Didn’t CNN fact check the holy popsicles?

Anyone who has read GetReligion for a month or two knows that, from time to time, journalists get a bit confused about some of the language that is used in ancient, liturgical churches and other religious bodies.

Take, for example, the differences between a same-sex marriage rite and the blessing of a same-sex union. For Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers, both are blasphemous violations of centuries of Christian doctrine and faith, but these two acts are in no way equal. You could make the same statement in many other churches, but it is especially true in sacramental churches in which, to be blunt, marriage is a sacrament.

There may also be some confusion in newsrooms about the blessing prayers that priests may say under a wide variety of circumstances and the totally unique prayers of consecration that are carefully pronounced over the bread and wine during a Mass (or Divine Liturgy in the Eastern churches).

Consider the following chunk of a CNN report about another piece of alleged art by the Chilean-born artist and provocateur Sabastian Errazuriz, this time part of a statement he is making about what he considers religious extremism.

The key details are near the top of the story:

At a party this weekend celebrating New York Design Week, which begins today, the Chilean-born artist plans to hand out 100 “Christian Popsicles” made of “frozen holy wine transformed into the blood of Christ” and featuring a crucifix instead the tongue depressor that typically hosts the frozen treats, he said.

An image of Jesus Christ positioned traditionally on the cross is visible once the ice pop is consumed. As for the frozen wine, Errazuriz said, he concealed it in a cooler and took it into a church, where it was “inadvertently blessed by the priest while turning wine into the blood of Christ during the Eucharist.”

We will come back to the details of that claim in a minute, because what CNN has printed is total nonsense and should have been challenged by reporters and producers during the reporting of the story.

Perhaps the artist himself was confused? This is not likely, in view of these later details:

Raised in a Catholic household, Errazuriz is now a “practicing atheist,” but he has many friends and family members who are religious, and he respects their beliefs. … His frozen cocktails stand as a symbol, he said, an invitation to “drink the Kool-Aid” that he feels so many religious zealots are stirring up.

No matter how strained his relationship to Catholicism, surely Errazuriz knows that there is a difference between a priest blessing something and the formal prayers of consecration that are recited over the elements during the most holy moments of a Mass.

Also, what in the world does “inadvertently blessed” mean? Is the artist claiming that he hid his container UNDER the church altar? Come to think of it, the artist would have to be claiming that he hid his frozen wine container ON THE ALTAR, in a strategic location and in clear view of all. It that is true, what does “concealed” mean?

As a reader noted in private correspondence, this claim is problematic on many levels:

Consecration (not “blessing”) is an intentional act and only what the priest places on the cloth called the corporal is consecrated. And then there is the deception issue. Not a single Catholic source is quoted.

In other words, this story is a disaster. Did the CNN team grasp the bizarre and ludicrous nature of this claim by the artist? Did anyone stop and think about the practical details of what was said to have happened? If so, why was the story published without some kind of commentary from a liturgical expert, if not a priest or bishop of the church?

As Errazuriz himself states, this was not a joke. Why did CNN treat it as a kind of wink-wink joke?

IMAGE: From Mocoloco.com

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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.

  • Martha

    “Perhaps the artist himself was confused? This is not likely, in view of these later details:

    Raised in a Catholic household, Errazuriz is now a “practicing atheist,” but he has many friends and family members who are religious, and he respects their beliefs”

    That loud snorting noise drifting in from the east, tmattt? That’s me expressing my incredulity.

    To take your first point, it’s perfectly possible that he was and is confused. Dan Savage too was raised in a Catholic household with religious family members, and he thinks Catholics believe in two Virgin Births, that is, he confuses the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth. So Mr. Errazuriz could think he got the smuggled-in wine consecrated.

    Secondly, how is committing what those believing members of his family would consider blasphemy (if it really was the blood of Christ) respecting their beliefs?

    Thirdly, I wish these daring cutting-edge artists would try and do something really shocking to stir up controversy and debate about fundamentalism and group-think. Let Mr. Errazuriz do an installation on, oh, let’s say “Marriage: One man, one woman” and see how many galleries want to exhibit it or how the newspapers review it. He doesn’t have to agree with the attitudes expressed, but I’d love to see him try it and see how far he got.

    Fourthly – you want media outlets to accurately report on theology? Maybe in the world to come, tmatt, but don’t hold your breath waiting.

  • geoconger

    Well said, Tmatt. Precision in reporting is essential in these contentious issues. While many readers may not care nor be bothered by the difference between marriage and a blessing of a union, or the blessing of wine and the epiclesis in the Eucharistic Prayer where the priest calls down the power of the Holy Spirit upon the elements — these distinctions do matter.

    It is really a question of professional competence.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    In this case, the news hook for the story itself is the alleged sacrilege. Right?

    So this is an essential fact in the story.

    So we are saying that CNN’s newsroom contains NO former altar boys?

  • Ryan

    You mean all that wine in the Sacristy actually has been being consecrated inadvertently, since its in the church, during Mass? Mind Blown!

  • bob

    Important distinction: This column is about journalists who don’t get *religion*. This story shows they actually don’t get *magic*. That’s what it is when someone “inadvertently blesses” something. … This is the “artist” not getting religion but trying to get publicity. Fourteen minutes to go, Sabastion.

  • John M.

    I this is how this artist treats the beliefs he respects, I would hate to see what he does with beliefs he doesn’t respect.

    -John

  • Jofro

    Tmatt, this was an article about religion from CNN. Enough said.

  • FrH

    Consecration (not “blessing”) is an intentional act and only what the priest places on the cloth called the corporal is consecrated

    This is not the case. Only what the priest intends to consecrate is consecrated, wherever it may be. While some (perhaps even many) priests have the default intention of consecrating whatever’s on the corporal, it doesn’t have to work that way.

