Where the Media Failed the Catholics
By Fr. Robert J. Carr
I have dealt with the call several times from media organizations such as the Associated Press and even from Church journalists.
"Fr. Carr we wanted to get your opinion, because you are a conservative."
"I am? Who told you that I was a conservative?"
The problem is that Conservative and Liberal are political terms and the Church doctrine is not conservative or liberal, it is church doctrine.
Further, these journalists portray Catholics as a monolith of people who can either be left of center, centrist or right of center. Indeed, as one of the groups attacking the church, Voice of the Faithful, attempted to do to get more acceptance, they stated they are a centrist organization. In Catholic terms that is like saying "We are radioactive." Centrist implies lukewarm. Jesus says literally in Revelations that the lukewarm make Him vomit. Therefore, only the most stupid of manipulators would come up with such a ridiculous position for the Catholic: "Don't worry we are centrist."
However, if we look more closely at the American Church, it is not along liberal/conservative lines that we identify ourselves. It is rather on lines of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. How do we understand what it means to live our faith?
Putting this in simple terms: Are we following a more Christocentric, Ecclesiocentric or Anthropocentric theology? This means are we more man centered, Church centered or Christ centered in our understanding of the faith?
What the media calls liberals are usually better described as the anthropocentric. Many of these Catholics lean towards Unitarian-Universalism because that is a man centered theology. (Granted they would be inclined to say human centered, but I am not a Unitarian Universalist.) However, the political term "liberal" still only describes one small group of the more anthropocentric of theologies. It also does not do it well.
Those the media calls conservatives are actually a far more diverse bunch than can be described with one word, even more diverse than those labeled liberals. This group would include those with a more Church centered theology and a more Christ centered theology.
Let me give you an example. There are many ways to live the Catholic faith, but two that are mutually opposed are neither conservative nor liberal, they are more politically oriented (anthropocentric) versus spiritually (Christocentric) oriented. Those two ways are liberation theology and charismatic spirituality. The expression I hear often among Brazilians, who hail from the home of Leonardo Boff, is that Liberation Theologians hate Charismatics. Boff was silenced in the late 1980's for his form of liberation theology, the most violent of the American forms.
This is a reality that is not addressed at all by the media. So, often times what the media calls liberals are not liberals, they are liberation theologians. This is a theology that politicizes the Gospel. The most extreme and radical form used at one time in Brazil included Eucharistic ministers who instead of saying "Body of Christ" when distributing communion, would say: "Vote For . . ." naming their candidate of choice.
Here in the Boston area, we are not dealing with a clash between liberal theology and conservative theology as there really is no such thing. These are after all political terms. We are dealing with a clash between liberation theology (VOTF, the universities and the media), traditional Catholic theology and Charismatic spirituality.
Yet, even within each of those groups there are different understandings of these expressions of Catholicism.
On my own blog, there is a woman named Janet attacked me for what I wrote about Archbishop Oscar Romero. Yet, I was only describing in positive terms the praise given of the assasinated Archbishop by the members of my Salvadoreńo community.
Writing as a member of the Paulist Center Community in Boston, Janet cites her bias towards liberation theology and the bias of the Paulist Center community towards it. She also assumes that because I am American and not a liberation theologian, I know nothing of Archbishop Oscar Romero. She assumes wrong.
The media simply describes the Paulist Center as a home of liberal theology. That is grossly inaccurate. This is really a place to find Liberation Theology. The Paulist Center is not some benign community. It is John Kerry's home parish, the place where he attended mass (with press entourage) during the political campaign. Not far from 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, the pastor of that parish was invited to give the invocation.
It is clear that we are dealing with Liberation Theology when we are dealing with this and other understandings of the faith embraced by the media. It is also clear that the Democratic Party has embraced Liberation Theology lock, stock and barrel. This is especially true of the Gay and Feminist varieties.
Yet, the media does not report this. They divide things along conservative and liberal lines that do not fit this discourse. Therefore, they misrepresent the truth and misreport each story that does not take into account this reality. This is the fruit of ignorance on the part of reporters who have failed in their duty to report accurately and truthfully, if only by their own lack of understanding of our faith.
