‘Why Did Pope Francis Say That?’

It's not the right first question.

By Mitch Boersma Published on May 17, 2015

“Why did Pope Francis say that?”

It’s a question people of every theological and political stripe have asked themselves at some point in the past two years.

Perhaps nowhere more so than in the anglophone world, where the strange brew of unintentional translating difficulties mix with intentionally politicized mischaracterizations and result in serious confusion. In some cases what is reported is precisely the opposite of what Pope Francis actually said.

The latest example is a report — originating from BBC and AP, and subsequently published here at The Stream — that Pope Francis called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an “Angel of Peace.”

As Jonathan Tobin observes, there are many good reasons to doubt that Abbas is any such angel, with résumé lowlights that include a long stint as deputy to arch-terrorist Arafat and a doctoral thesis centering on Holocaust denial.

So why on earth would Pope Francis call him an angel of peace? Short answer: he didn’t.

According to the report from the Italian newspaper La Stampa:

As is tradition with heads of State or of government, Francis presented presented a gift to the Palestinian leader, commenting: “May the angel of peace destroy the evil spirit of war. I thought of you: may you be an angel of peace.

As Stephen Krusier, who was among the first to hear the dog-whistle of yet another Pope Francis misquote, notes: “Calling someone something and exhorting him to be that something are two entirely different things.”

A good rule-of-thumb we can all keep in mind: The next time you ask “Why did Pope Francis say that?” — pause and ask an even more important first question, “What did Pope Francis really say?”


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  • Dean Bruckner

    It’s all well and good to make apologies for the pope, and I use that word “apologies” in an objective, not a pejorative, manner. However, this site does seem to be bending over backwards to avoid criticizing him. For example, nowhere on this site can I find a story on the recent (3 days or so) Vatican diplomatic recognition of the “nation” of Palestine. Surely that diplomatic action is one of the Vatican’s most significant of the last 50 years, and Stream can’t bring itself even to write or link to one article about it?

    What is going on at the Stream? I sent a request for information a couple of days ago to the editors about this omission, with no response yet. If you are trying to avoid Protestant-Catholic disputes here on the site, and you think such a report will stir one up, then fine, don’t go there. But say so up front and openly. Please. As it is, it appears the Stream is trying to present itself as a neutral arbiter of these issues, but occurrences like this are eroding that appearance.

    The Stream is one of my top three sites I visit every day, but that depends on keeping my trust.

    • Dean Bruckner

      Still waiting…

  • sc_cannon

    Well it is not an exact misquote, if the pope said “may you be an angel of peace”, as that means he thinks the guy could be that.

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