Day 2: Pope still extremely Catholic

I hope everyone is having a blast with Day 2 of Papalpalooza. I’ve actually enjoyed some of the media coverage I’ve come across but we all know what happens when I post on good stuff.


Right. So let’s look at other approaches taken.

I know it’s The Guardian but I did like the transparency of this piece, which reads something like a parody of how the mainstream media treat the Roman Catholic Church. Headline:

Next pope’s in-tray: five key issues for the Catholic church

With Pope Benedict XVI announcing his intention to step down, we look at the pressing matters awaiting his successor

And I’m sure you will be surprised that the five issues are contraception, sexual abuse in the church, same-sex marriage, abortion and women. It’s like the newspaper was talking about the only five topics it permits discussion of when it comes to the Catholic Church instead of, you know, the Catholic Church’s pressing matters that await the papal successor. But illuminating none-the-less.

For a more sophisticated version of that piece, you might want to read the Washington Post‘s piece headlined “In picking successor, Vatican must decide what’s needed in a 21st-century pope.” It’s actually a great read overall and I don’t want this criticism to overshadow that. But the priorities put forth in the piece when it comes to cultural issues say more about what ails media coverage of the church than what ails the coverage of the church itself. The first three paragraphs of the analysis piece (is it analysis? It reads as such but I don’t know if it’s marked as such) are great:

In the eight years since Pope Benedict took office, the divisions in the Catholic world have become more solidified. The West, including Europe and the United States, has been locked in a culture war over contraception, homosexuality and the role of women in the church, among other issues. Meanwhile, more theologically traditional Catholics in Africa and parts of Asia have fueled much of the church’s growth, threatening a standoff with Islam.

That is the media’s war, no doubt. They wage it faithfully day after day after wearying day. I’m not entirely sure it’s one engaged in by many Catholics. I wonder if the media gets just what a narrow and distorted presentation of church life they present.

By the way, the next paragraph in the piece is:

In other words, the next pope will have to carefully pick his audience and decide how best to communicate with it without alienating the rest of the faith’s followers.

The second time I read that, I read it imagining a bunch of journalists in a dark room, licking their lips, rolling their hands over and laughing. That’s really unfair, I’m sure — and not just because the article immediately transitions to a discussion of how papacies are about focus. I think it’s just a telling reaction that illuminates a breakdown in trust with certain readers.

Here’s a telling couple of paragraphs:

Catholic debate in the United States often centers on issues such as whether the church should allow the ordination of women or married priests. But those are not the debates of the cardinals, all of whom were picked by Benedict or his like-minded predecessor, Pope John Paul II. They are in agreement on such matters as allowing female priests, contraception, or equality for gay men and lesbians: no, no and no.

The real factors behind the selection of a new pope are “not the kind of stuff that comes up on talk shows,” said John L. Allen Jr., who has written seven books on the Catholic Church and popes.

Oh that every reporter in the land would read that John Allen quote and ruminate on whether he’s talking about them!

As for the preceding paragraph, what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is that? I mean, first off, the media may have done an excellent job of convincing themselves that redefining marriage is about nothing more or less than who believes gay men and lesbians are “equal.” They have done an excellent job of closing their minds when it comes time to listen to any other arguments — much less giving them accurate, fair play in news coverage. Any way that you want to look at it, that paragraph was not, to put it mildly, a fair characterization of church teaching on the dignity of all people. It was not good journalism.

As for the 2,000-year history of the church teaching on contraception and who is eligible for ordination — well — all I can say about that is that it precedes not just Benedict but also John Paul II.

But if you were wondering just how hostile to Catholic teaching the Post was when it comes to church teaching on homosexuality, I guess it’s nice to have it laid out so transparently. Again.

Finally, this paragraph cracked me up:

The top priority, Allen and others say, is to make Catholics evangelizers again. The church has spent much of the past ­half-century, since the modernizing and controversial Second Vatican Council, locked in internal debates and not out spreading the gospel. Many blame an antiquated communications style and system, one epitomized by the pope’s news-halting announcement Monday, which he delivered in Latin at a meeting of cardinals.

I’m in the wrong market for thinking Latin is bad — I send my daughter to a Latin school, after all — but even so, I would say yesterday’s announcement would not be a good example of how bad the Vatican’s communication system is (even if I’m sympathetic to the argument). Oh that we could all have such an antiquated communications style and system! One that got, you know, billions of people in the world talking in a matter of hours.

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  • I find it funny how the secular media really, really WANT the Catholic church to validate their religious views or lack thereof. I mean, there are plenty of religions in the world, including non-religion, that affirm the secular view just fine. Why the need to have the Catholic church do the same?

  • Jon in the Nati

    Is all this just grandstanding? Or are journos actually hoping that the new pope will have different positions on the perennial ‘dead horse’ issues? If so, they’re living in a fantasy world. Not only is the new pope not going to deviate in any significant way from the positions of the church on any of these issues, I suspect that he will be far more strident and outspoken than was the cerebral, reserved Benedict. White, western liberals are not going to like the new pope any more than they liked this one, and I see no particular reason to think they should.

