Monday, September 20, 2010

In Summary: Mainstream Catholic Media and Reporting on the Papal Visit--Continuation of the Personality Cult of the Papacy, at High Price

Some final thoughts about the reporting on the papal visit to Britain, re: which I’ve been blogging the past several days:

What we see going on here is a game, and it’s an exceptionally ugly one.  It began in the papacy of John Paul II with the development of a JPII personality cult.  From the outset of his papacy, Benedict has hardly been capable of living up to the overblown, adulatory media-manipulated cult that the political and religious right, in collusion with the mainstream media, developed around John Paul II.  Developed for quite specific political reasons—to keep at bay valid, necessary critical questions about how Catholic leaders have done business in recent decades.  And to insinuate, along with those defensive leaders, that anyone asking such questions has departed from communion with the Catholic church.  Because those questions, if they are entertained, may undermine the power of the wealthy economic elites whose interests are served by propping up the power of religious authority figures around the world.

But Benedict’s lack of charisma has not stopped those who have grown adept at playing the media game within the church, and their allies in the mainstream secular media, from continuing the games developed during the papacy of John Paul II.  And so there’s a preponderant emphasis on the crowds, on the sheer, gross numbers, left over from the days of John Paul the Great, the skilled actor who wowed crowds with his charismatic presence—the cheering masses! Catholics lined up six deep in London! Smashing success! Benedict played a blinder!  Benedict pulled his punches!

As if a religion founded to hand on the living memory of a poor, powerless man who died on a cross, abandoned by his friends, scorned by the crowds, demonstrates its validity now through a mindless cult of adulation of its leader . . . . And by the numbers of those cheering the leader of the church on in empty, costly, naked demonstrations of pomp and ceremony.  The crowds were six deep!  Catholics lined up to show the world what being Catholic is all about.

And as if there is not a high moral price to be paid for this game-playing.

To be specific, the price the hired media shills who are playing this game are willing to pay (and the price that journals giving space to these shills to write their adulatory tripe are willing to pay) is this: they willingly and freely represent Catholics who ask valid, necessary critical questions about how the church and its leaders do business today as outside the pale.  They willingly and freely excommunicate their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, women and other Catholics who support the ordination of women, and survivors of clerical sexual abuse seeking justice, along with all Catholics who stand in solidarity with these survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

For some time now, Catholic pastoral leaders intent on keeping at bay valid, necessary critical questions about how the church does business have worked long and hard to depict the abuse crisis as an attack on the church by its enemies.  The unyielding, hateful, anti-pastoral attitude of church leaders to survivors of clerical sexual abuse has been justified as a necessary defensive reaction against enemies of the church out to destroy the church through abuse revelations.

And gays and lesbians, who have no place in the church unless they accept the magisterial definition of their humanity and relationships as disordered.  And women who refuse to accept the magisterial definition of women as second-class citizens and second-class human beings.

The reporting of John Allen and Austen Ivereigh about the papal visit to Britain keeps alive this ugly, malicious hierarchical text of blaming enemies of the church for the shortcomings of Catholic pastoral leaders.  It promotes this hierarchical text of blame-shifting by lumping all Catholics who are gay and lesbian and unwilling to be defined as disordered, and all Catholics who stand in solidarity with these gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, with secularists and atheists.

And by lumping all Catholics unwilling to accept the papal no about discussion of women’s ordination with secularists and atheists.  And by placing all Catholics asking for a just hearing for those sexually abused by priests when they were children with secularists and atheists.

The price those playing media games—game, set, match, Ratzinger!— are willing to pay now to continue the adulatory personality cult developed with John Paul II in the papacy of Benedict is to participate in an unpastoral, immoral scapegoating of whole categories of Catholics who raise valid, necessary critical questions about how church leaders do business today.  This scapegoating callously reads the various groups of Catholics I’ve enumerated out of the church, and defines “authentic” Catholicity as unquestioning obedience to the words of the pope.  No matter what the pope says.

The personality cult of the papacy, with its drawing of lines and manufacturing of warring sides—as if the church is now some macho soccer field in which real Catholics slug it out with secularists—reduces Catholic identity, in the crudest way possible, to a set of theological and political positions that few Catholics outside the hard religious and political right endorse.  As my posting on Austen Ivereigh’s theological positions yesterday indicates, this media game requires real Catholics to believe that condoms do not stop the spread of HIV infection; that Jesus intended for men to rule the church and for women never to be ordained; that gay couples should not adopt because Catholics endorse something called the male-female “binary model” that’s best for children; that stem-cell research and IVF are Godless technologies that trample on an ethic of respect for life, etc.

And so there is hardly a whisper in the reporting of John Allen and Austen Ivereigh and the many mainstream journalists who take their cue in interpreting the Catholic game from these reporters that, richly represented among those protesting during the triumphant papal parade in London, were Catholics.  Among the protesters were Catholic women and supporters of Catholic women who maintain that the question of women’s ordination remains open despite the papal attempt to close that question.  There were also, marching alongside other protesters during the papal parade, gay and lesbian Catholics—and their supporters—who find Benedict’s lobbying against legislation that would prevent firing of gay and lesbian Catholics in Catholic institutions, because they are gay and lesbian, offensive in the extreme.

And there were, everywhere in the crowds protesting the papal visit, Catholics who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of clergy when they were children, and who were not only not assisted when they sought the help of Catholic pastoral leaders to deal with their legacy of abuse, but who were vilified.  Attacked.  Told they are enemies of the church.  And standing with these Catholics, other Catholics who believe that the church’s response to these brother and sister Catholics has been disgraceful.

Imagine, if you will, what the reports about the papal visit to Britain at America and National Catholic Reporter might have been like, had a single one of these Catholic voices been included.  Or if a woman had been asked to write some of the lead stories about the papal visit.  

My conclusion?  Not only that we’d have been spared the endless, tedious, silly macho sports metaphors of the big boys who report to us now, if a woman might have had a say in crafting any of these reports.  We do get it, boys!  You’re real men.

But this, as well: had any of these valid, necessary Catholic voices been permitted a hearing—in the mainstream Catholic media, as it reported on the papal visit—we’d have received valuable corrective reports about the papal visit, which demonstrate the authentic Catholicity of the very groups Allen and Ivereigh are so eager to consign to secular perdition.  We’d have received a different, fuller, more seriously Catholic picture of the papal visit—and, above all, of why some Catholics chose to stand with the protesters—than we have gotten from the fawning, obsequious, sports-themed reports of Mr. Allen and Mr. Ivereigh.

In presenting only the fawning and obsequious—only the privileged heterosexual male—perspective of our mainstream Catholic journalists, the mainstream Catholic journals are not doing the church a service.  They are hardly serving its catholicity, through the kind of lopsided reporting they have offered during the papal visit.  

And they are actively harming the brother and sister Catholics they are willing to consign to perdition in the name of continuing a glib, shallow cult of personality around the papacy, which has nothing to do with authentic catholicity or assuring the viability of Catholic ideas in the postmodern era.  And everything to do with keeping heterosexual male power and privilege alive in the name of “authentic” catholicity.

No matter how high the price and how many folks get hurt in the process.

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