Secular Theology:The Effect of Anti-Catholic Media Bias on the Catholic Community

       Newspapers and news magazines have long been a mainstay for information and keeping up to date about the world around us. The Internet has increased accessibility and dramatically changed the way people gather and read their news, but it has not changed the perception of bias within today’s print media. Publishers learned long ago that sex, scandal, and controversy would sell copies, so it is not surprising that Catholics would perceive an anti-Catholic bias within those publications. In an age where abortion, sexual promiscuity, and same-sex marriage are commonplace, faithful Catholics find themselves at odds with many of the morals and values portrayed in today’s media. This anti-Catholic bias, whether it is simply perceived or otherwise, has a negative impact on the Catholic community.

       The perception of anti-Catholic bias does in-fact exist within members of the Church, therefore it is imperative to prove the reasons behind it. Rev. Avery Dulles, S.J., a Jesuit priest, provided an example of this perception when he wrote, “The church seeks to promote unity and reconciliation, minimizing discord and dissent. The news media, however, specialize in disagreement and conflict which evidently arouse greater interest and boost circulation” (Dulles, 1994). At first glance, his statement implied that the media is not merely biased, but was simply attempting to sell copies of their publications by creating an element of disagreement and conflict. Although every publication is in the business of selling copies, it is not logical, nor realistic, to conclude that all media outlets create hype in order to increase their bottom line. Dulles offered another reason for the perception of an anti-Catholic bias by pointing out that, “most newspapers and magazines have no professionally qualified reporters in the field of religion” (Dulles, 1994). Articles summarizing sporting events should be written by someone who knows the sport they are covering, and financial reports would not be credible if the writer did not possess a basic knowledge of our financial system, so the same should be required of those writing about religion. The veracity of information comes into question when the person writing it has little to no training or has limited understanding of the subject.

       Catholic journalist Amy Welborn acknowledges, “Reporting on the Catholic Church is quite a challenge, given the historical depth and complexity of the subject matter” (Flynn, 2008). Given the complexity of the subject matter, it is no surprise that many reports contain inaccuracies. In a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, one-third of Catholics surveyed could not name the four Gospels, and 45% did not know that the Church teaches the bread and wine used in Holy Communion actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ (Pew Research Center, 2010). Welborn also offered her own recommendation for her fellow journalists in the print media, “Deepening their knowledge of the Church would be a step forward for journalists covering Catholicism… This does not mean losing objectivity, but reporting on events in their proper context” (Flynn, 2008). Her recommendation supports the position that anti-Catholic bias exists because of misunderstanding and ignorance rather than an intentional bias against the Church.

       The Los Angeles Times has a history of providing editorial space to those who appear to write from an anti-Catholic prospective. For example, Tim Rutten wrote, “Many Catholics worry about a Vatican that fires an Australian bishop for speaking in favor of ordaining women and married men, but declines to act against a Belgian prelate who unapologetically admits to molesting young boys” (Rutten, 2011). His statement appears to be a valid argument against Church hypocrisy, but Rutten purposely misled readers by failing to mention that the Vatican suspended the Belgian prelate immediately, while the Australian bishop was allowed to remain in his position for five years before his removal (Wooden, 2011). In this example, Tim Rutten was clearly attempting to sway readers into being sympathetic for relaxing the rules of the Church by claiming that the Church itself was not enforcing its own standards.

       While sex scandals involving priests are definitely newsworthy, some news outlets go out of their way to make reference to those scandals while covering a wide variety of other topics within the Catholic Church. For example, during his homily at the funeral for Cardinal John Patrick Foley of Philadelphia, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York City said, “any diocese that can turn out such a noble, gentle man is a church which can endure and come out even stronger” (O’Reilly, 2011). The author of the article, David O’Reilly, attributed Archbishop Dolan’s comments as “an apparent reference to the difficulties the archdiocese will face next year – a sex abuse trial, school closings, decisions on 27 priests under internal investigation for possible misconduct with children” (O’Reilly, 2011), when the Archbishop could have simply been referencing the endurance of the Philadelphia community and the effect the loss of their beloved Cardinal Foley will have on them over time. Other news outlets simply quote the most radical thinkers as if they are an example of the Catholic faithful (Seiler, 1999) and some make an intentional effort to undermine Church teaching. Although there are examples of intentional anti-Catholic bias within some segments of the media, the majority of the bias is not intentional, but rather a misunderstanding and ignorance of the beliefs of the Catholic Church.

