Praying the Post

Reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in one hand and a rosary in the other.

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Friday, May 10, 2002
"I believe in the ultimate goodness of people..."

"...including the press." -- Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington

I have this crackpot theory that the Post isn't anti-Catholic.

I think that the reporters want to write fair and accurate stories about interesting events and subjects. I think that the editors want to maintain a certain amount of balance and relevance in the stories they run. I think the publisher wants to sell papers while providing a service to the readers.

I also get the sense that the paper likes nothing better than to break stories that break people in power. So while there's an obvious liberal slant, there's no compunction about going after Democrats if that's where the Pulitzer material lies.

The result of all this is that, while there are many profound and important issues where the Post disagrees with the Church, there's no animosity, unless or until the Church does something the Post can sink its teeth into. And the problem for the Post is that, to date, the Church in Washington looks pretty good. There's not much bad to say about Cardinal McCarrick, or Cardinal Hickey before him. Boston, New York, Los Angeles: that's where the action is. But here we mostly just have Catholics being Catholic.

Which isn't to say that the Post understands the Church, or does a great job covering Catholicism. If I thought it did, I wouldn't be writing this. But as far as I can tell, the mistakes, the bias, the judgments revealed by what gets printed and what doesn't mostly all happen without the conscious intention to stick it to the Church.

Oh, hello there

Thanks to Martin Roth for his kind words about this site, and for creating a semi-definitive list of Christian blogs. I hadn't been thinking of this blog as "intriguing"; now that the thought is there, I just hope to avoid making it insufferable.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002
They all look alike to us

CNN online has a story about an Irish priest who has resigned because he doesn't believe in God. The headline reads, "Heresy charge Irish priest quits." We pass over the grammar in silence to note that the subject of the story, Andrew Furlong, is -- or was -- Anglican.

We know this because the seventh of nine paragraphs tells us that this "Irish priest" "was ordained in the Anglican Church of Ireland in the early 1970s."

Admittedly, the second paragraph mentions that his resignation "was accepted by Church of Ireland Bishop Richard Clarke."

Naturally, everyone in America knows that the Church of Ireland is Anglican, not Roman Catholic, and everyone in America knows that, when they read of an "Irish priest," the first question to ask is whether he's with Canterbury or with Rome, and everyone in America reads at least the first seven paragraphs of every article.

If I were more cynical than I am, I might point out that astute readers would know Furlong wasn't Catholic as soon as they read, in the second sentence, that he was on trial for heresy just because he doesn't believe Jesus is God.

Scandal Outside the Beltway

The Post has been behaving itself.

In the greatest public scandal to hit the Catholic Church in the United States since -- well, ever -- even the Post's columnists have kept their heads, while those of the Times and the Globe have lost theirs. Sure, Richard Cohen has made some silly assertions, but he always does. Still, I haven't read anything in the Post in the last few weeks that has made me cringe.

The same can't be said of the national media as a whole. The viewpoints I see in the commentaries I read can be roughly divided into three categories. The first is that this scandal proves that, now more than ever, the Church needs to do X. "X" may be "ordain women," and it may be "suspend all gay priests." I don't see much point in further dividing this category into "progressive" and "conservative," because the form of all the arguments is the same, and the form is invalid. There is essentially nothing in such opinion pieces that the writer couldn't have written this time last year, or five years ago. As far as I can tell, the writer sees the scandal as an opportunity to advance his agenda -- whatever it might be -- and calls out "Now more than ever!" as though there were a causal relation between sexual molestations and coverups and whatever condition he's been wanting changed for years.

The second category is a call for bishops' scalps. Starting with Cardinal Law, of course, but moving on to any and every bishop in any way associated with any sort of scandal. "The American bishops" -- all 195 of them, it seems -- are distant, autocratic, self-serving laity haters, interested in coddling their priests (who just might be their lovers) and humiliating the victims -- and their vicars general are worse.

The third category is raving hatred for the Church, or at least for her pope and bishops. This is the common or garden anti-Catholicism that we will always have with us, using the scandal as cover.

(I've read many other comments prompted by reflecting on the scandal that aren't directly about the scandal; these are harder to categorize.)

It isn't that there is no truth at all in the writers' opinions, at least in the first two categories. But the arguments are often unsound, when they aren't invalid. It's been very instructive to see just how poorly nationally-known commentators reason.

A backlash is starting against all the instinctive punditry that's followed in the wake of the Globe's investigations. People are noticing that the fundamental theorem of op-ed journalism -- "I am, therefore I have an opinion" -- is a bit wobbly when put into practice. I was amazed last September when all these folks who had been sermonizing on campaign finance reform, stem cell research, and energy regulation became -- literally overnight -- experts on the causes of and solutions to terrorism. This spring, they've become experts in ecclesiology, natural law, canon law, and psychology.

It's true that there are a few people who are clear enough thinkers to be able to get away with this sort of polymathematical pontificating -- G. K. Chesterton is the obvious example -- but what has become clear is just how muddled the thinking of many who attempt to influence public opinion really is.