The Guardian and Pope Francis’s ‘Fellow Ascetic’

How strange: “Pope Francis names fellow ascetic as Vatican secretary of state.” So reads the headline that the Guardian sets to a Reuters report on this appointment to the highest office in the Roman Curia. The 400 words in the main text are dedicated to a summary of the career of Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who takes over from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on October 15, and to a thumbnail sketch of Bertone’s seven rough years at the helm.

The article never delivers the human-interest content that the headline promises. What explains the disconnect? Maybe an editor planned to run a piece that included information that was found to be too hard to substantiate. Something about Parolin as a humble churchman who, like the Holy Father himself, eschews the trappings of high office would have made for a colorful story, but if Parolin’s profile didn’t support that characterization, the editor would have had good reason to spike it and substitute a related piece from a news service. Did someone then forget to adjust the headline? That’s one speculation.

Another would be that the oddness of that word choice, “fellow ascetic,” reflects the oddness of the Catholic Church in the eyes of editors at a secular newspaper where religious literacy isn’t necessarily high.


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