From the Bishops The Media and the Church: What is Truth?

A few weeks ago on Good Friday, nearly 2,000 people crowded the city streets of Paterson, N.J. With great devotion, they reenacted the Way of the Cross. Their public act of faith could not go unnoticed. A local newspaper reported the event. However, the newspaper numbered the crowd at 200 people. A mere mathematical mistake?

Since 1974, one year after the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion, thousands of people, young and old, have descended on our nation’s capitol for the March for Life. They publicly stand for the truth that the child in the womb has the right to life and that abortion is an inherently evil act. Each January the number of people participating in this international event increases. This past Jan. 22, a crowd somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people marched for two hours from the center of the Mall to the Supreme Court.

Even though the March for Life is one of the largest mass movements in America, the media chooses to ignore it. Most mainstream newscasters simply do not report the event. If they do, not only do they focus their attention on the less than five dozen protesters who oppose the march, but they also grossly underestimate the vast number of people. A mistake in basic addition?

In 1943, Pope Pius XII ordered convents and monasteries in Italy to give refuge to Jews whose lives were sought by the Nazis. 4,238 Roman Jews found safety in 155 monasteries. 3,000 Jews found refuge in the pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Almost 40 Jewish babies were born in the pope’s own apartment.

Even before his involvement in these clandestine actions to save Jews, Pope Pius XII gave a number of speeches at Christmas in 1941 and 1942. His words were broadcasted by radio. In fact, the day after the pope’s 1941 Christmas address, The New York Times, in its editorial, applauded the pope as a “lonely” voice of public protest against Hitler. His words were clearly understood at the time as a condemnation of the Nazi attacks on Europe’s Jews. Likewise, Oct. 1, 1942, The London Times praised the pope for his condemnation of the Nazis and for his public support for the Jewish victims.

On Sept. 21, 1945, Dr. Leon Kubowitzky, the Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress, thanked the Holy Father for all he did for the Jewish people during the war. In 1955, in gratitude for all the efforts of the Holy Father for the Jewish people, the Jews of Italy declared April 17 a “Day of Thankfulness.” After the death of Pope Pius XII, Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, praised the Pope for his courage and spoken words.

One of the most intriguing proofs about Pope Pius XII’s care for the Jewish people came in February of 1945. Rabbi Israel Zolli, chief rabbi of the synagogue in Rome, converted to Catholicism. When he was baptized, he took as his Christian name Eugenio. He wished to honor Pope Pius XII, who was born Eugenio Pacelli. With this gesture of esteem, Zolli expressed his personal gratitude for the Holy Father’s goodness to the Jewish people.

Some in the media, however, have ignored historical facts. They have chosen to recast Pope Pius XII as the silent pope. They hold him responsible for the loss of Jewish lives during the Second World War. Why this rewriting of history?

In 1963, Rolf Hochhuth published The Deputy. Hochhuth attacked Pope Pius XII as an anti-Semite and a dupe of the Nazi regime. Even though leaders in the Jewish community had warmly thanked and honored the pope for his efforts during the war, the media simply misreported the facts and upped the polemic against the pope. A mere mistake in judgment? Hardly!

This year, as Catholics joined other Christians in celebrating the Holy Week, newspapers published with unrelenting regularity reports that cast a dark shadow over Pope Benedict XVI and his alleged cover-up in cases of clerical abuse. These stories continue. Are these stories an honest attempt to inform the public? Do the media really do the art of journalism justice when they misrepresent facts or headline what certain interest groups say? Or is there something of an aversion to the Catholic Church? After all, to discredit the integrity of the Holy Father is to discredit the Church herself. Could this not be the source of so much of the anti-Catholic news?

There are more than 65 million Catholics in the United States. That is almost 20 times more than the number of Jews or Muslims in America. It also is four times more than the number of Southern Baptists. Worldwide, Catholics number more than 1.1 billion members. The Sunni Muslims come in next with about 100 million. Given the number of Catholics, we should not be surprised to find many more articles about Catholics. But always their failings? Always the same reports repeated again and again? Could this be a lack of honest journalism?

Journalism is a noble art. It requires the discipline of research to find out the facts and the power of judgment to evaluate them. Good journalism never distorts the facts either by false reporting or by failing to place statements in their proper context. Truthful journalism does not rely on scandalous and misleading headlines to gain readership.

The media need to hold sacred the trust that many people place in their words. Bias and prejudice never serve the common good. When the canons of reliable reporting and commentary are not respected in one area by the media, how can we be sure that they are respected elsewhere? We are left wondering with Pilate, “What is truth?”

Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

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