If the media focus on the Vatican were a floodlight and not a spotlight, it would be clear that the story of religion in free fall is cultural and not Catholic.
Even in Lent, I am hard pressed to find many perks in my current state in life. As a prisoner with no online access at all, I really struggle to write. It’s not just my inability to access what’s going on in the world beyond these stone walls. The bigger problem with writing from prison is that almost everyone around me suffers from ADHD – Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. No, I take that back. Most of them don’t actually suffer from it at all. I do!
Today while trying to come up with a title for this post, no less than a dozen prisoners interrupted me with “Watcha doin’?” or “What’s up with all this Pope stuff?” Well, what I’m doing is trying to write about “all this Pope stuff,” and “What’s up with it?” depends on which cable news channel you’re watching.
Wondering whether I should add patience to my growing list of things to work on for Lent, I just asked the last guy who stopped by whether I’m an impatient person. “Of course you’re not,” he said. “If you were, you would just tell me to ‘Beat it!’ like everyone else does.”
So there you have it. I have a lot more patience with other prisoners than I do with the news media right now. As I write this post, CNN has been broadcasting all day long a news segment about an Italian press report of corruption, scandal and blackmail in the Vatican, and of course all of it is the “real story” behind the Holy Father’s recent decision-making process.
The story spinning at CNN is not at all like the one I wrote last week in “Pope Benedict XVI: The Sacrifices of a Father’s Love.” CNN was so saturated with its far more sordid version of papal events that I needed another take on it. So I switched to FOX News for a couple of hours only to find not a single mention of the story. The Vatican Secretary of State was recently quoted about this story:
“It is regrettable that as we draw near to the beginning of the Conclave when Cardinal electors shall be bound in conscience and before God, to freely express their choice, news reports abound which are often unverified or unverifiable, or completely false, provoking damage to people and to institutions.”
GETTING STONED WITH THE POPE
Not long ago, the American news media reported on a scandal in the U.S. Secret Service. While in Columbia preparing security for a visit by the U.S. President, several Secret Service and military officers were caught up in a prostitution scandal. With surgical precision, some in the news media seemed intent on reporting the story without letting any of it tarnish this President or his Administration.
As Commander-in-Chief, the current President has apparently been shielded in the news media from multiple military sex scandals, mass murder on a military base, the Benghazi U.S. Embassy disaster, and the list goes on and on. In stark contrast in the mainstream secular media, every sordid story out of Rome always seems to land in the lap of the Pope. I once wrote of such a double standard in “Breaking News: I Got Stoned with the Pope,” a TSW post about the Church and duplicity in the news media that might be worth reading anew as you wait for events in Rome to continue unfolding this month.
And in this long period of waiting, there’s another post of mine that tells the story of another Pope’s merciless tarnishing with a broad media brush for scandalous claims that were not only untrue, but for which the media itself bore much more responsibility than the Pope ever did. If you want a cautionary tale for how the news media is handling the story of Benedict XVI and the current papal transition, take a break from the news to read anew, “Hitler’s Pope, Nazi Crimes, and The New York Times.” Some readers told me that it changed forever the way they view Pope Pius XII. At least one commenter wrote that it should also change forever the way you view the news media, especially in regard to stories about the Catholic Church. If you Google that title using quotes, you will see how widely that post circulated. No one refuted any of it, however. Not one word.
TAKING GRAINS OF TRUTH WITH GRAINS OF SALT
So why should the news accounts about Benedict XVI be treated with any more respect for truth and accuracy than those of Pius XII? There is actually a connection between these reports in the news media. In a comment on that post about Pius XII, reader Dorothy Stein wrote that it was largely disgruntled Catholics with an agenda, and not the Jews of the generation that lived through World War II Europe, who became the loudest slanderers and detractors of Pius XII.
A similar phenomenon is now true of Benedict XVI. I have read repeated praise of him, of his papacy, of his brilliance, of his justice – the latest coming from the Chief Rabbi of Rome – while Catholics with varying agendas cast shadows over him, some subtle and some overt. I don’t buy any of it. Most of these Catholic critics are simply using the story of this historic papal transition the same way they used the story of the clergy sex abuse scandal. The agendas of disaffected, disgruntled and sometimes sadly misled Catholics are typically given a soap box in the news media.
One Catholic writer for a mainstream secular newspaper wants to elect a nun as the next pope. Another wants an end to the priesthood. A host of others want a distinctly American Catholic Church with only loose ceremonial ties to Rome. They want a married priesthood, women priests, and same-sex marriages. What they really want is to be Episcopalian, a fate, as you will infer below, that hasn’t worked out so well for the Episcopalians.
There’s another important religious story that’s taking a news media back seat while the Catholic Church and Vatican take center stage. If the news media used a floodlight instead of a spotlight to report on religion, this story would come more clearly into view.
For the first time in the history of the United States – which leads the trends of Western Culture – Protestants have lost their majority status. In a development of immense meaning for the future of religion on this continent, Americans who identify themselves as “Protestant” have slipped below fifty percent of the population. It’s even worse than that. In just the last five years, self-identified Protestants have slipped from 53% to 48% of the U.S. census. If the umbrella term, “Protestant” was broken down into its widely varying denominations, then the cultural picture is far more bleak for religion.
The largest representations of self-identified Christians in the United States are Catholics. Slightly more than 75 million Americans, or 24% of the U.S. population, describe themselves as Catholic. In the North American continent as a whole, 90 million are self-described Catholics – by far the largest religious grouping on the Continent.
That’s not the bleak part. The alarming news is that the second largest “denomination” is not a Protestant grouping such as Baptist or Methodist. The second largest group – nearly 49 million North Americans – describe themselves as agnostic, atheist, or no religion at all. They are the “Nones,” and they have risen from 15% of Americans in 2007 to almost 20% in 2012. One in three of them are under the age of 30.
Despite all the news media’s never-ending “spotlight” on the foibles of the Catholic Church, the majority of these self-described “Nones” (for “No Religion”) are not disaffected from the ranks of Catholics, but from the ranks of ever increasingly liberal Protestant denominations. The “Nones” share a political identity. They are not dominated by people who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, but as “secular,” and they are predominantly young, male, white, liberal Democrats. 75% of the self-described “Nones” voted for President Obama in November. They are the up and coming secularists embracing Big Brother with open arms that I wrote of in “Electile Dysfunction: Accommodations and the Advent of 1984.”
THE URGENCY OF CATHOLIC ONLINE WITNESS
So if you think the biggest religious news story is scandal in the Catholic Church, then The New York Times and The Boston Globe and other secular news media are succeeding in throwing up a smoke screen that obscures from view the real story threatening the religious and cultural identity and landscape of the free world.
And by the way, you might have noticed that The Boston Globe is for sale . . . again. It’s the second time in the last decade that its parent company, The New York Times, has tried to unload it. The Times purchased The Boston Globe for $1.1 billion in 1983, and its highest bidder today is less than ten percent of that investment.
The Times itself has slipped to a distant third in circulation behind the now flagship American newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, and the trendy USA Today. The day is fast approaching when most of the mainstream news media will be entirely online, and then its Catholic news will compete with . . . . YOU GUESSED IT!!. . . . Catholic bloggers like Father John Zuhlsdorf, Father George David Byers, and one or two others among the supposedly “Best Catholic Bloggers” who will herein go unnamed. These good men and their public witness are champions of Catholic truths, and I hope you’re listening to them in this time of false witness and false prophets in news of the Catholic Church in the public square.
Editor’s Note: Catholic writer, Ryan A. MacDonald has a compelling new article about news of These Stone Walls.