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Pope Francis: Put-Down Artist?

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From the moment Jorge Mario Bergoglio stepped out onto the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and asked the world to “pray for me,” a persistent theme has resounded in the mainstream media. Pope Francis, as the popular narrative would have it, has singlehandedly set a “new tone” for the Church after decades, if not centuries — or millennia! — of crankiness and stagnation. Consider these headlines:

– “Francis’ humility and emphasis on the poor strike a new tone at the Vatican” (New York Times, May 25, 2013)
– “Pope Francis changes the Church’s tone on gays and women” (The Examiner, July 30, 2013)
– “Pope Francis’ focus on mercy sets new tone for Roman Catholic Church” (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 29, 2013)
– “Pope softening tone, not stance, O’Malley says” (Boston Globe, Feb. 9, 2014)

Astute Catholics know that Francis’s emphasis on the poor and the need for mercy is nothing new — these are perennial Christian themes. But it seems that this is the first time the modern media has made note of a pontiff hitting on these points. And it’s led to a severe case of journalistic “diarrhea of the pen.”

Hear, for instance, Nancy Gibbs, Time magazine’s managing editor. She explained the magazine’s rationale for naming Francis “Person of the Year” for 2013 thus: “He really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one of the world’s largest institutions in an extraordinary way.” David Wiley of the BBC said, rather expansively, that Francis “has struck an unusual new tone at all levels of communication” (July 29, 2013; italics added). Francis has been praised by The New York Times for “transforming perceptions” with his laid-back approach, for “lifting morale” and “bringing a new sense of enthusiasm” to Catholics. He’s even been credited with increasing tourist traffic at the Vatican!

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