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And here's another very old story: the secular media don't understand Catholic affairs

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 29, 2014

In Time magazine (of all places), Elizabeth Dias scolds the many media outlets that gave top billing to the statement by Pope Francis that the theory of scientific evolution is compatible with Christianity. That might have been news 65 years ago, Diaz observes. But since Pope Francis was echoing what Pope Pius XII said in 1950—and what every other Pontiff since that time has said—it’s not really news today.

Our own headline coverage of the Pope’s speech called attention to his statement that Benedict XVI had been a “great” Pope. That was, we thought, the most newsworthy element of his address; his remarks on scientific research were not particularly striking. Yet the secular media found the speech fascinating, and went to great lengths to tout it as a revolutionary statement. My favorite example of journalistic excess was found in the International Journalism Review, which quoted the Holy Father as saying: “God is not a divine being.” Now that would have been news, if the Pope had actually said something so outlandish. But of course he didn’t; a sloppy translator was to blame.

To report the latest papal comment as a breakthrough in Church teaching, or a renunciation of Pope Benedict, is completely irresponsible. Yet several outlets did exactly that. How is it possible that respected news outlets would make such a spectacular mistake-- and then let it go uncorrected?

Imagine the uproar that would result if a sports reporter wrote that this year the San Francisco Giants are making their first-ever appearance in the World Series. (For non-baseball fans, the Giants have played in the World Series 20 times, and won most recently in 2012.) The reporter would probably be fired for gross incompetence, as would the editor who let such a gaffe find its way into print. That’s because the American public takes sports journalism seriously and demands accuracy. Not so on the religion beat.

It's an old, old story that the Catholic Church is untroubled by scientific evolution. And an old, old story that the secular media coverage of Catholic affairs is abysmal.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 01, 2014 4:28 PM ET USA

    I just read the Pope's address at the inauguration of Benedict's bust. I must say that his address evinces a profound brilliance of intellect and wisdom regarding the claims of secular science today. The only part of his speech that I can't figure out is the following: "The scientist must be moved by trust that hidden nature, in its evolving mechanisms, of potentialities that concern the intelligence and freedom, to discover and to act to arrive at development." To act to arrive at development?

  • Posted by: Dan Haggerty - Nov. 01, 2014 11:16 AM ET USA

    It took 100 years for the Church to embrace the theory of evolution; I hope they embrace its demise, which is imminent, much sooner.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 31, 2014 11:53 AM ET USA

    I used to meet regularly with the former Archbishop of Atlanta to discuss abuses of doctrinal teaching and pastoral discipline across the diocese. Every time I would ask the Archbishop a question on these subjects his answer would be to quote the appropriate paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church verbatim from memory. I found these responses very satisfying. His technique is probably the best way to handle the media, because then the controversy shifts from the man to the Church.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Oct. 30, 2014 10:16 AM ET USA

    I suppose this situation does argue, on the one hand, for extraordinary care. But it can also be used, on the other hand, to argue that that public misunderstandings are unavoidable, so it is best just to get on with the job. After all, was the media situation so very different under "more careful" popes such as Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI? Catholics foolish enough to be either misled or alarmed by the secular media are doomed to be confused and disappointed.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Oct. 29, 2014 6:40 PM ET USA

    All of which, of course, should alert Pope Francis to be careful of what he says, alert him to the fact that the secular press is primed and ready to pounce and then trounce the Faith. But that thought seems not to have crossed his mind.