October 23, 2015 (NewsBusters) — On Thursday, the Washington Post's Anthony Faiola spun the latest synod of Catholic bishops at the Vatican as a “theological slugfest” between two main factions of the Catholic hierarchy: the “liberal”/”progressive” backers of “Pope Francis's vision for a more inclusive church,” versus a “backlash” from “conservatives/”traditionalists.” Faiola even hyped how some unnamed “moderate conservatives” at the meeting were “shocked” by the “vehemence of the backlash,” which supposedly pointed to a “rise of a Tea Party-like faction of bishops within the hierarchy.”
The writer, who previously touted a “conservative rebellion” against the Pope in a September 7, 2015 article for the Post, led his October 22 item, “Vatican meeting reveals growing Catholic divide over divorce and homosexuality,” by spotlighting how “a senior conservative bishop took the floor inside the Vatican's assembly hall and promptly charged his liberal peers with doing the devil's work.” After dropping his “theological slugfest” phrase, Faiola zeroed in on Archbishop Tomash Peta of Kazakhstan who apparently “rais[ed] eyebrows — and even a few incredulous laughs — as he decried some of the policy changes being floated at the synod as having the scent of 'infernal smoke.'” He added that “it was just another day at a synod that…has highlighted the extent his [the Pope's] outreach to once-scorned Catholics has triggered a tug-of-war for the soul of the Catholic Church.”
Faiola, who has a record of liberal bias in his coverage of the Catholic Church, then lamented that “the pushback by traditionalists has been so strong at the synod that the chances of fast changes on hot-button family issues — including whether to offer communion to divorced and remarried Catholics and more welcoming language to homosexuals — have substantially dimmed, if not gone completely out.” He also followed in the footsteps of CBS in spotlighting a comparison between the pontiff and another world leader:
As the synod races towards a close, there has been a last-ditch push to find common ground that could at least open the door to policy alterations. But some observers are already comparing Pope Francis to President Obama — a man whose reformist agenda was bogged down by a conservative Congress.
“Francis has the same problem that Obama had,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. “He promised the world, but Congress wouldn't let him deliver. If nothing much comes of this synod, I think people will give the pope a pass and blame the bishops for stopping change.”
The Washington Post journalist continued by noting that the close of this synod “sets up perhaps the most important decision of his [Francis's] papacy,” and outlined the stakes of the Pope's decision — again, from a left-of-center perspective:
The 270 senior church officials from 122 countries are set to finish voting on a final document by Saturday. But Francis has the final say, holding the power to simply accept the synod's recommendations, go beyond them, or withhold judgment to encourage further debate.
All of those avenues, however, carry a measure of risk.
Using his powers to go beyond the synod’s recommendations could rouse the wrath of conservatives, some of whom are already openly questioning the trajectory of his papacy. Yet if the final recommendation of the synod falls short of liberal hopes, simply rubber stamping it, or encouraging more debate, could generate disappointment among Francis's fans worldwide. They may begin to see him as a revolutionary in gestures and words, but not on substance.
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Later in the article, Faiola hyped that “the divide is not just liberal vs conservative, but also geographic with prelates in Africa, for instance, denouncing the 'Eurocentric' and 'Western' fixation with issues such as homosexuality.” He gave Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea as an example, who “linked the push for gay rights to abortion and Islamic extremism, comparing them all to what 'Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century.'” The writer continued with his Tea Party comparison:
The vehemence of the backlash has shocked even some moderate conservatives, suggesting the rise of a Tea Party-like faction of bishops within the hierarchy.
“Some of them are talking now like this is Armageddon,” Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
“They see themselves as the sons of goodness and others as the sons of darkness and evil. I have been very surprised by this apocalyptic view of things at the synod…This isn't the way discussions are done,” he added.
Faiola finished his write-up by contrasting an article that was published on the traditionalist Rorate Caeli blog (though he left out their name) with a media favorite inside the Catholic Church — the dissenting nuns:
…The plot thickened further on Thursday as an article appeared on a conservative Catholic Web site claiming to be from “a very wise, knowledgeable and highly influential cleric” and entitled “The Failed Francis Pontificate.”
In it, the author writing under the pen name Don Pio Pace and using insider terminology, argues that the divided church is now “intrinsically ungovernable” and decried this “strange synod” for being overwhelming focused on “adulterous couples and homosexual couples.”
Some have also denounced the general sense of chauvinism hanging over the debates in which only male clerics have voting rights.
Maureen Kelleher, an American nun serving in one of the non-voting roles at synod, told the National Catholic Reporter that there were “times that I have felt the condescension so heavy, you could cut it with a knife.”
Speaking of women in general, she added: “I see a high level of non-acceptance of us as holding up half the sky.”
The writer left out that Sister Kelleher is a “founding member of Network, a progressive Catholic Social Justice organization,” as documented in a December 2008 article for the Naples [Florida] Daily News. Network is the organization that runs the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign which has been celebrated by the media in the past.
Reprinted with permission from News Busters.