Dare to Ask: Are the media too harsh on Catholicism?
By Phillip J. Milano
So much is made of anti-Semitism and how ugly it is, yet anti-Catholicism is
alive and well on TV and in the movies. Live talk shows seem obsessed to bash
Rene, Port Orange
Catholicism is the largest denomination in the U.S. and world (more than a
sixth of the planet’s population), so what you may perceive as “a lot” is just
Pete, 39, Pennsylvania
You think we’re going to be biased and bitter writing this, just because Fr.
Walsh told us in eighth grade we needed “psychological help” from St.
Petronille’s nuns for asking too many questions in religion class? Or because
Fr. Gabel told us before graduation from St. Francis that we weren’t “the sort
of person a freshman would look up to?” C’mon. Have faith.
First, some housekeeping: At 1.2 billion, Catholics do make up more than a
sixth of the world’s population. However, there are more than 1.5 billion
Muslims, and if being skeptical or hostile toward religion counts as a religion
(they call it irreligion), those folks number anywhere from 800 million to 1.1
billion, according to Britannica.com, Adherents.com and other global surveyors
of religious persuasion. (Keep in mind, pollsters count anyone who doesn’t
totally believe in somebody up there -- even “Christian Atheists,” who
apparently don’t buy into God but really like the moral teachings of Jesus.)
Let’s start with Philip Jenkins, professor of humanities at Penn State, who’s
written lots of books on religion, including “The New Anti-Catholicism.”
He argues that in the case of abusive priests, the media tend to broad-brush
the scandal as systemic.
“Even moderate commentators are writing as if priests around the world have
taken secret vows of conspiracy, perversion, and omerta,” he wrote in The
American Conservative in 2010. “Worse, this deviance is allegedly built into the
church’s structures of command and control.”
But studies by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York found
that at most, about 4 percent of U.S. priests were accused of sexual misconduct
with a minor between 1950 and 2002, and of those, 149 could be classified as
“super-predators.” Jenkins writes that he’s not downplaying the situation, just
He adds in “The New Anti-Catholicism” that “In the media, Catholicism is
regarded as a perfectly legitimate target, the butt of harsh satire in numerous
films and television programs,” while other faiths seem to get a pass.
He also writes that as liberal dissidents within the faith have blossomed,
“For most of the media, a knee-jerk response holds that the Catholic Church and
its hierarchy are always wrong, especially on matters of gender, sexuality, and
Well, it sort of is wrong, at least when it tries to push its power and
morality on millions of laity, said Ann Neumann, editor of The Revealer, a
publication of New York University’s Center for Religion and Media.
“Nobody made up these sex abuse scandals. No one forced the U.S. bishops to
say we will provide health care only in the way we want to — not providing
contraceptives, not removing feeding tubes from vegetative patients, not
offering tubal ligations or [embryonic] stem cell research … About half their
hospitals’ money comes from federal and state funding … but they refuse to
operate according to individual rights.”
And let’s remember, the media thrives on controversy, she said.
“I’m afraid the media’s job is to give readers something to read. I’m not
sure it’s their role to play something down,” she said.
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Phillip Milano, author of "I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee)," moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Keep the cross-cultural dialogue going at his
Jacksonville.com blog or at www.yforum.com. Send general
column comments to yforum (at) yforum.com. You can also hear his