Eight years ago, the elevation of the German cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, to the papacy was met with derision by both serious and frivolous British papers. “God’s Rottweiler,” blared the front page of the Daily Telegraph. It’s not often that the liberal Guardian falls into line with the sassy but conservative Sun, but on Pope Benedict they agreed: “From Hitler youth to the Vatican,” said The Guardian. “From Hitler Youth to… Papa Ratzi,” screamed The Sun.
Newspaper editors reflect their environment and know their readers. In 2005, the blitzed British had a knee-jerk — i.e., a Basil-Fawlty-like goose-step — reaction to a German pope.
Maybe it’s impossible to make fun of Francis, the Argentine Jesuit who passed on the perks that came with being a cardinal — the chauffeur-driven car, the palace, the chef. This time around, The Guardian responded to the new pontiff’s greeting to the world with a headline that reflected his simplicity: “Buona Sera, Pope Francis.”
Most editors recognized the historic significance of the first Jesuit, the first American and first Francis: “A new world pope” announced The Miami Herald, The (London) Times, the Los Angeles Times and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “A pope of firsts” agreed the The Hartford Courant, The Indianapolis Star and The Bakersfield Californian. The only cheeky headline came from the north: the Canadian Sun newspapers went with the tame: “Being Frank.”
Still, some newspapers while remaining respectful seemed skeptical. Inside their first stories on Francis, The Guardian and The New York Times immediately asked what sins of omission then-Bishop Jorge Bergoglio may have committed during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War, when a military dictatorship held sway and as many as 30,000 “disappeared.”
Bergoglio, a humble man with traditional views who is a champion of the poor, made it clear while cardinal that he did not approve of same-sex marriage. The San Francisco Chronicle, whose coverage area has both a politically active gay community and Latino base, went with “Outlooks color views of pope: Applause for social justice, concern about gay rights.”
Yup, newspaper editors know their readers.
– M.S. Scully