Members of the Charismatic Renewal in Brazil told me, when I visited that country in 2004, that the problems in the United States stem from rejecting the Charismatic renewal. I have since learned that there is such an intense hatred among liberation theologians for the Charismatic Renewal that he may also have implied by that statement that our lack of appreciation for the Charismatic Renewal gives free reign to Liberation Theologians.
Domenico Bettinelli, author of Catholic World Report and the popular Blog, Bettnet, comments on a Fr. James Alison. Alison will be the featured speaker at the University of San Francisco with the talk "Is it ethical to be Catholic? Queer Perspectives-- Community in Conversation with Fr. James Alison, Catholic priest, theologian, and author." According to Bettinelli, the priest was trained by Jesuits in Brazil. Domenico explained to me that he cites this as an example of a corruption that has infected that order. Alison is embraced by Jesuits in the United States and is preaching this theology which appears to go against Church doctrine. The priests' actions, the Jesuits embracing of him and Domenico Bettinelli's thoughts may make more sense when I add the following information.
Some Jesuits in the United States, Brazil and in other countries have embraced liberation theology. The priest trained in Brazil by such Jesuits would be promoting it and may be themselves students of Leonardo Boff, silenced by the Vatican for his violent form of Liberation Theology that he promoted in Brazil.
Domenico Bettinelli received his degree from Franciscan University in Steubenville, which has an international reputation as a university that is strong in charistmatic spirituality. Bettinelli does not identify himself as charismatic, but neither is he part of the liberation theology embraced by the Jesuits and other orders. When we look at Dom's comments through those eyes, we can have a deeper understanding of the real situation.
What you read on Dom's blog is not liberal versus conservative, but different understandings of Catholicism that go beyond the black and white terms of liberal and conservative. Catholics understand those differences in ways that leave the media clueless.
This confirms itself more when we see that Fr. Alison will be speaking in the Boston area next weekend. Among his sponsors: The Paulist Center that is now forever connected to the Democratic Presidential Campaign of 2004. He is also sponsored by the Jesuit Urban Center and St. Anthony's Shrine of Boston and Boston College's St. Ignatius of Loyola parish. Another Jesuit Institution. The media misses all of this because it can only understand our faith through the prism of liberal and conservative. Therefore, it is impossible for them to understand a theology that contains a little of both: the liberation theology that the Vatican itself teaches. What is the difference? The Vatican teaches that the prime liberation is liberation from sin. Paulist Center member Janet mocks that teaching on my blog.
The media are lost in a world of black and white that they call liberalism and conservatism. That is something they need to reserve for politics. Meanwhile, they need to educate themselves more fully about Catholicism before they will ever be taken seriously again by the Catholic community that rejects the liberation theology of the Jesuits, the Paulists and the Democratic Party. Such Catholics are part of a group larger than they understand or for that matter than they are reaching with their reporting.
It is time for Catholics to start auditioning reporters before they talk to them. A good scenario may be the following. This is based on a real case.
One priest in another country taught that the Rosary is for the stupid because it is nothing more than a repetition of words.
Asking a reporter his opinion of that statement will reveal to any Catholic what he knows about Catholicism and what his leaning is when it comes to understanding Catholic spirituality in light of just having a political view of our faith. The reporter's answer should immediately tell any Catholic whether he passes muster of being able to report accurately on Catholic issues. If he does not, then the Catholic can calmly and politely inform the reporter he is not qualified to write the article and back out of further discussion with that reporter. Or if the answer passes muster, the faithful person can continue on to the next stage of an interview.
Catholics no longer need to deal with journalists as if they are qualified to report about our faith, until they start demonstrating sufficient knowledge to merit more than a "Don't call me, I will call you" from a faithful Catholic to any journalist. The black and white minded journalists who only think as liberals versus conservatives, need not apply.
http://www.revrobertjcarr.com MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - Priest, 617 230-3300
liberation theology, Leonardo Boff, Democrats, Paulist Center, Politics, Media
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