       Tim Mattingly, director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges commented on the “amazing ignorance by some of the reporters that cover religion” (Flynn, 2008). His comments support the claims made by Dulles and Welborn, in stating that many covering religious topics should be trained and educated in the field they are reporting. This lack of knowledge and training has resulted in an anti-Catholic bias perpetuated by misunderstandings and ignorance, rather than the intentional exclusion of facts.

       The sex abuse scandal within the Church has long been a topic of discourse. While the response from the Church was nothing short of controversial to some, the reaction by the media caused a backlash of unprecedented proportions. In his book, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, author Philip Jenkins wrote, “the sex abuse scandal in the United States has resulted in a public outpouring of anti-Church and anti-Catholic vituperation on a scale not witnessed since the 1920s” (Anonymous, 2003). Allegations of abuse were widespread within the Catholic Church creating an illusion that the entire Church was to blame for the violations. While the investigation of criminal activity and misconduct on the part of Church authorities was completely justified, Jenkins wrote that many reports of abuse, “segued effortlessly into grotesque attacks on the Catholic Church as an institution” (Anonymous, 2003).

       Any attack on the Catholic Church is dangerous because many Catholics today are ill informed about the faith they profess. The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, from the Pew Research Center, showed that Catholics answered just 14.7 out of 32 questions (46%) correctly (Pew Research Center, 2010). The results of this survey are not hard to believe, given the influence of today’s media. Rev. Dulles wrote, “It must be recognized that many Catholics learn about what is happening in their Church primarily, or in great part, from the secular media” (Dulles, 1994). As Catholics glean more information from the media than their Church, the influence of that media permeates their lives and begins to distort the teachings of the Church. Jenkins concluded that anti-Catholic bias, “has become so ingrained that reporters do not even recognize their own anti-Catholic attitudes” (Anonymous, 2003). Catholics do not always know their own faith, so we cannot expect them to recognize this anti-Catholic attitude either. Gerald P. Fogarty, S.J. writes, “anti-Catholicism in America today is far more subtle and perhaps even insidious in a culture where religion is too often merely a matter of private opinion” (Fogarty, 2003). Although the result was unintentional, we must realize that the media unknowingly exacerbated the problem of anti-Catholic bias in our society as they continued to report the sex abuse scandal.

       The best recourse for the Church, at this point, is to fight fire with fire. For too long, the Church has ignored the words of Pope Paul VI, who declared in 1975, “The church would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize these powerful means of communication that human skill is daily rendering more perfect” (Dulles, 1994). By utilizing the media to combat inaccurate information, the Catholic Church can establish a new pattern of effective communication and proper context that would contrast the existing media bias and balance the negative messages currently being delivered. The leaders of the Church must learn to use the media as a tool to support their message, rather than to control it. Any attempt to control the message would be seen as censorship and rejected by some of their own members, let alone those working as journalists in the secular media (Dulles, 1994).

       As subtle forms of anti-Catholicism become more prevalent in our society, many people see the Catholic Church as “authoritarian and opposed to freedom of thought” (Fogarty, 2003). This message is deliberately misleading and completely unfounded, yet the Church has done little to dissuade the message from pervading society. “The Church is not without blame in this farrago of vilification. Bishops obfuscate, cardinals equivocate, and Church spokesmen prevaricate as the tide of media condemnation surges around them” (Anonymous, 2003), which is why the leaders of the Catholic Church must embrace new media if they hope to relieve tension and communicate a message that combats anti-Catholic bias in the media.

