Vatican City, Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - The Holy See's delegate to an international conference on atomic energy has emphasized the value of human life as the central issue in "every step" towards a nuclear weapon-free world. "Humanity," he said in a speech this week, "deserves no less than full co-operation" of the governments of the world in reaching agreements establishing peace and security.
Among the 1,400 participants in the 54th general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is Bishop Ettore Balestrero, the under-secretary for the Vatican Secretariat of State's department for relations with states. This week, he spoke to the assembly, its current president, Mr. Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan, and the director general, Dr. Yukiya Amano, on the Holy See's support for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation measures.
Presenting the Holy Father's greetings to the assembly, Bishop Balestrero highlighted the Pope's words from the message for the 2010 World Day for Peace in which he encouraged "the efforts of the international community to ensure progressive disarmament and a world free of nuclear weapons."
Voicing the Holy See's "satisfaction" at advances made towards nuclear disarmament, he underscored its support of the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). As the "only multilateral legal instrument currently available, intended to bring about a nuclear weapons free world," he said that "it must never be allowed to be weakened."
According to the IAEA, the NPT "aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament."
Bishop Balestrero said the entry into force of the far-reaching Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is "of the highest priority," as is the ratification of measures to establish nuclear-weapon-free zones by all States. The latter, he explained, is "the best example of trust, confidence and affirmation that peace and security are possible without possession nuclear weapons.
"Humanity," he asserted, "deserves no less than the full co-operation of all States in this important matter. Every step on the non-proliferation and disarmament agenda must be built on the principle of the preeminent and inherent value of human dignity and the centrality of the human person, which constitute the basis of international humanitarian law."
London, England, Sep 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - According to the primate of English and Welsh Catholics, the Holy Father set a "new agenda" for the faithful in Britain. A single message united all of the Pope's teachings during the trip, he said, that of the importance of faith in modern societies.
Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the president of English and Welsh bishops, wrote his reflections on Benedict XVI's Apostolic Visit to the U.K. into an article published in Friday's edition of L'Osservatore Romano.
The four day visit, he noted, "was an extraordinary success. The Pope was received everywhere with warmth, enthusiasm and joy." Hundreds of thousands of people were able to see him and opinions contrary to the visit turned out to be "few and isolated," wrote the archbishop.
Describing the smiles, joy, respect and enthusiasm he witnessed from the people at the Pope's presence in Scotland and England, Archbishop Nichols stated that the visit "really enriched our countries."
The Pope's "coherent and clear" message, he went on, was that "faith in God plays an important role in modern pluralist societies."
The archbishop particularly remembered the Holy Father's words that the cultural foundations of British society should not be forgotten or neglected, that moral principles are fundamental to the stability of democracy and that faith and reason walk hand-in-hand.
The Pope was able to set a "new agenda" for the U.K. Church in several ways, he recalled. Firstly, he defined the way to speak of faith in the complex British society, with courtesy, sensitivity, clarity, reason and openness of heart, noted Archbishop Nichols, who added that he hoped all who speak of faith in the U.K. might show these qualities.
Then, during Mass at Westminster Cathedral, he remembered, the Pope also highlighted the type of testimony that should be given. On that occasion, the Holy Father called for "witnesses of the beauty of holiness, witnesses of the splendor of truth, witnesses of the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ!"
Thirdly, continued the archbishop, the Holy Father also was able to attract attention to Christ and his eternal sacrifice, speaking also in this context of dismay for the crime of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church and for the failings of bishops to react effectively to the problem.
Rounding out the "agenda" left by the Pope was his encouragement for greater cooperation with civil authorities for the common good, generosity and sensitivity in the face of financial difficulty and increased collaboration between the Holy See and the British government on issues of common interest, he recalled.
Concluding, Archbishop Nichols said, "(i)t was a truly remarkable visit. The Pope contributed to an important step in our rich history and helped us to trace out our future. We give thanks to God for his ministry and assure him of our love and prayer."
San Francisco, Calif., Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - One board member of the dissenting homosexual advocacy group Catholics for Equality says it is “imperative” for activists to unite against “the anti-gay bishops,” whose opposition to same-sex marriage he calls “appalling.”
