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There is an old witticism that goes something along these lines: Just because I am paranoid, doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is not out there trying to kill me.”
Taking the above into account, over the last couple of weeks several “interesting developments” have been observed in the Main Stream Media. These developments transpired in articles appearing in the Main Stream Media outlets, which this blog covers from the perspective of optics, messaging and narratives. These “interesting occurrences” have created a new media narrative, a narrative that goes against the “Good and Humble Pope Francis reforming the the outdated Catholic Church”, and one which goes something like the following: “Catholic Church is in chaos: who’s steering this
bus Barque of St. Peter?”
Let’s just quickly review the culprit stories.
The most noticeable was that which appeared in the New York Time titled The Pope and the Precipice by Ross Douthat (see here). Then we had two or three – or a hundred, but who’s counting – at the Breitbart News Network (see here and here), then a second story from Adam Shaw at Fox News (which we featured here) and finally the infamous story by Fr. James V. Schall S.J writing at the National Review Online pertaining to a “heretical pope” (see here). In that post titled Messaging: The Good Jesuit, I suggested that a Clintonian War Room could have been set up by Fr. Tom Rosica of the “Salt + Light” fame (see here), which is tasked with combating “narratives” which might get out into the public domain.
And now to the subject at hand. Over the weekend, a story appeared on the website of the Reuters News Services (see here). Reuters is primarily a business oriented new service “covering breaking news in business, politics, entertainment, technology” and general interest stories as well. The story was in the form of an Op-Ed piece by one Christopher M. Bellitto, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of History at Kean University in Union, NJ. (see here) Dr. Bellitto’s op-ed piece is titled: Don’t believe everything you hear — there’s only one pope.
In the article, Dr. Bollitto writes: (with emphasis and [comments])
A flashy Daily Beast article [Who reads the Daily Beast?. Ah, the “clericalized laity”.(see here) ;)]on bubbling Catholic dissatisfaction with Pope Francis declares, “There’s more than one Pope in town.” Conservative columnists Ross Douthat warns, “remember there is another pope still living!” These are just two examples: you can find others along the ideological spectrum.
There is only one pope and his name in Francis, whether people like him and the direction he is steering Roman Catholicism or not. Reporters, commentators, and academics should know better than to use the phrase “two popes.” This sloppy, ignorant, and irresponsible talk to drum up a good conflict story comes from both ends of the ideological spectrum.
Now, with respect to the second paragraph, Dr. Bollitto is stating facts on the one hand, while engaging in one of our bishop of Rome’s favorite pastimes, i.e. constructing “easy to knock down straw men”. No sweat! (see here). Yes, there is only one pope. And that pope is Francis. Now we do have one very well informed journalist in Italy (see here) who has a different point of view, but hey, isn’t there strength in diversity and the strength in diversity crowd should be happy. Never mind, “diversity of though” is not diversity. Mea Culpa. And this “non-diversity diversity” is not the type of diversity they or Dr. Billotto accept. But I digress…
What is most glaring in the second paragraph is that Dr. B states that the “Reporters, commentators, and academics of engaging in sloppy, ignorant, and irresponsible“ stuff. Never a good thing for “Reporters, commentators, and academics”, ya’ know! So hey guys, let’s get back on message.
But wait. In the next paragraph, Dr. B goes on to suggest that there could be another reason why the “reporters, commentators, and academic”, are off message and that is: they are confused.
And who is doing the confusing? Why it’s none other than the Pope Emeritus of course. Here is what the good Dr. B writes:
How could this confusion have been avoided? Since Joseph Ratzinger is no longer pope, he is no longer Benedict. He is a bishop named Joseph Ratzinger; being a bishop is an ordained state that never goes away. He chose to call himself pope emeritus and to keep the name Benedict, which leads to “there are two popes” talk. Given the circumstances, let’s call him Papa Ratzinger, which gives him the elder statesman status and respect that he deserves. Wearing a white cassock was also his choice and is likewise confusing. Better that he should wear a bishop’s outfit (black cassock, broad purple belt and buttons, and a pectoral cross), but maybe a white zucchetto (that yarmulke-like skullcap) instead of purple to make the link in an honorary way to his former job.
Ok. So maybe it’s not that the ”reporters, commentators, and academics” are engaging in “sloppy, ignorant, and irresponsible” behavior. What could be the case is that they are being confused by Benedict. If only he would ditch the white cassock and return back to his “bishops’ wear”, not even cardinals’ wear” but “bishop’s wear”. Oh, but he can get a consolation prize, he can keep his white
yarmulke zucchetto. And that should be the ticket. Or at least, it would stop the confusion of the”reporters, commentators, and academics”.
I will leave it off here with respect to Dr. Bollitto. All that I will add is this: with brilliant ideas like these, it is assured that he will continue to be invited as an expert to media outfits such as:
[Dr. Bollitto is]… frequent public speaker and media commentator on church history and contemporary Catholicism. He has been quoted in The New York Times, the Washington Post, et al, and has appeared on The History Channel, CNN, MSNBC, PBS’ News Hour, NPR, and other local radio and TV stations. Dr. Bellitto is also a member of the Speakers’ Bureau of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the former chair of Kean’s History Department. [Guilt by association can be fun. He could be a crypto-salesian (see here);) ]
As to what is behind this above described messaging, here is my take.
First, since it appeared in a news service dedicated to news important to the financial markets, this could be a just a run of the mill general interest story that they put up regularly. Call it a coincidence.
However, there are people in the financial industry who are large benefactors of the US Catholic Church. If you recall the incident where Rush Limbaugh observed that Francis spoke like a Marxist (see here), the follow-on effect was the complaining sectors within the US Catholic Church that ” ‘threatened’ wealthy capitalist benefactors” were holding back for just that reason (see here). So naturally, Reuters would be interested.
But there was a wider message, since not all subscribers to Reuters News Service are ‘threatened’ wealthy capitalist benefactors”, and that is this:
Don’t mind what the old pope in white says. He is not a pope. And whatever you hear about how the old pope can undermine Francis, it’s just the conspiracy theorists.
So please dear reader just move along.
There is nothing to see here.