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Advice from a priest on how to cover the papal visit

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 09/18/15


Roy Peter Clark, of the Poynter Institute, decided to ask his parish priest for advice on how to cover the visit of Pope Francis.  His pastor happens to be Msgr. Robert Gibbons, of St. Petersburg, Florida, and he brings an unusual perspective: 

Monsignor Gibbons has been a Catholic priest in Florida since 1981. For the past 20 years, he has served as pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in St. Petersburg. He has the reputation of being something of a “news junkie,” perhaps a product of growing up in a family with a famous Florida politician, the late Congressman Sam Gibbons, who served 17 terms in the House. What are the most common mistakes reporters make in covering the pope? Sometimes reporters make mistakes in terminology. E.g., calling a building a “Cathedral” when it is actually a “Church” or a “Basilica.” Another example would be getting the names wrong regarding items of clothing the pope wears, such as labeling the outer vestment he wears at Mass a “robe,” whereas the correct term is “chasuble.” Sometimes reporting will reveal lack of familiarity with the terms Catholics use in regard to aspects of the Eucharistic liturgy. For example, a reporter might write, “The Pope distributed wafers at the Mass.” Catholics wouldn’t use that term; they would say, “The Pope distributed Holy Communion” or “The Pope distributed the hosts” or “. . . distributed the Eucharistic bread.” Another mistake is to make point-blank dogmatic statements such as “The Church teaches such-and-such,” as if everything is black and white and of the same level of importance. This fails to take into account the nuances of Catholic belief, our understanding that any theological statement is an attempt to express a deeper reality, as well as our understanding of the “hierarchy of truths,” i.e., that different beliefs vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith. What are the most common mistakes reporters make in covering the Catholic Church in America? The Catholic Church is as complex and multi-faceted as are the American people. Don’t paint the Church as a monolithic institution. It is made up of people. So it should come as no surprise that such a diverse and large group of people don’t think or act in lock-step fashion. You are my pastor. I sometimes feel as if there is not one, but really two Catholic churches in America. A more conservative, traditional church, observant and aligned with the hierarchy. And a kind of “Reform” Catholic Church that favors things like the ordination of women. How do you feel about that analysis? That analysis is way too simplistic. Some people are “conservative” regarding some things and “progressive” regarding others, and vice-versa. Similarly, the hierarchy is not all of a piece or all cut from the same cloth. You’ll find that Catholics can disagree with or question certain approaches and styles or decisions made by Church officials, but we remain united as a family in the fundamentals of the faith, bonded in our love for God and nourished by our participation in the sacramental life of the Church.

Sound advice and insight.Read it all. 

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