Eugene McMullan of San Francisco, a doctoral candidate in history at Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley, talked to the LGBT newspaper the Bay Area Reporter about Catholics for Equality’s strategy of organizing brunches after Mass to try to convince Catholics to back homosexual political causes.
“We love brunch," he commented. "And what could be more subversive, since we don't have equal access, while at the same time most of us at the parish level are pro-LGBT and utterly unsympathetic to the erring bishops. And we already have a brunch captain signed up for the parish of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, no less, in Oakland Bishop Cordileone's own backyard."
Proponents of same-sex “marriage” have blamed Bishop Salvatore Cordileone for supporting the campaign to pass Proposition 8, the successful 2008 California ballot initiative which again defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
"It is imperative that we come together against the anti-gay bishops," McMullan told the Bay Area Reporter. "We have to do it for ourselves, as a matter of principle, and to save the church we love. The anti-gay, anti-marriage activism of our 'shepherds' is appalling and brings discredit to the Body of Christ.”
McMullan also founded the group Catholics for Marriage Equality in California and serves on the board of the local Dignity affiliate.
The group Catholics for Equality was founded by dissenting groups such as New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA with cooperation from the homosexual advocacy group Human Rights Committee (HRC). It aims to “support, educate, and mobilize equality-supporting Catholics to advance LGBT equality at federal, state, and local levels.”
The group also charges the Catholic hierarchy with favoring discrimination and having an “anti-equality voice” that does not represent Catholics.
HRC spokesman Fred Sainz told the Bay Area Reporter that the HRC lent Catholics for Equality meeting space and supported some start-up costs totaling less than $10,000. Former HRC media manager Phil Attey is the group’s acting executive director.
In a Sept. 20 statement responding to a CNA inquiry, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services said Catholics for Equality “cannot be legitimately recognized as Catholic.”
Rev. Joseph Palacios, a Georgetown University adjunct sociology professor who identifies as a celibate gay man, told the Bay Area Reporter that the group is relying on a “strategic use of social media” to advise followers how to discuss the issue and how to “challenge misinformation in our parishes.”
He said the organization is not a “church reform group.”
"We are not going to handle doctrine. We can't change that. That is the church's thing. We don't even have the illusion that we as Catholics can do that," he commented.
Fr. Palacios said the group is engaged in “public education on public issues” and is trying to help the “Catholic movable middle rethink their positions.”
While the Bay Area Reporter identified Rev. Palacios as a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, his exact status was not clear by publication time.
The media relations office of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told CNA on Thursday that he had been a priest of the archdiocese before joining the Jesuits.
According to the 2010 Catholic Directory, Fr. Palacios is presently a priest of Los Angeles serving outside the archdiocese.
The priest previously organized the group Catholics United for Marriage Equality to back same-sex “marriage” in Washington, D.C.
The Bay Area Reporter piece on Catholics for Equality was authored by Chuck Colbert, an attendee of the group’s organizational meetings who also contributes to the National Catholic Reporter.
New York City, N.Y., Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - A new report by the United Nations has accepted lower revised estimates of global maternal deaths. The move follows years of criticism from pro-life groups, which claim the higher estimates were used to justify the legalization of abortion.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) report “Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2008” estimates that the annual maternal mortality rate is about 350,000 deaths and falling. Previously, the World Bank, the WHO and other U.N. agencies had set the figure at over 500,000, reports the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).
A study published April 12 in The Lancet found that maternal deaths worldwide totaled 342,900. It blamed HIV/AIDS for about 60,000 of the deaths.
Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said in an editorial accompanying the article that for the first time in a generation the study shows “persistent and welcome progress.”
Horton told the New York Times that advocates had pressured him not to publish the article until after the September summit on U.N. Millennium Development Goals.
Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG), charged that the independent report was an “embarrassment” for the WHO.
According to C-FAM, U.N. researchers and women’s rights groups confronted the authors of the study at a meeting in Washington last June and asked them to align with U.N. statistics to prevent confusion among the media and large donors.
