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Concerning Pope Francis, hockey, Pride night and putting “scare quotes” around “beliefs”…

Concerning Pope Francis, hockey, Pride night and putting “scare quotes” around “beliefs”…

I have no idea if Pope Francis follows professional hockey — but that really isn’t what this post is about.

This post starts with some fascinating “scare quotes” in a headline with a Reuters report about another Pride Night controversy in the National Hockey League.

The use of “scare quotes” is a topic that, to put it mildly, consistently pushes buttons for GetReligion readers. Once again, here is a Merriam-Website definition of that term:

scare quotes …

: quotation marks used to express especially skepticism or derision concerning the use of the enclosed word or phrase

This brings us to that Reuters headline: “Rangers back right to ‘beliefs’ after Pride Night jerseys absent from warm-ups.” Actually, based on the context, that should have been “religious beliefs” — because it’s clear that this reference refers to centuries of religious doctrines, in several faiths.

What happened here? New York Rangers players were scheduled to take part in pre-match warm ups, as part of the team’s seventh annual Pride Night festivities, with Pride-themed jerseys and hockey sticks. That didn’t happen, which made headlines. Here is a key part of that Reuters story, which I will note did not contain “scare quotes” around the controversial term.

… one player told the New York Post … that he saw only his standard jersey hanging in his locker when he went to get ready and did not know why the alternate top was not available.

“Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night,” Rangers said in a statement.

“In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”

I guess it is possible that a professional athlete could have “political” beliefs that were relevant in this case. There may even be Seinfeld-ian “compelled speech” issues here (Click here for classic clip on YouTube). In light of recent news, it’s clear the headline writer’s “scare quotes” nod refers to centuries of Christian doctrine on marriage and sex.

Why? Please see this recent GetReligion post on an earlier NHL-Pride Night incident: “Gay Pride vs. Russian Orthodoxy: NHL star takes stand and journalists pounce in social media.” Here is a crucial bite of an ESPN report about that:

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov did not take the pregame skate … because he refused to wear the team’s LGBTQ+ Pride Night warmup jersey, citing his religious beliefs.

Provorov, 26, told reporters after the Flyers’ 5-2 home win over the Anaheim Ducks that it was his choice “to stay true to myself and my religion,” which he identified as Russian Orthodox.

What does this have to do with Pope Francis?

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This is clear and basically in line with what he said initially. There\u2019s nothing sinful about a temptation to sins against chastity, but all sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful.

&mdash; Leah Libresco Sargeant (@LeahLibresco) January 28, 2023

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News consumers may recall this recent headline: “The AP Interview: Pope says homosexuality not a crime. This “crime” discussion created headlines, and lots of social-media buzz — which was totally valid, since this is an important topic in many parts of the world (including Africa, where Catholic churches are both growing and, in some nations, under hellish persecution).

However, here at GetReligion I noted (“That timely AP interview: What, precisely, did Pope Francis say about homosexual ‘sin’?”) that this wire-service report buried the most interesting part of the interview, if one is interested in Catholic doctrine.

Doctrine? You know, that whole “beliefs” thing. Here is the crucial doctrinal material from Pope Francis (#TriggerWarning: This contains a reference to “sin”):

Francis said there needed to be a distinction between a crime and a sin with regard to homosexuality.

“It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin,” he said. “Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”

“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he added.

Catholic teaching holds that while gay people must be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” Francis has not changed that teaching, but he has made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.

In that post, I added:

Once again, we see the press burying a distinction that is absolutely critical in traditional Christian doctrine — but one that ministers of the Sexual Revolution always dismiss with a vengeance. The pope affirmed the line between “homexuality,” in terms of sexual orientation, and “homosexual acts.”

That’s a bright-red doctrinal line that is worth pondering when reading the vague language used in the rest of the AP report.

What does this have to do with hockey? Here is now these stories connected, for me.

While the Reuters headline writer (referenced above) may have doubts about the reality of Christian teachings on subjects linked to the Sexual Revolution, it’s clear that these doctrines exist and they can be newsworthy.

Ah, but when are these beliefs worthy of “scare quotes” treatment? That’s an interesting journalism question to ponder.

My thoughts: Is the journalism problem that an athlete or entertainment has “beliefs” on these issues, while it is normal for, well, a pope to discuss the teachings/doctrines/beliefs of his faith? The problem, maybe, is when doctrines and beliefs squeeze out of that safe “religion” corner of the public square and into important subjects such as sports, entertainment or, yes, politics.

Meanwhile, the importance of the pope’s “sin” reference was underlined when LGBTQ-adjacent Catholics leap to clarify what he meant. See this Catholic News Agency headline: “Pope Francis clarifies comments on sin and homosexuality.

The key was a letter to Father James Martin from Pope Francis, in response to questions from Outreach, a Catholic activist group. Here is that text, which was translated from Spanish:

Dear brother,

Thank you for your letter.

It is not the first time that I speak of homosexuality and of homosexual persons.

And I wanted to clarify that it is not a crime, in order to stress that criminalization is neither good nor just.

When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin. Of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault. As you can see, I was repeating something in general. I should have said “It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.” This is to speak of “the matter” of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter, but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin.

And I would tell whoever wants to criminalize homosexuality that they are wrong.

In a televised interview, where we spoke with natural and conversational language, it is understandable that there would not be such precise definitions.

I pray for you and for your work. Please do the same for me.

May Jesus bless you and may the Holy Virgin protect you.



In this context, “moral teachings” is a reference to centuries of “beliefs” about the moral standing of “any sexual act outside of marriage.” This is clearly a newsworthy development linked to centuries of teachings”/doctrines/beliefs.

Now, back to hockey. It’s safe to assume that “beliefs” such as these were discussed in offices of the New York Rangers. It’s safe to say that team leaders would also discuss players participating in some kind of “Christian night” at the arena, with warm-up items containing clear references to Christian symbolism.

Now, what other kinds of “_____ night” would create controversies of this kind? In this day and age, there are many possibilities. Ah, but in which cases would the beliefs being discussed turn into scare-quote “beliefs”?

It appears that this takes place when religion beliefs affect important, “real” news.

FIRST IMAGE: Pride tape for hockey sticks, sold at SidelineSwap website.

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