I don’t see how the pope’s remarks can be interpreted in any other way than arguing that the church’s rhetoric on the so-called culture war issues needs to be toned down,” said John Green, a religion specialist at the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “I think his language calls for less stridency on these issues.”'

And Time wrote:

"And he may have won over a whole new crowd who have grown disillusioned with organized religion, after he chastised the Roman Catholic Church for being "obsessed" with abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. Francis' remarks, published in 16 Jesuit journals worldwide, have rocked the Catholic world.

As recently as last year, Pope Benedict XVI called gay marriage a threat to "human dignity and the future of humanity itself." Compare that to Pope Francis, who said in Rio de Janeiro this summer, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"

The article then went on to urge that the Pope's new way of thinking needs to be taken up by the Republican Party that should change its strong pro-life, pro-family platform.

That is just a tiny preview of numerous similar articles and television and radio reports and commentaries that were issued in response to the published Jesuit magazines' interview. They have been very distressing for many who have been giving their lives to the cause of life and family at this time when their struggles have become more difficult than ever.

Some in the orthodox Catholic and pro-life world really lost their cool over all this and unfortunately pounced on Pope Francis for what he said. Not good. We had to remove more than a few rather hysterical or nasty comments from imprudent individuals from under our two reports related to the interview.

Most however, took the pope at his word that he is obviously one with the Church's teachings. However, they had to spend some time trying to figure out exactly what Francis really said and meant by his not necessarily clear remarks as I mused about in my Friday blog.

As it turns out there appears to have been a major failure to communicate beforehand with certain Vatican parties so that quick clarifications would be immediately available when the inevitable flood of misrepresentations or highly selective quoting from the document would begin.

Well respected Catholic commentator Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture noted today that this was "Yet another Vatican PR debacle":

"Whether you think The Interview was a coup or a disaster—or something in between—we should all be able to agree that the Vatican’s handling of the Pope’s blockbuster was another public-relations debacle.

Ironically, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications was meeting in Rome when the news broke. Greg Erlandson, the publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, who was at the meeting, observes that Church leaders had no warning about the interview."

So, huge problems resulted, calling for major damage control.

There were some faithful Catholics who respectfully expressed sincere concerns, not about Pope Francis's fidelity, but rather the wisdom of his strategy in the interview. They tended to be roasted over the coals by fellow Catholics who tolerate zero questioning of anything any Pope would say.

In his National Catholic Register blog today, Pat Archbold refers to this troublesome intolerance.

In his article, "The Loyal Opposition" Archbold writes, "It seems to me that we have arrived at the point where mere disagreement on tactics is viewed as akin to treason."

Non-Catholic Peter LaBarbara of Americans for Truth about homosexuality also expressed concerns  about last week's published interview and the spontaneous press conference on the airplane coming back from Brazil. He wrote:

"...the great fear that I and many like-minded pro-family advocates share (including several Catholic friends with whom I’ve spoken) is that the pope is naive about the aggressive homosexualist agenda. Pro-”gay” ideologues are cunning and tactical — they are already using the pope’s words to advocate ideas that he surely condemns. While laying claim to the Gospel and noble concepts like tolerance and equality, they have brought corruption and destruction to many institutions, of which the Catholic Church is but one.

We understand that the pope is not embracing a change in Church doctrine, and that he truly wants to help homosexual strugglers come to God. But at the same time we recognize that words matter in this debate — indeed, they often drive it."

Lastly though, Fr. Frank Pavone, the Director of Priests for Life and one of the world's foremost pro-life evangelists and activists, was fortunate to be in Rome these past few days. He is there at the invitation of the Vatican to speak, as he wrote today, "about the Church's defense of the unborn child, and about the clear and strong position of the Church, expressed in many documents, that the right to life is our first right and the foundation and condition for all the others."

Fr. Pavone went on:

"I was asked by many alarmed and confused people these past few days about the reported comments of the Pope that the Church should not be "obsessed" with this issue, and that there should be "balance" and "context.

Is the pope saying we should talk less about abortion? Is he saying that the emphasis the Church has placed on this issue has been a mistaken emphasis?"

Amazingly, Fr. Pavone continued:

"When I first received these inquiries via emails and text messages, I was actually in the presence of Pope Francis, in the dining room of his residence.

So the news came to me with more than a little irony, and I immediately began to tell worried pro-life warriors that they had no reason to think that the Pope no longer wanted the Church to focus on abortion.

Pope Francis preaches on pro-life in a very integral way. He gives strong and clear messages that derive from the very substance of the Faith and a very broad vision of the demands that Faith places upon us. The conclusions and applications for the pro-life movement are undeniable, even if he does not use the specific words “pro-life movement” and “unborn.”

You can read the full letter from Fr. Pavone here where he expands on his comments.

But to finish I quote perhaps the key paragraph in Fr. Pavone's letter stating that the Holy Father's "approach radically strengthens the Church's opposition to abortion, because the Pope is saying not simply that it breaks the Fifth Commandment ("You shall not kill"), but that more fundamentally it breaks the First Commandment ("You shall not have other gods besides me") and that to disrespect life is to abandon God himself."

That is actually the direction that many in the pro-life and pro-family movements have been going for years, but something really got lost in the translation, so to speak, over this Jesuit magazine interview.

So, that is the latest that I am aware of. There will certainly be much more written and said about this issue in the days and weeks to come and hopefully there will be much more clarification for the world's media and the dissenting Catholics who have also been exploiting the Pope's off-the-cuff interviews with glee.

It will be extremely difficult to undo all the negatives that have been written, but given the massive popularity of this charismatic Pope, we might actually end up better off in the near future in this great battle of life vs Death, once all is said and done.

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