Comedy of Errors

Some Christmas comedy for you… I was delighted, if not a little surprised to read a headline during the week about Pope Francis saying that we will see our pets in heaven. I clicked on the link and my sceptism grew when the article mentioned that St Paul had written that we will all be reunited with our pets one day. That was not something I ever remembered reading in Paul's epsitles. Hmmm.

So, it turns out that this whole thing, that has since gone viral,  was a massive exageration of what was actually said which was, "Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us." And it was Pope Paul VI who said that we would one day see our pets in paradise. It was, as the article below puts it, a "journalistic train wreck" of a story. Have a read of the article below that spells out how this comedy of errors went down.



Sorry Fido, Pope Francis Didn't Say Pets Go To Heaven

Stories swirled this week that Pope Francis said animals can go to heaven, warming the hearts of pet lovers the world over. Unfortunately, none of that appears to be true.

"Paradise is open to all of God's creatures," Francis was reported to have said to comfort a distraught boy whose dog had died.

If true, the story would have been a sparkling moment on a rainy November day, and the setting in St. Peter's Square would only have burnished Francis' reputation as a kindly "people's pope." The story naturally lit up social media, became instant promotional material for vegetarians and animal rights groups, and on Friday even made it to the front page of The New York Times.

Yes, a version of that quotation was uttered by a pope, but it was said decades ago by Paul VI, who died in 1978. There is no evidence that Francis repeated the words during his public audience on Nov. 26, as has been widely reported, nor was there was a boy mourning his dead dog.

So how could such a fable so quickly become taken as fact?

Part of the answer may be the topic of the pope's talk to the crowd that day, which centered on the End Times and the transformation of all creation into a "new heaven" and a "new earth." Citing St. Paul in the New Testament, Francis said that is not "the annihilation of the cosmos and of everything around us, but the bringing of all things into the fullness of being."

The trail of digital bread crumbs then appears to lead to an Italian news report that extended Francis' discussion of a renewed creation to the question of whether animals too will go to heaven.

"One day we will see our pets in the eternity of Christ," the report quoted Paul VI as telling a disconsolate boy years ago.

The story was titled, somewhat misleadingly: "Paradise for animals? The Pope doesn't rule it out." It wasn't clear which pope the writer meant, however.

The next day, Nov. 27, a story in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera by veteran Vaticanista Gian Guido Vecchi pushed the headline further: "The Pope and pets: Paradise is open to all creatures."

Vecchi faithfully recounted the pope's talk about a new creation, and also cited Paul VI's remark.

According to The New York Times, which issued a massive correction to its story Friday, Pope Francis actually said: "Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us." The writer of the article concluded those remarks meant Francis believed animals have a place in the afterlife.

But the headline put Paul VI's words in Francis' mouth, and that became the story.

The Italian version of the Huffington Post picked it up next and ran an article quoting Francis as saying "We will go to heaven with the animals" and contending that the pope was quoting St. Paul — not Pope Paul — as making that statement to console a boy who lost his dog. (That story, by the way, is nowhere in the Bible.)

The urban legend became unstoppable a week later when it was translated into English and picked up by the British press, which cited St. Paul as saying that "One day we will see our animals again in (the) eternity of Christ," while it has Francis adding the phrase: "Paradise is open to all God's creatures."

When The New York Times went with the story, along with input from ethicists and theologians, it became gospel truth.

Television programs discussed the pope's theological breakthrough, news outlets created photo galleries of popes with cute animals, and others used it as a jumping off point to discuss what other religions think about animals and the afterlife. At Americamagazine, the Rev. James Martin wrote an essay discussing the theological implications of Francis' statements and what level of authority they may have. It was all very interesting and illuminating, but based on a misunderstanding.

A number of factors probably contributed to this journalistic train wreck:

• The story had so much going for it: Francis took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of environmentalism who famously greeted animals as brothers and sisters.

• Pope Francis is also preparing a major teaching document on the environment, and almost since the day he was elected in 2013 he has stressed the Christian duty to care for creation.

• Francis also blessed a blind man's guide dog shortly after he was elected, an affecting image that was often used in connection with these latest reports of his concern for animals.

• Moreover, the media and the public are so primed for Francis to say novel things and disregard staid customs that the story was too good to check out; it fit with the pattern.

In most accounts, Francis' comments were also set against statements by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who insisted that animals did not have souls. That apparent contrast fit a common narrative pitting the more conservative Benedict against the ostensibly liberal Francis.

That may be true in some areas, but probably not when it comes to animals.

