Sunday, January 16, 2011

How do the media know so little about Catholicism?

It's not like Catholicism is a new religion. It's not like the teachings of the Church cannot easily be found. It's not like a reporter couldn't pick up a Catechism as a reference, or search the Internet for official Church statements, or even pick up the phone and call the local Catholic diocese, whose staff is always ready to help.

And yet the other day, I'm happily reading an AP news story* about the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II, and I trip over this:
Once he is beatified, John Paul will be given the title “blessed” and can be publicly venerated, or worshipped. Many people, especially in Poland, already venerate him privately, but the ceremony will allow Catholics to publicly worship him.  [Emphasis mine.]
This level of cultural illiteracy reminds me of the other times I've witnessed the media completely blow it when it comes to Catholicism.

For example, I'll never forget the night I was watching my local TV news a few years back (the NBC affiliate), when a story came on about the possibility of the Pope officially defining Our Lady as the "Mediatrix of All Graces" (a legitimate title for her). I about fell over when the anchor said that the Catholic Church was considering making Mary a "fourth person of the Holy Trinity"!!!!!**

Catholics (or anyone who knows a lick about Christianity), can you imagine?!

I was flabbergasted. This was a respected news station! How did this get by all of them? How could they not stop and think for one moment that the Church cannot simply decide one day to elevate a creature to the Godhead? How does such a thing even enter the radar screen of possibilities? I ran to my husband and screamed! (Yes, I was worked up, ha ha ha!) I thought of the Protestants out there, the evangelicals who already erroneously think we "worship" Mary, and I imagined all of them saying, "Aha! We knew those Catholics think that Mary is God!" Ugh!

Fast forward a few months, and the same news channel has another report about the Catholic Church. A married man was to be ordained a Catholic priest, and the anchor stated that for the very first time, the Catholic Church would allow the ordination of a married man to the priesthood! I ran to Dean again, flabbergasted.... Where were the fact-checkers? There have been married priests since the beginning of Christianity: In the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, ordination of married men is still the norm, and although celibacy is required of priests in the Latin Rite, dispensations are given occasionally (i.e., when married Anglican clergy convert to Catholicism). In fact, we had at least one married Roman Catholic priest in my diocese at the time of that local news story!

After the "first married priest ever!" story, I did contact the news station and asked about the blunder. The anchor wrote back and apologized, saying that his producer -- who was a Catholic -- cleared the story. (Yet another example of why I want this to be a teaching blog, primarily for Catholics!)

I know that this sort of misrepresentation of the Catholic Faith goes on all the time. Sometimes it's deliberate, but I would like to think that most of the time it's not. However, the fact remains that the regular media do not generally take the time to research and report accurately when discussing Catholicism, and yet accurate reporting and fact-checking is the crux of a journalist's job! I don't expect the general public to know what the Church teaches, but the failure of the media to accomplish what is essentially their only task reinforces my growing belief that mainstream journalism is useless.

As Paul Thigpen said after the rush of "Pope Approves Condoms!" headlines:

"I've often said that if a sports reporter was as clueless about his subject as the typical religion reporter is about his, he couldn't keep his job for a week."

Nicely said.

* The linked article has since been modified or replaced, so the above statement no longer exists in this form. This could be a result of the emails some of us sent to AP.

** I seriously try not to overuse exclamation points, but this was warranted!!!!!!!!


  1. Add the media coverage of Fr. Alberto Cutie- the National Catholic Register has some GREAT examples of how the Catholic position on his situation has been grossly and negligently misrepresented.

    I'll post the links in the morning. iPhone refuses to cooperate on copy and paste now. :)

  2. The AP is not the only news outlet pumping out rubbish about Catholics today:

    Crappy quote of the day

  3. This is what kept me away for so long. It just never occurred to me to question the media, as embarrassing as that is to admit. Thank God for good teaching blogs!

  4. Yikes. It makes me so mad! I too agonize about the Protestants and others who are having their prejudices reinforced by irresponsible journalism. :( Kills me!

  5. I just don't get it. I mean I understand the occasional mistake, but this happens way too often. And like you said... it's not like the official teachings are difficult to read or find!

  6. Sorry... meant to say earlier that you could add the Alberto Cutie example to a l-o-n-g list of media distortions. It's insane what's out there right now about him, and about the hospital situation in Arizona. Here are some good National Catholic Register articles:

  7. Blessed are the misunderstood I guess.... So frustrating!

  8. I had to laugh but I know it's sad at the same time. It's one thing when Hollywood totally misrepresents the Church but the media has no excuse. I think Satan is whispering in the writer's ear "say worship, say worship..."
    Like you said, the bigger problem might be that too many Catholics don't know their faith so this stuff gets by. It doesn't help that sometimes even the clergy teach error. 8 years ago when I was a newly minted Catholic, we went to a class on icons at our parish and the priest said we worship icons. We were all scratching out heads about that and he held forth insisting on it and it was very confusing. I don't know if he meant we're worshiping the person in the icon or what. Good thing I had the real teachings of the Church fresh in my mind.