WHO head Margaret Chan claimed the report said legal abortion reduced maternal deaths, but the report never mentioned abortion or family planning. Instead, it credited better economic development, education, better health care and lower birth rates.
C-FAM says that the head of the U.N. Population Fund and WHO’s lead statistician offered conflicting views about whether the report would reflect the lower numbers. Activists at the U.N.-backed Women Deliver conference rolled their eyes and laughed at the independent report’s findings, urging U.N. officials not to accept them.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is trying to rally support for $169 billion in new funding for maternal and child health.
Dr. Monique Chireau, an obstetrics and gynecology professor at Duke University, said that The Lancet study was “very objective” about obtaining its data while the WHO process was “not completely transparent.”
She said that the independent study’s authors have suggested that U.N. colleagues “quit making policy and focus on research,” according to C-FAM.
Madrid, Spain, Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - Bernard-Henri Lévy, a well-known atheist associated with what is considered to be the European left, said in an interview that Catholicism is by far the most attacked religion in Europe. The prominent intellectual also noted it was unfortunate that so many injustices are committed against Benedict XVI.
“The Pope’s voice is extremely important,” Levy told Spanish newspaper ABC this week. “And we are very unjust to this Pope. I am not Catholic, but I think there is prejudice and especially major anti-clericalism that is taking on enormous proportions in Europe.”
“In France there is much talk about the desecrations of Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, but nobody knows that the tombs of Catholics are continually desecrated,” he added. “There is a sort of anti-clericalism in France that is not healthy at all. We have the right to criticize religions, but the most attacked religion today is the Catholic religion.”
Levy said he supports the construction of the mosque at Ground Zero and is opposed to the use of burkas, but he said Catholicism suffers more attacks than Islam. “Muslims are defended in the intellectual world, but Catholics much less,” he underscored.
Front Royal, Va., Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - Commenting on the six month anniversary of the Senate passage of President Obama's health care bill on Sept. 23, Population Research Institute (PRI) president Steve Mosher critiqued the legislation, asserting that much of what the president has claimed about the bill is simply “not true.”
“Today is the six-month anniversary of the passage of President Obama's signature legislation, what has come to be known as ObamaCare,” Mosher began in his organization's Weekly Briefing on Thursday. “The White House is feting this semi-anniversary, but few Americans are in a mood to join the celebration.”
The PRI president added that “the more Americans find out what is actually in this monstrosity of a bill, the less they like it. Polls conducted by Rasmussen Reports show that 55 percent of the public supported the repeal of ObamaCare on March 25, just two days after its passage.”
“Today, a half-year later, the number of those favoring repeal has grown to 61 percent.”
“I am not one to call the President a liar,” Mosher said. “But I do believe that much of what Obama has said about his own health care bill is simply not true. He claimed in Maine that people could keep their own health insurance, in Maryland that people could keep their own doctors.”
“In Washington, DC, he promised that his plan would cut costs but would not lead to the rationing of care. He has consistently claimed that it would not fund abortions, and that its 'end-of-life visits' would not lead to euthanasia.”
However, six months later, “all of these claims are being questioned by taxpayers who see people losing their health care plans and paying more for health insurance,” Mosher noted. “More and more Americans are realizing that they and their children will be stuck with the bill as healthcare costs rise, and that they will be paying for 'family planning services' that include not just sterilizations and contraception, but abortions as well.”
Mosher continued to add that the “elderly will bear the brunt of Obama's deceptions, such as his claim that 'If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,'” as said by the president on June 8 of this year.
“The reality is that doctors are already fleeing Medicare in droves,” he asserted. “In Texas alone, more than 300 primary care physicians have stopped seeing seniors in the last two years. When ObamaCare cuts Medicare payments to doctors next year, even more doctors will bail out of a system that overworks and underpays them, leaving millions of seniors without a personal physician.”
Mosher went on to say that the “easiest Obama claim to refute is his contention that ObamaCare would not fund abortions. This is because he refuted it himself by issuing an executive order explicitly forbidding the funding of abortions through ObamaCare.”
