One more small yelp about Christians spotting media bias.
Alan Jacobs faults journalists for improperly interpreting Pope Francis’ declaration of mercy for women who have had abortions:
Pope Francis has done a big, big thing: he has made it dramatically easier for women who have had abortions to be reconciled to the Church. But take a look at this NBC News headline: “Pope Francis: Priests Can Forgive Abortion If Women Are ‘Contrite’” — as though before this papal statement contrite women could not have received forgiveness!
The distinction between making forgiveness — more accurately, reconciliation and restoration to Communion, but even I won’t be a stickler for that — easier and making it possible is an important one and easy to grasp, but a reputable religion journalist insisted to me on Twitter this morning that such headlines are perfectly accurate and that my questioning them shows my ignorance of Catholic doctrine.
Apparently the BBC doesn’t agree with him, because the headline and article they posted earlier — has been revised: “Pope on abortion: Francis relaxes forgiveness rules.” Which is a big improvement in accuracy, though at least one, ahem, reputable religion journalist will think it wholly unnecessary.
Why defend the indefensible? The NBC and the original BBC headlines are plainly and simply wrong, and the stories accompanying them are factually wobbly at their best and in several places incorrect. So why say otherwise? An ideological axe to grind? Misplaced professional solidarity?
But when Roman Catholics themselves don’t know what the church teaches or pay attention to the papacy, why should the press be held to a higher standard than those who answered the call to communion. Rod Dreher reports on the latest set of numbers that don’t lie (and don’t reassure about the call’s terms):
Although an overwhelming majority of Catholics (nine in ten) believe in the concept of sin, they don’t seem to agree on what, precisely, constitutes one. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics think it’s a sin to have an abortion, compared to 48 percent of the general U.S. population who say the same. Forty-four percent think homosexual behavior is sinful (about the same say this among the general public). And just 17 percent of Catholics believe its a sin to use contraceptives, while 21 percent say the same of getting a divorce.
And although those percentages are higher for those who attend Mass weekly — 73 percent of weekly churchgoers say that abortion is a sin, for instance — the numbers are still pretty low on the issue of contraception: just 31 percent of weekly Mass attendees say the use of artificial contraception is a sin.
When Rod adds that liberalizing church teaching would actually hurt more than help, I have to wonder:
This is a pretty strong piece of evidence against the idea that if Pope Francis (or any pope) liberalized church teaching and practice in certain controversial areas, it would stop the bleeding and bring back Catholics who have left the church. All it would stand to do is to discourage the core of true believers. In fact, the Pew survey appears to indicate that the teachings of the Church don’t have a lot to do with the way many individual Catholics — even regular churchgoers — think and live.
I’ve seen what the numbers do to the true believers who at least were former Protestants. Nothing discourages these folks. It’s always sunny in Rome.