“Pope Blasts Star Names”???

This is a case of journalistic “chinese whispers” if ever there was one.

I was surprised to read this in The Age this morning:

Pope blasts star names
Rome January 12, 2011
The Pope has warned parents against giving children celebrity-inspired names and urged them to turn to the Bible for inspiration.

While names such as Sienna and Scarlett have become fashionable, Pope Benedict XVI called for a return to tradition. During Mass at the Sistine Chapel, he described a name as being akin to an ”indelible seal” that set children on a lifelong ”journey of religious faith”.

Celebrity names such as Ashton – after actor Ashton Kutcher – and Lily – after singer Lily Allen – have been growing in popularity. In Italy, children are often named after saints considered to be a guiding force in their life, but the tradition is increasingly under threat.

“Really?”, I thought? Did the Pope, whose voice is always gentle even when he DOES blast (as he did on Religious Freedom to the Vatican diplomats – why didn’t they pick up that story?), really say anything about this?

So I checked the homily in the Sistine Chapel, and not a word about Christian names. He does speak about the “indelible spiritual seal” which we receive in baptism but this “seal” is “the “character” that marks forever their belonging to the Lord and makes them living members of his mystical body, which is the Church.”

So I did a bit of a google search, and found 21 articles on the same lines.

The Herald Sun has:

THE Pope has backed people who despair at the craze of giving children names such as Brooklyn, Apple and Princess Tiaamii.
The Pope has weighed into the debate with a plea to parents to give their children traditional first names.
Benedict XVI told a Vatican baptismal ceremony that the Christian name is an “indelible sign from the Holy Spirit”.
He said Christian names protect family life, which is “being threatened”.
The Pope said baptism with a strong name was “the start of spiritual life”.
A priest can refuse to baptise a child if the name given is not recognised.

Again, nothing like that is in the Homily at the Sistine Chapel baptismal ceremony.

The Chicago Tribune runs the story, blaming the Daily Telegraph as the “source”. The Daily Telegraph story reads:

Pope rails against rise of un-Christian names

The Pope has warned parents against giving children celebrity-inspired names and urged them to turn to the Bible for inspiration instead.

While names such as Sienna and Scarlett have become fashionable in recent years, Pope Benedict XVI called for a return to tradition.

During Mass at the Sistine Chapel, he said: “Every baptised child acquires the character of the son of God, beginning with their Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit causes man to be born anew in the womb of the Church.” He added that a name was an “indelible seal” that set children off on a lifelong “journey of religious faith”.

Even Catholic Culture ran the story – but there I finally got a clue as to where all this was coming from.

The journalists have muddied the waters by confusing the Homily in the Sistine Chapel with the Pope’s Sunday Angelus comments. There he did indeed say the words that the Daily Telegraph quotes above – but nothing else at all along the lines that the news stories are claiming he said.

And I would contend that they even got THAT wrong. So far the Vatican Website only lists the Italian for this address (so it will be interesting to see what their official translation into English is), but here is the Zenit translation:

It is not by chance, in fact, that every baptized person acquires the character of son from the name Christian, indisputable sign that the Holy Spirit brings man to be born “again” from the womb of the Church.

It all depends on how you interpret the Italian phrase “nome cristiano” which the Pope used. Does it mean “Christian name” (as the Daily Telegraph took it) or “the name ‘Christian'”, as Zenit translated it. My Italian is not good enough to decide that on a grammatical ground, but theologically, it seems to me the Pope indeed meant the latter. He was talking about the name we all receive in bapism, ie. the name “Christian”. This is the name that is the “indisputable sign that the Holy Spirit brings man to be born “again” from the womb of the Church”.

As for “blasting” and “railing” against “non-Christian” names? No such thing was ever said by Pope Benedict last Sunday.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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6 Responses to “Pope Blasts Star Names”???

  1. Dan says:

    Thanks for clearing that up!
    It’s just incredible, isn’t it, how the local press (The Age, Herald Sun etc) can report on this minuscule story (which they had to make up, practically) and hardly even mention one of this World Leader’s most important speeches of the year. A speech which has themes and topics which actually are newsworthy!!! Is that not the criteria by which the media Judges all (oh how the media love to judge, but condemn the Church for doing so). Sometime I find it so hard to love thy neighbor…

  2. PM says:

    Wen i woz yung i cuoddun evun spel jernalist. And now i are one!

  3. Peter Golding says:

    The Melbourne Archdiocese website reports that the Pope has donated USD 50K to the Queensland Floods appeal.I bet that those commos at the Age don’t report that.

    • Tony says:

      How much did you bet, Peter?

      So far, you would have won but searching under ‘pope’ on the Age website reveals dozens of articles. Some of them, even many of them, display a fairly typical skewing of facts for the sake of an angle, but many others are reasonably factual.

      The irony is that characterisations such as ‘those commos at the Age’ are doing the same sort of skewing that journals and media are so often accused of.

  4. matthias says:

    well peter give em a ring .

  5. Mary says:

    Thanks for this article- such terrible examples of bad journalism! Xt3.com did a podcast about this topic also: http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=4895&categoryId=31&episodeId=868

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