Pope

2014: The Year in Pope Francis Misunderstandings—How the Media Got it Wrong, Constantly

Correcting the "mythology of Pope Francis"

Pope Francis arrives at European Parliament

European Parliament

Ah, Pope Francis. We know so much about you … and so little of it is true.

If it felt like 2014 was the year the media joined the Pope Francis misunderstanding-of-the-month club, that is probably because, well, they did. Let’s look at a few media misunderstandings from 2014.

January: The Rolling Stone Pope?

If you read the cover story on Pope Francis in the January Rolling Stone, then you knew the magazine’s journalism was spectacularly wrong long before everyone else started talking about how spectacularly wrong the magazine’s journalism is. At The Week, Damon Linker listed nine ridiculous claims in that cover story.

February: Cardinal Kasper’s Communion

It was at the February consistory of cardinals that Cardinal Walter Kasper made his argument for a path to communion for divorced (but not annulled) remarried Catholics.  The myth that Francis was a supporter of this idea festered and grew throughout the year, climaxing at October’s Synod on the Family. The myth was unnecessary. Pope Francis put it to rest more than once.

For instance, in August, he said: “About the problem of Communion to those persons in a second union, that the divorced might participate in Communion, there is no problem. When they are in a second union, they can’t.”

Most importantly, the document that prepared the Church for the Synod reiterated the teaching on unannulled divorced and remarried and made it clear that the Church was never interested in changing the rule — the Church was interested in finding more loving ways to insist on compliance with the rule.

March: The Obama Meeting

In March, Pope Francis and President Obama met for the first time, and American Catholics were disappointed when the initial word had it that the Pope spoke not about religious freedom and the right to life but about safe areas of agreement. Hot-button issues were “not a topic of conversation,” said that initial word.

However, that initial word came from Barack Obama. The Vatican had a very different take on the meeting shortly thereafter, and the right to life and faith were very much part of it.

June: The Syncretist Pope?

A viral email that Snopes flagged as “FALSE” has long been spreading the rumor that Pope Francis was a syncretist — a believer that all religions are equally true. When Pope Francis held a multi-religious prayer for Holy Land peace in the Vatican June 8, that seemed to clinch it.

The meeting — Muslim prayers in St. Peter’s worried critics — was flagged by some critics as Francis’ “Assisi moment,” a reference to Pope John Paul II’s 1986 inter-religious prayer service that him defending himself against charges of syncretism.

But as Father Dwight Longenecker pointed out, the Vatican hosted a joint prayer service for peace that consisted of delegations from Israel and Palestine. The Israeli delegation had both Jews and Muslims in it; the Palestinian delegation had both Christians and Muslims in it. Each tradition got to pray – but each prayed in its own tradition.  And it all went down not in St. Peter’s, but in the Vatican Garden.

The “syncretist” charge reared its head again in November when Pope Francis prayed in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The Vatican press office reassured Catholic critics: Francis prayed the same prayer as Benedict XVI, author of Dominus Iesus, had prayed in the same way in the same place.

Early October: Mid-Synod Storm

All heck broke loose in the media when a report mid-way through the Synod on the Family was released. The English language version contained this fateful phrase about same-sex-attracted persons: “Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”