The following comes from a Feb. 25 posting by Carl Olson on Catholic World Report.

Who, exactly, is reassuring whom? And about what?

Those were my thoughts upon reading David Gibson’s spin-laden, cliché-soaked piece, “U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke: Pope Francis opposes abortion and gay marriage” (Feb 21, 2014), for Religion News Service. Gibson’s report was on an essay by Cardinal Burke, who is Prefect of the Sacred Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, titled “The Pope’s radical call to the new evangelization”, for L’Osservatore Romano earlier the same day.

Gibson’s first sentence immediately tries to stuff Cardinal Burke’s essay into a narrow, politicized framework:

As Pope Francis led the world’s cardinals in talks aimed at shifting the church’s emphasis from following rules to preaching mercy, a senior American cardinal took to the pages of the Vatican newspaper on Friday (Feb. 21) to reassure conservatives that Francis remains opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

Cardinal Burke, you see, isn’t so much interested in reflecting upon the words and actions of Pope Francis as he is in gently patting the furrowed brows of fretting, simplistic Catholics who might wonder if the Holy Father is, in fact, on board with the Church’s perennial teachings on issues of life, sexuality, and related matters. Or, more bluntly: Cardinal Burke is a politician first, and pastor second.

Gibson’s piece is an outstanding example of bad Catholic journalism—both as the work of a Catholic and in its representation of the topic at hand. Two rhetorical tactics are immediately evident: the skewed portrayal of Cardinal Burke as a disgruntled, even angry, reactionary and the use of Gibson’s favorite negative descriptive: “conservative”:

Cardinal Raymond Burke acknowledged that the pope has said the church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” But in his toughly worded column in L’Osservatore Romano, the former archbishop of St. Louis blasted those “whose hearts are hardened against the truth” for trying to twist Francis’ words to their own ends.

Burke, an outspoken conservative who has headed the Vatican’s highest court since 2008, said Francis in fact strongly backs the church’s teaching on those topics. He said the pope is simply trying to find ways to convince people to hear the church’s message despite the “galloping de-Christianization in the West.”

For those who rely only on Gibson’s description, Burke’s essay sounds like the shrill manifesto of a man desperate—the term “conservative unease” is used twice!—to spin the words of Francis to his own, well, “conservative” agenda. In fact, it is Gibson who is spinning—slyly, if not shrilly—the words of Burke. To take just one more blatant example:

Burke said he was prompted to write his column after a recent visit to the U.S. in which he became alarmed that so many people wanted to know whether the pope’s statements about not judging gays and his stress on mercy and welcoming everyone augured a change in church doctrine.

Was Burke, in fact, “alarmed”? I guess that depends on whether or not you are willing to take him at his own word; for the sake of accuracy and fairness, I’ll do so here:

During a recent visit to the United States, I was repeatedly impressed by how deeply Pope Francis has penetrated the national conversation on a whole range of issues. His special gift of expressing direct care for each and all has resonated strongly with many in my homeland.

At the same time, I noted a certain questioning about whether Pope Francis has altered or is about to alter the Church’s teaching on a number of the critical moral issues of our time, for example, the teaching on the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, and the integrity of marriage and the family. Those who questioned me in the matter were surprised to learn that the Holy Father has in fact affirmed the unchanging and unchangeable truths of the Church’s teaching on these very questions. They had developed a quite different impression as a result of the popular presentation of Pope Francis and his views.

If there is a note of alarm here, I don’t see it. In fact, the piece is one of the best yet written about the thought and focus of Pope Francis, and it is all the more valuable because Cardinal Burke is a member of the Curia and is one of the most highly placed American prelates in the Church. That Gibson, whose affinity for trendy, dissenting causes is hard to hide, tries to paint the cardinal into the ideological corner says far more about Gibson and like-minded Catholics than it does about Burke. Much more. This is the same reporter, after all, whose (metaphorical) head nearly split in two when he wrote a rather humorous piece for The Washington Post in October 2009 that sought to cram Benedict XVI into the convenient but tired “conservative-liberal” bottle. (For even more of this nonsense, see my May 2009 Insight Scoop post, “Straw men by the left, straw men from the left”.)

To read the entire posting, click here.