The Pope, ISIS, and the Media

Posted on December 16, 2014 by


On Monday August 18, 2014, Pope Francis answered a question about the Middle East and ISIS. He said that ISIS must be stopped, but media outlets described the Pope’s speech in this regard; the Pontiff endorsed military action against ISIS. VOX reported that the Pontiff backed international military action to protect Christians driven from their homes by the Islamic State in Iraq. On the CNN religious blog “Belief,” the Pope words were reported to mean, a “Yellow Light,” and, “tacit approval,” and even full endorsement for military action.

The Daily Beast wrote, “Pope Francis is walking a knife edge—or perhaps, better said, the blade of a crusaders’ sword—as he tries to mobilize support for Christians and other minorities victimized by the ferocious partisans of the so-called Islamic state.” And Hannah Roberts, from the Daily Mail wrote, “Pope Francis calls for urgent military action to stop the ‘systematic violence’ against minorities in Iraq.”

The media seemed to jump on the Pope’s words and attempted to stretch their meaning. The Pope said this; “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor. After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about: It’s there that you must discuss ‘Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?’ Just this. Nothing more.” According to the Associated Press, the Pontiff endorsed military action, but with one condition; that the United Nations carry out actions to stop ISIS.

John Allen, the Boston Globe’s Vatican expert, stated that the Pope’s statements “seemed a lot like a yellow light, and not a full-fledged call for war.” The Pope stated; “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is fair to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated,” After the Pope’s statement, the Vatican attempted to clarify what the Pope said. They tried to explain the meaning of “stop” and withdraw the meaning of military action. However, The Daily Beast offered a headline in which they referenced “a religious crusade.” It was not possible to find an article in which words like war, aggression, crusade, and endorses war, were not used.

Daniel Burke, on the CNN blog Belief, came the closest to being fair and honest about the story with the headline; “The Pope says ISIS must be stopped. But how?” And, from an editorial in the New York Daily News, the headline, “The Pope faces evil.”
The Pope’s comments were important because the Vatican had opposed military action during both Iraq wars, and the Pope himself offered a global prayer and fast against the bombing in Syria.

The media attempted to interpret and inflame the Pope’s words and assign meaning that was not there. In truth, the Pontiff said that evil must be stopped, ISIS must be stopped. He never said anything about war or attacking ISIS. Catholic Church doctrine allows for “just wars,” and this belief comes from Saint Augustine. Augustine of Hippo said that a “just war” to address evil and protect the innocent was permissible. According to Colin B. Donovan of EWTN; “This is the right, and the duty, of those who have responsibilities for others, such as civil leaders and police forces.” Catholic teaching allows for “just wars,” when military force can be justified under certain circumstances. After the Pope’s remarks, Vatican officials slowly moved towards saying that the Iraq situation meets the meaning of a just war.


Max Fisher, Fisher, News from 1096 AD: Pope discusses military force against Middle Eastern caliphate, Vox, August 18, 2014

Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog, August 18, 2014

Christopher Dickey, Pope Francis, ISIS, and the Last Crusade, The Daily Beast,

Hannah Roberts, The Daily Mail, August 15, 2014

The Pope faces evil, editorial, New York Daily News, August 19, 2014

Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

Ed Morrissey Breaking: Pope Francis endorses force to stop ISIS; Update: CNN says “punts on airstrikes”, August 18, 2014

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