  9. This type thing makes me insanely angry, especially living in the deep south where many already thing we are this side of voodoo - then stuff like this comes out. ugh!!!!!

    My in-laws are non-denominational, my FIL is a preacher. This kind of thing just infuriates me. I do my best to explain and live an example for them, but reading stuff like this sends all my explanations out the window, I am afraid

  10. [shameless plug] I once wrote a blog post about the "No, really, we don't worship Mary" thing. [/shameless plug]

    Another example is the Pope allegedly "rail[ing] on baby names." Or not really.

  11. As I was reading, I was planning to comment by quoting Paul Thigpin and the sports comment! You beat me to it!!!

    Though on the "worship" the truest sense of the word, to worship just means to revere or respect. It used to be used in terms other than just the Lord. One can't get away with that now, but to "pray" to and "worship" saints are technically correct.

  12. Lauren, you are correct. There are "levels" of "worship" and a teeny tinynumber of folks know this. I'm sure the reporter did not know it, and even if so (ha ha ha), she would have known that the vast majority of readers do not know this distinction. But technically, the writer could have been right by default. The way the article was rewritten/replaced makes me believe that she went back and did some homework and then also made it look like she knew all along, ha ha ha! :)

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Ex.20 1-4: 'And GOD spoke all these words: 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of ANYTHING in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water below. You shall not bow down to them or WORSHIP them [light candles, burn incense, pray, you name, seriously YOU name it, I am not sure what else Catholics do, I personally saw faithful Orthodox kiss icons, pretty sure that falls under the same category]; For I , the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who HATE me[hate is a pretty strong word!], but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments"
    Words in [ ] are mine, of course.
    Oh, and I deleted the previous comment because it did not display right

  15. Hi Olya! I'm pretty sure that I have gone over this with you before. But I will try again.... For Protestants, the highest form of worship you do is singing, praying, etc. So, you think that if Catholics sing to, pray with, light candles, or venerate God's holy ones, that we are giving them "worship" which is only due God. However, we believe that the Sacrifice of the Mass is the highest form of worship, reserved only to God. If we offered Sacrifice to Mary or the saints, then you would have a point. But to do so, and to offer Mary or the saints the worship due God alone, we would be committing a mortal sin, which is deserving of hell.

    I will do a whole post on this, so thanks for the incentive. My baby is destroying my bookshelf, so sorry if this is a disjointed answer. Someone else may want to take this for now....


  16. Or, Olya, to put it simply: We agree with the Bible (of course). We don't construct or worship false Gods and idols. That would be a grave, mortal sin.

  17. Hi Olya,

    What do you think of these verses?

    "And you shall make two cherubim of gold [i.e., two gold statues of angels]; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece of the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be" (Ex. 25:18–20).

    "...for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord. All this he made clear by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all, all the work to be done according to the plan" (1 Chr. 28:18–19).

    "On the walls round about in the inner room and [on] the nave were carved likenesses of cherubim." (Ezekiel 41:17–18)

    Seems to me that all the verses above directly contradict the verse you posted ("You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of ANYTHING in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water below.") How do you, as a Protestant, reconcile the contradiction?

  18. For anyone interested in reading more in-depth on Catholic teachings regarding idolatry (including the biblical basis for these teachings), I found this helpful:

    Also, Olya... have you ever lit candles for a family dinner? Prayed while kneeling in a special, quiet place? (Like your bedroom)? Bowed your head when opening your Bible or in front of your food for a prayer before meals? Just curious because your comment seemed to indicate that you believe all these activities automatically equal worship of something other than God.

  19. Olya, I hope you have time to answer the questions posed by JoAnna and Sarah. Thanks!

    And, I have permission from a friend to post the following, about this post. Susan said:

    Oh, don't forget the BBC covering Biden wondering how he got that bruise on his head. The poor woman was so embarrassed and admitted on live TV that she is Catholic and didn't realize it was Ash Wednesday!

  20. Leila, you hit the nail on the head. I've given up on the mainstream media for two reasons (among many others):

    1. Journalism as we knew it, with the nightly network news shows, is DEAD. I mean flatlined, with no chance of resuscitation. The cycle moves so fast that there is no time--not to mention no impetus--to check facts. The media now is more like bubble gum than steak.

