The Chicago Tribune has a profile piece on Pope Benedict XVI leading up to his forthcoming visit to the U.S. I must say, for mainstream media coverage, this is probably as good as it gets. I do have a few quibbles but first let me share some of the article with you. Emphasis and comment mine.
Most Americans awaiting Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the U.S. this month likely know little about him beyond his fluffy white hair, his taste for red Prada shoes and his reputation as a hard-nosed church enforcer. [I wonder where they got those impressions?]
But since the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elevated to pontiff three years ago, the exacting professor with the authoritarian image has shown his pastoral side. His predecessor’s magnetism captivated crowds, but Benedict’s own low-key charisma has drawn record numbers to his appearances at the Vatican, including tens of thousands who braved heavy rains two weeks ago to hear him celebrate Easter mass.
“Becoming pope, he’s moving out of a very bureaucratic post into what is a pastoral role,” said Rev. Donald Senior, president of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Commission. “With Benedict, you feel like he is really fixing his gaze on you. There’s a very earnest connection, and I think that’s projected even to the large crowds. It’s not the rock star. It’s more intimate.“
Despite his gentler papal persona, Benedict hasn’t softened his stance on defending the distinctiveness of Roman Catholicism and clarifying what he believes are misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council. [Good. This is a distinction that the ordinary ministers of the media don’t usually make. Not opposed to VII, opposed to its misinterpretation.] At heart, the German pope remains a religious intellectual devoted to guarding church doctrine and bringing Catholics back to the core message of the faith.
This is a very well balanced introduction to Pope Benedict. By necessity, it is the 30,000 ft. view of the Pope, but it does it fairly. Then the writers hit the some of the highlights of the past three years in an effort to establish a dichotomy. Warm and fuzzy hard-liner.
[First the hard-line] In his first years as pope, Benedict has issued a document upholding a ban on gay priests, approved a text asserting Catholicism as the “true church,” stressed God’s role in evolution, revived the pre-Vatican II Latin mass and displayed a preference for traditional vestments and altar decorations.
[Now the warm and fuzzy] Still, Benedict, who turns 81 on April 16, defies simple definition. A 2006 charity calendar captured intimate portraits of the pope strolling in his garden and playing piano. His fondness for cats was revealed in the children’s book “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told By a Cat.”
Observers were struck that his first two encyclicals dealt with the simple, fundamental themes of love and hope. About eternal life, Benedict wrote: “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists.”
This dichotomy is becoming the ordinary ministers of the media party line on Pope Benedict. There is the hard-line doctrinaire pontiff contrasted with the soft and cuddly pontiff. The underlying assumption that seems to perplex the media is how can someone believe in all this hard-line stuff and still be a ‘nice’ person. Obviously this is a false dichotomy. The authors, while they seem to fall into the same trap, seem legitimately perplexed and not condescending and vitriolic as we have seen in other coverage.
Now onto the most surprising aspect of the article, balanced reporting on the Regensburg speech. After this we will come upon my quibble.
A central theme of Benedict’s papacy has been his argument that reason without faith leads to materialism and selfishness, while faith without reason leads to fundamentalism.
That concept was at the heart of a controversial 2006 speech in which Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who described the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings as “evil and inhuman.” The speech sparked protests across the Muslim world.
This is highly unusual reporting. Concise and accurate without any of the usual editorializing. Most striking to me is the brevity of the statement needed to put the Regensburg speech in context. One sentence. That is all. The context is ignored in almost all the reporting on the speech. Well done here.
Now to my quibble. The authors characterize the baptism of Magdi Allam as a misstep.
Benedict used the misstep to plan a groundbreaking Catholic-Muslim summit to be held at the Vatican in November. But last month he stumbled again after he publicly baptized Egyptian-born journalist Magdi Allam. The Vatican later distanced itself from Allam’s anti-Islamic views.
The fact that the ‘Vatican’ said that Allam’s opinions are Allam’s opinions does not constitute a retreat at all. Further, I do not see how anyone can characterize the Allam baptism as a stumble. Hardly. First, we are just two weeks removed from the baptism so the strategic nature of the high visibility baptism may not yet be evident. This is opinion pure and simple. In my mind, it is not even reasonable opinion at this juncture. I suspect that the very public nature of this baptism was a shot across the bow of the Muslim world. We will talk, but we will not yield. Diplomacy at its best.
I found this article to be the best mainstream reporting on Pope Benedict I have seen so far. Kudos to authors Margaret Ramirez and Christine Spolar. I wish that other reporters who cover the Church would rise to the standard you set here.
Notes: The Curt Jester has done a spot on parody of the boilerplate the Ordinary Ministers of the Media use in covering events like the Pope’s visit. Be sure to check it out here.
American Papist expresses his frustration with some of the lamer coverage and discovers that he is part of the ‘Creative Minority’ in the process.