This is the time of year I like to ski a lot. The other morning I got in an hour at the beginning of the day before heading to work (for those of you who do not live 15 minutes from the ski lift, I truly pity you!). The whether was largely clear and sunny, but at the top of the lift there was a small cloud bank so thick that I had to inch my way down the hill because I had virtually zero visibility.
On other days, I have headed to the ski hill in cloudy, stormy conditions and have found the visibility good and the skiing conditions wonderful, even as heavy snow falls around me.
My point is that one has to actually be on the hill and inside the clouds to know how much they matter.
This morning I heard on NPR the latest in a stream of stories on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. In this story and in many others, there are references by so-called objective journalists about how Benedict is leaving the papacy in a moment when a “dark cloud is hanging over the church,” mostly because of the well-reported scandals involving sexual abuse by priests and the church’s failure to deal appropriately with this abuse. I am getting really sick of hearing about the cloud hanging over the church.
Like most people, I view those scandals with disgust. Yet I’m hesitant, as an outsider, to say whether the “hanging cloud” metaphor is a good one. And I find the media’s preoccupation with those scandals as reflecting more on the media than they do upon the church. What does the largely secular, largely non-Catholic media know about whether faithful Catholics feel that a cloud is hanging over their church? And, more to the point, what kind of objective evidence can they cite to make such a claim. In general, what the media refers to as “news analysis” consists mostly of self-important journalists unloading their biases upon us.
There is no doubt that Catholics world-wide have been affected by reports of longstanding sexual abuse of children in some quarters of the catholic priesthood. I am sure that most Catholics feel great sorrow at those events, and a sizable number, to be sure, would like to see more done to punish wrongdoers, to have offending priests removed from their assignments, and to have more accountability from the church hierarchy. But the inability of the media to cover practically any story on the church without focusing on the abuse scandals as the defining characteristic of the church denies the rich and varied religious lives of millions of Catholics world-wide. For these people, their faith touches every aspect of their lives and is not defined by the terrible behavior of a few priests. People like Maureen Dowd, who has long been a self-anointed pope unto herself, do not represent Catholics generally, and certainly not the subset of faithful Catholics who love their church and their pope–those represented by the thousands who flocked to here Benedict’s final papal message and to express their love for him.
So, to those journalists who are covering the church, I have a simple message: talk about clouds you know something about, not ones you can only see from a far-away weather satellite.