    2. As is the case-in-point of the word "worship," the English language (most specifically "American" english) has become so imprecise in recent decades that it can easily be twisted into the message one wants to convey, truth-be-darned. Words have been robbed of their meaning. That's why it's up to us to reclaim them, especially the words that we use to proclaim the unambiguous truth of the faith.

  21. I love your posts like this - you always explain things so clearly, I so appreciate it.

  22. I'm glad I saw your post. I was baffled by the Protestants posting on facebook about how we Catholics worship Mary and the popes (among other things). Huh???? Now I see where they are getting their misinformation. Figures.

  23. Great post, Leila. I used to write for "The Denver Catholic Register," and while I'm not trying to defend the mainstream media (I'm not a fan, to say the least), I will say, that I worked long and hard to craft my stories so the Church would be seen in the best possible light (and those stories often needed approval from the Archbishop). We all have agendas. My respect goes to those who acknowledge this fact, not to the ones who pretend they are being unbiased. The other side of the coin is that the Church is attacked at every turn, so representatives of the Church should work long and hard trying to undo some of the damage.

    As for the protestantism/Catholicism debate: "Catholicism and Fundamentalism" by Karl Keating is a great read.

  24. About those exclamation points, I'm glad you generally try to hold back. My rule of thumb is this: If I've used two exclamation points in a year, I've used one too many.

  25. Cheryl I've heard that's a rule that journalists are taught in college (using two exclamation points a year = too many)...
    I am not a journalist and it's a good thing I'm not because I over-use exclamation points AND smiley faces ;) I would lose my job! haha

    I love this post. I'm thinking I may never really need to blog about serious topics because every time I think of one, you've covered it and you do it better than I ever could, Leila!!!

  26. I'm sure that many other religions feel similarily when their practicies, doctorines, and beliefs are misunderstood as well.

  27. Resplendent, you are exactly right. Journalists should take great care to get the facts correct regarding every religion and not misrepresent anyone's doctrine.

    That's why I try very hard not to misrepresent any religion's beliefs (mostly I talk about Protestantism), and I will stand corrected if someone points out my error.

    All this even though I am definitely not a journalist (note all my exclamation points!!!).

  28. Sorry, this has to be quick, this is my first time to sit down today and I really should be taking a shower instead.
    Sara said:
    'Also, Olya... have you ever lit candles for a family dinner? Prayed while kneeling in a special, quiet place? (Like your bedroom)? Bowed your head when opening your Bible or in front of your food for a prayer before meals? Just curious because your comment seemed to indicate that you believe all these activities automatically equal worship of something other than God.'
    Of course, I do. But I do not pray TO my dinner or my Bible, and I do not light candles to my husband.
    To JoAnna, the quote from 1 Chr. 28:18–19 is God's directions as to how His dwelling place is to be decorated. Everyone understood that those cherubim are not to be worshipped. I just read from psalms yesterday (I think it was #8) where it says that God's throne in heaven is surrounded by cherubim so I don't see why the dwelling place He chose for Himself to dwell in during the Old Testament times should be decorated differently. I do not find anywhere God telling us to keep icons in our homes and burn incense to them. Quite the opposite. So, when God says 'don't' and Catholic church (which is by no means perfect to which end Leila herself commented when she was talking about indulgences) says 'do' why, oh, why do you listen to the Church???
    Now, off to take that shower.

  29. Hi Olya.... I have a housefull at the moment, but I just had to pipe in quickly and say, pleeease don't misrepresent what I said. I said that there are sinners in the Church (everyone understands that), but I have also said that the Church does not teach doctrinal error. Veneration of saints, lighting candles, asking saints to pray for us, religious statues and icons (not idols) are all doctrinally sound, permitted and good. And, they always have been.

    By the way, you don't "light candles" to your husband, but I assume you kiss him? You took issue with the kissing of religious items, relics. Does kissing = worship? Do you worship your husband because you kiss him?

    Could it be that you simply misunderstand what Catholics do (and ascribe "worship" where there is none), simply because it's foreign to you as a Protestant?

  30. Olya, you said: Everyone understood that those cherubim are not to be worshipped.

    Just like everyone understood that religious statues and images are not false gods being worshipped.

  31. I have trouble imagining that this sort of "reporting" stems from ignorance. I think it's malicious anti-Church rhetoric.

  32. Hi Olya,

    Thanks for responding. :)

    You said, "I do not find anywhere God telling us to keep icons in our homes and burn incense to them."

