Big news from the Vatican—this time because of Pope Francis’s recent letter to South American bishops denouncing communion for pro-abortion politicians. Here’s the lead from an article published by LifeNews.com:
A letter Pope Francis sent to the bishops of Argentina in late March is encouraging pro-life advocates because it says pro-abortion politicians should not be eligible for communion in the Catholic Church.
Simple, straight-forward, and possibly game changing. (Certainly more than most lackey American bishops are doing.) Incidentally, this is also the snippet that appears when LifeNews’s article is linked via social media. As expected, the story is prompting much resentment toward the popular media for its failure to cover the story—not to mention harsh rebuke directed at local bishops for not ordering the letter to be read in their own dioceses.
What LifeNews doesn’t offer is a link to the letter. (Here it is.) They also don’t mention that the letter includes nothing specific about abortion, communion, or politicians. What the pope’s letter does reference is the 2007 Aparecida Document (English translation here) that “states, in part,”
[people] cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals.
To state “in part,” though—to use LifeNews’s language—deserves a bit more context: the line above occurs in paragraph 436 of the 554 Aparecida Document—hardly with much prominence (and, I would argue, without much strong language of a relevant juridical nature). “A letter Pope Francis sent [...] says pro-abortion politicians should not be eligible for communion in the Catholic Church.” More than a bit of a stretch.
And all this from a “responsible” source of Catholic news with (they tell us) over 500,000 readers—one that aims to reject popular media bias on things like the Gosnell trial, but is more than happy to stoke the fires of blissful ignorance when it comes to “pro-life” spin (actions that are roughly the right-wing equivalent of HuffPo Catholic reactionism.) In a word, arming advocates of truth and justice with just enough information to rile them up, knowingly omitting the full story, and sending them on their (now probably less) merry way.
If there’s one thing Pope Francis wouldn’t want, I think it’s clear from his character and actions, it is that he would be intentionally misrepresented—especially in a way that would lead to divisions among the faithful and uninformed criticism of pastors.
Another paragraph from the Aparecida Document is worth noting, here (namely number 38):
[W]e must admit that [our] precious tradition is beginning to erode. Most of the mass media now present us with new, attractive, fantasy-filled images, which, although everyone knows that they cannot show the unifying meaning of all aspects of reality, at least offer the consolation of being transmitted in real time, live and direct, and with up to date information. Far from filling the void produced in our consciousness by the lack of a unifying sense of life, the information transmitted by the media often only distracts us. Lack of information is only remedied with more information, reinforcing the anxiety of those who feel that they are in an opaque world that they do not understand.
LifeNews’s article, like so much else, hardly avoids this breach between the transmission of information and true education. What’s more, the bishops—who are indeed to be commended for their position on “eucharistic coherence”—remind us that such dishonest behavior reinforces anxiety, and leads to the very sort of intellectual dissonance that underlies so much social ill (like, for example, the shortsighted and pragmatic politics of abortion).
As it happens, Pope Francis hasn’t written the Argentine bishops to refuse communion for pro-abortion politicians. But he has taken measures to ensure that his own actions don’t contradict that practice. In doing so, he has made careful, prudential decisions about the exercise of his ministry that lead not only to stricter adherence to certain neglected teachings of the Church, but also to a clarification of the “unifying sense of life” that must, and always has underlain the fullness of the Catholic tradition.
When we sensationalize aspirations to orthodoxy, we succumb to the very disease we fight: namely, cheap belief and an uncritical profession of faith. And of one thing we can be certain, that nothing will guarantee its metastasis more surely than those who profess to know its symptoms overlooking and embracing them, since examining them carefully would prove too exhausting and unrewarding.