“When I first learned of this particular ruse, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry,” Mosher said, adding that if “ObamaCare had not funded abortion in the first place, then his executive order would be unnecessary. So the executive order constitutes evidence that, contra Obama, ObamaCare had funded abortion all along.”
Since “federal law always and everywhere trumps executive orders, Obama's order is not worth the paper it is written on,” he said. “As a Harvard-trained lawyer, the President surely realizes that his executive order will not stand up to the most cursory of judicial reviews.”
Concluding his remarks, Mosher said that is “seems to me that our choice as Americans is simple: Either we euthanize ObamaCare before it is too late, or it winds up euthanizing us.”
Milwaukee, Wis., Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - A lawsuit filed by a man sexually abused decades ago by a Wisconsin priest has named Pope Benedict XVI as a defendant. However, two authors have claimed the latest charges against the Pope repeat “widely debunked” inaccuracies.
The suit has been brought by 60-year-old deaf abuse victim Terry Kohut, who says he was abused by Fr. Lawrence C. Murphy while he was a priest and principal at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
According to CNN, Kohut said through an interpreter that the abuse first took place in the priest’s office when he was in his early teens. The abuse continued for years.
About 200 former students have said they were molested by Fr. Murphy, sometimes even in the confessional. Victims reported abuses to the civil authorities in the mid-1970s, but authorities dropped the investigation.
The case came to prominence earlier this year, with media outlets such as the Associate Press claiming that Fr. Murphy was “spared a defrocking” because he was allegedly “protected” by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
Clergyman such as current CDF head Cardinal William Levada and former judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Fr. Thomas Brundage have said the CDF only suspended canonical proceedings against Fr. Murphy because he was dying. A lack of records in the archdiocesan archives also impeded the canonical case, which was opened in the mid-1990s after advocacy by Murphy’s victims.
Until 2001, the CDF had limited jurisdiction over sex abuse cases. Generally it was only involved in cases concerning allegations of abuse which took place in the confessional and possibly involved violations of the Sacrament of Penance. Prior to that year, most cases were handled in the Roman Rota.
In its March reports on the case, the New York Times relied on documents provided by lawyers Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, some of which were poorly translated from Italian. Anderson is one of the leading attorneys in sex abuse lawsuits and has claimed that Pope Benedict was "the mastermind, head, of an international conspiracy to cover up their own crimes and keep them above the law."
According to CNN, Anderson is the lead lawyer in Kohut’s lawsuit. The suit alleges that through a policy of secrecy the Holy See “knowingly allowed, permitted and encouraged child sex abuse by its priests, including Murphy.”
Gregory Erlandson and Dr. Matthew Bunson, authors of the Our Sunday Visitor book “Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal,” have claimed that the latest allegations concerning the Pope’s involvement in the Fr. Murphy case rehash discredited charges.
"While the Murphy case is a glaring example of the poor oversight and inadequate communication that typified many abuse cases in the U.S. dioceses in the past 50 years, it does not show Cardinal Ratzinger in any way tolerant of, or insensitive to, the actions of abusers," they said in a press release from Our Sunday Visitor.
Rome, Italy, Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - A two-week schedule of events will soon be kicked off in Rome to raise awareness for the plight of Christians in the Middle East. The program coincides with the dates of next month's Synod of the Middle East and will include the perspectives of some participants.
Beginning with the inauguration of a multi-media exhibit that sheds light on the lives of Middle Eastern Christians through images of their daily lives, the program "Sguardi sui cristiani di Medio Oriente" (A look at Christians in the Middle East) will seek to illustrate their current situation through the testimonies of those familiar with the region.
At the Rome headquarters of Italy's Catholic Action organization, synod fathers, Church officials, religious active in the Holy Land, writers and journalists will lead the initiatives from Oct. 10-24 in an attempt to shed light on the problems faced by Middle Eastern Christians and Catholics.
There will be addresses from participants on different aspects of Christian life in the Middle East, ranging from an overview of the work of Christian organizations in health care and education to the fundamental nature of pilgrimage to Christian livelihood in the region. At least three books will be presented in addition to four documentaries, one of which follows Benedict XVI along his visit to the Holy Land in 2009.
