Being recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church is a difficult process — almost as difficult, apparently, as trying to explain that process in a mainstream new story.
I realize that tmatt just wrote an early post on this topic, but, trust me, there’s plenty more coverage out there, complete with new and unique gaffes. Let’s go with round two.
So, an official at the Vatican claims that a new miracle has been attributed to the late John Paul II, clearing the way for his canonization. The news may be fairly straightforward, but journalists seem to make the same three mistakes in their reporting:
Not defining the theological terms — The AP must assume that its readers are familiar with the process since they don’t attempt to define or explain any of the terms used in their report:
A Vatican official says a commission of theologians approved a miracle attributed to his intercession, clearing a key hurdle. The case now goes to a commission of cardinals and then Pope Francis. John Paul’s canonization is possible in autumn to coincide with the 35th anniversary of his election, though the official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal details about the case that it may be too soon.
The Polish-born pope has been on the fast track for sainthood ever since retired Pope Benedict XVI waived the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the investigation into his life and virtues to begin just weeks after his 2005 death. John Paul was beatified in 2011.
Leaving terms like “intercession,” “canonization,” and “beatified” unexplained might be acceptable for the National Catholic Reporter. But a mainstream wire service should not assume its readers are fluent in Catholic.
Claiming the process makes a person a saint — As EWTN explains, “By canonization the Pope does not make the person a saint. Rather, he declares that the person is with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation by the faithful.” That’s not the impression you’d get, though, from reading The Daily Telegraph:
The Polish pontiff is likely to be formally made a saint in the autumn.
Or as CBS News says:
Pope John Paul II has moved a step closer to sainthood.
Well, no. John Paul may be closer to being recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, but his status has already been determined and is not due to what CBS refers to as “the saint-making process.”