  • Ben

    This isn’t entirely the media versus the clerics. There is a serious divide over these issues — women’s roles, gay marriage, contraception — among the Catholic laity. I’m willing to say these are the issues kicking up the most discontent, especially if you factor in the crowd who has discontinued attending. So, it’s not all that unnatural for the media to focus on those debates, even if change isn’t likely to come from the top (as opposed to members falling out at the bottom).

    • The serious divide and discontent are part of the media’s boilerplate, too. And it is in part fomented rather than merely reported on by the media. If a Catholic buys the “marriage equality” argument (or the “patriarchal discrimination” argument, etc.), then he must end up in opposition to the Catholic church. But those arguments are of questionable completeness not to mention validity, not often examined in the secular media. A Catholic who prefers to listen to these media rather than the church will end up following the media rather than the church, and then the media will say, “See! There is a great divide here and great discontent! What will the next pope do?” People have been leaving the church ever since John 6:66 because they prefer some other teaching. Many may call Jesus a failure at that verse, but then the measure of success is not what the secular world expects.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    There have been a lot of comments about the “first black pope” and the Irish and British betting houses have Cardinals Turkson and Arinze leading the Europeans. Undoubtedly, this would be celebrated in the secular media as a great victory — until they start to hear either one. A friend of mine who has met Cardinal Turkson has told me that those who want him as pope may not realize what they’re getting themselves into. He’s as orthodox as Benedict, but not as, shall we say, diplomatic. Perhaps that’s what the Church needs. And anyone who has heard Cardinal Arinze knows that he has all the finesse of a bull in a china shop: “Some people say, ‘Ah, you see the population of the world is too much, so abortion is a means of birth control.’ Why don’t you allow yourself to be shot and reduce the population of the world?” (

  • Elaine T

    I was pleased to read this morning’s WSJ (on paper) and find them mentioning the empty pews in Europe and rise of Islam and the top of the list of issues facing the Catholic Church.

    Of course, then they spent a couple paragraphs on the other stuff, especially the abuse. (sigh)

    And the only paper I’ve seen it in, they got the grammar right. Most have been writing: First pope in 600 years to step down. Or wtte. WSJ put it, ‘first pope to step down in 600 years.” Every time I glance at the other phrasing I have a moment of wondering how we could have one pope in 600 years.

  • The Old Bill

    “… more theologically traditional Catholics in Africa and parts of Asia have fueled much of the church’s growth, threatening a standoff with Islam.”

    So let’s see… the Church needs a more liberal pope because the traditional Catholics have fueled the growth of the Church in Africa and Asia where the Church is losing ground to Evangelicals, and this growth is threatening a standoff with Islam. Huh?
    Maybe if those old guys in the funny hats would just let the Nuns-on-a-Bus pick the next pope…

  • Julia

    Bottom line in the US: our reporters are very parochial for the most part and don’t give any allowances for differences in culture. Cardinals from the continent of Africa are not comparable to Barak Obama in thinking.
    The two black Cardinals mentioned are not going to think or talk like Jesse Jackson or the Rev. Sharpton.
    The media gives lots of coverage to those wanting women priests and church approval of abortion and married priests – but these are not really huge debates. The liberal sides of the arguments are given coverage way in excess of the number pushing for such things. Besides, the Catholic church is not a democratic institution – when are they going to recognize that?

    BTW I’m completely dumbfounded over Shep Smith reporting from Rome. There is no snark and it appears that he speak Italian. He may be a decent replacement for Greg Burke who used to be the FOX correspondent from Rome, but is now employed by the Holy See. It’s great that he is available for interviews by the English speaking press. It seems that FOX News has a lot more Catholics than I thought, judging by the commentary being presented in the past few days It also include Neil Cavuto, O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and maybe Megyn Kelly and Amy Kellog.

  • Patrick

    It’s interesting also looking at some of the Wikipedia entries about possible successors to Benedict. Most of them have a section titled “Views,” with subsections on the usual sex-related topics this article mentions. Wouldn’t you know, all the cardinals’ “views” on these topics turn out to be pretty much the same! Coincidence?

    Or perhaps not… It’s almost as if they’re not their own “views” at all but as though they were all reading from the same “playbook” as it were… I wonder if anyone in the legacy media is aware that there is such a thing as the Catholic Catechism (from Latin “catechismus” meaning “book of instruction”) that actually lists all of the “views” that cardinals are required as Catholics to hold?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    So far the only reporter or columnist who has expounded on the papal situation as genuine believing Catholics understand it is Peggy Noonan in her column today. She wrote of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church and being the inspiration behind whatever will transpire. True “God-talk” that is almost never used in news coverage.

  • Kate

    Has anyone seen a mainstream story on this that mentions the positions of the various Cardinals on some of the *other* contentious within the Church heirarchy – liturgy, ecumenism, dialogue with the Eastern Churches, dialogue with traditionalist sects, the Anglican Ordinariate, the re-evangelization of Europe, etc?

    Or a mainstream story about Benedict’s tenure that seems to actually grasp the significance of his actions w regard to the Latin mass, outreach to traditionalists, and establishing the Anglican Ordinariate?

    Perhaps a little too ‘inside baseball’ for most journalists.