This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.
This is one of the worst-written editorials I have seen in a while, but it illustrates one of the problems that we see when most American journalists try to cover issues related to the Catholic Church.
First, most of them just aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable about it. They don’t understand its doctrines or practices, and so they make quick, uninformed presumptions that are often flat-out wrong. If a journalist who is not Catholic and doesn’t know much about how the Church works is assigned such a story, I can understand how that would be a tricky and difficult story for that person to write. But, in that case, good journalistic practice would dictate being very careful in drawing and stating conclusions. What we see instead in most of our media outlets is journalists who are anxious to make bold and dramatic statements, even at the expense of accuracy.
Second, American journalists – like many other commentators throughout our society – see the Church (and often religion in general) through a set of very narrow American lenses. So, we have editorials like this one, which evaluates the papacy of Benedict XVI as if he were a presidential candidate. The kinds of changes that this editorial talks about – changes which the author blames Benedict for not making happen – are ones which can take decades, and the Pope is not someone who can wave a wand and change what others believe anyways. We Americans listen to our presidential candidates promise quick solutions to huge problems, and we expect them to make those happen. We start scoring them on their success almost immediately. And, we expect lots of glad-handing, lots of photo opportunities with a perfectly orchestrated appearance, and plenty of touchy-feely moments where our leaders engage in token interaction with groups of people that warm our hearts. Leaders who don’t do that here are often considered disappointments or worse, and this editorial seems to be applying those very same standards to Benedict XVI.
Some of the general issues he raises are ones we can certainly discuss. What was the real progress of ecumenism? What was achieved in terms of healing schism? But that requires actually study and perspective, not a quick “He failed!” like this author impulsively states. Seriously, if we are so disappointed with our quality of leadership here, as so many are, why should we so reflexively apply those same standards to religious (not political) leaders from other (not the U.S.) nations? But that won’t stop a torrent of American journalists from evaluating Benedict XVI the same way one would evaluate a candidate for the Oscars.