Pope Francis: media should avoid indulging popular love of smut

Pope Francis: media should avoid indulging popular love of smut

Pope Francis: media should avoid indulging popular love of smut

Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square to attend his weekly general audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. (Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia.)

News organizations, the pontiff told Belgian weekly magazine Tertio, have the power to do a lot of good, but at the same time, are prone to what he called four “temptations." The pontiff also said he prefers a "synodal" church to a "pyramidal" one, meaning top-down.

ROME— Never one to shy away from a soundbite,  Pope Francis said media organizations have a tendency to “coprophragy”, meaning that which is dirty and base, and that they shouldn’t exploit this instinct to generate sales and readers.

Francis has also said he prefers a “synodal” church, one in which the pope accompanies others and helps them grow, to a “pyramidal” church, where “Peter says what to do.”

The comments came in an interview with the Belgian weekly magazine Tertio.

On the media, the pontiff said news organizations  have the power to do a lot of good, but at the same time, are prone to what he called four “temptations.”

The first, he said, is calumny, “to tell a lie about a person,” something particularly seen “in the world of politics.”

Then there’s defamation, in which news stories damage people’s reputations.

The pope said that “every person has the right to a good name, but perhaps in their previous life, or in their past life, or 10 years ago, had a problem with the law or in his family life…so, bringing this into the spotlight is grave, it damages, it cancels a person.”

To describe this form of defamation, he used an Argentine expression meaning, roughly, “to bring out a file” on someone, holding them responsible today for what they did a long time ago, even after they have been punished or repented of it.

The third temptation is “misinformation,” meaning, “faced with any situation, to say one part of the truth but not the other.”

“No! This is to misinform,” he said. “Because you give half of the truth to the viewer. And as such, he [or she] can’t come to a proper judgement about the whole truth.”

Misinformation, he said, is “probably the biggest damage a news organization can cause. Because it directs public opinion in one direction by removing a part of the truth.”

Francis said that media are also called to be clean and transparent, without falling into what he called “the disease of coprophilia: constantly looking to communicate scandal, communicate ugly things, even if they are true.”

In the literal sense, coprophagy and coprophilia are perversions involving excrement, usually linked to mental illness. In Spanish, the language in which the interview was conducted, the terms are sometimes used to refer to an appetite for morbid or sick stories.

“And since people have a tendency towards coprophagy, it can be very damaging,” the pope insisted, before adding that the media are builders of opinion, and that as such, potentially do “immense good.”

This is not the first time Francis has used this language to refer to what he considers the media’s tendency to place too much emphasis on the negative. In a 2013 interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, he was asked about corruption in the curia, the Vatican bureaucracy.

At that time, the pope said that the curia gave an important service, and that news about its corruption were often exaggerated and manipulated to spread scandal.

“Journalists sometimes risk becoming ill from coprophilia and thus encouraging coprophagia,” he told Andrea Tornielli at the time, “which is a sin that taints all men and women, that is, the tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive aspects.”

In the interview with Tertio, released on Wednesday, Francis was also asked about his attempts to “renew the Church” inspired by the Second Vatican Council. In his reply, the pope distinguished what he called the ‘synodal Church’, which he contrasted with a pyramidal, or top-down, model.

“The Church is born from the communities, the bases, baptism, and is organized around a bishop that convokes it, strengthens it,” he said. “The bishop is the successor of the apostles. This is the Church. But in the world, there are many bishops, many organized churches, and there’s Peter.”

Hence, he continued, there’s either a “pyramidal” Church, where “what Peter says what to do,” or a synodal Church, where “Peter is Peter but he accompanies the Churches and makes them grow.”

The richest experience of the latter, Francis said, were the two synod of bishops on the family, which took place in October 2014 and again in 2015. During them, he continued, all the bishops of the world, representing their dioceses, made their voices heard.

“From there we have ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” the pope said, referring to the apostolic exhortation he released earlier in the year, as the fruit of the synods.

The richness of nuances present there, he added, is part of the Church: “Unity in differences. This is synodality. Not to go down from top to bottom, but to listen to the Churches and harmonize them, discern.”

Everything which is present in this document, Francis continued, was approved in the synod by two thirds of the bishops, and this is a “guarantee.”

Synodality, the pope said, is something the Catholic Church still has to work on and not to be afraid to embrace, adding the Latin phrase that says that the churches are always with Peter and under Peter, cum petro et sub petro, make the pope the “guarantor of the unity of the Church.”

Asked about the 100th anniversary of World War I, Francis said that Europeans didn’t live up to the post-war call of “war never again.”

While lip service is being paid to the idea, weapons are being produced and sold to both sides in a conflict.

Acknowledging he hasn’t studied this economic theory in depth, he mentioned reading in several books the theory that when a country’s accounts don’t balance as they should, nations go to war for financial reasons.

“Making war is an easy way to make wealth,” he said. “But of course, the price is very high: blood.”

Quoting his own reference of a World War III being fought piecemeal, he mentioned the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East, Africa and Yemen as examples.

Asked about current conflicts being fueled by religious differences, Francis insisted, as he’s done before, on the fact that no war can be justified in the name of God or religion.

“Terrorism, war, are not related to religion,” he said. “Religious deformations are used to justify [war],” but they have nothing to do “with the essence of what is religious. Religion is love, unity, respect, dialogue.”

In the interview, Francis was also asked about a possible trip to Belgium, to which he answered it’s not currently in the works. Yet he did share something that was unknown even for Geert de Kerpel, editor of Tertio and the man behind the interview: while he was a Jesuit provincial in Argentina, Francis traveled to Belgium several times.

“There was an Association of Friends of the Catholic University of Cordoba,” Francis said. “And as its chancellor, I would go there to talk to them when they had their spiritual exercises.”

De Kerpel did some follow-up research and found out that the reason behind the travel was a Jesuit priest named Jean Sonet, once the rector of the Jesuit-run Université de Namur in Belgium. In 1958, De Kerpel told Crux, the priest relocated to Argentina, where he became the librarian of the Catholic University of Cordoba. Eventually, he became vice-rector of the university.

It was Sonet who asked his friends for help. The impact this group of friends had on the institution was such that a recently inaugurated new library at the Catholic University of Cordoba was named after Sonet.

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