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The Christian Science Monitor's flight of fancy

By Diogenes (articles ) | Aug 09, 2010

The Christian Science Monitor rounds up the usual suspects—liberal Catholic theologians—to testify that Pope Benedict XVI has been working for years on a nefarious project to “reassert conservative Catholicism.” To simplify matters, let’s concede that from the editorial perspective of the Christian Science Monitor, any authentic form of Catholicism will look like “conservative” Catholicism. Yes, Pope Ratzinger has been working to reassert that faith. It’s not too tough to demonstrate that proposition. So it’s all the more remarkable that in developing the argument, the Monitor commits these whoppers:

The article quotes a supposed expert, who says:

"Ratzinger has been appointing bishops for 30 years. It is now his church. The bishops today were chosen exactly because they agreed with him."

Here the Monitor's witness demonstrates that either he is not really honest or he is not really an expert. Anyone who knows his way around the Vatican realizes that although then-Cardinal Ratzinger had considerable influence during the pontificate of John Paul II, he certainly did not control the selection of bishops. But if he did control appointments for the past 30 years, then he was responsible for putting Cardinals Bernardin in Chicago, Mahony in Los Angeles, Gröer in Vienna, Kasper at the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and (depending how strictly you follow the time line) perhaps Daneels in Brussels and Martini in Milan. Neither those prelates, nor dozens of others installed in less prominent sees, were conspicuous for agreement with Cardinal Ratzinger.

The Monitor goes on to describe Cardinal Ratzinger’s tenure at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

But now, as head of church discipline, Ratzinger was primarily focused on silencing priests or liberation theologians, such as the Brazilian Leonardo Boff, who tried to empower farmers and peasants.

It’s just a wee bit tendentious to say that the primary focus of the CDF was to silence liberation theologians, but there the Monitor is giving a dumbed-down version of a message put forward weeks ago by the New York Times. Still the Times never went so far as to say that the CDF wanted to silence priests. Read the sentence again. Yup; that’s what it says: The CDF under the evil Ratzinger wanted to silence priests. An odd accusation to level against a Vatican dicastery, but there it is.

And this remarkable paragraph continues:

..The 1990s brought strictures against abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage, contraception, and promotion of abstinence and celibacy – just as US bishops were reporting hundreds of child abuse cases, but getting little clarity on how to handle them.

That’s a non sequitur, of course. There’s no reason why the Vatican (or are we still speaking exclusively about the CDF?) couldn’t speak out on all these issues and still respond to the sex-abuse crisis. It’s rather suspicious, too, that the Monitor’s list of Vatican/CDF projects coincides so perfectly with the complaints of liberal secular critics. (There’s no mention of CDF works on reproductive technology, or on the necessity of Christ and the Church in the economy of salvation.) But the most astonishing part of the sentence is the final phrase. The sad revelation of 2002 was that the American bishops were not reporting child-abuse cases—to the Vatican, to law-enforcement officials, to their parishes, or to anyone else.

Earlier in the story, the Monitor reported: “This spring, the pope described pedophilia as ‘the petty gossip of dominant opinion.’” The Pontiff did use those words in a public address, and it’s true that some analysts jumped—without evidence—to the conclusion that he was speaking about public discussions of the sex-abuse scandal. But pay careful attention to the wording of that charge in the Monitor story. The Monitor does not make the (barely defensible) charge that Pope Benedict was speaking about the coverage of the sex-abuse scandal. No; the story says, in plain language, that the Pope “described pedophilia” as “the petty gossip of dominant opinion.” Now think about that for a moment. When you accuse someone of pedophilia, are you saying that he is a gossip?

Here we are forced to choose between two possibilities. The Pope—who is described in this story as a man of truly exceptional intellectual gifts—doesn’t know what “pedophilia” is. Or else the Monitor doesn’t understand what the Pope was talking about. Which explanation for this sentence is more likely?

Wait. There’s a third possible explanation. Perhaps the author of the Monitor story, and his editors, aren’t very careful about the words they use and the claims they convey.

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Catilieth - Aug. 17, 2010 12:49 AM ET USA

    garedawg, Have you read the CSM lately? It's not what it used to be.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Aug. 10, 2010 7:49 PM ET USA

    I'm disappointed. The Christian Science Monitor has long had a reputation for unbiased reporting. It appears to be the case no longer.

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