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So where's the controversy?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 15, 2011

Here's a hot tip on reading (or watching) the news: If a reporter claims that many people hold a certain opinion, but cannot cite any examples, be suspicious.

If the newspaper story says that "some people believe" Proposition A, he should be able to quote someone who holds that belief, or at least point you toward the group of believers. If he doesn't--and you can't readily identify the believers yourself--you might legitimately suspect that the reporter is inserting his own beliefs into the story. Similarly, if the campaign reporter tells you that Political Candidate A has been criticized for taking Position Y, the story should supply quotes from the critics. If it doesn't, the prudent reader is suspicious.

There are times when even a good reporter does not feel the need to spell out all the details of a story. If I tell you that Democrats have been criticized by Republicans, and Republicans have been criticized by Democrats, you will probably take my word for it. But if the reason for a disagreement is not so obvious, you should ask to see the evidence.

With that in mind, consider ABC Nightline report on consecrated virgins, and in particular this line:

The vocation has always been controversial.

Were you aware of any controversy? Have you ever heard someone denounce consecrated virgins? Or read newspaper articles about police investigations into the practice? No.

Take the question a step further. What is the reason for this alleged controversy? What are the aspects of consecrated virginity that might give rise to protests? ABC Nightline provides no answers.

The Nightline report claims that the vocation “was banned for many centuries.” Wrong. Needless to say, the Church never banned virginity. For many years the ritual by which a virgin was consecrated fell into desuetude, to be revived after Vatican II. But controversy? Not here.

Why would ABC Nightline claim that the topic is controversial, then? The report as a whole is not sensational, nor does it use the alleged controversy as a selling point to excite the audience. Maybe—just maybe—the TV reporters assume that their topic is controversial, because the choice to become a consecrated virgin is so shocking to contemporary sensibilities. Which is another way of saying that consecrated virgins provide a truly radical Christian witness to the secular world.

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bnewman - Jul. 18, 2011 9:51 PM ET USA

    Yes great article! There must be a book in here somewhere itemizing the many distortions of the press on anything related to Catholicism or Catholic practices.

  • Posted by: mamato085337 - Jul. 17, 2011 9:03 AM ET USA

    Phil, Great article and great conclusion; got me thinking: The Church often, when canonizing persons in years past, called a female Saint, Saint (let's say Agnes), Virgin and Martyr. Wonder if today one would be proclaimed with that title because shethe female IS a Virgin and therefore is martyred! It must infuriate some liberals! Mary Ann

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