Tooning in

southpark2Just a quick note to follow-up on Old Man Mattingly’s post about different standards for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Catholic church leaders in New Zealand are calling for a boycott of television stations that plan to screen an “ugly and tasteless” episode of South Park, according to the BBC. I have seen many episodes of South Park and I can’t think of one that wasn’t ugly or tasteless. Sometimes they’re even funny.

Anyway, the problem for the church leaders is that the episode depicts the Virgin Mary in a sacrilegious way. The stations, which recently apologized to Muslims for airing the cartoons, have a different response to the Christian protests:

TV station C4 is to air the cartoon earlier than planned in response to the levels of publicity it has generated.

The episode was originally scheduled for a screening in May, but will now be shown on 22 February. . . .

Rick Friesen, head of TV Works, which runs C4, said that if Catholics felt they would be upset by South Park, then they should not watch it.

Quick style note: It really bothers and confuses me how so many reporters use Catholic when they mean Roman Catholic. Catholic means universal and Roman Catholic refers to that church based out of, well, Rome. There is a difference. Many people who are not Roman Catholic consider themselves catholic — and even Catholic sometimes.

But it looks like the New Zealand station has found a consistent strategy for dealing with potentially offensive material — apologize to Muslims and tell Roman Catholics to buzz off.

Stories like this also makes me wonder why American media are not fighting on behalf of press freedom in this ongoing cartoon controversy. We can certainly imagine that if it becomes culturally or legally impossible to make any criticism of Islam in political cartoons, religious adherents of all types will expect equal or similar treatment.

Do reporters and editors really want a world where we can’t criticize any religion in cartoons? Maybe the heroes in Team America should pay a visit to a few of our newsrooms and straighten some folks out.

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  • dk

    Mollie, you seem to not understand that it is not wrong to call “Roman Catholics” “Catholics,” as the “Roman Catholic Church” does not call itself that. It is, as in the creeds, the Catholic/Universal church. There is no non-politicized option. “Roman Catholic” is a convenience for differentiation purposes, but the differentiation (into sectarian confessional designations) itself is embedded in histories of division and conflict over identity, ecclesiology, authority, etc.

    From the Vatican website: “In exercising supreme, full, and immediate power in the universal Church, the Roman pontiff makes use of the departments of the Roman Curia which, therefore, perform their duties in his name and with his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors.”

  • Mollie

    Right, Dan.

    I’m just pointing out that many non-Roman Catholics use the word catholic in their creeds, too. Because they’re the same creeds.

    Reporters should be specific, that’s all.

  • dk

    If it’s a question of who you’re going to offend then, I think there are very, very few Protestants who consciously consider themselves “Catholics.” Those who have an understanding of the theological rationale for being a “Catholic” Lutheran or Anglican and don’t use a fudged creed where “Christian” supplants “Catholic” — those people still don’t go around telling people they are “Catholic.” They think they are lower-case “catholic,” but that is different. They say they are Lutheran, or Anglican, or Anglo-Catholic, or Evangelical Catholic or Catholic Evangelical–and then they have to explain what they mean to most people. They don’t want to be mistaken for Roman/Catholics! I’ve never come across an Orthodox person using “Catholic” in self description.

    So I’d say by virtue of historical priority, coherence of the claim, common use/the numeric prevalence of that use, the rule should be that “Catholic” is an acceptable usage in place of “Roman Catholic,” especially when the latter might give offense in a certain context.

    It’s interesting that if “Roman” is thought to refer to Catholics differentiated from other Catholics by their use of the Roman liturgical rite, then it’s no problem–”Roman [Rite] Catholic” is like saying “Anglican Use Catholic” or “Byzantine [Rite] Catholic.” The problem is that many people, including Catholics, assume a Protestant context of meaning where “Roman” is an ecclesial designation that identifies a sect united under the bishop of Rome. Liberal and conservative catholics especially, for different reasons, have problems with that view.

  • Erik Nelson

    I’m Anglican, and a catholic Christian. I am, by style an Anglo-Catholic Anglican and would also identify myself as an evangelical. Which makes things really complicated, I suppose. And I have even refered to myself to others as a “catholic Christian” (of course, it is impossible to make a vocal difference between “catholic” and “Catholic”)

    I get Mollie’s point about this, but generally we all know what reporters mean by calling someone a Catholic. The assumption is that they mean Roman Catholic. However, given the press’ misuse of religious labels (“fundamentalist” comes to mind) I would hope the press would push for greater clarity and care in such labelling, even to the point of being specific enough to say Roman Catholic.

  • Daniel

    I’ve never met a fellow Catholic who was confused by alternating Roman Catholic (which is more incorrect) and Catholic in the press. I can see why Lutherans want more specificity, but it’s a non-issue for Catholics, Roman or not.

