Tuesday, May 16, 2006

sift through the words

It is not easy to get a balanced view of Church affairs in the US. On the one hand, as is often said, anti-Catholicism is the one politically correct prejudice still allowed in America. On the other hand, reporting by those who could conceivably give an accurate reading of events and credible analysis is often so skewed one way or the other it's almost impossible to get a grip on the issues.

Network and cable special reports routinely call in Elaine Pagels, J.D.Crossan, Richard McBrien, etc. to speak about topics related to faith, scripture and church that cannot be adequately dealt with in sound bytes. Unedited, their peculiar intellectual proclivities make them somewhat suspect. Reduced to one-liners, they become damn near unintelligible.

On the other end of the spectrum, Fox News brings in Jonathan Morris who, shiny and eager, glibly simplifies the topics he's asked to comment on. Like a greenhouse plant suddenly relocated to the outside world, his reporting on church issues wilts and disappoints under the heat of live broadcast. Although the endearing simper on his youthful face never fades, he appears at times not to listen to the questions he is asked by the anchors and often responds off the mark. But lack of acumen does not discourage him from talking happily on the air about everything from papal encyclicals to exotic dancers. I found his recent pieces on church and society in Venezuela, labor unrest in France and US immigration issues especially egregious examples of his craft.

Fr. Morris ends a three part series on The Da Vinci Code last week with this line: "A little knowledge is dangerous... for religion and for life. But a lot of knowledge (and a little humility) makes wise men." Remarkable. From the mouths of babes...

The printed word, while arguably more informative and responsible than the evening news, fails to resolve the basic confusion that seems to cloud most Church reporting in the US. I flip between the two NCRs on a weekly basis in the hopes of discerning the middle ground for myself. Neither the Register nor the Reporter goes to great lengths to camouflage its very particular ecclesiology, which, I suppose, is helpful in a way. I read both, aware that the omissions are usually more telling than the inclusions, and am attentive to the bits of information and wisdom that always surface regardless...

As an example: the May 12 issue of the Reporter was, almost in its entirety, a tiresome rant against Bishop Robert Finn and the changes being made in the diocese of Kansas City. Not that there aren't issues and legitimate questions, but the endless feature article seems to reproach the bishop for everything short of hiring an albino monk to do his dirty work.

That said, there are always insights that ring true. The editorial on the back page, No rationale for upheaval in Kansas City, ends with words of wisdom:

"...people can't be made to become a faithful community by controlling them. The qualities of true leadership and authority accrue to those who have a deep empathy for the people they serve... and who understand that relationships, not rules or rubrics or even revered devotions, are the essential thread of the fabric of a community living out the Gospel."

I'm not sure to what extent these lines apply to the situation in Kansas City, but I can certainly think of some folks in other contexts who might be illuminated by them.

Sift through the words, hold on to what is true.
A friendly recommendation from the Exorcist.