Friday, June 15, 2012

Bishops, Nuns, the News, and Being Catholic

First, a tip of the hat to New Advent, on Twitter, for the heads-up on a Reuters article about Catholic bishops in America.

I decided to take a good look at what Reuters did: and then reviewed a related article, by a news agency that understands Catholicism. Reuters did a fairly good job of covering a "PR campaign" involving the Catholic Church. But I think there's room for improvement:

A 'Catholic' story and Reuters

I didn't know what to expect when I saw that Reuters, an international news service, had done an article on American bishops and a "PR campaign." Particularly when the first few paragraphs hinted that Reuters would be discussing how news media was covering 'Catholic' stories.

All-Too-Familiar Terms

Words like "confrontational," " 'debacle,' " and "crackdown," pushed some of my buttons. I'm not a particularly placid man, and I'm not at all happy about new media's failure to keep up with the times. Which is another topic, almost.

"Too Confrontational"

"U.S. bishops plan PR campaign to soften image"
Reuters (June 14, 2012)

"U.S. Catholic bishops announced plans on Thursday for an ambitious public relations drive to soften and shape their image and reach out to the younger generation using social media.

"In a lively session at their national conference in Atlanta, several bishops expressed dismay that they are slow to get their talking points across and are perceived as too confrontational.

"The recent Vatican crackdown on the largest organization of U.S. nuns turned into a public relations 'debacle' for the bishops, said Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston.
So far, this looked like more of the same old: same old, where some news service would 'analyze' how news services were boldly exposing vile abuse committed by 'those religious people over there.'

Instead of whipping out a post full of "sound and fury," I kept reading.

Good thing, too: because Reuters did a pretty good job of reporting. For an establishment outfit. More topics.

(Back to list of headings)

Point of view

"Radical Feminists" and the Establishment: 2012

"He complained that the Vatican's decision to put bishops in charge of rooting out 'radical feminist' elements within the nuns' group was linked in the secular media to unrelated events, such as the bishops' investigation of the Girl Scouts, with negative consequences for the church's image...."
There's quite a lot going on here, starting with that reference to "radical feminists."

I've learned to be wary of words like "radical," since what one person may see as "radical," another may perceive as merely enthusiastic or tightly-focused.

'The establishment,' folks whose wealth, position, or influence, make it possible for them to decide things for the rest of us, will exist in any largish society. My opinion.

In my youth, the establishment was almost exclusively male, white, and either WASP or WASP mimics. Quite a few 'regular Americans' saw nothing unusual about folks who wouldn't stop talking about commie plots: but thought women wearing pants was "radical."

That was then, this is now. The establishment looks different: but the old 'everyone is free to agree with me' attitude is still there:

Getting a Grip on About Girl Scouts

Hats off to Reuters: whoever wrote or edited that article mentioned why Catholic bishops in America are re-thinking their position about Girl Scouts:
"...The bishops are looking into concerns that the Girl Scouts sometimes work with groups that promote access to contraception. The U.S. church's image also has been hurt sex abuse scandals...."
Many Americans may wonder why those bishops would want to keep Girl Scouts from having access to contraceptives. Aren't women - and girls - supposed to be "free?"

The Catholic Church says that we should do some things, like love God and love our neighbor: but there's no eleventh commandment about not having any fun. On the other hand, the Church does say that I have to respect all people: 'even' women.

And, yes: I know about the pedophile priests.

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Women are people

Contraceptives, 'Freedom,' and Sex Machines

The idea that 'freedom' includes a man's right to have sex with any woman, any time, without consequences, is firmly rooted in America's culture.

It's not a particularly new idea, although details have changed over the decades. For example, I remember when 'she really wanted it' was still an accepted excuse for rape. That's changed, thank God.

Wide-spread acceptance of contraceptives made 'come on, baby: you know you really want to' seem less threatening. Sadly, the underlying assumption that men should have sexual access to at least some women without consequence is still with us.

