Lying at the Pope’s expense
There are two ways of reading the meeting of Pope Francis and US President Barack Obama at the Vatican. The first is to read it as it actually happened, and that is what the terse communiqué from the Holy See did. The second is to read it from one’s bias, and that is what Obama himself did.
One media group could not contain its glee over the “meeting of kindred souls.” The
“kinship” was slanted, of course, to mean that it was a meeting of two great liberals. As the Vatican statement, however, began feeding into news agencies, the mood and the terrain changed quite dramatically.
BBC, quoting the Vatican statement, said, “there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in the US, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection.”
BBC news analyst David Willey added to it with a more resourceful and certainly more perceptive piece: “Quite naturally (the Pope) felt obliged to warn Obama that there are certain limits to his ‘new look’ for the Catholic Church which does not permit him to suggest there is any dissonance of views (on hot button issues like abortion and contraception) between US bishops and the Holy See.”
Other news giants by then had practically said the same thing. Reuters spoke about “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection” as among the Pope’s topics in the discussion with Obama, in reference to Obama’s controversial health care plan which requires employers to cover the cost of contraception in insurance plans.
The Washington Times was more telling on where the slant began. “The president’s account downplayed the Catholic Church’s concerns about religious freedom in the United States and Obamacare’s mandate to pay for contraception. The pontiff and the president were cordial in the televised portions of their meeting, but a subtle competition to set the agenda played out after the meeting.”
“Obama lied about what he and the Pope talked about,” said one American opinion maker. “Isn’t that incredible?” he said.
The New York Times, not without partly contradicting itself, reported that the Pope had, in fact, delegated the hot-button issues to his secretary of state. Opening its piece by saying that the Pope and Obama “skirted social issues that have generated tension between some Catholic leaders and the American president,” it said that it “opted instead” for discussions that touched on global issues, i.e., Syria, etc. “Few expected an embarrassing confrontation,” it said. In the end, it guessed that indeed the meeting touched on sensitive issues.
“Francis seems to have delegated that part of the agenda to his second-in-command, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state. Mr. Obama said that Cardinal Parolin did raise the contraceptive requirements under the health care law, along with other issues, at a separate meeting. He said he told the cardinal that most religious organizations were exempt from the coverage mandate, but said he pledged to ‘continue a dialogue with the US Conference of Bishops to make sure we can strike the right balance.’” One Filipino-American friend confided: “Obama is lying through his teeth.”
It becomes amusing that at home, we clearly see the same predilection to interpret Pope Francis according to what one wants and not what the Pope wants.
In the March 28 rally outside the CBCP headquarters in Intramuros, the Purple Ribbon for RH Campaign had this in its statement: “Pope Francis has already criticized (emphasis theirs) what he calls the Catholic Church’s obsession with contraception and other issues that you often place under the framework of morality. He may not have released an outright change in Church teachings, but he did put great stress on the need to find a ‘new balance.’ In our opinion, it is clear to the Pope that Church leaders cannot carry on conducting themselves the same way as before.”
By favoring one statement over another, one is being misled into believing that Philippine bishops are now at odds with the Pope. The oft-cited quote from the Pope—actually 17 words (only!), leaving out the other 12,000+ words of an entire statement—has clearly become a preference among those who wish to put their own words into the Pope’s mouth (“17 words,” Opinion, 10/7/13).
The problem with the view that bishops are now at cross-purposes with the Pope is that it misses out not only the total context of the Pope’s interview, but also the one single fact that liberals have long awaited to hear him say but has not and will probably never: the Pope has not changed Catholic doctrine.
“Veer” from doctrine as an “obsession”—tell that to a Muslim in reference to the taboo on pork. Faith is leagues far above obsession. In case of doctrinal differences, the required response in good manners and right conduct is simple: Respect differences. To ask the Catholic Church to change doctrine is not respect, as this hollow Aquino administration has done. The same with putting one’s words into the Pope’s mouth: It is irresponsible writing. It is lying, plain and simple.
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