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Monica Doumit: Watch out for shallow media

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Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli kisses Pope Francis’ hand on 2 August 2017 after performing during the pontiff’s weekly audience. Photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters
Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli kisses Pope Francis’ hand on 2 August 2017 after performing during the pontiff’s weekly audience. Photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters

Am I the only one who spent a little bit more time than I should have on ‘Ringgate’ last week? You know, the video of Pope Francis pulling his ring away from those who came to greet him following Mass for the Solemnity of the Annunciation at Loreto?

As I write this, the original 80-second clip that was posted to Twitter has been viewed more than 11.5 million times, and a Google news search on the topic reveals around a million results. It made its way into all mainstream Australian media, and even onto Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night comedy show in the US, so I am pretty confident in saying that the controversy qualifies as a “-gate.”

It also caused enough of a stir that the Vatican had to issue a clarification, with spokesman Alessandro Gisotti saying that he asked Pope Francis about it, and the Holy Father had said he was concerned about hygiene. “He wants to avoid the risk of contagion for the people, not for him,” Gisotti was reported as saying.

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I feel for Gisotti; I really do. He has a tough job and did his best to explain away quite a bizarre set of circumstances, but I’m not really buying the “hygiene” excuse.

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At the time he started pulling his hand away, two-thirds of the people who had lined up to greet the Pope had already been through, and the majority of them had kissed his ring or kissed his hand, and so the arbitrary imposition of sanitary standards just doesn’t pass the pub test. Sorry.

As you would have seen, there has been a lot of speculation and a lot of debate about the incident. Some people surmised that the Pope was pulling his hand away as a sign of humility, demonstrating to the faithful that he was equal to them.

Others, including some bishops, suggested it was because many people do not understand why they are kissing the ring, and do so as an improper sign of devotion to the Pope personally rather than the office he holds. Still more thought it was part of a liberalist agenda, with the Holy Father trying his best to eliminate one of the long-standing traditions of the Church.

Without knowing the Pope’s motive, I’ll say that I would have been disappointed if I had lined up to greet the Pope and he had pulled his hand away. Kissing his ring is a sign of love for and obedience to the Vicar of Christ, and without a good reason, I don’t think the faithful should be denied this particular devotion.

Plus, I would have been completely mortified if it had happened to me. It would have been so embarrassing, and the memory of meeting the Pope wouldn’t be as lovely as I’d have hoped.

All that aside, the real disappointment out of all of this was not the response of the Pope, but the response of the faithful. When the clip was published, a lot of Catholics used it as confirmation of their pro-Francis or anti-Francis sentiments.

The vast majority of those sharing and commenting on the video did not make any attempt to look at it in context.

Had they have done so, they would have seen that the clip that was published to Twitter showed only about 10 per cent of the time the Pope spent receiving people.

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They would have seen that more than 50 people – mainly bishops, priests and religious – kissed the Pope’s hand or his ring without any reluctance on the Pope’s part, and it was only in the last few minutes that the practice changed.

If the Pope was really trying to be “egalitarian,” then he would have refused anyone kissing his ring. If he was trying to reject Church tradition, then he would have rejected any attempts to kiss his hand. The full video calls into question all the theories spouted online.

Haven’t we learned our lesson as Catholics? Aren’t we used to the media taking something out of context and twisting it in a way that does not reflect reality? Shouldn’t we, by now, be the first ones to go looking for the original source rather than relying on some selective slicing of a clip? At times, it seems like no one in the mainstream media is concerned about the truth when it comes to the Church, so we need to be.

It’s too late for this particular incident. The clip has gone viral and media around the world took note. They too, took the clip out of context, and the debate amongst the Catholic community gave them plenty of “progressives versus conservatives” material to weave in to their stories as well. We only have ourselves to blame.

Maybe next time, we will remember to do the homework the media refuses to do, if for no other reason than to make sure that we are getting the full story.

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