Should we be surprised by anti-Catholicism in the media?
The clerical sex abuse scandals that have bedeviled us for the better part of a decade are revolting. But just as revolting is the impression given by the mainline media that priests are somehow more guilty than others. Anyone familiar with Jewish papers during the opening years of the millennium knows that rabbis left just as much to be desired as their opposite numbers in the Church of Rome, yet they were given a free pass by a press whose anti-Catholic bias has long been evident. One of the most egregious cases of media misrepresentation occurred this past January after an estimated five hundred thousand activists marched for life in Washington, D.C., most of them members of religious orders or students from schools like Christendom College and Franciscan University. In its paltry coverage of this event, the New York Times led its readers to believe that the demonstrators numbered a mere “tens of thousands.”
If the pundits were honest, they would not only report the news objectively, but would also place it in a historical context, pointing out, for example, what happened in Palestine before the birth of Christ. Though there were approximately forty kings and twice that number of chief priests over a stretch of roughly a thousand years, one would be hard put to name more than five or six in either category who were virtuous. Ruler after ruler goes down in the Book of Books as having “done evil.” As for the people, they “did not obey the voice of the Lord … did not accept discipline” (Jer. 7:28). Consequently, truth “perished; it was cut off from their lips” (ibid.). And yet, these very same people were God’s chosen! However lax in the practice of their faith, they still had the Commandments; however tarnished their reputation, it was from the ranks of these Israelites that the Messiah would come.
In the New Testament, Judas Iscariot, one of the privileged Twelve, steals from the common purse and turns traitor. One doesn’t have to be a mathematical genius to see that eight or nine percent of the apostolic band was rotten to the core (as compared with two or three percent of the Catholic clergy in recent years). And yet, Jesus, who is God, not only chose Judas but said it was “impossible” that scandals would not come (Luke 17:1).
Imagine a hypothetical Jerusalem Times the day after Christ’s Resurrection, trumpeting the fact that it was our Lord who had selected Judas and trained him, going so far as to call him “friend” in the Garden of Gethsemane. Had readers turned to page A23 of the same issue, they would undoubtedly have found an op-ed piece alleging that scandal in Christ’s inner circle proved, beyond doubt, the hollowness of Christian claims, especially in light of words spoken by Jesus himself: “you will know them by their fruits” (Mt. 7:20).
Today, one can read mainline papers like the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times year in and year out without ever learning that wrong doing is not necessarily indicative of wrong teaching. Jesus made this very point when he instructed his flock to disregard the example of the corrupt Jewish teachers of his time, but to obey their ordinances because they sat “on the chair of Moses” (Mt. 23:2-3).
I submit that the greatest media scandal of all time is the media itself, and for three basic reasons – gross “spinning” of the news, narrow focus and a morally corrupt agenda. An estimated fifty percent of teenage boys, along with a rising percentage of girls, consume internet porn on a regular basis, and what do the media czars do? They defend the right of sex peddlers to ply their trade. Similarly, one million out-of-wedlock pregnancies occur every year, and how do the literary lions react? By making a case for condoms on the basis of their supposed power to prevent unwanted pregnancy even though statistics continue to show that with every ounce of “prevention” comes a pound of promiscuity.
Sex education in the nation’s schools is still another abomination – too much, too early, and of the wrong kind. But all the owners of the public prints seem to be able to do is clap their hands.
Are we surprised when the principalities and powers of secular materialism go out of their way to highlight the human failings of Catholicism? Of all religious faiths, it is the most staunchly opposed to their secular-materialist agenda. Nothing is less secular than the dogma of papal infallibility, nothing less materialist than belief in the Holy Eucharist, nothing less liberal sexually than a Church that embraces consecrated celibacy while standing firm against contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, and remarriage after divorce.
And what of those tempted to apostatize because of what they see in the headlines? They need to be critical and responsible readers. Perhaps they would benefit from a reminder that when they attend Mass, Christ is present under the appearance of bread and wine even if the celebrant is unworthy, and sins are forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation whether the man wearing the stole is a saint or a sinner. Those inclined to jump ship when the Faith seems to have had the wind taken out of her sails would do well to remember, in addition, that whenever this has happened in the past, God had always raised up great saints to thwart the work of Satan. Christ meant what he said when he promised that the forces of evil would never prevail against his Church (Matt. 16:18).
Never was the phenomenon of divine rescue amidst scandal more apparent than during the tenth century. This was a time when ecclesiastical offices were bought and sold, when bishops took orders from noblemen, and when pontiffs were ineffective or worse. Pope John XII (955-964) was struck by paralysis while visiting his mistress. Catholicism seemed utterly doomed. Yet, notwithstanding the myriad of evils, a duke who had killed another man in a fit of passion and regretted it deeply founded a monastery that became a powerhouse of spirituality. Known for its piety and old-fashioned observance of silence, Cluny had the strictest of rules, and eventually, it spun off hundreds of new foundations, spreading Benedictine piety through Italy, Germany, England, Scotland, and Poland, as well as France. By the twelfth century, there were 1,450 Cluny-like communities with more than 10,000 consecrated religious. German emperors working for the good of the Church brought about the election of Cluny monks as popes, and these men not only lived ascetically but also set in motion a process that revitalized the entire Church.
In conclusion, we are an Easter people. We have seen rebirth and springtime in the history of the Church, and we shall see it again. Once we realize that the mainline media is driven by a hatred of religion generally (and of our own in particular), we will not be misled by journalistic distortion. Neither will we be discouraged when we find the kingpins of secular communication weighing in on the side of immorality. St. Paul knew whereof he spoke when he dubbed Satan “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). It goes without saying that anyone with an ounce of decency will be appalled at clerical sex abuse. At the same time, centuries of experience testify to the fact that moral shortfall on the part of religious leaders may disqualify them as teachers, but it does not negate the value of their teaching provided they remain in union with a Magisterium guided by the Holy Father, who takes his cue from the Holy Spirit. St. Francis de Sales, during the early 1600s, remarked that those who give scandal are guilty of “the spiritual equivalent of murder,” but “those who allow scandal to destroy their faith” are “guilty of spiritual suicide.” Just so.