Tuesday, September 22, 2015

So, You've Decided to Report on the Catholic Church: A Journalistic Primer

Welcome to America, Pope Francis! To celebrate your arrival, all of the U.S. press have been instructed to watch this educational film so that your visit is covered accurately and fairly. We hope you enjoy your stay!

Well, hello there! If you're watching this short film, then you're about to start a promising career in the world of journalism. In this profession, you are tasked with bringing the news to the people, free of bias or prejudice. In today's lesson, we're going to cover the Do's and Don'ts of Reporting on the Catholic Church. Let's get started, shall we?

"But mister!"
Why, if it isn't our old pal, Newsie! What is it, young friend?

"The Catholic Church is so big and complicated. Can't we just cut out all the boring stuff and report a Cliff's Notes version of what she teaches?"
But of course not, Newsie. That would be "journalistic malpractice". And we don't want to violate our sacred trust with the public now, do we?

"But what if we just outright make up the news? Y'know, insert our own biases real subtle-like?"
*Chuckle* Shut up, Newsie. Why don't you go play in traffic for the duration of the film?

"Aw, rats!"
Now, then. Let's get started on Do's and Don'ts of Reporting on the Catholic Church:

This is Pope Francis. Cheerful fellow, isn't he? He's got a very important job. You see, he's the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and—

"Golly gee! That Pope Francis feller sure seems like a swell guy! He's so progressive, unlike the last guy..."
Whoa, whoa, Newsie! You're not very bright, are you? Well, that's non-Catholic education for you. But it's actually good you said that, because this brings us to our list of Do's and Don'ts!

Do: Remember that the Pope is not a politician, able to enact his own personal views as policies. His job is to uphold Church teaching. He may have a different emphasis in his ministry, but that doesn't mean he's contradicting his predecessors.

Don't: Pit the current Pontiff against the ones who came before him.

Terms to Avoid (if used to contrast Francis with Benedict): warm, open, progressive, teddy bear-like

Terms to Avoid (if used to contrast Benedict with Francis): cold, professorial, conservative, Emperor Palpatine

Do: Avoid confusing personal opinions with unchanging doctrines. Remember the broader picture when covering the Pope when he addresses a controversial issue.

Example Reporting: "Although Francis has made overtures towards post-abortive women, he has not changed the Church's longstanding opposition to abortion and is actually the first Pope to attend Italy's March for Life."

Don't: Speculate that the Pope's pastoral tone means that a broad overturning of centuries of Church teaching.

Example Reporting: "Francis famously declared, 'Who am I to judge?' in reference to gay people, leading some to speculate he could reverse the Catholic Church's stance against same-sex marriage."

Do: Remember that the Church is not a democracy and that groups that dissent from her teaching are not officially recognised as "Catholic" in any way, shape or form.

Don't: Present dissenting groups as "the other side" regarding Church doctrine. If you wouldn't give equal time to Creationists when discussing evolution, then you shouldn't pretend that these groups have an actual say in determining Church teaching. (NB: This does not mean that you ignore these groups entirely. The issue is misrepresenting them as having undue influence on the Church herself, as opposed to misleading the faithful.)

Example Groups: Catholics for Choice [sic], DignityUSA, Women's Ordination [sic] Conference, literally any mainline Protestant clergyman who claims to be an "expert" on Church matters

"But mister!"
Mother of Mercy... WHAT! ...is it, Newsie?

"Isn't it the press' job ta' avoid 
proselytising for the Church? Ta' be all neutral-like?"
You make a fair point, Newsie, despite your precocious illiteracy. The issue is when the media forget to present the Church in her proper context, as if she is just one of many competing voices in a democratic exchange of ideas. In our liberal, secular American context, she is, for better or worse. But within the Church there are two sides on most issues: the Truth, and then every other position. The sooner you, the media, understand that when covering the Church, especially during the Holy Father's visit, the better off — and better informed — we'll all be.

"Golly-gee, mister! I didn't know all that! So, are you sayin' that the media like ta' twist the facts to suit their agenda?
*Chuckle* Of course not, Newsie. Of course not.

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