Thoughts on How the Media Reports on the Church

Occasionally, I’ll have a friend or relative call me and ask me about a story they read about the pope or about the Church generally. They’re confused because they don’t understand how the pope could have said or done such a thing, or why the Church teaches or does such and such. I ask them where they got the story and, inevitably, it will be some secular outlet, usually in the mainstream media. Therein so often lies the problem.

I caution anyone against getting their information about the Church from secular outlets. Why? For two reasons: First, the secular media is notoriously ignorant about the Catholic Church and notoriously lazy in learning anything about the Church, even if the information is readily available via a plethora of resources. Journalists don’t much do journalism, anymore, at least when it comes to reporting on the Church. They get their info from one or two other media sources and simply pass it on, or write from the perspective of how they think the Church works, though they’re usually wrong. I addressed this in another recent post that you can read here.

Second, the secular media has their agenda, and that agenda is often hostile to the Church. So, a reporter learns that a priest accused of abuse in Philadelphia is now in St. Louis and assumes, because he thinks this is how the Church works, that the archbishop of Philadelphia assigned the priest to a parish in St. Louis to get him out of Philly. What actually happened is that the priest was sent to a medical facility in St. Louis that works with troubled priests and he was actually only in residence at the rectory of that parish, not assigned there or working there, because even those accused of crimes aren’t usually left to live on the streets. When I challenged the reporter that he got the whole story wrong, his excuse was that he had a deadline to meet so he didn’t have time to get it right. Get that? What’s important is not getting the story right, but getting it in on time.

Now, this is not to say that the Catholic press doesn’t have an agenda. But, with the Catholic press, at least you’re going to get it from people who usually know how the Church works and what the Church teaches.

I recall when Mother Teresa visited Memphis to open a house of the Missionaries of Charity in north Memphis. Mother Teresa spoke to a large crowd at a Mass celebrated in the coliseum in Memphis. In her talk, she spoke at length about abortion and the need to confront society’s killing of children in the womb. The next morning, when The Commercial Appeal, the paper for Memphis, ran it’s story on Mother Teresa’s visit, they quoted her entire speech verbatim, except not one word of what she said about abortion. Clearly, the paper made the decision that it’s readers didn’t need to know anything about that part of Mother Teresa’s visit to Memphis. They didn’t like what she said about abortion, so they decided that we didn’t need to know about it.

This is largely why the media has lost the trust of the people. We all know that the media only tell us what they want us to know, or what they think we need to know, usually to support whatever agenda they have in mind in writing the news. That agenda less frequently includes an unbiased, unvarnished presentation of what actually happened. Here’s a for instance that has nothing to do with the Church. A few years ago, I became aware of a story where a white police officer shot a black man after pulling him over for whatever reason and having him exit his vehicle. The police officer asked for the man’s identification. The man searched his pockets, then realized he had left his wallet in the car. So, he reached back into the car. At this point, the police officer panicked and pulled his revolver, shooting the man. Happily, the man was not mortally wounded. I was interested in seeing how the different news outlets would cover this story. MSNBC covered the story, but neglected to include the detail that the police officer had been fired from the force and charged with a crime. We were left to conclude that the civil authorities had not responded at all, because that matched the agenda that MSNBC pushes, that of a racist system that does not take seriously these incidents. Fox News, for their part, didn’t cover the story at all, because that fit their agenda that these incidents are rare and unimportant.

Back to coverage of the Church. Two recent stories about Pope Francis were reported by Catholic reporters but missed by the secular press. The first story was about an observation Pope Francis made about the immigration crisis in the United States. He said, “During the Obama years I celebrated Mass at Ciudad Juárez, while on the other side of the border 50 bishops concelebrated, and in the stadium there were many people. The problem already existed there. It’s not just an issue with Trump, but goes back to prior governments.” So, Pope Francis is making the observation that most objective people recognize: that the problems with immigration go back prior to when Trump became president. We all know this. The media, however, have been loathe to report on it, preferring to create the impression that the separation of families and all the other horrors of U. S. immigration policy, especially at the southern border, are the result of Trump’s policies. That’s why you’ve likely not heard about the ACLU report detailing abuse migrant children suffered by border agents during the years 2009-2014, because those were years when Obama was president, so the story is suppressed. Pope Francis has been critical of U. S. immigration policy, and the press has reported this, but not a single outlet reported these recent remarks.

In mid-June, Pope Francis celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Forum of Family Associations. In his address to them, he said, “It is painful for me to say this today: People speak of varied families, of various kinds of family,” but “the family [as] man and woman in the image of God is the only one.” Thus, he affirmed that same-sex unions are not true marriages. He also spoke about aborting children because of their deformities. The Holy Father said, “In the last century the whole world was scandalized for what the Nazis did to savor the purity of their race. Today we do the same [in abortion], but with white gloves.” How many secular news outlets covered this? Well, only CNN covered the statement about the family as man and woman. None covered the statement comparing abortion to Nazism, though media talking heads are falling over each other comparing Trump to Hitler and his immigration policy to Nazism.

What is the press reporting about? Well, the very important and internationally significant story of Fr. Paul Ogalo, a priest in Kenya, being suspended by his bishop for rapping during Mass! The Washington Post, Newsweek, Fox News, CNN, the BBC, ABC, Standard Media, and Daily Monitor all reported on this critical issue that impacts the lives of millions across the globe.

So, the pope, who heads a Church of over one billion, comments on the significance of marriage and equates abortion to Nazism, and the press is silent. But, a bishop half-way across the world, suspends one of his own priests in a matter that is entirely internal to his diocese, and the press is all over it.

The secular media is becoming a caricature of itself when it comes to reporting on the news generally. It is already one when it comes to reporting on almost anything that has to do with the Catholic Church.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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