Should the press blame Catholic teachers for its ignorance?

Should the press blame Catholic teachers for its ignorance? June 11, 2013

One common complaint we hear from readers is that reporters, when caught messing up some key point of Roman Catholic doctrine, will claim that they are right because they were “raised Catholic” or “went to Catholic school.”

Frequently this response to messing up a story is made in private correspondence. But related to the BuzzFeed discovery of St. Augustine’s teachings we discussed on Sunday (“Political reporters learn about St. Augustine. Chaos ensues.“), I saw a great example in public. It’s worth looking at.

A full day after reporter Joel Gehrke gently corrected Andrew Kaczynski’s story premise, Kaczynski simply retweeted it out and doubled down on how right he was. Check it out via this fancy new Storify tool I’m using:

Isn’t that great? I mean, the condescension of that “my friend” line is just delicious in light of how many people are trying to tell Kaczynski about original sin — one of the more basic teachings of traditional Christianity.

It’s one thing to be ignorant of basic Christianity. It’s another thing to condescendingly rebuke the person correcting you because of your education.

Now, I don’t know if Kaczynski wasn’t paying attention to those monks or if they were just really bad educators or what, but if you’re going to appeal to your education, you really should make sure you’re right.

When you’re not, it’s just embarrassing.

The rest of the exchange — which involves other people gently correcting Kaczynski — seems to have had the same effect as everyone else.

This is part of a general pattern I see. So let’s remember — when we mess up a story, either in the details or the entire premise, defensiveness is not the appropriate response. And don’t blame your teachers for your own ignorance or condescend to those trying to correct you! It hurts trust with the reader. We all make mistakes. We all feel the pressures of reporting on deadlines. We make mistakes. Own ’em, correct ’em and move on. Right?

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  • Joe F

    “12 years of school of taught by Monks…” and then I stopped learning anything new about my religion. Because 18 year olds clearly have the capacity to work through every nuance of every doctrine.

    Cripes, Jesus Himself was 30 before he was confident enough to proclaim the Truth– and He had all the answers ahead of time!

  • Darren Blair

    A few years ago, a discussion began on the “Latter Day Saints” forum over on

    The discussion, entitled “My Pastor Knows Better”, talks in large part about what was displayed in this series of messages. (link:…)

    All too often, what will happen is that somebody’s minister will get ahold of some anti-Mormon literature and pass it on to their congregation… with said congregation swallowing even the most ludicrous claims and assertions at face value. When a member of the congregation then encounters a Mormon, the congregant is inevitably informed about the fact that much of what they were taught was incorrect. Rather than come to the realization that they were bamboozled, however, the congregant instead typically becomes defensive, assert that their minister knows more about Mormonism than the Mormon with whom they are speaking, and go tell the Mormon to learn more about their own faith.

    You see, the congregant trusts their minister. They also trust their own personal knowledge and their ability to discern truth from fiction. As a result, whenever they get corrected by someone who actually knows the facts, they immediately go on the defensive. Although they won’t actually verbalize it, for them to admit the prospect of being wrong is to admit the prospect that they cannot trust either themselves or their source. Since they inherently trust themselves and the source, they will instead presume that anyone who seeks to challenge them on the matter is incorrect and perhaps even ignorant.

    As an example of this at work, consider an anecdote told by writer and scholar Daniel Peterson (link: Peterson was at an academic conference when he was cornered by a professor that had come to believe an astoundingly false and astoundingly slanderous allegation about the church, and when he tried to correct the professor the professor responded by becoming belligerent.

  • PalaceGuard

    “my friend” is the phrase that set me against McCain from the get-go. (Although I voted for him, feeling I had no other choice.)

  • Becky F.

    I think there is a deficit of biblical doctrine in Catholic theology classes for children. Or many Catholic students are accustomed to not listening. I worked with a woman that is a lifelong Catholic. We were talking about something that led to me making a comment about Adam and his first descendents living for hundreds of years, and she had no idea what I was talking about and thought I was saying something silly. I was surprised, though probably should not have been given the Catholic church’s acceptance of evolution, that she was not familiar with the first few chapters of Genesis. I don’t remember where I read it, but Sunday school for Catholic children is centered around stories about the Saints and not Bible stories. They may be well versed in Catholic tradition and extra-biblical doctrines, but I am finding that we shouldn’t be surprised when your average Catholics really don’t know much about actual Christian teachings.

    • erin

      Becky, no Catholic doctrines are “extra-biblical.” Every Catholic doctrine has its kernel (its start as the acorn, if you will) in the Bible. See Chesterton and Newman.

    • Rick Connor

      No, in general the Catholic Church also does a very poor job in teaching about Catholic tradition and what you call “extra-biblical doctrines”. Since the late 1960 Catholic catechesis has been in shambles. You’re very wrong that stories about Saints are emphasized over Bible stories. We tend to teach severely truncated, revisionist versions of Bible stories and ignore saints. I had old fashioned religious education through 4th grade (things liberalized when I was in 5th grade). There was a strong emphasis in my Catholic elementary school on the bible in early elementary school.

      You seem to talk about Catholics with a lot of vinegar and misinformation.

  • James Stagg

    May I express a doubt that Andrewn Kacznski (Polish, Russian, whatever) was educated by Monks? Which would those be…..and for 12 whole years? Are any of you familiar with Monks (emphasis on capitalization) who actually do this? Me? I was taught by sisters and monks (small “m”)……Franciscan monks in a Franciscan seminary. Yes, we heard quite a bit about Augustine.

    “Methinks he doth protest too much”………or is being less than forthcoming.

    • FW Ken

      The Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas has a boarding school from grades 7 to 12. The Cistercians in Dallas also have a school. Scroll down for a list of monastic schools:

      • James Stagg

        I’m very familiar with St. Bernard’s in Cullman, AL. Please refer to my statement again: 12 years. 12 minus 7 equals 5 years with the Benedictine monks. Please try again..

  • Ben Dunlap

    Rick Connor’s comment below is important to understanding this, though. “Since the late 1960 Catholic catechesis has been in shambles” pretty much sums it up, and anyone under 60 who had 4-17 years of Catholic education may well have learned zero authentic Catholic doctrine in that time. Put simply, these people don’t know what they don’t know about the Catholic faith.

    This is a disaster, a shame, and a scandal, and it IS to a large extent the fault of Catholic teachers (by which I mean parents, school teachers, school administrators, pastors, and bishops).

    It’s possible that Kaczynski is just not equipped to make sure he’s right. I speak from my own experience of K-12 parochial and then Jesuit education. Just about everything substantial I learned about the Catholic faith in those 13 years came from my parents’ bookshelf or from the pulpit of the parish we commuted to (which was not connected with any of the schools I attended).