5 tips to help secular journalists cover the Papal conclave

With all eyes – including those of the secular media outlets – on the Church following the resignation of Benedict XVI, scandal, intrigue and gossip have been taken as fact in the days leading up to the conclave that will elect the next Supreme Pontiff.

Amid widespread woeful ignorance and rampant misreporting, here are five suggestions for secular reporters to keep in mind as they cover this important historic event:

1. Don’t speak about the election of the new Pope in the same terms you used to describe the 2012 U.S. presidential election or any other form of democratic process. The Catholic Church, founded by Christ and entrusted to Peter and his direct successors, never has been and never will be a democratic institution.

2. No matter what your personal opinion of the Catholic Church may be, it does not belong in any news report. Ever. Just like your personal opinion of the Baltimore Ravens or San Francisco Forty-niners and all their players, staff and fans did not belong in any coverage of Super bowl XLVII.

3. Conspiracy theories and any other rhetoric borrowed from Dan Brown do not belong in a genuine conversation regarding the papal transition.

4. Differing opinions on various topics do not mean that the Church is teetering on the verge of a “schism.” Nor is the co-existence of both a Pope and a Pope Emeritus a threat to Church unity. After examining his conscience repeatedly before God, Benedict XVI stepped down. In his final General Audience, he said, “The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God’s will and a deep love of Christ’s church.”

5. The Catholic Church will never “fit in” with the world. No matter who is elected Pope, the Church will never conform to the world’s standards of morality, ethics or just plain human (read: fallible) standards of “fairness.”

Yes, the resignation of Pope-emeritus Benedict was a shock. However, if we cannot believe an 85 year-old man (who lived through the Nazi takeover of his homeland, has been a servant to the Catholic Church for over 60 years, has addressed crowds of millions of people, has penned countless books, documents and essays and travelled to nearly every continent) when he says he has felt his strength declining and that he was being called to pass on his duties to a new successor, “not for my own good, but for the good of the Church,” then that’s just willful ignorance – and perhaps just one too many novels – on the part of anyone who insists on believing otherwise.