We can stipulate that the ongoing saga of Pope Benedict XVI’s valet is irresistibly enticing, loaded as it is with made-for-Hollywood details of private papal apartments, Vatican jails, boxes of stolen papal correspondence, betrayed confidences, Swiss Guards, the presumption of scandalous clerical infighting at the very top of the Catholic hierarchical structure and, of course, the story punchline of “the butler did it.”
Therefore it is unsurprising that, according to a recent media analysis by a researcher writing in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. television networks devoted more than a dozen stories in less than a week to the “Vatileaks” story.
‘They’re focusing so much attention right now on the pope’s butler. It seems to me that somehow they’ve missed the boat. They’ve missed the story.’
What is revealing, though, is that only one of the major networks devoted any time — a 19-second news story and a follow-up interview — to a major and unprecedented event in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States last month: the decision by 43 dioceses and Catholic institutions, including Our Sunday Visitor, to file a massive federal lawsuit in defense of the religious liberty rights of all Americans. This manifestly was no fringe or optional story: How our country understands and applies the First Amendment goes to the very core of America’s identity. The outcome of this court case will have significant consequences for all religious believers, and indeed for all those who value freedom of conscience, most critically when its beliefs are not shared by more than 50 percent of Americans.
Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl summed up the frustration of a lot of Catholic Americans these days during a recent appearance on a Sunday television talk program. What’s passing for news about the Catholic Church in much of the mainstream media, he noted, seems firmly stuck at the level of tabloid journalism.
“They’re focusing so much attention right now on the pope’s butler,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “It seems to me that somehow they’ve missed the boat. They’ve missed the story.”
Nor has there been much good news for Catholics in any of the other headlines about the Church these days. In Philadelphia, testimony in a clerical sex abuse case is betraying, again, a past lack of accountability and moral responsibility in Church administration.
Then there was the Vatican’s early June doctrinal warning about an American theologian and nun that seemed designed to fit into a persistent media narrative of a Church “war on women.” To us, though, it seems mostly a non-story to hear the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith state that Catholic teaching still does not embrace homosexual acts, same-sex marriage, masturbation or remarriage after divorce.
There’s an easy cure for tabloid Catholicism, though: engagement with Catholic media and engagement in one’s parish.
In this issue of OSV Newsweekly, to give just one example, there are six striking profiles of young, passionate, committed and “real” Catholics who, with their embrace of prayer, liturgy, virtue and service “want to show people that we’re a Church of ‘yes’ not ‘no.’”
Such examples, across all ages and in a variety of ministries and apostolates, abound in every parish. Opportunities and inspiration await for those willing to look and to take another step in building the Kingdom.
Don’t get caught up in “missing the story” about the Catholic Church. Even better, engage the Faith in a way that tells the story about the Church that should be told.