I don't see women as sex machines: but I'm a practicing Catholic, so my views are quite counter-cultural. I've discussed artificial contraceptives, sex, and why I became a Catholic, before:

Men, Women, Sex, and Being Catholic

I think this is the best 'one-stop' resource for learning what the Church says about human sexuality, particularly "the regulation of birth:"
Here's a quick overview of men, women, and getting a grip, from a Catholic point of view:
  • God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 378, 1645, 2331, 2334-2335)
  • Marriage is important
    (Catechism, 1601-1658)
  • Unjust discrimination based on sex or national origin is wrong
    (Catechism, 2433)
    • So is unjust treatment of homosexuals
      (Catechism, 2358)
(Back to list of headings)


"Not Combative, But Inviting"

"...Added Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, 'We need to teach in a way that's not combative, but inviting.'

"While several bishops said they wanted to push their views directly to the public, without mediation by the press, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, urged his brethren to remain open to all forums of communication.

"It's important to engage people who have positions that are possibly different than ours, so that we can build coalitions,' Kicanas said. 'We shouldn't always be overly sensitive about criticism.'..."
I agree with the "inviting" part, since I've been on the receiving end of 'assault with Bible verses.' The trick, I think, will be overcoming:
  • American culture's deep-seated revulsion towards anything 'Catholic'
  • 'What folks know, that just ain't so' about the Catholic Church
  • News media ignorance
I think a major problem is that many Americans in news media and the general public don't realize that what 'everybody knows' about the Catholic Church often isn't true.

Happily, quite a few resources are online.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Reuters, and What's Not New

"...The bishops' public relations campaign is still in the early stages but tentative plans include appointing a high-profile, always-on-call spokesman and creating a more active presence on Twitter and Facebook. Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City also announced the launch of a private social network for bishops only - a sort of Facebook of the magisterium.

"The campaign 'will be a tremendous expense,' said Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. 'But the greater cost, I believe, is not doing it.'

"The bishops are moving to post more Catholic resources online as well. On Thursday, they announced that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has sold nearly 1 million print copies, has been posted on the Conference of Catholic Bishops' website in e-book format...."
The "e-book format" copy of the Catechism is new, but the official English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been online for years: on both the USCCB website (, and the Vatican's (
Maybe it's just as well that Reuters didn't try to explain what magisterium means. On the other hand, it's a term that someone who's not familiar with the Catholic Church isn't likely to understand. I've posted about using highly-specialized language before:
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'Religious' News Coverage - or - Home Runs at the Super Bowl

I've said something like this before. If establishment news covered the Super Bowl the way they cover religious news, we'd see expert discussions of the quality of this year's home runs compared to number of women employed by the NFL, and speculation about why the jockeys weren't wearing feed bags.

CNA, the Catholic News Agency, knows about Catholicism and the Catholic Church. I think establishment news services could learn from their example.

(Back to list of headings)

Language Barrier

Being a convert to Catholicism, I knew that there was a lot to learn, including the set of beliefs and ways of dealing with each other that comes with being Catholic. Or should. There's an advantage to being ignorant - if a person knows about the gaps in knowledge. Yet again more topics.

The "Language of Politics" isn't "the Language of Faith"

"Sisters of Mercy doctors say LCWR is injecting politics into dialogue"
Kevin J. Jones, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (June 14, 2012)

"Physicians who are also Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma are criticizing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and its defenders for using an impoverished 'language of politics' instead of 'the language of faith' in the dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy.

" 'There is no basis for authentic dialogue between these two languages. The language of faith is rooted in Jesus Christ, His life and His mission, as well as the magisterial teaching of the Church,' said the physician-sisters' statement, which was issued after a June 2 meeting on the contributions of religious women in the healing ministry of the Catholic Church.

" 'The language of politics arises from the social marketplace,' they said. 'The Sisters who use political language in their responses to the magisterial Church reflect the poverty of their education and formation in the faith.'..."
I'm strongly inclined to agree with the physician-sisters' statement. I'm not sure how many 'cradle Catholics' have had opportunities to sort out what 'everybody knows' and what's actually true about the Catholic Church: and have used the opportunities they had.

