April 15, 2005

A respect that fails to respect the facts


Susan Jacoby is the author of "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism."

April 15, 2005

The death of Pope John Paul II was unquestionably a news story of major importance, but the reverential tone of U.S. media coverage - especially on almighty television - tells us more about the obligatory religiosity of American public life today than about the pope or the Roman Catholic Church.

In no instance was this more evident than in the approving chorus greeting the image of three presidents - George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton - kneeling before John Paul's body. The media cited the presence of the younger Bush, the first sitting American president to attend a pope's funeral, as evidence of how far we have come from a bigoted past when a great many non-Catholics were suspicious of "popery."

The talking heads never hinted that there might be reasons other than anti-Catholic bigotry for the head of a government founded on the separation of church and state to keep a respectful distance from a church that still regards other denominations as "deficient" - the word used in a statement issued in 2000, not in 1600, by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (officially called the Inquisition in less ecumenical times). Many Americans, including the Bushes and Clinton, profess those "deficient" faiths.

But who would wish to say such things to his neighbor? The general TV tone was personified by NBC's Katie Couric, who pronounced herself "deeply moved" by the funeral homily delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. During the funeral coverage, few alluded to Ratzinger's authorship of the Vatican document reaffirming the inferiority of non-Catholic religions or to his efforts - at the behest of the pope - to suppress theological dissent within the church.

Television also buried the unseemly news (covered by major newspapers) that Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in disgrace as archbishop of Boston after his coverup of sexual abuse by priests, had been chosen by the Vatican to celebrate a special Mass for the pope. The Boston Globe elicited a priceless Panglossian quote from Washington's Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who, asked about Law, replied, "We look at the light, rather than at the darkness. So, if everybody appears to us in the light, as they should ...there should be no darkness in the way we look at anything."

Posted by kshaw at April 15, 2005 08:12 AM