Polls and punditry

When Pope Benedict XVI announced on Feb. 11 that he was stepping down, many suspected that the event would not only be historic, but unnerving. Unnerving because we knew the media — ever eager for an orgy of anti-Catholic invective — would surely let it rip. 

It ripped. 

In the weeks between the pope emeritus’ resignation and election of Pope Francis I, media outdid the expectations of even the most glum cynic — me — that any kind of reasonable analysis of things Catholic could be presented. 

There were the polls allegedly showing a chasm between Church teaching and the wants and desires of Catholics. The New York Times and CBS News Poll just before the conclave defined Catholic belief based on 580 interviewers. It allegedly showed that Catholics believed nothing much different from a Times editorial.  

I don’t bother arguing polls because they are essentially meaningless. Opinion polls are a statistical snapshot at a given moment of random opinions based on weighted questions. Once broken down, opinion polls have such a mélange of variables — age, gender, ethnicity, Mass attendance, importance of faith, frequency of oil changes — that they can set your head spinning. 

The New York Times and CBS are defining, for example, what the Catholic faith means to white 65-plus males who attend Mass maybe once per month to whom religion is sort of important. But the sampling by then might be based on the answers of five guys named Moe. Doesn’t tell you much. 

But that was a virtual font of knowledge compared with a Pew Research poll that also came out just before the conclave. Researchers allegedly surveyed Catholics on what they were concerned about in the Church. They had a total sampling of 184 souls that they didn’t even bother to breakdown further because the number was too small. The fine print reported a margin of error of 8.2 percent! Mitt Romney would be president if that margin of error was acceptable. 

Then came the true absurdity: the pundits. In the past, there were semi-celebrity priests like Father Richard McBrien of the University of Notre Dame who could be reliably fallible in his pronouncements. But he’s been put out to pasture. 

The New York Times did resurrect Father Hans Kung. The Swiss theologian is celebrating the 33rd anniversary of having his license to teach Catholic theology yanked by the Holy See. So, he is representative of mainstream Catholic thought, according to the Times. 

For the most part though, celebrity priests were replaced by Angry Gay Former Catholics, who became the new experts on all things Catholic. 

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd found her Angry Gay Former Catholic in Colm Toibin, who wrote the semi-best-selling novel “The Testament of Mary.” The Blessed Mother’s testament, in his mind, is about the chicanery of the Church of the Apostles in their drive for power.  

Toibin equates the crucifixion of Christ with human sacrifice; another Angry Gay Former Catholic writing in the New York Times compared the Eucharist with cannibalism. Finally, author Garry Wills — a dissenter of the heterosexual variety — issues “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition,” which dismisses the priesthood and the Eucharist as fakery. But Wills claims to remain a Catholic because he prays the Rosary and likes the Blessed Mother. Probably Toibin’s Blessed Mother. 

The Church will go on. There are a billion of us today and there will be more than a billion tomorrow.  

But don’t get uppity about it. Our purgatory is listening to a lot of contemporary Know-Nothings explaining us to us. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.

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