The Media and Church TeachingJAMES HITCHCOCK
The enlightened class obviously does not understand Catholic teachings about many things, nor does it wish to, and it gives itself license to trash those teachings.
Virginia a bishop announces that those who hold office in the Church should adhere
to Catholic doctrine, and he dissolves a diocesan committee which dissented from
the Church's teaching about homosexuality. A newspaper editor chastises the bishop
and asserts that all such questions need to be kept open.
In St. Louis the
archbishop requires that the only parish that owns its own property, independent
of the archdiocese, should cease that arrangement. The media scold the archbishop
for "legalism" and "rigidity."
In New Jersey a girl with celiac disease
cannot digest Communion hosts made from wheat. The diocese suggests that she receive
Communion by sipping from the chalice or receiving a tiny piece of the sacred
host. Her mother asks the Church to authorize hosts made from rice flour, and
the media make it a major issue.
Also in St. Louis the archbishop receives
the vows of several women who have committed themselves to live as consecrated
virgins. This event, seemingly quite minor amidst the day's news, merits a front-page
article in the local newspaper, setting the stage for a cartoon ridiculing the
practice. A syndicated national columnist who is not a Catholic wants to "send
the Vatican hearing aids" because a recent Vatican letter fails to endorse the
complete feminist agenda.
We are so used to these media blitzes that
we scarcely think twice about them, but in reality they involve something quite
troubling. Although in each case those who criticize the Church do so in the name
of "freedom," their own agenda is actually a threat to religious liberty.
There is much controversy over the policy of some bishops that pro-abortion
politicians should not receive Communion. Here there is at least an apparent excuse
for the media's interest in the claim that bishops should not "interfere" in politics.
But the other side is the refusal to acknowledge that the Church has the right,
indeed the obligation, to set its own conditions for membership.
Catholic Church holds that women cannot be validly ordained to the priesthood,
that homosexual activity is morally wrong and that valid Communion hosts must
be made from wheat flour, to take three of the currently disputed issues. But
in effect the critics of those positions, even if they are not Catholic, claim
the right to determine who should be admitted to Communion, who should be ordained,
what kind of Communion hosts we should use, and what kind of sexual activity is
moral. Ownership of parish property is not a matter of doctrine, but it is basic
to the Catholic governing structure, and those who think the St. Louis parish
should keep its property are in effect claiming that we should be Congregationalists.
The fact that some of those who criticize the Church are Catholics does not
change the situation. The Church has always arrived at its teachings through hierarchical
authority popes and general councils not by popular vote, and
dissident Catholics are simply demanding that the Church undergo a revolution.
At work here is the self-defined "enlightened" class who claim the right
to judge other people's beliefs, even when they do not understand those beliefs,
a claim which clearly contradicts the same enlightened class's constant sermons
about "respect" and "understanding." Their favorite cause is "sexual freedom"
and nothing sets off their alarm bells faster than the suggestion that chastity
may have some value, hence the attention to consecrated virgins. Religious believers
are continually accused of trying to impose their beliefs on others, which in
reality means resisting having secular beliefs imposed on them.
article relates how "Wiccans" self-described witches are now demanding
and receiving respect in society. I assume the reporter is not a Wiccan, but the
article was elaborately respectful and it is inconceivable that any mainstream
media organ would criticize something like Wicca, no matter how absurd some of
its beliefs might be.
The enlightened class obviously does not understand
Catholic teachings about many things, nor does it wish to, and it gives itself
license to trash those teachings. Ellen Goodman thinks the Vatican needs a hearing
aid because the pope does not listen to her, not that she needs to listen. If
consecrated virginity, or the required use of wheaten bread, were beliefs of a
Native American tribe, the enlightened class would be very severe in cautioning
us to respect precisely what we do not understand and to learn from it.
There is an important issue of religious freedom here. Some legal commentators
have pointed out that it is not entirely clear whether religious liberty as such
exists any more, or whether freedom of belief and worship are forms of freedom
of expression. If there is such a thing as religious liberty, then it must apply
to churches as a whole, not just to individuals. But that is precisely what the
enlightened class now denies.
"The Media and Church Teaching." Arlington Catholic Herald.
is reprinted with permission from the author, James Hitchcock.
Hitchcock is Professor of History at St. Louis University and a senior editor
of Touchstone. His two-volume
and the Supreme Court was published by Princeton University Press. James
Hitchcock is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
Copyright © 2004 James Hitchcock