Action Alert!

distorted perspectives

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 21, 2010

This week the Vatican released a draft working document for the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. It’s a lengthy document, covering a wide range of topics, so naturally different reporters see it from different perspectives. Still I was struck by the contrast between these two accounts:

In Israel Today, the headline read:

Vatican blames Israel for all Christian problems in Mideast

The story claimed:

A document released by the Vatican this week blamed Israel not only for the exodus of Christians from Palestinian-controlled territories, but for the plight of Christians across the entire Middle East.

In the Washington Post the headline was:
Islamic fundamentalism to be topic at Vatican synod
The Post article was consistent with that theme:

"With the rise of Islamism, incidents against Christians are increasing almost everywhere," it said.

So which is it? Does the Synod document blame Israel for the plight of Christians, or does it blame Islam?
Neither. Both stories are misleading. In both cases, a reporter comes to the Vatican document with a set of preconceptions, and picks out a few passages that fit his expectations. The lineamenta does contain enough material to support a skewed interpretation; there are passages expressing concern about Israeli policies, and many more passages explaining the dangers posed by militant Islam. But to understand those passages properly, the reader must put them in the context of the whole document.
Think of this as just one more reminder that it’s dangerous to rely on the secular media for a proper perspective on Vatican statements. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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