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 Volume 1.16  This View’s Column May 27, 2002 

Habemus Papam!

How Come Everybody and His Brother Slammed the Pope for Saying What He Never Said?

Both “old” media (newspapers, for instance) and “new” media (weblogs, for instance) were littered with harangues of the pope last week. Why? Believe it or not, for having “condemned” celebrities for wearing costly, ornamental crucifixes. Indeed, you should not believe it: as far as I can tell, the pope didn’t say Word One about it. To me, this looks like just another example of media hounds tripping over one another’s big floppy ears in a mad dash to the finish line on the wrong race track.

The Media Fumbles and Bumbles Again

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus papam! So proclaims the Senior Cardinal Deacon when a new pope has been elected: “I announce to you a great joy: we have a pope!”

Apparently, Andrea Piersanti, president of an Italian Catholic cinema organization, was elected pope. With remarkably little notice.

Oh. Wait. I see. The media got something wrong. Again.

According to a blurb in This Is London, the pope “condemned” some celebrities for sporting costly ornamental crucifixes. Here is what Patrick Sawer wrote, in an article called “Crucifix fashion makes Pope cross”, May 22:

The Pope today condemned stars such as Victoria and David Beckham for sporting crucifixes as fashion accessories because they contradict “the spirit of the Gospel”. David Beckham has often worn a 20,000 Theo Fennell diamond crucifix. The Vatican, which named Jennifer Aniston, Naomi Campbell and Catherine Zeta-Jones among the culprits, said: “Is it right to spend thousands on a sacred symbol of Christianity and then in a non-Christian manner forget those who suffer and die from hunger in the world?”

Andrew Sullivan, a self-proclaimed Catholic and the journalist recently blacklisted from the pages of The New York Times Magazine, next applied his own keen professionalism, and came up with this quaint little rant, May 23:

MORE PAPAL PRIORITIES: The Pope doesn’t want to deal with the profound issues of priestly celibacy, ecclesiastical abuse of power and sexual morality that are wreaking havoc in the American church. He has far more important things to do — like complain about some celebrities wearing crucifixes and tend to his sparse flock in Azerbaijan. There are two priests in Azerbaijan. Two. This papacy is now descending into self-parody. While Rome burns ...

Ah. The profundity.

Actually, one Andrea Piersanti is the fellow who actually did the “condemning”, according to a Catholic News Service brief (ninth item), May 22:

A crucifix is not simply a piece of jewelry, so wearing one should be accompanied by acts of Christian charity, said the Vatican’s Fides news agency. “Wearing crucifixes made of diamonds and precious metals is a spreading fashion,” said the agency in a brief May 21 commentary. “Stars of the world of entertainment and fashion have made it the mania of the moment,” said the guest commentary by Andrea Piersanti, president of an Italian Catholic cinema organization. He pointed out that Jennifer Aniston, a member of the cast of the television program “Friends,” wears a platinum crucifix decorated with diamonds. The model “Naomi Campbell has a collection of gigantic and very precious crucifixes” and the Italian designer Giuliana Cella “has more than 400.” The actress Catherine Zeta-Jones “wears one of yellow gold and diamonds,” he said. “It’s an incomprehensible mania,” he said.

I wonder how Pope Piersanti likes his sudden exaltation.

Unfortunately, the distortion didn’t end there. It went on. And on.

Bill Hoffmann and Lorena Mongelli, Page Six, May 24, in an article entitled “Pope’s Cross Words”:

The Vatican is cross with stars who wear crucifixes as jewelry — and wants stunners like Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jennifer Lopez to take them off. The edict from the Vatican news agency Fides slammed the trio and other celebs for turning jewel-encrusted crosses into “the mania of the moment.”

And Sarah Schmidt, in an article entitled “The cross is not a fashion accessory, Vatican asserts” in The National Post, May 24:

The Vatican has chastised Jennifer Aniston and Catherine Zeta-Jones for reducing the cross, a sacred symbol of the Catholic faith, to a fashion accessory. Fides, the Vatican’s press service, slams the Hollywood stars by name in an editorial this week for sporting glittery crosses that contradict the spirit of the gospel.

See what happens when necessary distinctions are neglected in a mad dash to be little more than the Nationwide Press-Release Publication Service? A guest commentary published by the Vatican’s news agency is transmogrified into (1) a papal statement or (2) an official Vatican declaration that “condemns” certain individuals.

The New York Times, I shouldn’t wonder, would not like it one bit if a column by George Will in its pages was cited as the position of the Times or its publisher.

We need not think long to figure out why this happened — why the neglect of necessary distinctions, in a foolish rush to judgement, found quick expression in three countries on two continents. The Minute Particulars blog (which brought the real scoop to our attention, May 23) sums it up nicely: “The distortion is rhetorically convenient”. Yes, indeedy, it is.

Ooooh, boy. We get to bash that nasty old out-of-touch pope for saying something we think is stupid.

Never mind that he didn’t say it. Nor that lots of folks might find Piersanti’s remarks right on target in a superficial, consumeristic world.

Speaking of which... you shouldn’t miss this paragraph from Schmidt’s article:

“The Pope redefines out of touch on every single level,” said Tim Blanks, host of the internationally syndicated Fashion File on CBC’s Newsworld. “Just think about it. The Vatican pontificating about Jennifer Aniston’s jewelry.... Don’t they have better things to do with their time?”

Just think about that. Somebody is the “host of the internationally syndicated Fashion File”. Doesn’t everybody have better things to do with their time?

To me, the saddest aspect of this ridiculous episode is this. There will be some people — I guarantee it — there will be some people who will remember next to nothing about Pope John Paul II except for having said something that had actually been said by the president of an Italian film organization. And that, thanks to the accuracy and precision of commentators in widely-read media who have no idea what they are talking about. And who seem — like far, far too many of their colleagues, I fear — to be very happy that way.

(This View’s Column is short, and not well crafted, because I spent lots of time at two Memorial Day weekend picnics, enjoying the surprisingly good weather.)

ELC 2002


 Volume 1.16 This View’s Column May 27, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”