Thus, journalists are asking questions such as these:
How will the cardinals vote?
What are they doing to campaign and win votes?
What are the political issues that are being debated?
What are the names of the factions?
Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, based on their stances on the political issues that matter to editors?
Who is most likely to favor the changes in ancient doctrines that the editors would like to see made?
At the heart of all this, as of late, is the drive to understand “what Catholics want” from a new pope. This leads to polls built on the assumption that there are people called “normal Catholics” who can be polled and plugged into the questions listed above.
Oh my. That sound you hear, after reading all of this, is the sound of church-going, active, doctrinally minded Catholics screaming, because framing a papal election in these terms — for them — is kind of like listening to fingernails scraping a chalkboard.
This produces headlines such as the following, care of The Washington Post:
Poll: Majority of U.S. Catholics favor change
The top of the story under this headline is oh so typical:
A majority of American Roman Catholics consider the church out of touch with their views and they want the new pope to usher in policies that reflect more modern attitudes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
As cardinals gather in the Vatican to select a successor to retired Pope Benedict XVI, the poll suggests most Catholics in the United States hope the next pope will move the church in a new direction that someday could include married priests and female priests.
Yet even as six in 10 Catholics characterize the church as not in sync with their attitudes and lifestyles, 86 percent said it remains relevant, according to the poll, conducted last week. And more than two-thirds of the Catholics polled praise Benedict, saying he did a “good” or “excellent” job.
I am happy to report that, right after this newsy train wreck, the reporting team — as opposed to the headline writing team — got its act together and alerted readers to the reality behind these numbers.