Pope Francis Thanks Media for Taking the Church to Task

Pope Francis is surrounded by journalists and aides as he arrives to celebrate a Holy Mass on Knyaz Alexander I square in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, on May 5, 2019. - Pope Francis arrived in Bulgaria, where he will meet members of the tiny Catholic community, but the main Orthodox …
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

ROME — “I want to tell you how much I respect your work, the Church respects it, even when you touch a sore point, and the sore point may be in the ecclesial community,” Pope Francis told journalists Saturday.

In his meeting with the Foreign Press Association, the pope encouraged journalists to do their jobs with integrity, honesty, and humility, seeking above all to inform their readers or viewers of the truth, no matter how hard that may be.

This may even mean calling the Church out on a given point, the pope suggested, which is part of their job as well.

The mainstream media’s coverage of the Francis pontificate began as something of a fairytale, with Francis portrayed as a humble Latin American prelate fighting the Vatican establishment and standing with the poor and disenfranchised, embodied by his famous line about a homosexual priest working in the Vatican: “Who am I to judge?”

For many, Francis seemed to be the anti-Pope Benedict, who was disdained by many in the media as overly traditional.

Little by little, however, Francis has begun to lose some of his superstar status, due in no small part to his perceived mishandling of key aspects of the clerical sex abuse crisis.

In February 2018, a group of Chilean lay Catholics sharply criticized the pope for defending Bishop Juan Barros, who had been accused of covering up for a sexually abusive priest in his diocese and of personally participating in the abuse.

Juan Carlos Claret, a spokesman for the organization Laicos de Osorno, said then that the pope would have to explain “who decided to constantly discredit the testimony of the victims,” since it is no longer “possible to maintain, as some do, that the pope didn’t know and that he had slanted information.”

Revelations surfaced at that time that Pope Francis had heard about the abuse problem in graphic detail from a victim in 2015, despite the pontiff’s insistence that he had no knowledge of the accusations.

In spite of his ostensible support for journalists and their work, the pope further lost favor when he refused to answer a direct question regarding his knowledge of the serial homosexual abuse perpetrated by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

On the papal plane returning from Ireland late last August, a journalist asked the pope point blank whether allegations were true that the papal nuncio to the United States had explicitly informed him in 2013 of sexual abuse perpetrated by Cardinal McCarrick and subsequent sanctions imposed on him by Pope Benedict XVI, including restrictions on his travel and appearances in public.

“May I ask you whether these two things are true?” queried Anna Matranga of CBS News.

“I would prefer—even though I will respond to your question—I would prefer to speak first about this trip and then about other topics, but I will respond,” the pope said.

“I read that statement this morning,” he said, in reference to an 11-page affidavit by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, which claimed that the pope knew about McCarrick’s misdeeds and yet reinstated him to a position of influence within the Vatican.

“I read it and sincerely I must tell you this, you and all of you who are interested, read the statement carefully and come to your own conclusion. I won’t say a word about this,” he said.

“I believe that the statement speaks for itself and you have the sufficient journalistic ability to draw your own conclusions. This is an act of trust. When some time has passed and you have come to your conclusions, maybe I will speak,” he said.

“But I would like your professional maturity to do this work. It will be good for you. That’s good,” he said.

Ms. Matranga then asked a follow-up question: “I want to ask you: when was the first time that you heard about the abuses committed by the former cardinal?”

The pope demurred further, refusing to answer the direct question.

“This comes out in the statement regarding McCarrick. Study it and then I will speak,” he said.

“I await your comments on the document. I would like that,” he said.

Despite his promises to journalists that he would come clean as to when he learned about McCarrick’s crimes, nearly a year has passed and Francis has not said anything further about the matter, other than to insinuate that the prelate who exposed him was in league with Satan.

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