"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

On abortion, on homosexuality and on abuse, the mainstream media has it in for the Catholic Church

By Tim Stanley US politics Last updated: December 7th, 2012

For such a powerful and Machiavellian man, the Pope has very bad PR

People wonder why conservatives moan endlessly about what they label “the mainstream media”. One reason is that it often displays a subconscious prejudice against religion. Catholics, for example, are sometimes presented as misogynistic cultists with the blood of millions on their hands. To anyone who occasionally attends Mass, this can come off as rather insulting. Sorry, but we’re sensitive that way.

Take the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, who died earlier this year in a hospital in Galway, Ireland. Here’s how The Guardian reported the story:

Ireland's near-total ban on abortion has come under renewed scrutiny amid an outcry over the death of a woman who was denied a termination. Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, died of blood poisoning at Galway University hospital. She had turned up at the hospital a week earlier, but was denied a medical termination and, according to her husband, was told: ‘This is a Catholic country.’”

It was thus assumed that a) Savita did indeed request an abortion, b) an abortion would have saved her life and c) the hospital made a definitivelyCatholic decision to deny her the lifesaving procedure. Pro-choice protests erupted and Ireland’s politicians started talking about the need for reform. Savita became a martyr to Catholic cruelty. “I am ashamed that Ireland's medieval abortion law still stands,” wrote one Guardian commentator. And who wouldn’t be, if all they read was The Guardian?

But the story was a lot more complicated than it first appeared. The journalist who broke it later admitted that the facts were “rather muddled.” She now thinks that a termination might not have been requested and that Savita was only healthy “as far as we know” before going into hospital, implying that her condition might already have been fatal and that an abortion wouldn’t have saved her. It took an unsolicited letter from a consultant microbiologist to raise the possibility that Savita’s death was due to a “resistant bacteria strain” rather than “obstetric mishandling.” Also, few media outlets seemed aware that both Irish law and Catholic moral teaching would have permitted an abortion if it genuinely would have been “lifesaving.” And next to nobody noticed that Catholic Ireland – a land of “medieval” laws – actually has one of the lowest rates of death from childbirth in the world.

Perhaps what was most disturbing about the Savita story is how it was leaked to pro-choice activists before it was broken by the Irish Times. At least three days before the story went public, Irish Choice Network was notified by email that “a major news story in relation to abortion access is going to break in the media early this coming week,” and that it would be followed by a pre-arranged protest. We can infer that someone at either the Irish Times or the Health Services Executive conspired to use a private tragedy to push a political agenda. It's all very Alinsky.

Run a news search on Savita’s death and you’ll find very little in the mainstream press that addresses these problems or, more importantly, corrects earlier false reports. It’s as if the story never happened. Perhaps it would have been better if it hadn’t. Rather than waiting for a proper investigation of what went wrong, some chose to broadcast the opinions of understandably distressed family members as if they were indisputable facts. And the commentary accompanying the journalism drew a straight, short line between an individual’s death and the Catholic Church. The takeaway: Catholicism kills.

Of course, this is not to deny that Catholics have committed crimes or that the Church, as an institution, has failed the innocent. It is self-evident that its many sins should be investigated and exposed. But the journalism applied to the Church is often uneven. We might forgive a little misunderstanding about theology. But on the stuff that really matters, I’m beginning to detect the sulphurous whiff of a witch hunt.

Consider the New York Times’ hasty reporting of an allegation that the Dutch Catholic Church had castrated a gay man in the 1950s because he complained about being sexually abused by two priests. Never mind that the two priests were charged and prosecuted, that the use of castration was secular and horribly widespread in psychiatric hospitals, or that the allegation had been dismissed by an earlier inquiry for lack of evidence. The New York Times chose to ignore all of this in preference for an angle that, by coincidence, offers a damning indictment of Catholic homophobia. Similar artistic licence is found in the “journalism” of Johann Hari – a man with multiple personalities (all of them, alas, horrible). As part of a campaign against the Catholic Church, Hari used a TV appearance to read from a 2001 letter in which the future Pope apparently told bishops that “cases of child abuse should be dealt with in the most secretive way, restrained by perpetual silence, and everybody is to observe the strictest secret.” But, the missive itself was not a secret (it was published a few days after being read) and the word “secret” didn’t occur in the untranslated version at all. The letter was actually written in order to inform bishops that Benedict was now handling child abuses cases personally and nowhere did he tell them not to approach the police. Hari’s representation of the Pope’s past was wildly inaccurate. To Hari, "the truth" is something that he writes on other people’s Wikipedia entries.

In all of these stories, members of the mainstream media have taken incredibly complicated, personal and tragic stories and turned them into straightforward exhibits of Catholic evil. If the truth was being inexpertly pursued for the sake of the truth, this situation would be regrettable but worth suffering. But the pattern is rather more ugly. Stories are reported as evidence of Catholic hatred for women, Aids sufferers or the LGBTQ community. And when the details of those stories are later challenged, the contradictions seem to get much less attention than the original accusation. In the desperately sad case of Savita, the silence is unnerving.

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