Adding insult to injury, the Times article cited St. John Paul II as saying in 1990 that animals have souls and are "as near to God as men are." But that, too, was a misquote, as media critic Dawn Eden explained at the website GetReligion.

There should have been warnings signs: Francis has frowned at the modern tendency to favor pets over people, and he has criticized the vast amounts of money spent by wealthy societies on animals even as children go hungry.

Contributing: Katharine Lackey, USA TODAY

Joy to the World?

Last week, as a staff, we talked about what Christmas means to us and the traditions we have in our families at Christmas time.

I was surprised that it turned into quite an emotional time. One teacher talked about how before they open any presents on Christmas morning they have a family prayer time where they pray for all of those family members who have died. Another teacher became very emotional talking about how this would be her first Christmas without her Mum. Still another staff member talked about how her children have all moved away overseas so now Christmas is quite a lonely day for her and her husband.

I had my own little emotional blip this morning. I'm going through a relationship break-up at the moment and I was fine all morning until I went to assembly and heard the children practicing their Christmas carols. Silent Night and Away in the Manger made me quite teary. I also always get a bit emotional at Midnight Mass. There's something about certain Christmas carols that always leaves me feeling sad.

Christmas is meant to be the most joy-filled time of the year. So why are so many of the carols so sad? Why does it leave people feeling more lonely than on any other day? Why does it lead us to think of people we have lost? We had a tragic drowning here in the lake last week and the most common thing I've heard people saying is, "How sad, right on Christmas." Somehow Christmas amplifies our grief. 

It's a strange kind of feast day really. It's about the coming of God as man to live amongst us. There can be no greater gift. Yet in our happiness lies a special kind of sadness too. Maybe it's because we focus too much on the stuff that's not about Jesus? We focus on family and relationships and presents rather than just Jesus? Or maybe it's because the strongest way we can meet Christ is through others, and so Christmas aplifies our relationships, or lack of?

What do you think? Does Christmas have an element of sadness for you? And what's the best way through it?




Advent has totally crept up on me this year. With the busyness of school in the last term (report writing, end of year assessment, reports to the Ministry, budgets, charters and strategic plans to review and write, data analysis, prizegiving etc. etc. etc.) Advent is a season I find it really hard to make time for.

I saw this great youtube clip yesterday at our school assembly

I like how it compares Advent to Lent by saying "Advent is not Lent, it's about hope, not repentence. Lent is more of a spring cleaning of our lives. And Advent is a cosier, getting your home ready for a special guest… Jesus. The one we've been waiting for." I really like that image. 

If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that personally I love Lent. I really make an effort during Lent to make sacrifices and to spend extra time in prayer and I feel that the Church helps me by putting on things like Stations of the Cross and extra reconciliation. But for some reason, Advent is harder.

What's something simple I could do to recognise the significance of this season?

Quick Question

Hi all! I posted earlier this week but thought I would be cheeky and do a second post because I have a quick question I'm hoping someone might know the answer to.

We had a staff meeting this week about Advent – a reminder of what Advent is all about and then a discussion about the things we will do as a school to recognise the season.

We talked about the symbolic meanings behind the Advent Wreath and one of the teachers had a question that I have always wondered about myself.

Why is it that the THIRD candle on the Advent wreath the pink one? We know that it is Gaudate Sunday and that it symbolises joy and reminds us that Christmas is coming… but wouldn't it make more sense to have all of that on the last Sunday of Advent when Christmas is almost upon us? Why do we have purple, purple, pink and then have to go back to purple for a week? It's like a little glimmer of joy and then back to repentence before Christmas comes. Anyone know the reasoning behind this?

The Dish on the new Bish

I'm posting early this week! Primarily because the news is out… the Hamilton Diocese has a new Bishop.

It actually all makes sense now why we had to wait so long. Our Bishop Elect is Fr Steve Lowe who has been head of formation at Holy Cross Seminary. I'm guessing that we had to wait for Fr Michael Geilen to come back from Rome to take up his post at the Seminary before Fr Lowe could be released to take on the role of Bishop.

I've never met Fr Lowe but, like everyone else, I've been asking around about him over the past 24 hours and trying to figure out what kind of Bishop he will be. So far I've heard vastly differing opinions. I've heard he's a nice guy but not that tough, but then I've also heard that he doesn't suffer fools. I've heard he's loyal to the Church and her traditions but then I've also heard he's sympathetic to liberals. I've heard he's very academic, but then I've also heard he's a very down-to-earth guy and very pastoral.

