That minister of humor unloads on the pope coverage

The thought for the day and, perhaps, for the next week or two, care of Father James Martin, the chaplain of The Colbert Report and author of the essential “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.”

The problem, as you will see in this Facebook entry, is that — other than a choice poke or two — I don’t think this particular Jesuit is laughing at the moment. Hang on.

The conclave hasn’t even started, and I’m already submerged by a sea of stupid articles, idiotic commentary and boneheaded op-eds about the Catholic Church, by people who have no clue what they’re talking about. I’m not talking about people with whom I disagree, or who challenge me with new ways of thinking about the church, but writers who seem completely clueless about the most basic concepts. Some of this is to be expected: the church is a highly complex institution with 2,000 of history behind it.

But the number of misinformed articles I’ve read about celibacy, the priesthood, the papacy, the church in this country, the causes of the sexual abuse crisis, church authority, papal infallibility, the role of the magisterium, life in a religious order, the vow of chastity, and Benedict XVI, just boggles the mind. Or at least my mind, which perhaps is too easily boggled. Needless to say, I don’t expect commentators to know everything about the church. (I sure don’t.) But I think it’s a reasonable to expect that people should refrain from commenting (especially publicly) on stuff that they clearly don’t know much about.

Wait, there’s more! Trust me on that.

In response, I’m going to start writing pieces and submitting op-eds about the most recent developments in quantum physics, the challenges of the last three months of pregnancy, the most efficient way to install a dishwasher and what it’s like to be the following: a single mother working in a low-paying job, an elementary-school teacher working in a wealthy suburb, and an African-American living in the inner city.

I know nothing about any these topics, or about the lived experiences of these people, but hey, I have an opinion.

Actually, this is one of the realities that is driving the news business at the moment.

You can take it to the bank: Information is expensive, but opinion is cheap.

I thought, before I ran back into class, that I would put this Martin broadside up and invite, in the comments pages, GetReligion readers to offer some URLS for the best and the worst of the current papacy horse race coverage.

Be kind and tell us how — backed with informative URLs — you think some of these trains came off the rails. We would welcome some positive feedback for the mainstream press, as well.

Just do it.

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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.

  • Jerry

    Yes it’s Vanity Fair but I would put this in nomination for an “award” for worst of the worst.

    Cardinals Convene Pre-Conclave Confab for Holy Ice-Breaker Games

    What happens when you combine holy water and get-to-know you games? Holy ice breakers! But what sorts of holy ice breakers are the cardinals playing? Some ideas:

    “True or False”: Everyone goes around the room and says two true things about himself and one false thing. The speaker is then politely told to go to confession because lying is a sin.

    “What Women Would Ruin”: Everyone goes around the room and names something that would be different in a bad way if women were allowed to participate.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2013/03/Cardinals-Convene-Pre-Conclave-Gathering-for-Holy-Ice-Breaker-Games

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    That so many people here in America pontificate about the Catholic Church and Christianity and write as if they know what they are talking about has a lot to do with the fact that we live in a Protestant culture.
    Here someone has to have had some education in and know a little something about, for example law, to be taken seriously. But religion is considered subjective and personal and therefore whatever someone says about religion is taken as defacto infallible even when the writer is clearly “shooting from the hip.”

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    I would nominate this piece from the International Business Times out of Australia as “not bad.” It’s rather brief but summarizes what’s happening today. http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/441650/20130304/papal-conclave-2013-cardinals-ready-work-will.htm#.UTUBk44Zfdk

    What I liked is also what I did not like.

    The headline mentions that the cardinals will make the new pope swear to serve until death. The article discusses this notion, saying that many cardinals fear that Benedict XVI may have destabilized the church by resigning. This is the only article I’ve seen that touches on this angle without apparent biased, which is one that I’ve been worrying about since I heard the news. So I like it for that reason.

    On the downside, this bit of information is from an unnamed source. It also does not go too deeply into the nature of the destabilizing effect, but I suspect it would be due to the pressures on the next pope to resign.

    It also contrasts with this blog entry from Inside the Vatican’s Robert Moynihan, in which he offers respected journalistic sources who are speculating that the cardinals may indeed elect someone who expressly for the possibility he might resign at a convenient point. http://themoynihanletters.com/from-the-desk-of/letter-30-the-next-and-the-last

  • Susan

    I had decided not to read or listen to mainstream media stories about Catholicism. You can spend your whole life trying to correct huge mistakes and misrepresentations about the RCC. Why bother? I have come to believe that if professional reporters are so poorly prepared on a subject about which I am reasonably informed, why would it be likely that they are any better prepared on subjects of which I know little? The MSM has become irrelevant to me. I have cancelled my subscriptions to cable TV and to general periodicals. There is plenty to read by experts .. but cross-check that material as well. Use the classical techniques for self-education – it takes time but it is not difficult and it is very rewarding.