       As people continue to rely on newspapers and news magazines to keep informed, those sources of media are unintentionally perpetuating an atmosphere of anti-Catholic bias. Publishers of print media focus on stories that will sell copies, often filled with sex, scandal, and controversy and they fail to hire qualified personnel to cover the topic of religion. The consequences of their actions result in misunderstandings about the Catholic Church and ignorance of the Catholic faith itself. The Church must take a pro-active approach and begin participating in the message rather than responding to criticisms after the fact. Until they do so, anti-Catholic bias will continue to create discord and Catholics will become more secular because of that influence. While the existence of anti-Catholic bias in the media may be unintentional, it poses a threat that has a negative impact on the entire Catholic community as well as society as a whole.

References

Anonymous. (2003). Church rounds on anti-Catholic bias by Media. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=2171705581&sid=1&Fmt=3&client
Id=74379&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Dulles, A. (1994). Religion and the News Media: A Theologian Reflects. America 171, no. 9, pp 6-9. Retrieved from http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/media/me0005.html

Flynn, J. (2008). The Media and Misreporting Religion. Retrieved from http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=31225

Fogarty, G. (2003). Reflections on Contemporary Anti-Catholicism, U.S. Catholic Historian , Vol. 21, No. 4, Anti-Catholicism (Fall, 2003), pp. 37-44. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25154876

O’Reilly, D. (2011). Funeral for Cardinal Foley draws church dignitaries. Retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/2011/12/16/3324188/funeral-for-cardinal-foley-draws.html

Pew Research Center (2010). U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. Retrieved from http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

Rutten, T. (2011). Tim Rutten: Is Pope John Paul II fit for sainthood? Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-0504-rutten-20110504,0,963466.column

Seiler, J. (1993). Pope’s visit unleashes anti-Catholic media. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=145475401&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=74379&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Wooden, C. (2011). Church unity motivated papal action against bishop, Australians say. Retrieved from http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1104169.htm

Anwering A Question From A Reader

I received a question via email today and I thought I would share my response in case other people may have had the same question, or one very similar. Pat asked,

“I was on a conference call with Michelle Bachmann. She stated that under the provisions of the health care bill, the payments from people would begin in 2010, but the benefits would not be seen until four years later, or 2013, is this true?”

The first time I read the health care bill I did so at a “quick review” type pace. The second time I read it, I analyzed it to point out all of the sections which would affect people the most. While I quoted many costs and amounts, I never really double checked the years of collection versus the years of implementation.

While analyzing Division A and doing a search for the years in question, I found a couple references.

Section 100 defines Y1 (or year 1) of the health benefits plan as 2013 which seems to support Michelle Bachmann’s claim that people would not see any benefits until 2013. People cannot benefit from a health benefits plan before 2013 if it is not implemented until 2013.

Further review of Division A shows that the small business employee health coverage credit which will be implemented right away, will be phased out beginning in 2013. President Obama and House leaders are quick to state that the health care bill will not affect most small business owners, but that is just not true. You can read more about this “phase out” of the credit in Division A, Subtitle B, Section 421.

There could be more hidden in Division A, but in the interest of just answering the question presented, I moved on to Division B to perform the same search.

Reporting requirements for the quality of outcomes for people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans are not required to be implemented until 2013, so any treatments or outcomes will not be subject to reporting until then. This is mentioned in Division B, section 1162.

Division B, Section 1703 also sets a deadline of 2013 for any benchmark benefit package. These packages must meet the minimum benefits and cost-sharing standards of a basic plan by this time.

Section 1802 of Division B sets the amount of funds to be transferred to the Trust Fund by year. $90 million in 2010, $100 million by 2011, and $110 million by 2012. These funds obiviously come from somewhere so, again, Michelle Bachmann was correct. We will be paying ($300 million in this section alone) beginning in 2010 while the health benefits plan will not go into effect until Y1, or 2013, as stated in Division A, Section 100.

Section 1802 also sets a “fair share per capita amount” beginning in 2013, which will be computed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services for each fiscal year which is projected to be $375 million for the 2013 fiscal year alone.

According to this same section we will be paying another $26 million for the Comparative Effectiveness Research Commission from 2010 through 2012.

