Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Rating Coverage of the Catholic Church

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Rating Coverage of the Catholic Church

Article excerpt

SECULAR NEWS COVERAGE of religion and the Catholic Church in particular merits only a C -- maybe a C-minus -- judging from views expressed by the Archbishop of Los Angeles and others at a recent Catholic Press Association conference.

"Sadly, in some quarters of journalism, so much of what passes for news and information today is nothing more than sensationalism, gossip and an unhealthy fixation on conflict and confrontation," said Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop. "The attitude of 'no news is good news,' and 'good news is no news,' seems endemic, especially in the secular press' coverage of the church."

Cardinal Mahony's comments came in a homily during his celebration of a Mass at the recent CPA meeting in Los Angeles. The Archdiocese's press spokesman, The Reverend Greg Coiro, was equally critical of media reporting on the Catholic Church at a later panel discussion of the subject.

Mahony, who previously has expressed irritation with religion reporting, allowed that the general press and the clergy "do not always view the world and the Church with the same eyes," but rapped the media for focusing on four "hot-button" issues in their coverage of the Catholic Church: artificial birth control, abortion, celibacy and the male-only priesthood.

He singled out CBS's Sixty Minutes and reporter Mike Wallace for their coverage of the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim last February.

"I kept encouraging them to see and experience what was going on all around them," he recalled. "Tens of thousands committed, happy, joyful and spirit-filled Catholics were gathering ... to celebrate and grow in their faith in Jesus Christ and His Church. The real story was staring them in the face but they could not see it."

The cardinal, who is considered liberal on some social issues and very conservative on doctrine, called on the Catholic Press to counter what he believes is distorted reporting by matching the secular press in professionalism and by reporting the news honestly, "even if that means revealing the very humanness, brokenness and imperfections of Christ's Church."

He urged the CPA to report good and bad news but in such a way that its audience "never loses sight of the good news, which is, after all, the raison d'etre of the Catholic press."

In all stories and commentary, the cleric went on, Catholic journalists must constantly ask: "How will this story feed the flock? How will this opinion piece nourish Christ's body, the Church? ... When there is a scandal to report, report it, but tell, too, how this relates to humility, to seeking forgiveness and to reconciliation."

Every story, regardless of how horrible or negative, contains an element that can be used to teach and illustrate the "Gospel of Life," Mahony asserted.

Mainstream media did not fare much better in a panel, "How the Secular Press Covers Religion."

Not too well, except for some experienced religion writers on major dailies, according to Father Coiro.

He blamed broadcast journalists and general assignment reporters in both media for inaccurate coverage of church affairs.

From questions by some reporters, he said, "I can tell right away that they know nothing about the Roman Catholic Church. There is a great deal of ignorance among people in the press."

However, Coiro acknowledged that sometimes communication problems arise because he must withhold certain information.

In addressing the media, he insisted, "I always tell the truth, but I can't always tell all the facts. The public has a right to know, but not everything."

He cited cases involving priests in alleged sex scandals, commenting, "Sometimes there is good reason not to reveal."

Certain reporters, Coiro observed, will say, "'You're hiding something.' They refuse to believe I'm telling the truth when I am."

All too often, the priest said, the press feeds the appetite for "dirt in the marketplace. …

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