    As for New Zealand, it seems like their treatment of the Bishops is exactly what you would want the press to do in the U.S. Ignore how provocative or tasteless, we must show what is creating a protest. Maybe the good people at C-4 read GetReligion and decided, after being browbeaten, they had an obligation to show what was causing such an uproar.

  • Mollie

    Browbeaten? Oh, please. I can do browbeating, and I haven’t done anything approaching it here.

    Mildly advocated for freedom of the press? Yes, I suppose I did *that*.

  • Daniel

    Fair enough. Terry and Daniel have browbeaten. :)

  • Joe Perez

    If Roman Catholic Church must be abbreviated for space reasons, then I prefer to follow the emerging sensibility of calling it the Roman Church. This avoids the problem Mollie (and others) have identified while preserving the full meaning of the longer form of the institutional name. I don’t expect many others to follow suit, but hey, what’s the harm in a little diversity?

  • dk

    How about “papist”?

  • Chris Jones

    As much as I sympathize with your point about the word “Catholic” (since I am (like you, I think) a Catholic Christian of the Augsburg Confession), I am afraid that that horse left the barn before the turn of the seventeenth century, and it will do no good to try to close the barn door now. If our Lutheran fathers could not keep the Pope’s partisans from reserving the name “Catholic” for themselves back then (and imposing the moniker “Lutheran” on us), we have no hope of doing better today.

    The consolation is that no one will be confused, because almost no one realizes that the word “Catholic”, rather than being simply a proper noun, has actual theological content.

  • AK

    “We can certainly imagine that if it becomes culturally or legally impossible to make any criticism of Islam in political cartoons, religious adherents of all types will expect equal or similar treatment.”

    This is a fair point, of course, but there are protections in place in Europe (although probably not New Zealand) – at least about historic events. For denying the extent of the Holocaust (an offence against Jews), British historian David Irving was sentenced by the Austrian courts to 3 years; offences against Islam are treated much differently.

  • tmatt

    In my writing, I strive to use Roman Catholic on first reference and large-C Catholic after that.

    Why have a blog, if one cannot beat specific brows?

  • Christopher Fotos

    Quick style note: It really bothers and confuses me how so many reporters use Catholic when they mean Roman Catholic.

    You must be bothered and confused a lot, because that’s by far the most common and quite well-understood usage, at least in the U.S. Not only by reporters but by Catholic publications, Catholic bloggers, and most Catholics I know. Mark Shea’s blog isn’t called Roman Catholic and Enjoying It, nor is the most important liberal Catholic weekly called National Roman Catholic Reporter. Nor do we have a United States Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops (Wait, I didn’t mean it that way).

    Loved Team America though.

  • Donna Marie Lewis

    I believe the USCCB includes Eastern Catholic bishops, so in their case calling themselves “Roman Catholic Bishops” would be to show disregard for a portion of their own members.

  • Daniel

    “Why have a blog, if one cannot beat specific brows?”


  • Avram

    Keep in mind that the anti-Holocaust-denial laws (which I disagree with, by the way) are not general laws forbidding anything offensive to Jews. They are limited to punishing people who deny a particular set of historical facts.

    Also, Jews weren’t the only group killed in the Holocaust, and I certainly hope that it’s not just Jews who consider Holocaust denial offensive!

    (The captcha text that came up for this comment was “BROW”!)

  • Herb

    Anybody seen these?

  • Charlie

    Personally, as a Catholic who follows the Latin rite, I’ll accept the appelation “Roman.” But know that not everyone in communion with Rome is a “Roman” Catholic- Catholics of the Eastern Rite Churches (Malkites, Maronites, Ukranians, etc.) are not “Roman” Catholics. Yet they’re all just as Catholic as I am.

    It’s kinda funny – I mean I understand your point: lots of prots recite the Creed and naturally believe that their sect is a part of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic” Church – but let’s be real: when someone says they’re Catholic they’re automatically – and 99.999% of the time rightly- understood to be in communion with Rome. Any Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc. who uses the word the way I do will be misunderstood as being a papist.

    I mean, really, Mollie, when’s the last time you referred to yourself as an “American Catholic?”

  • Mark Brumley

    Mollie raises an interesting issue but alas it cannot be as easily resolved as she suggests. As a “Roman Catholic”, I reject the claim that other bodies are “Catholic” in the sense I think the “Roman Catholic Church” is Catholic. Consequently, for me, it would amount to the press siding with those groups who claim to be Catholic without full communion with the Bishop of Rome for the press to identify such groups as Catholic. I also think it would be confusing for the vast majority of readers and tiresome for those same readers to have the whole dispute revisited everytime a “Catholic” story came up.

    By the way, while I do not reject the name “Roman Catholic Church”, I also do not accept that such a designation is necessary and that “Roman Catholic” represents a “branch” of a broader “Catholic Church” that includes those not in full communion with the Bishop of Rome.