Catholic Action official Chiara Finocchietti said that the organization is promoting the initiative within the motto of the Synod, "committing itself to the Christians of the Holy Land and the Middle East, together with the many realities that work there, 'with a single heart and a single soul'."
Rome, Italy, Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - Hundreds of kids felt the personal "warmth" of the Pope as they met with him in a private audience on Thursday evening. According to the children's school principal, they received his message to them about learning to read so they can better know God and the world.
The Holy Father hosted nearly 400 children from a local Catholic school at the Apostolic Villa of Castel Gandolfo on Thursday evening. The kindergarten and primary school students of the local Paul VI Pontifical School, run by the Maestre Pie sisters of the Philippines, were accompanied by their parents, grandparents, friends, brothers and sisters as they met with the Holy Father in the villa courtyard.
In his message to them, the Holy Father told the children of the importance of studying and learning to read so they can know the thought of others throughout time. One can learn about the "spiritual continents of the world," communicate with others and, he said, turn to the Bible "to read what God says to us."
He emphasized the importance of going to school "to learn all of the things necessary for life and learning also to know God, to know Jesus and thus to know how to live well."
Sister Anna, the principal of the Paul VI Pontifical School told CNA that the kids were "happy" with the encounter and had "received the Pope's message." She said that they arrived prepared to listen to his words and to put them into practice.
Pope Benedict XVI, she said, was visibly "so serene and so happy" also to meet with them, responding with gratitude to the songs that were sung for him and the gifts he received.
Among their gifts to the Holy Father was a picture made by the children themselves in which "the magic of life" was depicted through in which they incorporated their handprints into the design of the world brightened by a rainbow.
Sr. Anna said that in the encounter also the little ones felt the "warmth, this humanity, this affection" of the Pope towards children.
Bogotá, Colombia, Sep 24, 2010 (CNA) - The secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba, has called for peace in the wake of the military’s strike on guerrilla forces of the FARC, which killed the rebel group’s second in command, Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, known as “Mono Jojoy.”
Speaking to reporters, Bishop Cordoba said, “The Catholic Church never rejoices in the death of anyone, but the death of ‘Mono Jojoy’ is a call for Colombians to realize that war only brings more war, sadness, desolation and losses on both sides.”
Bishop Cordoba urged the government and the FARC to re-engage in the dialogue that up to now has failed because of their opposing positions.
“Both have said they want peace, the government says it can happen with a cease fire, and the guerrillas say they are willing to dialogue but without halting combat because we are in a war. I don’t think there can be peace with views that are so polarized,” he added.
Vatican City, Sep 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pontifical Council for the Family is working to create a document to guide marriage preparation efforts in dioceses throughout the world. Through it, the council hopes to better inform young couples of what they are asking of the Church when they opt to receive the Sacrament of Marriage.
During a press conference on Friday morning to present preparations for the 2012 World Meeting of Families in Milan, discussion turned to the production of a vademecum, or manual, on the preparation of young people for marriage in the Church.
Bishop Jean Laffitte, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, explained on Friday that the proposal has come from the need voiced by people working in wedding preparation around the world. Although the council last produced a similar document 15 years ago to confront the theme in the contemporary context, it aims to create a new "pastoral instrument" to aid preparation efforts.
The council, he said, is now working to research and collect information on the theme. It has already compiled 400 existing documents from dioceses throughout the world to examine their work and try to consolidate information from this broad base of experience.
Bishop Laffitte said that they would like to take the "richness" from all of these documents "to make a simple, didactic instrument ... to demonstrate that love deserves to be lived and that preparation for marriage is worth it."
Continuing, the bishop said that "today, it's true that many young people need to be helped to know what they want and what is necessary for them, to know what they are asking of the Church when they wish to receive the sacrament of marriage. It's a privileged moment in which we can help people in a human way, also a privileged catechetical moment."
Bishop Laffitte later expressed hope that the vademecum would be ready for Milan's World Meeting for Families in May, 2012 to make it immediately available to the greatest number of people possible. He further hoped the document that it would be of help to all dioceses and families as an element of structure.
Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, who led the press conference, pointed out that the document will be passed on to bishops all over the world to "attempt to give orientation" to marriage preparation which varies greatly from place to place.
He also said that this is just one of several initiatives currently underway for the Pontifical Council for the Family, others include a study on the family as a subject of evangelization and another on the family as the resource of society.
Vatican City, Sep 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Holy See has announced the official schedule for the Pope's visit to the Spanish cities of Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona this fall. Accompanying the announcement were messages from the archbishops of the two cities inviting the involvement of the faithful to support the Holy Father spiritually and physically.
Later this fall, the Holy Father will make a two-day tour of two of Spain's most attractive sites. The Holy See's Press Office announced the schedule for the quick visit in its Friday bulletin.
Arriving in Northwestern Spain's pilgrim destination, Santiago de Compostela on Nov. 6, the Holy Father will first meet with the Prince of Spain and his family before moving on to the cathedral where St. James remains are entombed.
After greeting the faithful there, he will have lunch with Spanish prelates at the Archbishop of Santiago's residence before celebrating a Mass for the pilgrimage site's jubilee year just outside the cathedral in the enormous Obradoiro Square.
He will head across the country by plane to Barcelona later that evening to be well rested for the next morning's events. The first item on his morning schedule is a private meeting with the Spanish Monarchs in the Museum Hall of the "Sagrada Familia" (Holy Family) Church. Following this meeting, he will celebrate Mass there, and in doing so will make the church a basilica and consecrate its altar.
Immediately afterward, he will step into the adjoining square to pray the Angelus and address the faithful and pilgrims. After meeting again with Spanish prelates for lunch, he plans visit a center of education for disabled adults before taking off again for Rome.
During his homily at Mass on Friday morning, Cardinal Archbishop of Barcelona, Lluis Martinez Sistach, welcomed the visit and called the dedication of the church of the "Sagrada Familia" an invitation to all Christian families to be "a sanctuary of living rocks." He explained that this meant being "a domestic Church, in which the richness of marriage between a man and a woman is lived, in that which every day a community of life and love is built, open to fruitfulness and life."
In this context of a society which is "more human and more respectful of human rights," he said that the visit to the home for the disabled is all the more significant. Working in service of those affected by Down's syndrome and other disabilities, the cardinal said that it is "a work that is the expression of a true merciful spirit.
"In visiting this work, the Pope wishes to give homage and encourage in their work all (realities) that work with this same spirit and these same purposes."
As for the stop in Santiago, Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela Julian Barrio implored physical and spiritual participation of the faithful in the events of the Pope's visit. In a pastoral letter to the archdiocese, he encouraged fasting on Nov. 5, the day before Benedict XVI's arrival, and an offering to the local chapter of Caritas for the care of the needy.
Archbishop Barrio promoted all manner of support for the trip through the Church as well, encouraging participation in Masses throughout the archdiocese for the intentions of the Pope. He also asked that Rosaries be prayed for the spiritual fruits of the visit and that catecheses and pastoral initiatives be organized in light of the Pope's arrival.
Denver, Colo., Sep 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Delivering the featured address at a religion news writers conference in Denver on Friday, Archbishop Charles Chaput commented on what he believes to be the new secular “orthodoxy” within American media and warned that slanted journalism “can diminish our public life.”
On Sept. 24, the Denver prelate made his remarks as keynote speaker at the 61st annual Religion Newswriters Association conference at the city's Westin Tabor center downtown.
Opening his speech, Archbishop Chaput underscored that a “free press is part of the American identity, and also one of its best institutions. I respect that. I value what journalists do for the same reason I value the importance of religious faith in American life – both in the private home and in the public square.”
In that regard, he added, the “kind of journalism that tracks our religious life is so important because it’s the profession where two of our defining freedoms meet.”
“A responsible press, and a faith shaped by the God of charity and justice, share two things in common: a concern for human dignity, and an interest in truth,” the prelate noted. “Freedom means that our choices matter. It also means that our mistakes have consequences.”
