The Media and a Papal Resignation

The decision of Pope Benedict to leave the papacy has caught many Vatican watchers and experts by surprise. The decision to step down is based on his health although one would never really believe it given that peculiar class of human being- the liberal talking head. The detractors are usually of a few types. There are the so-called experts in Catholicism who view the religion in an academic light. There is the subset of “experts” who claim to be Catholic, but most likely have not set foot in a Catholic Church since Christmas (if then) who purport an “understanding from within.” Then there are the just plain liberal know-nothings who view the Catholic Church as some relic because many of their beliefs and practices simply do not fit into their liberal worldview.

This was on vivid display on the day the Pope announced his “resignation” and the media’s coverage of what can only be described as a truly historic event. Gregory XII was the last Pope to resign in 1415- almost 600 years ago. Before that, the next most recent resignation was in 1294. Not only is it a rarity, but it is truly historic. Whenever something happens every 600 years, I think we can all agree it is “historic.” But all of this is lost in the liberal rhetoric of the pundit class. Suddenly, everyone from Brian Williams to the obscure Vatican beat reporter for MSNBC (if they exist) are hailing this event as a chance for the Catholic Church to modernize and move into the 21st century.

Of course, to these liberals that entails a few things. First, the new Pope, if he wishes to have any success in the eyes of these people, must allow women to be ordained as priests. Secondly, they must face reality that their adherents use contraception and therefore the Church needs to relax their ban on its use. Third, the Church’s staunch stance against abortion is a relic that must be discarded. If they will not abandon their opposition to abortion, then they should at least relax their rhetoric a little.

What the liberal class fails to understand is that the Catholic Church’s stances on these issues is considerably more principled than the culturally relative view most liberals learned in college in some sociology course. For example, over the many years, the Catholic Church has been rather consistent in their pro-life advocacy. When what we today view as the pro-life movement was in its infancy, it was the Catholic Church that was at the forefront of the movement and in fact predated it. Their emphasis on the sanctity of life has been unwavering perhaps too much to the chagrin of the liberal class. This emphasis on life resonates with conservatives, especially the social conservatives, but sometimes the more principled Catholic view runs counter to conservative political beliefs. The best example is capital punishment and the Church’s steadfast opposition to it. Most social conservatives I know, including me, are for it. Granted, I reconcile the differences in economic terms (why keep a scumbag killer/rapist alive when we could spend that money on special education needs or other programs?). But, that is me as a social conservative and as a Catholic. However, given that fact, I fully understand the Catholic Church’s opposition to capital punishment because it emanates from the same philosophy that allows the Church to defend the unborn with such fervent belief. This adherence to a philosophical underpinning is certainly more than any liberal who has ever uttered a word can claim. Liberal hypocrisy is certainly more prevalent than Catholic Church hypocrisy.

Inevitably, most stories on the Pope’s resignation incorporate the sex abuse scandal that has plagued the Church in recent years. Provided it falls within the statute of limitations, offending priests whether they are wearing a collar or not should be held accountable and tried, convicted and sentenced appropriately. Any Church official who tried to cover up the abuse should be equally held accountable. The offenders cannot hide behind their faith, their vestments and the Church since there is no conceivable justification for their actions. Some readers may take issue with my caveat regarding the statute of limitations, but they do exist and if in disagreement with them, then perhaps the laws should be changed. But that is for the political process, not the press, to resolve. All that being said and although there have certainly been well-publicized examples of this abuse, the media often makes it seem as if sexual abuse by priests has occurred in every parish across this country. If one looks at these cases, the most egregious and widespread cases occurred in a number of parishes or dioceses while many more have been scandal free. But to hear MSNBC, and the three major networks talk, modern American Catholicism is nothing more than a roving band of child molesters.

What upsets liberals the most is the Church’s rather consistent stands for about 2,000 years now. Clearly, the Catholic Church has given much more thought to these issues than your average modern day liberal. And the Church has certainly been less of a hypocrite in most areas. For example, liberals are quick to adopt a culturally-relevant view of any issue and to advance it. This extends to any area of debate. In their mind, America is just another country in the world. Some go so far as to denigrate our history and our standing in the world. But look at the hypocrisy when it comes to the MSM discussion of a possible papal successor. It is viewed in the eyes of what Americans want and then extrapolating that to what Catholics the world over want. To them, American Catholics want condoms and women priests. To them, American Catholics want a softened stance against abortion. Yet in the same breath, they will note that the Catholic Church is in decline, although they blame the Church’s stances regarding the above issues as the reason American Catholic identification is declining. If they were truly culturally relevant, they would take into account the views of Catholics in Latin America and Africa where Catholicism is growing the fastest. I think they would find that most Catholics there are pro-life, couldn’t care less about condoms, and want a male priest celebrating mass.

Regarding the sexual abuse scandal, the media portrays it as if it is endemic to Catholicism, that if only they had female priests, or that they allowed their priests to marry or there was no celibacy, or if they “liberalized” their beliefs to come into modernity this abuse would not have happened. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but I seem to remember some rather high profile cases of what appeared to systemic sexual shenanigans in other denominations, Christian and non-Christian alike. Overlooked by most media outlets is the internal hand-wringing which admittedly is not enough. But, there have been several instances, the biggest being the Diocese of Los Angeles, where there has been serious condemnation about abuse and its cover-up. More importantly overlooked is the on-balance good the Church does day in and day out, year after year. Whether it is providing adoption services, manning soup kitchens, educating children relieving the burden on public schools, the multitude of social services provided, these are the things that do not make the headlines. The catholic Church and other religious denominations have probably done more to shelter and help battered women in abusive relationships than the recently enacted/reauthorized Violence Against Women Act could hope to achieve. How many women have the Church rescued from human trafficking and prostitution? Certainly more than Robert Menendez (D-NJ). I am not an apologist for the Catholic Church, but I see more good than bad and certainly more consistent principle than I do in any liberal.

An article by the New York Times is indicative of the media treatment and what we can expect in the month ahead. It states: “The resignation sets up a struggle between the staunchest conservatives…who adhere to a smaller church of more fervent believers, and those who believe the church can broaden its appeal in small, but significant ways…” Those “small, but significant ways” are some of the issues outlined above. Can the New York Times or any other liberal press outlet name one cardinal or adviser within the Catholic Church who wants a “smaller church of more fervent believers?” Note to the New York Times: Catholic means universal, not some fervent believing subset of the universe. In fact, doesn’t this whole analysis by the New York Times sound suspiciously like the so-called schism in the Republican Party between the “establishment” and “those Tea Party nuts?” Then again, that would make sense since those “Tea Party nuts” do seem to be more principled than their liberal detractors. Funny how that word “principle” keeps popping up. One would hope that the likes of Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, Cecelia Vega, Ann Thompson, Scott Pelly, Seth Doan and Jerry Kofman, not to mention the editorial staff of the New York Times could aspire to something approximating “principle.”