"Crisis" of Belief

"...In April 2012, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released the results of a four-year doctrinal assessment which determined that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious exhibited a 'crisis' of belief and 'serious doctrinal problems.' The audit also found that letters from conference officers suggested the presence of 'corporate dissent' from Church teaching on issues like the ordination of men to the priesthood and homosexuality.

"The conference is made up of leaders from 1,500 women's religious congregations. Those sisters represent some 57,000 American women religious.

"In response, the conference's board members charged that the assessment was 'based on unsubstantiated accusations' and used 'a flawed process that lacked transparency.' They said the report 'caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.'...
I've posted about the Church and homosexuality before. It's probably not what you've read in the papers:
Ordination of men is another issue. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1577-1580) I don't see it as 'oppression:' but then I see the parish priest flat on his face during parts of some Masses, and know about "servant of the servants of God."

From what the boss nuns said the Vatican (interfering?) with what they want to believe, it sounds to me that they've embraced a contemporary American point of view. I like being an American: but I'm aware that there's a whole lot beyond this country's borders.

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Understanding Authority

Maybe my '60s roots are showing, but how establishment media decided to present the Vatican's actions looks awfully familiar:

'Male Chauvinist Pigs Attack Oppressed Women'

"...Critics of the Vatican assessment have found sympathy in major media outlets, some of which have depicted the action against the leadership conference as an attack on all religious sisters and nuns.

"But the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma see things differently.

"Sr. Jane Mary Firestone, RSM, an internist at Sacred Heart Clinic in Alma, Mich., who helped write her religious congregation's statement, spoke about it with CNA. She said that there is no issue with people representing their perspective to the Church and stating where they see problems.

"However, she said that critics of Vatican's assessment are taking their action into 'a political arena of demonstrations' and are 'garnering support in a political sense.'

" 'That doesn’t feel very appropriate,' Sr. Firestone said June 13. In her view, the social marketplace uses 'the language of majority rule' and does not necessarily have 'a regard for authority.'..."
Again: I like being an American. I also like 'democracy,' the way this country lets citizens have some say in how our government works.

But the Catholic Church isn't a democracy, and I wouldn't join a church where I had the 'right' to vote on amendments to the Decalogue.

When I became a Catholic, I knew that I was joining an 'undemocratic' outfit, where I'd be under the authority of the Pope. I was okay with that, because the Pope's authority comes from Peter: who got it from my Lord. (Matthew 16:17-19) As my wife pointed out to me, I have no problem with authority. What bothers me are "pompous nitwits with a professional title and a fancy desk." (March 30, 2011)

Representation, Dialog, and "A Bunch of Men"

"...'They've [the Leadership Conference of Women Religious ] taken this into the public political arena and it no longer stays in the dialogue of faith. Representation is always possible, dialogue is always possible, but it's with the reverence towards the hierarchical Church.'

"She said that the 'language of faith' expresses belief in the Church and the authority of the Church. Catholics believe that when the bishops speak, they have 'a different degree of authority' than when someone else does.

" 'In other words, the magisterial Church does direct for us the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as religious women,' she said.

"Sr. Firestone said that while Catholics do not believe the bishops are canonized saints, they are 'not just "a bunch of men." '..."
I recommend reading the entire CNA article. There's quite a bit more, including this:

"The Deposit of Faith and the Hierarchical Structure of the Church"

"...Her [Sr. Firestone's] comments echoed the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma's broader statement. It said that a religious community's charism is given to "enrich the Church" and the Catholic hierarchy must determine its authenticity. A woman religious participates in this charism and 'cannot separate her work from the Church."

"The sisters praised 'the generosity and service' of the religious women who preceded them and foresaw 'great hope' for the future of religious life in the Church.

"They said that this hope rests in remaining within 'the deposit of faith and the hierarchical structure of the Church.'..."
I've mentioned the hierarchy, in the context of vocations, before. (April 13, 2012) I don't have a problem with not being able to vote on which of the Ten Commandments we like, and I've seen what happens in churches where pastors are hired and fired by folks in the pews. I became a Catholic for reasons: and that's still another topic.

(Back to list of headings)

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.