  • Martha

    It’s our old friends at the “Washington Post” and On Faith, and I just picked this one at random from a news feed.

    Amongst other things that made me go “Hey!” is this sentence, and I’ll explain why:

    “Vigano’s letters to the pope were the most explosive leaks of documents last year; in them, Vigano pleaded with Benedict not to be transferred after exposing alleged corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts that cost the Holy See millions of euros (dollars).”

    Why on earth is dollars in brackets after euros? Are we meant to think that really, us Europeans do use dollars but for our own sneaky reasons we just call them euros in order to confuse Americans? Are the readers of the “Washington Post” to be presumed to be unable to grasp that euros are a currency? And why leave the dollars unadorned without an equivalent amount? Usually, if a figure is given in one currency, there is a corresponding amount in the other, so for instance, if a British paper quotes a dollar figure, they give the equivalent in pounds sterling.

    But this doesn’t even say that “millions of euro = this amount of dollars”. It does nothing to inform an American reader how the euro stacks up against the dollar, it doesn’t say how many millions of euros/dollars are involved, it does nothing except say “We think you are so insular you have to be told that we’re talking about currency in this context”.

    • Newark

      Hey, hey, hey, your right enough but I thought you were going to call up the completely pathetic use of a semicolon in the first line, third paragraph, starting “Vigano’s letters…”

      • Martha

        I decided not to look at the religious angle because there are still articles amazed to discover that the next pope is required to be Catholic.

        They could have told us why Vigano “pleaded…not to be transferred” or why he was transferred in spite of this, but that would have involved actual journalism rather than regurgitating allegations picked up from the Italian media.

        I also want to swipe at their use of “holed up” in the sentence beginning “The emeritus pope, meanwhile, remained holed up at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo”.

        Hmm – so that’s how you describe it? Right, I will look out for reports about “The President, who was holed up in Camp David” and “Her Majesty the Queen is holed up in Buckingham Palace after her release from hospital yesterday” and “Former Belgian finance minister is expected to hole up in his home town after shock resignation”.

    • http://www.twitter.com/jdeklittle jdl

      Should On Faith be faulted for running an AP piece, though?

  • Deacon Jim Stagg

    It is really hard to select ONE article from the “fishwrap (hat tip to Father Z)”, but this would be a good….oh, no, no, no, I cannot describe something this putrid as “good”…………….
    Let’s say this would be ONE outrageous example of what passes for “journalism” at NC(INO)R:
    http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/vatican-stuck-monarchical-past

    • Martha

      So I suppose Tom Roberts is opposed to state funerals if an American president dies in office? Down with recreations of former times, away with false pomp and ceremony, leave us have no more aping of the Renaissance or Middle Ages!

      Quite right too – who wants to see army officers with “chests full of medals” parading and marching and carrying flags? Who wants all that fuss when you could just have a quiet private cremation? And what about reforming the swearing-in of a new president – couldn’t this be handled just as well with a text message saying “You want the job?” and the reply “Yeah, sure, why not?”

      All that palaver about the Jefferson Bible and what-not – it’s positively pseudo-monarchic!

      :-)

  • Deacon Jim Stagg

    I just couldn’t leave this alone. From a Catholic who learned theology in grade school:
    http://www.suntimes.com/18588478-761/ebert-how-i-am-a-roman-catholic.html

  • Pingback: Free the cardinals!

  • Dave

    Just FYI: “[Subject] for Dummies” is a copyrighted format.

  • Bullschuck

    How about this one?

    http://bigstory.ap.org/article/cardinals-begin-pre-conclave-meetings-amid-scandal

    I think the writer had a good grasp of the facts but tried too hard to link them together. The lede wasn’t supported with a single fact, however.

    Cardinals said Monday they want to talk to Vatican managers about allegations of corruption and cronyism within the top levels of the Catholic Church before they elect the next pope, evidence that a scandal over leaked papal documents is casting a shadow over the conclave and setting up one of the most unpredictable papal elections in recent times.

    Unless you grant

    “I would imagine that as we move along there will be questioning of cardinals involved in the governing of the Curia to see what they think has to be changed, and in that context anything can come up,” said U.S. Cardinal Francis George.

    That’s it. That’s all. No other Cardinals quoted on the subject. No unattributed whispering, no off-the-record sources. Nada. If it had only been the headline I would have let it slide. But it was the friggin’ lede.

  • tmatt

    DAVE:

    Yes, that’s the cover of an actual book. I didn’t photoshop it or anything.

    • Dale

      Yes, and the books (I think the image shown at top is of a cover sheet for a two-book bundle) have a solid reputation for orthodoxy, in addition to the usual “For Dummies” ease of reading. The books were written by priests, and the lead author of both has been a host on EWTN, as well as occasional guest host on Catholic Answers Live, for many years.

      As for papal “horse race” coverage, I am opting out of reading such news.


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