Monday, March 23, 2009

Catholic Bishop Chastises News Media for Bias and Ignorance

The Archbishop of Denver addressed the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C.

-- From "Media risks making politics a religion by marginalizing the Church, Archbishop Chaput says" Catholic News Agency 3/17/09

Unless the media improves its basic understanding of Catholic beliefs and practices, it risks marginalizing the Church and replacing its voice in society with politics, a set of beliefs “with the same vestments, but less conscience,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told a gathering of prominent journalists on Tuesday at the Pew Forum.

“Public understanding of the Catholic role in our political process depends, in large part, on how the mainstream media frame Church-related issues,” the archbishop began.

However, he said some reporters and editors have been “uniquely frustrating” because “too often they really don’t know their subject; or they dislike the influence of religion; or they have unresolved authority issues; or they resent Catholic teachings on sex; or they’d rather be covering the White House, but this is the only beat they could get.”

Saying that the news media “serve a vital role in American life,” he asserted that democracy depends on “the free flow of truthful and comprehensive information between the government and the governed. Public debate has little meaning when people don’t have accurate, unbiased information.”

Good reporting has “social and moral gravity,” the archbishop observed. “And thankfully, many journalists are experts in their fields. But that expertise doesn’t seem to extend to religion coverage.”

“No serious media organization would assign a reporter to cover Wall Street if that reporter lacked a background in economics, fiscal and monetary policy, and these days, at least some expertise in Keynesian theory. But reporters who don’t know their subject and haven’t done their homework seem common in the world of religion reporting,” he commented.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.

The following are further excerpts from the bishop's address:

We need the Church to remind us of the witness of history: that human beings remain fallible; that civil power unconstrained by a reverence for God -- or at least a healthy respect for the possibility of God -- sooner or later attacks the humanity it claims to serve; and that we're all of us subject to the same excuse-making and self-delusion in our personal lives, in our public actions -- and even in the corridors of national leadership.

I wrote my book Render Unto Caesar to answer the question we’re talking about today: “What are the political obligations of Catholics?” My answer is very simple: The political duty of Catholics is to be “Catholic” first – to know their faith, and to think and act like faithful Catholics all the time. That includes their life in the public square – which means it also includes an obligation to promote policies and candidates that reflect the natural law, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social and moral teachings of his Church.

To put it another way, we serve Caesar best when we serve God first. And that means living our Catholic beliefs vigorously, faithfully and without apologies, at home and in public, at work and in the voting booth. We can’t ignore the suffering of the poor or the homeless or undocumented immigrants, and then claim to be good Catholics. We also can’t ignore the killing of unborn children without struggling to end that daily homicide – not just through supportive social policies, but by changing the law. The law not only regulates; it also teaches. The current law of the United States teaches that it can be acceptable to kill an unborn child. But it isn’t acceptable. It never was. It never will be. And Catholics can’t make peace with this kind of deeply evil law without lying to themselves, lying to the believing community and trying to fool God. It doesn’t work.

Render Unto Caesar was never designed to encourage Catholics to be Democrats or Republicans. But I certainly do want to remind American Catholics what it requires to actually be “Catholic,” to reason as Catholics, and to act as Catholics. The Church is not a political organism. But the moral witness of the Church – when people take her seriously -- will always have political consequences. If a particular party doesn’t like those consequences, well unfortunately, that’s the party’s problem. It’s the party’s own fault based on its own choices. It’s not the fault of the Church. Nor is it the job of the Church to help the careers of Catholic public officials by removing inconvenient moral dilemmas.

Where the media see a Catholic politician, Catholic bishops see a soul. For a bishop, the question of Catholics in American public life is only secondarily about electoral politics. Really it’s a question of eschatology. That’s another word that should be in every religion journalist’s vocabulary but usually isn’t. Eschatology refers to “last things”—heaven and hell; salvation and judgment. It reflects the teaching of Jesus: that what we do in this life has consequences for the life to come.

That’s what the debate over who receives the Eucharist in 2004, 2008 and even today has finally been about. Sometimes in reading the news, I get the impression that access to Holy Communion in the Church is like having bar privileges at the Elks’ Club. I’m reminded of the story of the Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor. She was at a cocktail party talking with fellow writer Mary McCarthy, who had left the Church. McCarthy, though no longer Catholic, said she still thought the Eucharist was a pretty good symbol of God’s presence. O’Connor replied: “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”

For believing Catholics, the Eucharist is not a symbol; or rather, it’s enormously more than a symbol. It’s the literal, tangible, body and blood of Jesus Christ. And since the earliest days of the Christian community, honest believers have never wanted to, and never been allowed to, approach the Eucharist in a state of grave sin or scandal. St. Paul said that if we do that, we profane the body and blood of Christ, and we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves (1 Cor. 11:27–32).

In other words, we commit a kind of blasphemy against God, and violence against our own integrity and the faith of other believers. There’s nothing casual about this kind of sin, and the American notion of “civil rights” is useless and flatly wrong in trying to understand it. No one ever has a “right” to the Eucharist -- and the vanity or hurt feelings of an individual Catholic governor or senator or even a vice president do not take priority over the faith of the believing community.

Blasphemy and violence are unpleasant words in polite conversation – but for believers, they have substance. They also have implications beyond this lifetime. That’s why no Catholic – from the simplest parishioner to the most important public leader – should approach Communion with grave sin on his soul. The media have no obligation to believe what the Church teaches. But they certainly do have the obligation to understand, respect and accurately recount how she understands herself – and especially how she teaches and why she teaches.

To read the full transcript, CLICK HERE.