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.”
It is important that the network went unnamed by Francis, and he didn’t go into details. He never does. He doesn’t accuse people directly, because he knows that accusation is the weapon of the diabolos, triggering cycles of counter-accusation that drag everyone down. Instead he asks to consider their actions (in this case, the attacks on the papacy) and their fruits.
Well-intentioned criticism that helps build up the church should always be welcomed and engaged. But attacks that come from the bad spirit are of a different nature. An attack on the legitimacy and validity of the teaching office of the pope through a constant barrage of false accusations and casting suspicion and distrust is not just criticism. It is something else; or at least, the criticism contains something else. As Francis says: “You debate ideas, but discern situations.”
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Austen Ivereigh is a Fellow in Contemporary Church History at Campion Hall, at the University of Oxford. His latest book is Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis’s Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church, published by Henry Holt.
With thanks to America Magazine and Austen Ivereigh, where this article originally appeared.