There is an apocryphal story about a journalism professor teaching a new class of would-be reporters. “Imagine you’re covering a story about the weather,” he tells them. “Half of those you talk to say it’s raining and the other half say it’s dry.”
“Your job,” he says, “is not to quote both of them. It’s to look out of the window.”
The story came to mind when I read J. D. Long-García’s discomfort with Pope Francis’ characterization of a certain large TV network’s incessant belittling of his pontificate as the “work of the devil.”
Mr. Long-García said he was surprised by the absence of critical reaction from “Catholic media professionals” to the remarks made by Francis in response to a question from the Jesuits in Slovakia. “Are some of us letting the comments slide simply because we like this pope so much?” he wondered.
He then reminded us that under Pope Benedict XVI the Vatican had caused the removal of the then editor in chief of America magazine, Thomas Reese, S.J. That was an abuse of power. True, Francis wasn’t doing that, Mr. Long-García wrote, but wasn’t he somehow “using his influence” to quell criticism?
But there was a reason many people—including Catholic journalists like me—did not share the same discomfort. We saw the pope looking out of the window and naming what most have long seen: that over the past eight years, a powerful U.S.-based media conglomerate has used its formidable wealth and power to turn a large portion of the people of God against Rome and its current occupant. And, for good measure, against key reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
When he hears about being belittled and scorned every week on Raymond Arroyo’s show, in other words, he sees it as an opportunity for self-abasement and humility, a healthy corrective to any leader’s temptation to hubris.
But of course, what is involved here is not just a question of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s response to attacks on his person, nor his own spiritual reading of them. Pope Francis is the successor of Peter named by Jesus, and like Peter anointed by the Holy Spirit to guide and unite the holy faithful people of God. As they say in Rome, safeguarding the unity of the church is a “constitutive dimension” of the function of the papacy. Or as Benedict XVI once put it, when schism rears up ahead, a pope has no choice but to act.
Schism is not an intellectual matter. It is not a matter of simple disagreement. Schism is not criticism. Schism is a spiritual attack on the unity of the church rooted in the action of the diabolos. It begins, usually, with appropriating the magisterium, appointing oneself as its guardian, and throwing into doubt the validity and legitimacy of the incumbent in Rome.
Is this what animates EWTN shows like Raymond Arroyo’s? Is this spirit of schism— known by its contempt, arrogance and disdain, but presenting itself as the defense of orthodoxy and tradition—evident in the ongoing hostility and contempt towards Francis?