Anticipating what the pope might say

The Washington Post last week had a Page 1 story headlined “Catholic College Leaders Expect Pope to Deliver Stern Message.” And while no less an authority than the GetReligion blog called it “a pretty solid report,” it also warned how, as the trip gets closer, reporters may ignore the main purposes of such a pastoral visit (i.e., Jesus, the Eucharist, holiness) to report what they feel are the “real” (i.e., “anything that can be seen as affecting politics and, thus, real life”) issues.

It didn’t take long for questions like those to be raised about the Post story (which also is appearing in papers that subscribe to the Post’s news service). The president of The Catholic University of America, Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell, wrote a letter published today taking the story to task for stirring up a controversy to make headlines:

The suggestion that the pope is coming to the United States with a hammer for Catholic educational leaders is not only premature but also prejudicial. Instead of condemning Catholic universities and colleges for what may be perceived as failures — and failures do exist — the pope might very well thank Catholic educational institutions for being beacons of light in a society that sometimes prefers darkness.

Predicting what this pope might say or do is always a tricky business. His first encyclical, after all, wasn’t about church doctrine or wayward Catholics but about love as a gift from God. Perhaps the Post headline would have been more accurate if it had not speculated on what Catholic college leaders expect the pope to say but simply reported on what some in the church want him to say.

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