    We do not burn incense (or light candles, or pray) to the icons, but rather to what the icons represent. (Incidentally, the practice of lighting incense while praying is Biblical. In Revelation 5:8, John talks of the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God as "golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.")

    Do you have pictures of your family members on the wall of your home? Aren't they "icons" as well?

    Are you sinning by having pictures of your beloved family members on your wall? If not, then am I sinning by having a picture of a beloved family member (Mary, Mother of God) in my home?

  33. Re: the topic of the post -

    Oh look! Yet another gross media distortion regarding the Catholic Church by the secular media! What a surprise!

  34. JoAnna, thanks for the link to yet another distortion...and UGH!!!!!! (Oh, and *sigh*)

  35. Olya,
    Moses came down the mountain and found Israel worshiping the golden calf, as God had told him he would. God later commanded Israel to offer daily animal sacrifices. They needed to bring their firstlings to the priests to be sacrificed in a ritual, in the tabernacle, sending the smoke to heaven. Did God need these sacrifices? Of course not. The Israelites did. This served as a daily reminder to the Israelites of who they need to be worshipping. They weren't worshipping the animals, or the smoke, or the priest, or the tabernacle.

    I have in my home similar reminders. There are no burning animals, rather "icons", paintings, crucifixes, statues, and rosaries are there to visually remind my family Who we are to worship. Just like the Israelites, we are constantly distracted by false gods, money, power, popularity, fashion etc. Giving the Israelites this reminder, that involved all the senses in fact, served a very practical purpose. God is invisible to us right now, and we are a sensory people. He created us that way.

  36. Susan, thank you! Olya? I hope you will continue the conversation!

  37. JoAnna @ January 18, 2011 8:01 PM says

    "Yet another..."

    It is customary to describe where the link goes and give a short summary of what it contains. There are many very good reasons for doing so.

    JoAnna's link points to a story covering a letter from 1997 signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's diplomat to Ireland.

    The letter is newsworthy because it is said to instruct church officials not to report child molesters to the civil authority.

    The curious reader can see for himself what it contains because the letter in question has been posted on the Associated Press (AP) website. Publishing a letter verbatim is not a gross media distortion.

    Of course it's none of my business but the apologist for the Roman Catholic church might want to say something more than "UGH!!!!!! (Oh, and *sigh*)" in response.

  38. Anonymous, perhaps you are new here? Please give yourself a name. Thank you.

    Actually, I don't need to say more than "UGH!!!!!" and "*sigh*" as a response, because the linked article explains the distortion of the document by the secular media. Just one small sample:

    The only “repercussions” mentioned in the letter is the embarrassing situation a bishop would find himself in if he failed to follow the law and a miscarriage of justice resulted and Rome overturns it on appeal. Yet Goodstein makes it sound as if the letter is threatening bishops with some kind of retaliation if they don’t “obey” the letter. This is wrong on several levels. First, the letter is not an ultimatum. It is not a set of orders. It is an advisory statement cautioning the Irish bishops that they need to make sure they follow canon law so that miscarriages of justice don’t happen and then get overturned on appeal. There is no threat of retaliation here.

    Worse, Goodstein makes it appear that the Vatican is threatening bishops with retaliation if they report predators to the police. The subject of reporting pedophiles hasn’t even come up yet. And she is wrong when she says that the letter states that “the bishops must handle all accusations through internal church channels,” as opposed (presumably) to reporting predators to the police. But the document says nothing of the kind. There is nothing in the document saying that a bishop must keep information about predators secret. What the Congregation objected to was mandatory reporting. One can think what one likes about the wisdom of mandatory reporting, but there is a big difference between saying, “You must keep all cases of this from the eyes of the police on pain of Vatican retaliation” and saying, “Hey, maybe there needs to be some discretion exercised and it shouldn’t be automatic reporting.”

    I do believe that by and large, journalism is dead.

  39. Dear Anonymous,

    I thought the explanation I gave, "Yet another gross media distortion regarding the Catholic Church by the secular media," was a perfectly good and apt description of the link's contents. Next time, try reading the article in its entirety instead of just the first paragraph. As Leila pointed out, you're completely wrong.

    I keep asking anti-Catholics who disagree to give me a point-by-point analysis of Mr. Akin's article, describing how he is wrong, and as of yet no one has been able to do so.

    Care to give it a shot? I don't check comments often so you can send it to me at jrwahlund (at) gmail dot com, with the caveat that I can post it on my personal blog and/or


  40. I hope anonymous takes you up on it, JoAnna. (Although if he is Sam/Paul, he has promised to stay away.)

    Meanwhile, put this on record for more ignorace:


    And here's one more.


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