December 11, 2013
Buenos Aires Lieutenant-Governor Gabriel Mariotto’s affirmation that Pope Francis supports the 2009 Broadcasting Law has prompted some media to blast this claim as an even grosser abuse of the Argentina pontiff than dragging Lomas de Zamora Mayor Martín Insaurralde (the top Lower House Victory Front candidate in Buenos Aires province) into a presidential photo with Francis at the Rio World Youth Congress last July. Yet granted that Mariotto (not the subtlest soul in the world) was breaching Vatican protocol and normal discretion alike, was he so very wrong in the substance of his claim?
Even ahead of talking about Pope Francis, it is possible to find signs of his predecessor Benedict XVI being on the same page as media reform in some ways. There is no evidence that the Bavarian pontiff was aware of any media legislation in Argentina in 2009 but this deeply conservative theologian who so long headed the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pioneered the Pontifex Twitter account — he did this because he was convinced that new technologies and new media could represent a broader range of religious attitudes, giving them all (including the most conservative) a better chance than the stereotypes of the established press. In short, Benedict implicitly backed pluralistic media reform. Let us now fast forward to this week and the hugely publicized interview of Pope Francis in which he says, among other things, that if the Church continues obsessed with abortion, gay marriage or contraception, it risked collapsing. Yet anybody attending mass with any regularity and listening to the sermons will not hear these issues touched in a month or year of Sundays. What Francis probably meant (and at the end of the week he certainly restated his opposition to abortion) was not so much that the Church is obsessed as seen to be obsessed by media stereotypes stretching back decades — the Church is negatively portrayed as one vast conspiracy against carnal enjoyment rather than its more positive and spiritual mission which Francis would like to bring to the forefront. All speculation perhaps but it helps to explain the concrete and undeniable fact that the Argentine Church supports the Broadcasting Law despite often being perceived as a sector hostile to Kirchnerism.
Perhaps Mariotto showed too much freedom in quoting the words of Pope Francis but we should not be so sure that he put those words into the papal mouth.