I guess we will all soon get to meet him and make up our own minds.

From my perspective, if I could choose three qualities I'd like our new Bishop to have they would be servanthood, strong leadership and charisma. Servanthood because I think, as Bishop, it would become all too easy to focus on administration. To become a paper-pusher. I want a Bishop who "lives amongst us" and who is concerned with the same issues we are. Someone who will inspire us all to serve those around us. Strong leadership, I believe, is essential for this Bishop and has been lacking for some time as poor Bishop Browne at 77 years of age journeyed towards retirement. We need someone who will really lead us and our priests, who will make the difficult calls, who will remind the priests that they vowed obediance to the Bishop and who will assert himself as the person who is at the helm of the ship. And charisma because there's nothing better than truly feeling on board with someone. A Bishop who can give amazing homilies, who can make us think about how we are living and how Christ-like our parishes are, a Bishop we can really believe in. 

So, I'm looking for some kind of Pope Francis/Pope John Paul II hybrid. Not a tall order at all.

So, Being Frank community, what do you know about our Bishop Elect? And what three qualities do you think he'll need to lead this Diocese?

Something’s gotta give

Watching our Parish Priest coping on his own this week (our Assistant Priest is away on annual leave) has got me thinking that there has to be a better way.

Our PP looks after two churches (that essentially run like two parishes although we are combined into one pastoral area now), a hospital, three schools, an outlying parish (about 40 minutes drive away), the parish council, finance committee and the Sacramental programme. Place on top of this the demand for funerals, weddings and baptisms, one Mass each weekday (two on Wednesdays) plus four Sunday Masses, daily confessions, then consider all the people who pop in on any particular day just needing "a minute" to discuss some spiritual matter or something they need guidance on. On top of this add all of the demands from the Diocese – the Priests' Council, vocations ministry etc. It is a HUGE and daunting workload. Not only are the hours massive but the very nature of the work must be incredibly draining – visiting the dying, working alongside families to plan funerals, hearing people's confessions, trying to please everyone on the various committees. Something's gotta give.

I'm reminded of a great sermon I heard from Father Gerard Boyce a while back when he suggested that if priests just did what priests are meant to be doing (ie: sacramental things) then this whole Diocese could be run with only ten priests. I don't particularly like the idea of losing touch with the human side of our priests. I remember, for example, when my grandmother died, it was the Deacon who helped plan the funeral, the very elderly priest just turned up on the day and celebrated the Mass and then left afterwards (not attending the wake). It felt a little impersonal – having someone who didn't know us or my grandmother presiding at her funeral, but we really appreciated the input from the Deacon.

I don't know what the answer it but there has to be a better way. We're lucky in my parish that we have a young priest. An older priest just wouldn't cope with this kind of workload. And that's another issue. I look at some of our older priests and just feel sorry for them. Many of them should be retired now – relaxing at home, spending time with other retired priests and reaping the rewards of a life spent in service, rather than rushing about covering two or three different parishes. 

Maybe the answer is, as Fr Gerard suggested, that priests need to step back and focus on "preistly" work – the work that only they can do – hearing confessions, saying Mass, celebrating the Sacraments. And the rest of us have to step up and take on the rest – visiting the sick, managing the finances, giving guidance, running the Sacramental programmes. What do you think?

Upskilling the masses

A couple of years back when I attended Hearts Aflame I was lucky enough to sit through some workshops with Jeremy Palman (now Father Jeremy Palman) on the Theology of the Body. Jeremy obviously knew his stuff and even though parts of his explanation were really theoretical he did an amazing job of bringing these ideas down to our level and explaining the concepts to us in ways that we could grasp. From memory, I attended three hour-long workshops and felt like I had obtained a really good, generalised idea of the Theology of the Body. 

The teachings I picked up from these workshops have remained with me and actually brought to clarity many teachings that I had previously misunderstood or just not understood at all. The basis of them – a respect for life – and the reasons behind this (both scriptural and from Church tradition) have helped me navigate and better make decisions on lots of moral and ethical issues, such as the current euthanasia debate.

I was thinking about how amazing it would be to have Fr Jeremy as your parish priest and how great it would be if everybody could gain some of the insights and teachers I was lucky enough to get.

My question for all of you Being Frank readers is… if you could choose to make all New Zealand Catholics attend a compulsory three-hour lecture series on any topic at all (but you're only allowed one topic) which topic would you choose? What do you think today's Catholics need to be upskilled on most urgently?