Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Dumbing down the Pope

Something that I think has become a huge problem is the effect that the media are having on the popular perceptions of the Christian message to the world--particularly when the Pope speaks. I call it "Dumbing down the Pope." It consists of reports of papal statements so trivial and so remotely related to the Gospel that they make his statemens seem utterly redundant (an echo of what everyone is already saying anyway) and irrelevant, if not simply silly. It is bad enough when you see this in the secular media, even if somewhat understandable (you can't expect the secular world to understand the spiritual nuances of the Gospel of Salvation, by gum!), but it is an even more serious problem when you see it in diocesan newspapers and other Catholic media outlets as well. Here are a few examples:
  • Pope urges protection of envirnoment (Nov. 10, 2002, Associated Press)
  • Pope's Christmas Message: End global violence (from 1998, CNN)
  • Pope urges more human rights for Cubans (Dec. 3, 1999, Miami Herald)
  • Pope praises continued efforts to eliminate land mines (Dec. 10, 2004, The Catholic News & Herald, Diocese of Charlotte, NC)
The problem, of course, is not that these things are unimportant, but that the Pope's purpose is distorted by constant exposure to such statements. The Pope is not a public relations arm of the United Nations. The Pope is Heaven's Ambassador, the Vicar of Christ on earth; as such, he His Holiness has an even more pressing message for us, but one that is almost routinely ignored. Even diocesan papers seem to regularly portray the Pope's message in the most banal terms. Here is an example from a column in my diocesan paper entitled "The Pope Speaks":
  • Pope: Christians must live in harmony with church social teachings (Dec. 10, 2004, The Catholic News & Herald, Diocese of Charlotte, NC)
Whoop-te-doo! Doesn't it just make you want to get up and run outside and go live in harmony with church social teachings!? Why this pathetic banality? How about something with a bit more zip in it so parishioners might have a clue what any of this means--something like:
  • Pope: Catholic fornicators playing Russian Roulette with Satan
  • Pope to youth: live chastely or risk going to hell
  • Pope's Christmas message: repentance key to God's mercy for even most wretched sinners
  • Pope: Georgetown University no longer Catholic
Whatever one may think of his Ultramontanism, who can help but admire the bracing sentiment of the 19th-century writer, W.G. Ward, who once stated--I think it was in the pages of the Doublin Review: "I should like a new Papal Bull every morning with my Times at breakfast"!

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