Every time Pope Francis writes an encyclical or makes an off-the-cuff remark on an airplane, the media (both Catholic and secular) jump all over it with various interpretations.
That's a problem, states Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said (Servant, 2016). Depending on your news source (or who you follow on Twitter and Facebook) you'll get wildly different versions of the same wrong story. Add in our lack of critical-reading skills and our willingness to accept "fake news" at face value and you wind up with a great deal of confusion about the Pope's teachings and motivations.
He is celebrated by some for saying things he never said and rejected by others for doing things they don't really understand (ix).
That airplane photo on the cover isn't just a convenient file photo. It's a symbol of the world's eagerness to take one sentence out of an entire speech and make a huge (and often hugely inaccurate) news story out of it. The problem is not that Pope Francis holds news conferences on airplanes. The problem lies in what people do with the statements he makes.
I can't remember so much attention being paid to things previous popes said and wrote. It's good, because the world (including the Catholic world) is watching and learning, but it's challenging, because it's so easy to take things out of context. I eagerly read Hoopes' book because I find myself having to say, "That's not what he said" way too many times when the subject of Pope Francis comes up!
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Tom Hoopes traces Pope Francis' papacy chronologically, from a speech then-Cardinal Bergoglio made in the conclave to the World Meeting of Families in the fall of 2015. Beginning with the retelling of the Gospel story in which Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath and is vilified by the leaders of the synagogue for doing so, Hoopes mentions that Jesus refuses to be "stage-managed by what officialdom is asking him to do and instead [turns] his attention to those who are looking to have a real encounter with him." (2) Pope Francis operates in much the same way.
Hoopes assures readers who have painted the Pope as "too liberal" of Pope Francis' unswerving commitment to the dignity of marriage and the right to life, while reminding those who believe he's "too conservative" that Pope Francis decries the violence that begets more violence and often leads to war. Hoopes also mentions that Pope Francis is not saying anything new. He paraphrases the Catechism of the Catholic Church, echoes Popes John Paul II and Benedict, and frequently references Scripture.
In a fast-paced world with a second-by-second news cycle that reduces entire speeches to 140-character tidbits, Catholics need to read What Pope Francis Really Said to catch up on the truth behind what Pope Francis has said in the past so that they can be prepared to defend, and live out, what the Pope says in the future.
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Copyright 2016 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
About the Author
Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom of 3 young adults, and a Secular Franciscan. She is editor at CatholicMom.com. Barb enjoys writing, cooking, and reading, and is a music minister at her parish and an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Find her blog at FranciscanMom and her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at Cook and Count. Her booklet, The Handy Little Guide to Prayer, is coming in May 2021 from Our Sunday Visitor.