Religion Coverage Sucks watch
When newspaper editors hire sports writers to cover games, or political writers to cover campaigns, or food writers to cover restaurants, readers have a reasonable expectation that the scribes know their stuff. The reasons for this are obvious.
But when it comes to religion, the expertise deficit is often scandalous.
To whit, here is piece from The Observer (UK) on a proposed Vatican document aimed at screening out homosexual seminarians. It's not terrible, but not only do we get the usual whiff of liberal bias, it showcases an almost amusing set of presuppositions:
It been suggested Rome would publish the instruction earlier this month, but it dropped the plan out of concern that such a move might tarnish his visit to his home city of Cologne last week.
Sure, Pope Benedict XVI is mightlily concerned over "image tarnation." As we know, the man is frightened of controversy and opposition.
Currently, as all priests take a vow of celibacy, their sexual orientation has not been considered a pressing concern.
Don't you love journo-speak? "Not been considered a pressing concern" for whom -- beyond the reporter and his editor?
Vatican-watchers believe the Pope harbours doubts about whether the church should publish the document, which has already been the subject of three drafts.
Three whole drafts? Don't many freshman history papers undergo at least two drafts? I heard somewhere that the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes had a dozen drafts rejected.
The instruction tries to dampen down the controversy by eschewing a moral line, arguing instead that the presence of homosexuals in seminaries is 'unfair' to both gay and heterosexual priests by subjecting the former to temptation.
How does the reporter know what the Instruction "tries to do" this if it's still under editorial wraps at the Holy See? Besides -- show of hands -- who really thinks that the Church's reason for screening out gay seminarians is so they won't be tempted by fellow seminarians?
'It will be written in a very pastoral mode,' Haldane said. 'It will not be an attack on the gay lifestyle. It will not say "homosexuality is immoral". But it will suggest that admitting gay men into the priesthood places a burden both on those who are homosexual and those they are working alongside who are not.'
What? A directive on homosexuality not written in a "very pastoral mode?" Does Prof. Haldane think such a thing even possible? He has everything exactly backward. The key issue is not the burden placed on the men, its the one place on the priesthood itself. And why not say that homosexuality is immoral? The Catechism does, at least with respect to behavior, as does every CDF document that has ever addresssed the problem. Isn't the moral dimension the very deal-breaker we're talking about?
Studies show that a significant proportion of men who enter seminaries to train for the priesthood are gay. Any move signalling that homosexuals will not be allowed to join the seminaries, even one couched in the arcane language of the Vatican, could reduce the number of recruits to the priesthood.
But the opposite is just as likely to be true. If what "studies show" about the "significant proportion" statistic is accurate -- and the number of gay men in the seminaries drops -- then a case can be made that non-gay men interested in entering will then enter precisely because the "lavender factor" has been addressed.
The Vatican has been carefully trying to soften Benedict's image since he was elected earlier this year.
Breathtaking. As if the Holy Father, or his close advisers, abide the Raj Mahoney PR model. How about the simple fact that Benedict himself, whenever he's in front of a camera, exudes a very natural sense of human kindness and humility?
In recent weeks he has reached out to the Jewish and Muslim communities as well as young Catholics during the church's World Youth Day. The initiatives have been seen as a significant PR success.
Again, "have been seen" as such by whom? The conclusion we're invited to draw here is that the Pope has had to scramble to find ways of appearing tolerant and inclusive in the face of low poll numbers or a drop in stock value.
A decision to publish an instruction that would underscore his religious conservatism would be detrimental to Benedict's standing as he enjoys his 'honeymoon period' on the world stage.