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(OPINION) Too often in the mainstream press, newsrooms tend to repeat the views of progressive activists. This is due to a number of factors.
One is the type of schools attended by most journalists today. The other is that they mostly grew up, lived and worked in blue ZIP codes along the New York-DC Acela corridor. These values often come into direct conflict with reality, and this is where journalism often fails to report the facts and context that matter for news coverage. And always remember this GetReligion theme – the policy is “real”. Religion? Not really.
This brings us to the national news regarding Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone’s ban on taking Holy Communion from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi due to his continued support – in word and deed – of the right to abortion. The coverage that followed, according to the sources you read, was very good (especially in Catholic news sources such as America magazines and The pillar) to bewildering and very poor.
These last two traits were mostly found in mainstream secular media where the focus was mostly on politics rather than religion. It also highlighted the blind spots of journalists today, where a lack of religious knowledge — or even understanding that religious voices should be included in their coverage — was on full display in the Pelosi-Holy story. Communion.
As a result, some of the media coverage surrounding Pelosi and the Archbishop denying him the Eucharist openly attempted to rewrite Catholic doctrine on this issue. Since most reporting has a good-guy-bad guy quality, omitting what the church teaches on this particular issue has helped cast the California Democrat as the aggrieved party and Cordileone as the MAGA-loving prelate (who does not deserve the cardinal’s red cap).
It didn’t matter whether it was a news report, an editorial or an opinion piece – centuries of Catholic doctrine on who should receive the Eucharist and the authority of a bishop were swept away.
The San Francisco Examiner, in an editorial of May 23, called on Pope Francis to replace Cordelione. Here is the key section:
Pelosi has always fought on the moral good side of these issues. Why is she being targeted for punishment in her hometown, especially when she can still receive communion in Washington, DC or Oakland?
The answer is that Cordileone’s main loyalty is not to Christ, but to the cabal of far-right American bishops led by Raymond Leo Burke, a Catholic prelate who has waged an ongoing campaign to undermine the authority of the pope. Francois.
In light of Cordileone’s resurgent efforts to create discord, we reiterate the call on Pope Francis to remove him and replace him with a leader who can unify rather than divide. Cordileone’s hardline conservative politics might draw more people to the faith in places like Oklahoma or Texas, but his partisan pomp won’t win converts in San Francisco. His placement here was a cruel strategy intended to torment our community and set up exactly the kind of destructive political games that are playing out today.
It is Nancy Pelosi, not Archbishop Cordileone, who reflects the true spirit of Christian care in the city of St. Francis. For the Catholic Church to continue to thrive here, we need a leader who opens the doors of the Church to all, not a narrow-minded man who locks down his political opponents.
Whoopi Goldberg, panelist on the ABC News program View, echoed that sentiment, saying “the battle for abortion rights is beginning to blur the lines between church and state.” She also said:
“The Archbishop of San Francisco requests that Speaker Nancy Pelosi be denied communion due to her pro-choice stance,” she said. “He’s one of the priests who also asked that President Biden be denied the sacrament. It’s not your job, man. It’s not, you can’t, it’s not up to you. you to make this decision.
In fact, as tmatt noted in his column “On religion” last week, the U.S. Catholic bishops recently noted that local bishops are precisely the leaders charged with upholding doctrine on issues like this. Also, it should be noted that Goldberg is not Catholic, although she has previously played a nun in the “Sister Act” films. This does not make her a specialist in Catholic education.
These opinions essentially framed the coverage seen throughout the news coverage. It was all about politics. The issue was handled in a way that was devoid of religion, theologians, canon lawyers, or any other experts who could give context to what the church teaches on this issue.
As tmatt noted in a previous Publish GetReligion, NPR wrote about Cordileone’s decision, calling the Eucharist “a ritual performed in Catholic churches to commemorate the death of Christ, in part by consuming a symbolic meal of bread and wine.” NPR had to issue a correction. For the Christians of the ancient churches, Holy Communion is not symbolic.
The New York Times mutilated Catholic doctrine by failing to provide full context in their day one history. Again, no canon lawyers or theologians were interviewed. Instead, they did what many in the mainstream have done – try to state what the church teaches seen through a political lens. The paraphrase was politically charged. Here is what they wrote:
The Catholic Church explicitly opposes abortion, which it considers among the most serious sins. Archbishop Cordileone is an outspoken critic of abortion and same-sex marriage, and he has also said he has not had a coronavirus vaccine.
The article was also peppered with political labels. Cordelione was called an “ultra-conservative archbishop” and the Eucharist simply called “a central element of Catholic worship.” This line was hyperlinked to a previous one Time story from June 2021 reporting on Holy Communion and political partisanship.
This is where an explainer could also have helped. Few media outlets have done so, choosing instead to mutilate – or in some cases even rewrite – Catholic teaching on communion.
Some Catholic media have shone here. The pillar, above all, stands out for its coverage. The Sub-stack account included the following in its May 20 reportwhen the news broke: Vatican officials or many U.S. bishops are unlikely to comment explicitly on Cordileone’s decision, but if the archbishop’s actions do not meet with Vatican approval, he may find administrative engagement with Vatican departments more difficult in the coming months.
Yet the Archbishop’s decision comes as no surprise. Cordileone has raised concerns about Pelosi’s abortion advocacy for years and at the same time discussed the prospect of banning pro-abortion politicians as a measure of sacramental discipline. To most Church watchers, it seemed likely that the Archbishop would eventually engage Pelosi by invoking Canon 915, as he did this week.
Four days later, The pillar take out a explanatory. It was further proof that on this story, and on so many others concerning doctrine, the Catholic press should be one of the first places you should go for consistent and accurate media coverage.
Even more frustrating is that this story has been going on for almost 10 days. Pelosi spoke about the ban in an interview with MSNBC May 24. The mainstream media had plenty of chances to get it right.
Was it really that hard to quote the Canon 915?
A Search Google News of “Canon 915” got results for The pillar and a few other Catholic news sites. A Washington Post May 27 story, a week after Cordileone’s initial ban, cited canon 915 after the story noted that Pelosi’s ban had spread to four other dioceses. It’s the more than halfway section that provides important details that so many stories ignore:
Canon 915 states, “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others stubbornly persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
The Reverend John Beal, a canon lawyer and professor at the Catholic University of America, dismissed Vasa’s argument, which contradicts the commonly held belief that communion refusals are limited to an individual bishop’s diocese. “Bishops are rarely picky about procedural niceties,” Beal said in an email.
It took a week, but it finally made mainstream coverage. Overall, however, the mainstream press gave a distorted view of this issue. Instead of informing, coverage was constantly distorted.
The fallout is that readers don’t fully understand what’s going on. This is the problem when journalists push narratives and infuse partisanship into reporting – when basic facts and debates between informed voices on both sides would suffice. The purpose of journalism is to inform. Some have failed miserably when it comes to the current Pelosi/Communion issue.
This post was originally posted on GetReligion.