Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Media and Our Conception of the Catholic Faith

An Example of People Ignoring Media Claims About the Church

It’s become common now for the media to make comments about different people and events in the Church that show how they do not understand what the Church teaches. Take for example the article "Woman claims role as Kansas City’s first female Catholic priest | The Kansas City Star.” According to Catholic teaching, only a male can be ordained to the priesthood. St. John Paul II has made it quite clear:

4. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful. (emphasis added)

So, when we read in articles about women claiming to be ordained and the media treating this as fact, a person who has been paying attention to Church teaching knows that the opposite has been taught by the Church. He or she knows that this is not some new sort of teaching. We recognize that the media is to blame for this, and people who try to promote this as an example of change for the Church are either grossly uninformed about the Church or else are pushing an agenda against Church teaching.

That much seems obvious. We don’t see the National Catholic Reporter or Rorate Cæli (to name the extremes) talking about how wonderful/terrible it is that the Church is “changing” her teaching. 

Too Many Instances of People Accepting Media Claims About the Church—When it Suits Them

So, I find it curious that so many Catholics seeking to be faithful are willing to treat media reports as true when they call Pope Francis a liberal and claim he is overturning Church teaching. Anyone who looks at what his predecessors have said on a topic will find no conflicts, but at most a different way of explaining the Church teaching. The theme of the Pope’s preaching is reaching out to sinners, seeking to bring them back to God. He has said absolutely nothing about changing the faith. He has only said that it’s not enough to stop with stating what is forbidden, and we need to think about how to bring those people in a sinful situation back to the Church. He has repeatedly said that when it comes to Church teaching, he is a faithful son of the Church—on precisely the issues he has been accused of favoring a change.

So it seems clear that anyone who is trying to allege the Pope is changing the Church teaching is either grossly uninformed on what he said and what the Church says probably relying on the MSM and the opinion sites (religious and secular) which are treating the MSM as accurate.

Now of course, we want to avoid the genetic fallacy rejecting any news solely because it comes from a certain source. But we do need to consider the accuracy of a source—how knowledgable it is—when it attempts to report "breaking news” on the Church (which usually comes across looking like THIS). We also want to avoid the argument from ignorance fallacy where we think that because we haven’t heard about a response to a misleading story that it wasn’t responded to.

Instead of Looking to the Church, People Look to the Media Caricature to Confirm What They Already Decided

The antidote to such antics is to look for the Church accounts of things. There are some sites which do a good job of reporting what was actually said, even to the point of providing transcripts (such as Vatican Information Service or ZENIT). I have found that whenever the rapid reporting of the MSM pronounces that the Church under Pope Francis is “changing Church teaching,” it is disproven within a few days at the most. That is why we cannot accept the MSM reporting on the Church at face value. They are acting from lack of understanding and perhaps bias (hoping that the Church will change her views as if they were a political platform).

Basically, when we look for an explanation of the Church teaching, we should turn to the Church, not away from the Church for a reliable answer. That’s not what is being done anymore. When a political pundit defines the Church in terms of his or her own bias, that’s not a reliable answer, but people are using these things to confirm their own views and justify what they were going to do anyway. Whether it’s a political liberal who wants to see a Church transforming into what he or she wants it to be, or whether it’s a conservative who is looking for an excuse to legitimize their rejection of Pope Francis, we are experiencing a situation where instead of being faithful Catholics looking to the Church, we are seeing Catholics who are affirming the Church only when it suits them, and denying it when they run afoul of the teachings.


If liberals want to trumpet their support for Pope Francis, then let them heed his teachings as a “Son of the Church.” If conservatives want to portray themselves as faithful to the Church, then let them start giving assent to the teachings of the current successor of St. Peter, trusting that Our Lord will not fail in His promise to protect the Church under the successor of St. Peter.

If people decide to ignore these things and instead pick and choose what it means to be a Catholic, then that’s hypocrisy—and both liberal and conservative are guilty of the same disobedience, even if they dissent on different grounds. Cafeteria Catholicism is not only a behavior of one political faction.

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