Media Misunderstand Pope and Catholicism

Article excerpt

'For Lent, I'm giving up."

That's how Tim Stanley began a blog post on the Telegraph website last week following the surprise announcement of that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down.

"How can anyone of faith not feel like surrendering after this week's largely bad media coverage of the papal abdication?" he asked.

For Stanley, much of the coverage could be summed up this way: "Elderly Homophobe Quits Misogynistic Institution Because He Can't Hack It."

What bothered him in particular was the way many in the media seemed to be lecturing the church about its need to modernize -- to get with the times by being more welcoming of homosexuality, to admit women as priests and to just generally become more accommodating of all things more liberal.

The problem, he said, is most journalists don't get religion, and especially don't understand the Roman Catholic Church.

Arguing that Catholics have to adapt their theology to be more attractive to modern people "is to misunderstand how religion works," he said.

"It's also to miss what makes faith so attractive to those who do bother to show up on a Sunday. In a world where everything seems to be up for negotiation, religion offers stability and certainty."

Plus, he added, "the tenets of faith" are not like political party platforms, which are up for debate at conventions.

That's not how things work in the Catholic Church, he noted. "It can shift the altar a few feet or revise its opinion on the movements of the stars, but it cannot rewrite essential doctrine."

Understanding this "requires putting aside prejudice and trying to understand the mindset of the true believer," he concluded. "Alas, a lot of journalism tends toward aggressive critical analysis rather than empathy."

Another major storyline that emerged amid the Pope's resignation was the terrible abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. At times, it seemed to dominate it.

Some reports in the media suggested Benedict was resigning because of the scandal, with at least one going so far as to intimate that his departure was all just a ploy to avoid prosecution.

Melinda Henneberger took issue with this view. Writing in the Washington Post, she said "It's simply not true that he protected predator priests. While I fault Benedict for many things, his record on abuse is far more mixed than that."

When others in the Vatican were writing off reports of abuse as an anti-Catholic media plot, then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger "spoke publicly of the need to remove clerical 'filth' from the church, in reference to predator priests," she said. …