Pod people: Listen, while reading Allen

So is everyone tired of reading GetReligion posts about those tired labels that journalists keep using in their coverage of the Catholic Church?

Sorry, but here comes another one.

The last time we checked in on one of the week’s major stories, Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s historic, and somewhat surprising, election as the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was being hailed as a loss by the “moderate” candidate and another sign of a rising tide of “conservative” political sentiment in the church.

I thought this was rather strange, since the affable and quotable Dolan defeated the candidate — Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson — who was endorse by some of the church’s most visible liberals and he also beat another candidate who is consistently identified as a strong conservative. In other words, it appeared that the “moderate” won.

Unfortunately, many journalists continue to use the word “moderate” to mean “people that we like” and terms such as “fundamentalist” or “radical conservative” to define “people we sure as heckfire think are dangerous.” And “conservatives”? Well, that depends what they are conservative about and how vocal they are about certain scary doctrines.

As you have guessed by now, this whole topic was the subject of this week’s GetReligion podcast. I am now receiving these every week via iTunes, so those of you who are into that should check it out. Just search for “GetReligion” on the podcast page in that cyber-superstore.

Also, please let me suggest that you listen to that podcast while reading the following column by the indispensable John L. Allen Jr., of the National Catholic Reporter. Here’s a taste:

In Dolan, the bishops have turned to their most gifted natural communicator, a leader with a demonstrated capacity to project a positive image for Catholicism in the public square. Rather than electing a behind-the-scenes broker of compromise, in other words, the bishops tapped their best front man. That choice could be taken as an imminently rational reaction to recent events.

… While Dolan certainly is more “conservative” than Kicanas, it’s not what’s distinctive about him. To be sure, there are plenty of other conservatives in the USCCB. Dolan’s defining quality isn’t really his ideology, but rather his capacity to build relationships with people who don’t share his outlook. In many ways, Dolan is a high-octane, populist American expression of what I’ve called the “affirmative orthodoxy” of Benedict XVI: no compromise on matters of Catholic identity, but a determination to express that identity in the most positive key possible, keeping lines of conversation open with people outside the fold.

In other words, it might be more analytically productive to read Dolan’s election not so much as a victory of conservatives over liberals, but rather as an endorsement of the “affirmative orthodoxy” wing of the conference’s conservative majority over its harder ideological edge.

In other words, the more “moderate” of the three options won.

Moving on.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Ben

    It’ll be interesting to see whether these new like/dislike buttons wind up polarizing the com-box conversations more.


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