    Which makes the claim in this case even sillier. There is no way a priest intended to consecrate wine smuggled into Mass and hidden under a pew (or wherever).

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JOFRO:

    Straw man. There is tons of interesting and quality material on the CNN Faith blog. This was NOT an example of that.

  • SouthCoast

    So, if a bridesmaid accidentally or intentionally stands in the wrong place during a wedding, is an act of polygyny blessed?

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    SouthCoast,

    No, because marriage is not a consecration, like consecrating bread and wine for the Eucharist, or consecrating oil for sacred chrism or consecrating a priest as a bishop. Also, in the theology of Latin Rite Catholics (unlike in the Eastern churches), the couple confect the marriage sacrament themselves with the priest or deacon as a witness for the Church. Their exchange of vows and their later consummation of their vows is what brings the sacrament about.

  • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

    Also, saying that those “religious zealots” are “stirring up” “the Kool-Aid” makes no sense, even as invective.

  • Chris

    Viewership does not require accuracy.

    Now what I’m wondering is how will all of those hip but rational art connoisseurs display this work of art?

  • Bro AJK

    Intent is important with consecration. By Errazuriz’s admission, the wine was “inadvertently” blessed. To me, this means the intent was not present, and thus the wine is just wine. No Eucharist here.

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    FrH, does not consecration require proximity as well as intention? In other words, if a priest “intends” to consecrate all of the bread in the bakery next door while saying Mass in the church, it does not matter. While you are right that the bread and wine do not need to be precisely on the corporal, they should at least be on the altar and in view of the priest. Perhaps you could clarify if I’m off base.

    As far as the article itself goes, it does seem par for the course in getting a dig against the Catholic church. In a certain respect, the facts get in the way. There is no dig to get in, if the artist comes off as a looney for going to Mass with hidden wine in order to mock the Church and its most sacred practices. It all falls apart after that.

    If the essential fact is alleged sacrilege and the story doesn’t cover if from that angle, then the publisher would seem to think there’s a different essential fact, no? Perhaps the essential fact (in the mind of the publisher) is closer to the so-called artist’s objective, and the artist’s antics are just a good occasion to bring it out. Maybe?

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    Why did CNN treat this item as kind of a joke? While I think the piece is incredibly slipshod, I think its presence and presentation was the result of error rather than intent, and the joke treatment seems to be at the hands of some individuals rather than the network itself.

    Item author Elliot McLaughlin, according to the site, does not seem to specialize in religion news. He did write some of the pieces on the trapped Chilean miners in 2010 that quoted them talking about their faith. He also noted the fallout from a Seattle cartoonist’s “Draw Mohammed Day” campaign back in September 2010. It was not a strictly religion news item and was in fact part of CNN’s “This Just In” blog, not the “Belief” blog.

    This item was also apparently not a submitted blog entry, but rather part of the “Morning Speed Read” roundup, which the byline says is compiled by News Assistant Laura Koran. According to the LinkedIn profile for the 2011 Northeastern University graduate, Ms. Koran has no specific expertise, experience or interest in religion news; her LinkedIn profile says she will focus on international news in the journalism career she’s pursuing. She’s also listed as the compiler of the Hot Topics item on CNN’s “Political Ticker” blog.

    So my suspicion is that whatever quality of work that editors Marrapodi and Gilgoff regularly direct on the Belief Blog is not brought to bear on the ticker items and wasn’t brought to bear on this one specifically. I’d suggest that those editors change that situation and offer some guidance to Ms. Koran about the care and feeding of religion news coverage in order to maintain the regard in which the Belief Blog is held and forestall the questions of professional competence raised by George at #2.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Why do newspapers print trash like claiming that people who engage in such total sacrilege have any respect for religion. If a believer engaged in the same level of mocking for non-believers, the media would never for a moment believe claims of any respect at all.

  • FrH

    FrH, does not consecration require proximity as well as intention? In other words, if a priest “intends” to consecrate all of the bread in the bakery next door while saying Mass in the church, it does not matter. While you are right that the bread and wine do not need to be precisely on the corporal, they should at least be on the altar and in view of the priest. Perhaps you could clarify if I’m off base.

    They don’t have to be on the altar. I was a deacon when B XVI came to the US, and in Washington he consecrated the hosts in ciboria being held by rows of deacons (including me). Needless to say, we weren’t standing on the altar–we weren’t even on the stage where the altar was placed, but on the ground, off to one side.

    I don’t think it’s ever been hashed out how close the bread and wine need to be, nor how visible to the celebrant; at a guess, I would think it would be limited to whatever is within the church building.

  • Meggan

    Each article that I’ve read about these popsicles has this line in quotes: “inadvertently blessed by the priest while turning wine into the blood of Christ during the Eucharist.”

    So I assume the artist is the one who said this line. Is this guy an atheist or not? If he doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t believe in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ then why did he take the wine into Mass? As an atheist, did he really believe that the bread and wine were being turned into the Body and Blood of Christ?

    I looked at his website. There are a lot of pieces of art with a religious theme. So, I don’t think this guy is an atheist at all. I think he is anti-theist – one of those self professed atheists who think more about God than most Christians.

    Sorry, I know this site is about how religion is portrayed in the media, therefore the post is about the articles, not the man himself. But, if he’s quoted as saying that the priest inadvertently blessed the wine while turning it into the Blood of Christ, then I think his motives/attitudes/beliefs are worth comment.

  • Dan

    Only one problem with this article and the comments.

    Everyone seems to be buying the nonsense that this person is really an “artist. At least AuthenticBioethics calls him the “so-called artist” once. He seems to get it.


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