Archbishop Chaput then referred to famed 20th century author George Orwell and how his controversial work titled “Animal Farm” – which critiqued the Soviet regime in Russia in the mid 1900s – was initially suppressed from publication.
“Six decades later, this essay still has value,” he continued, “And here’s why: Most arguments for press freedom deal with the media’s need for independence from state censorship and propaganda. That makes sense. But Orwell focused on something very different – a kind of undermining of free thought and expression unique to modern democratic societies.”
“Nobody demanded the media’s fawning coverage of the Soviet Union,” the archbishop recalled. “Nobody required the falsification of facts, or the ugly attacks on critics of Stalin, or the covering-up of unpleasant truths. Nobody forced journalists and editors to do these things. They freely chose to do them.”
“The news media of the day were staffed by decent men and women,” he clarified. “They felt they were on the side of social progress. They thought the Soviet Union, whatever its flaws, was fighting for human progress too. So they ignored unhappy details and hard questions about the reality of Soviet life.”
This dynamic “created what Orwell saw as a new form of religious orthodoxy,” said Archbishop Chaput. “That orthodoxy shaped the boundaries of permissible thought and expression. And Orwell warned that this unspoken tendency toward group-think would threaten the press in democratic societies well into the future.”
Orwell’s observations “capture the way many people feel today toward the news media and coverage of religion news,” he went on. “In practice – at least in the eyes of ordinary people I hear from every week – a new body of ideas seems to shape the limits of acceptable thought in American public life.”
“This new orthodoxy seems to influence the selection of religious news and how that news gets presented. It seems to frame which opinions are appropriate and which ones won’t be heard. And it seems to guide the historical narrative that media present to their audiences,” the archbishop emphasized. “At its core, it has a set of assumptions about the nature of human life, the purpose of government, and the proper role of religion in the lives of individuals and in society that veers away from past American habits of thought.”
The Denver prelate noted that this “new thinking seems to presume a society much more secular and much less religious than anything in America’s past or warranted by present facts; a society where people are free to worship and believe whatever they want, so long as they don’t intrude their religious idiosyncrasies on government, the economy, or culture.”
While “I do know reporters and editors whom I admire, and whose fairness and skill I commend,” said the archbishop, “I think the deficiencies in today’s coverage of religion are too real to ignore.”
The “Christian story now told in mainstream media” depicts the faith as “a backward social force and a menace to the liberty of their fellow citizens.”
“One of the worst habits many Catholics had at the start of the clergy sex abuse crisis, including many bishops, was to minimize a very grave problem,” he said. “But news media show many of the same patterns of denial, vanity, obstinacy and institutional defensiveness in dealing with criticism of their own failures.”
“Freedom of the press clearly includes the right to question the actions and motives of religious figures and institutions,” Archbishop Chaput noted. “But freedom doesn’t excuse prejudice or poor handling of serious material, especially people’s religious convictions. What’s new today is the seeming collusion – or at least an active sympathy – between some media organizations and journalists, and political and sexual agendas hostile to traditional Christian beliefs.”
“When this happens,” he underscored, “the results are bad for everybody.”
“It’s no accident that freedom of religion and freedom of the press are both named – in that order – in the First Amendment. The country’s founders believed that protecting these two freedoms would be vital to the American experiment,” the archbishop said. “They saw that a self-governing people needs truthful information and sensible opinion from sources other than the state. They also believed that morality grounded in religious belief is fundamental to forming virtuous people able to govern themselves.”
“Knowledge professionals have their own kind of orthodoxy,” he added. “They place a high premium on their own skill and autonomy. This has consequences. It predisposes them to be uncomfortable with, and even hostile toward, any claims of revealed truth, religious institutions, traditions, doctrines and authority.”
“The point I want to leave you with is this: Journalism is a 'knowledge profession.' But like any other profession, the work of journalism doesn't necessarily translate into self-knowledge or self-criticism. And any lasting service to the common good demands both. Journalism has its own unstated orthodoxies. It has its own prejudices. And when they go unacknowledged and uncorrected – as they too often seem to do – they can diminish our public life.”