Section 1904 defines applicable percentages of expenditures, itemized by year for 2010-2014, and appropriates another $300 million for the implementation of that section before 2013.

Things get much more interesting in Division C, where Section 2002 defines the establishment of funds for the Public Health Investment Fund.

For fiscal years 2010 – 2012 a total of $17,100,000,000 (yes, that’s billion, not million) shall be directed into the fund from “general revenues of the Treasury”.

Section 2101 allocates an addition $5 billion in funding for community health centers. Section 2202 authorizes appropriations in the amount of $798 million for the National Health Service Corps. $758 million will be allocated for primary care and dentistry. All of these appropriation amounts are for the fiscal years 2010 – 2012, prior to the establishment of the Public Health Benefit Plan in Y1, or 2013 and Division C goes on to authorize and allocate a lot more money from the general fund of the Treasury.

So, Pat, I hope this post helped answer the questions you had following the conference call with Michelle Bachmann. It does appear we will be shoveling a lot of money towards all of the programs defined in the health care bill for three years before any public health benefit is implemented.

Taking On Health Care

Let’s take a break from the bill for a few minutes and watch a report from John Stossel about Health Care Reform.

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Happy Memorial Day

Today, as in the past, there are problems that must be solved and challenges that must be met. We can tackle them with our full strength and creativity only because we are free to work them out in our own way. We owe this freedom of choice and action to those men and women in uniform who have served this nation and its interests in time of need. In particular, we are forever indebted to those who have given their lives that we might be free.
Ronald Reagan, May 26, 1983

What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

ibc.jpgLast week, when the doctor told my mother-in-law that she may have Inflammatory Breast Cancer, it was a real eye opener. Upon hearing the words that the cancer may have returned and that it may have returned in such a form, it just floored her.

Over the weekend my wife looked up as much information as she could, learning all the facts about IBC, so she could help her mom prepare if the news was indeed bad. After four days of research and countless painstaking hours reading horror stories and other real-life experiences, my wife was deflated to say the least.

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but very aggressive type of breast cancer in which the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. This type of breast cancer is called “inflammatory” because the breast often looks swollen and red, or “inflamed.” IBC accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States.

My mother-in-law’s appointment was Tuesday afternoon. The doctor had scheduled a mammogram and an ultrasound. Depending on the results of those two tests, he planned to take a biopsy to see just how bad it was.

Diagnosis of IBC is based primarily on the results of a doctor’s clinical examination (1). Biopsy, mammogram, and breast ultrasound are used to confirm the diagnosis.

Ever since her initial lumpectomy and radiation therapy, my mother-in-law has suffered excruciating pain and many of the symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

  • Swelling, usually sudden, sometimes a cup size in a few days
  • Itching
  • Pink, red, or dark colored area (called erythema) sometimes with texture similar to the skin of an orange (called peau d’orange)
  • Ridges and thickened areas of the skin
  • Nipple retraction
  • Nipple discharge, may or may not be bloody
  • Breast is warm to the touch
  • Breast pain (from a constant ache to stabbing pains)
  • Change in color and texture of the areola

I was going to post some of the photos showing the visual symptoms and other related information, but I thought it might be best if you visited the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation site and look through their collection. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should consult your physician immediately. IBC is a very aggressive form of cancer and has a 40% survival rate five years after diagnosis.

My mother-in-law was lucky. It turns out all of her symptoms are related to the radiation therapy to cure her invasive ductile carcinoma and she does not have Inflammatory Breast Cancer after all.

If you’re not feeling well, or your body has undergone radical changes, it’s never a bad idea to make an appointment to see your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry. My mother-in-law, as exhausted as she is, trekked into Atlanta for her tests, and with our help she was prepared in case the doctor walked into that room and told her the cancer had returned.

Like I said before, my mother-in-law was extremely lucky. What are the odds her radiation therapy would cause her body to suffer so many of the same symptoms and even lead her doctor to believe she may have another form of cancer? Many women have lost their battle with IBC, and we all need to take a few moments to help educate others, so they too can be prepared if something like this ever happens to them.