How is it that the world’s smallest sovereign state is creating so much news? The Roman pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, sparked a firestorm of controversy last month when he quoted from a 14th century Byzantine emperor. The quotation, which was quickly taken from its context, was widely disseminated in the Middle East. The larger point of Pope Benedict’s address (which, as Gerald Owen points out in the National Post, is actually a criticism of the West) was ignored. Moreover, in these countries, the general public was manipulated with slanted reporting. Surely it is a scandal that these news outlets spread such skewed information, reinforcing irrational prejudices and fears, but it is a much greater scandal that the same process occurred just days before in the Canadian press.

On Sept. 7, the Pope addressed the bishops of Ontario. On Sept. 8, Canadians woke up to the following headlines: “Pope scolds Canada on gay marriage, abortion” (; “Pope slams Canada on gay marriage” (National Post); “Canada turning its back on God, Pope says” (Globe and Mail).  But what did Pope Benedict actually say?

It is true; Benedict identified the two defining moral issues in Canada without euphemism or evasion: “In the name of ‘tolerance,’ your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse and, in the name of ‘freedom of choice,’ it is confronted with the daily destruction of unborn children.” Yet, these comments were made precisely because the Pope sees the inherent goodness of Canadian values: “Canada” he said, “has a well-earned reputation for a generous and practical commitment to justice and peace and there is an enticing sense of vibrancy and opportunity in your multicultural cities … At the same time, however, certain values detached from their moral roots and full significance found in Christ have evolved in the most disturbing of ways.” Predictably, the only Canadian news agency to carry this part of Benedict’s address was

In fact, not only did no Canadian publication excerpt the Pope’s speech at any significant length, the very title of the address was never given in the Canadian press. It is a telling omission; the news headlines reported the Pope “slammed” Canada. The Pope’s own title was rather different: “Make God visible in the human face of Jesus.”
This kind of misrepresentation can only go so far. With every document and speech, the media’s unsophisticated and dishonest portrayal of the Pope becomes less plausible. As the culture shrinks from clear language about abortion and same-sex “marriage,” Benedict’s moral clarity becomes more attractive.

Ironically, for all of the media’s hyperventilation about the Pope’s condemnation of abortion and same-sex “marriage,” his real criticism of Canadian culture was largely overlooked. He lamented the fact that “Christian civic leaders … sacrifice the unity of faith and sanction the disintegration of reason … by yielding to ephemeral social trends and the spurious demands of opinion polls.” Canada’s real problem, in other words, is that Christian politicians have presided over their nation’s moral decay. Even now, they are so paralyzed by their desire for power, they check opinion polls before making statements on moral issues.

It is important to remember that the pontiff’s vision is hopeful. He concluded his address to the bishops of Ontario with these words: “Dear brothers, with affection and fraternal gratitude I offer these reflections to you and encourage you in your proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ … Experience his love and in this way cause the light of God to enter into the world!”