The Church’s American Media Problem

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Have you ever read or heard an account of an event that you know something about and found it hardly or not at all like what happened? This was the case for me with the New York Times version of the American Bishops’ Proposed Declaration on the Eucharist and “Eucharistic Coherence” as it appeared at their assembly on June 16-18.

After a long and sometimes heated debate, the bishops voted by 168 votes to 55 with six abstentions for their doctrine committee to draft a document on “The meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church”.

While the meeting is available live to anyone interested, the story of Times Rome correspondent Jason Horowitz can very nicely be described as biased and misleading. Horowitz, I should add, isn’t the only journalist who blasted this story, but The Times is The Times, so let me focus on that.

Horowitz’s version presented a dystopian image of the Church in America as presented in a book by a French journalist covering the Vatican. The book, he writes, “explored the connections of the American bishops to a well-funded and media-backed American effort to undermine [the present] pontificate.”

Scary, isn’t it?

In truth, there are many shades of opinion in American Catholicism, from critics of the current pontificate to staunch supporters. This variety of views is only trivial, not the product of a well-funded conspiracy.

As for the proposed document, the Times correspondent wrote the following: “The vote to move forward and write new guidance on the issue ensures that it will remain in political blood and only become more powerful as the US Bishops Doctrine Committee is working on the advice ahead of a meeting scheduled for November.

It is cloudy writing. The author does not explain which of several “problem” he is talking about or what “it” refers to later in the sentence or in which “bloodstream” this “it” will become more powerful.

But the intent of the paragraph is obvious enough – to foster suspicion of anything the bishops say next November.

And what will it be? It was clear during the assembly that when speaking of the dignity of communion, the document will not target any individual or group to criticize but will speak of the duty of all communicants to approach the sacrament in faith and respect. It will not treat abortion as the only test, define national policy, and leave diocesan bishops to decide individual cases.

Rather than challenge the Pope, the document as described conforms to the specifications of Cardinal Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and will be reviewed by the CDF before the bishops vote on it. .

Certainly the bishops did not help each other by not explaining all of this during the assembly and only posting such a clarification on their website several days later. Still, it was obvious from the start for some of us covering the reunion – but sadly not all. Is it asking too much to expect secular journalists to understand something happening before their eyes?

As for the document being drafted, some would prefer it to be harder while others would prefer the bishops to say nothing. Inadvertently, however, the deceptive coverage of The New York Times and other major news organizations raises an important question: If Catholic bishops are forbidden to speak of the dignity of receiving the Eucharist, what the hell can they say?


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