Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 27, 2003
Mudslingers soil themselves
It is often said that bad publicity is better than no publicity. That's an axiom Catholics need to question in the light of all the publicity our Church has received in recent weeks. The 25th anniversary of a pope who has changed the course of history for good, the beatification of Mother Teresa and the naming of 30 new cardinals have all drawn major media attention. Yet, huge chunks of that coverage have painted the Church, the Vatican in particular, as full of scheming rascals out to steer things to their own advantage.
Pope John Paul's anniversary was widely depicted as the last hurrah of a "slumped over," "raspy throated" old man who can no longer finish his own speeches. Little or no mention of the vast body of thoughtful teaching he has given the Church or the many people he has inspired to give their lives to the service of good. When his legacy was mentioned, there would occasionally be a bow to his voice for peace and his role in the fall of Soviet-bloc communism, but the story would invariably turn to the theme that the pope has abolished freedom of speech in the Church and taken a "hard line" on issues that are actually long-established doctrine.
The anniversary was also painted as a time for the cardinals to get together and begin politicking over who would be the pope's successor. Just why anyone would want to be elected pope was never explained. We were just told, as the headline in the Oct. 19 Edmonton Journal stated, "Cardinals discreetly jockeying for position."
Pope John Paul, meanwhile, was portrayed as the man who had named as cardinals men in his own image who would elect another hard-line conservative as his successor. As The Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy put it, "Pope John Paul II has . . . terminally gerrymandered the College of Cardinals that will elect his successor. . . . Virtually all of his appointments - the new ones included - have been men like himself: conservatives who would hold the line on the role of women in the Church, priestly celibacy, contraception, abortion and homosexuality."
Valpy failed to note that John Paul's liberal predecessor Paul VI held the line on those same issues. He also noted that "liberal" Popes John XXIII and Paul VI chose virtually all the cardinals who elected John Paul II and that he somehow escaped being in their image. And that John Paul chose his papal name because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of those two "liberals" who had come before him.
If Valpy and others are waiting for a pope who will legitimize abortion, homosexual activity or contraception, they will have to wait a long time . . . and see many "liberal popes" who fail to live down to their expectations.
Then there was the beatification of Mother Teresa. Called a living saint for many years before her death, her beatification was nevertheless "controversial" because unnamed persons felt she was being beatified too soon because she was a friend of the pope and the miracle attributed to her was supposedly of dubious authenticity.
Stories on the miracle abounded, with the National Post devoting two whole pages to whether the sudden healing of an Indian woman's cancerous tumour was miraculous or the result of good medical treatment.
The Vancouver Sun's Douglas Todd wrote on at length about the "controversy" over Mother Teresa's beatification, at least having the good sense to end his story quoting a filmmaker saying, "Mother Teresa is perhaps the least controversial canonization imaginable."
This quest for controversy, for power-hungry motives and for general negativity says more about those who work in the media than about the Church.
Why is it that an institution that is so capable of inspiring others is so reticent to do so? Why can't the good story be told without a hunt for a black beast?
It's easier to criticize than to praise. And by criticizing you don't have to clearly state your own views, views that others may choose to disparage. Yet what we need is a media that, while criticizing the real corruption and injustice in the world, can also inspire by showing us the good that some do for others at great personal cost.
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