Catholic commentary on culture, media, and politics.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Irksome journalistic double standard

Would a newspaper hire a sports reporter to cover baseball who didn't know what an RBI is? How about a political reporter applicant who didn't know the difference between the House and the Senate? Or how about a travel section writer who had never been outside the US? All unqualified, right?

Then riddle me this: Why do religion reporters so frequently show their ignorance of their intended subject matter? As a dimension of news or current affairs, editors seem to accord the religion a very low priority and therefore low status when it comes to assigning this or that writer to cover events.

Here is a prime example. I wish I could afford cash prizes, but how many errors of fact can you spot in this article about a talk by Benedict XVI gave recently in which he mentioned hell?

Let me start: "Limbo" was never taught as some cloudy middle ground between heaven and hell!


Blogger DON JUAN OF AUSTRIA said...

I agree with your main point about writers not being familiar with their subject, but, actually, Owen's article is not all that bad. The biggest error occurs in the lead (and one cannot be sure that Owen wrote it, I suspect that some editor wrote it) where he describes Hell as a "place." Again, in the text he uses the word "place" when he quotes St. Matthew (25:41), but the word place does not occur in my bibles.
Hell is a state of being, not a place. DON JUAN OF AUSTRIA

8:33 AM

Blogger Patrick said...

Hey DJ of A:

Maybe you're just kinder than me. Mr. Owens' piece would never see the light of day if he were writing about baseball with errors this big:

"HELL is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, Pope Benedict XVI has said."

First, he definitely did not say this since it's not Catholic teaching that the "fires of Hell" must be interpreted as physical flames.

The context is remarks given at a parish, not a major papal announcement. The article strongly implies that Hell is the main topic of a speech.

"The Pope, who as cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was head of Catholic doctrine..."

The head of Catholic doctrine? Never heard of the title Prefect? Presume readers are too slow to understand what the letters CDF stand for? And is there a real reason the C can't be capitalized? Maybe this last thing is a editorial style issue, but something tells me the P in Prophet Muhammad, or the I in Imam, or the R in Reverend Al Sharpton would most definitely get included as capital letters.

Vatican officials said the Pope - who is also the Bishop of Rome - had been speaking in "straightforward" language "like a parish priest".

This isn't an error on the reporter's part, but it made me chuckle since, in my limited life experience, parish priests are the *least* likely people to speak so straightforwardly. When was the last time a homily treated the topic of Hell beyond a passing reference?

"He had wanted to reinforce the new Catholic catechism, which holds that hell is a "state of eternal separation from God", to be understood "symbolically rather than physically"."

Huh? The "new Catechism"? The official Catechism of the Catholic Church was released in 1993, over 12 years ago, and is commonly known by it's full title. The only "new Catechism" in circulation was one by that title from Holland in the late 60s, and was criticized by Rome for its heterodoxy.

In October, the Pope indicated that limbo, supposed since medieval times to be a "halfway house" between heaven and hell, was "only a theological hypothesis" and not a "definitive truth of the faith".

This is a basic confusion between purgatory and limbo. I think. Hard to tell. The quotes Owens uses (and where) imply that the Holy Father is the confused one.

That's it. My pet peeves are thus purged.

4:01 PM


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