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Perceptive commentary: O'Grady, Douthat, Bottum, Allen, Erlandson

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 18, 2013

The election of Pope Francis produced an explosion of media commentary, and I cannot pretend that I have read more than a small portion of the editorials that appeared immediately after the historic choice of a Pontiff from the New World. But in the past few days a few commentaries have struck me as particular worthwhile:

  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who covers Latin America for the Wall Street Journal, looks Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope. Alert readers may have noticed that nearly all the stories about the alleged failure of Cardinal Bergoglio to oppose the military dictatorship in Argentina cite a single journalist: Horacio Verbitsky, a former member of the Montoneros guerillas who fought that regime, now a left-wing journalist. More balanced witnesses testify in the Pope’s favor. For example, 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel says that "there were bishops that were complicit with the dictatorship, but Bergoglio, no." One opponent of the regime reports that while she was in hiding, she “ate with Bergoglio.” The bitter opponents of the Pope, O’Grady reports, are “those trying to turn Argentina into the next Venezuela.”
  • Ross Douthat of the New York Times wonders whether Pope Francis is What the Church Needs Now. The new Pope commands respect for his simplicity, humility, and integrity, Douthat writes. That is particularly important at a time when so many people have ceased to respect the beliefs that the Church teaches. Pope Francis insists that God wants something from us, in contrast to the popular culture that would “dismiss the idea that the divine could possibly want anything for us except for what we already want for ourselves.”
  • Jody Bottum makes a similar point in his Weekly Standard analysis, New World Pope. Journalists are prone to misunderstanding the Catholic Church, Bottum writes, because they underestimate the wisdom that the Church has amassed through the centuries, and wrongly assume that the Catholic Church is one more institution bound by the beliefs of its own era. “In every age, somewhere in the church, there flashes into the present moment a religious claim—a divine revelation, say its believers—from the ancient world.” Pope Francis is asserting such a claim today, he says.
  • After attending the new Pope’s meeting with journalists on March 16, John Allen reports that is Francis is turning symbols to deeds. He pays special attention to a seemingly off-hand comment in which Pope Francis said that some cardinals jokingly suggested that he take the name “Adrian VII,” in reference to the 16th-century Pontiff famed for his battle against corruption in the Church. While that may have been a joke, Allen sees it as a clear signal of the mood of the conclave, and perhaps the mandate of Pope Francis.
  • On a lighter note, Greg Erlandson of Our Sunday Visitor tells how he was caught in The Angelus tidal wave when he tried, unsuccessfully, to squeeze into St. Peter’s Square for the new Pope’s first Angelus audience. The crowd was just too big, Erlandson reports; there was no room. VIP status was not enough to assure a place in the Square, he observes; he saw that the president of Chile was thwarted, too.


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