Media Spin, Human Nature, and Speaking the Truth

Why is it that the New York Times, Time magazine, and all the other tawdry publications simply bash the Catholic Church and never run positive articles?

Could you imagine the following headline: “Amidst Abuse Woes, Pope Offers Compelling Defense of Priestly Celibacy.” Or: “Statistics Show that Homosexuality Plays Major Role in Catholic Abuse Crisis.” No. They only run articles that pre-conform to their worldview and they suppress all other perspectives. How’s that for a free country’s journalism? Sounds like Pravda, bent on squaring the circle for the sake of the Party.

But what struck me the most was the seven or eight letters to the editor in an old issue of Time magazine from a few years back, an issue with an oil-covered sea bird on the cover. These were letters written in reaction to the pope’s supposed cover-up of clerical abuse. Almost all of them reflected the liberal stance of Time itself, and all of them revealed a level of ignorance of basic Catholic doctrine on faith and morals that could only be called stupendous, easily surpassing the ignorance attributed to illiterate medieval Catholics by Protestant historians.

Alan Keyes

One fellow’s argument boiled down to this: “The Church claims to speak for Christ on earth and so to be infallible, but when the sins of the clergy are exposed, the Church says she is made up of fallible sinners. Which will it be?” Oh, potent argument! Oh, formidable distinctions!

Another lady wrote: “If my pope doesn’t clean up the abuse crisis [implied: to my satisfaction and according to my personal preferences—and assuming I know everything there is to be known], I will gladly join all those who are leaving the Church.”

The muddy depths of spiritual understanding displayed in these lines are hard to fathom. The pope is personally responsible for all the sins of all Catholics? And if he doesn’t magically put an end to all problems in the Church, I’m leaving?

Another fellow wrote that he believes in Catholic doctrine but totally rejects the authority of the pope and the hierarchy. That’s a head-scratcher. And on and on it goes: every letter betrays massive misunderstanding of the most elementary points of the Catholic faith.

What does this show? It shows, first of all, that the faith is not being taught or preached at parishes and schools. No one knows it; what is worse, no one knows that he doesn’t know it. It is the blind leading the blind.

A Mormon toddler knows more about Joseph Smith’s fanciful golden tablets than your average adult Catholic knows about the Blessed Sacrament or Church teaching on marriage and family. It demonstrates that many bishops and pastors have been and continue to be sleeping at the wheel and have hardly begun to assess the true magnitude of the post-conciliar collapse. It is evident that catechesis is still in a state of dire crisis, indeed utter vacuity.

Recently a rash of pundits has appeared who believe that talking about a “crisis” in the Church is needlessly emotional and polarizing language, and that we are regrouping into a stronger Church with a clearer identity.

It is true that in some ways and in some places things are getting better, but we cannot honestly speak of a turnaround when every poll that is taken indicates fewer and fewer Catholics who accept the Church’s solemn teaching on any issue remotely controversial, from the truth of the Real Presence to the evils of contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts.

A majority of Baptized Catholics are reporting that they wish to see homosexual “marriage” legally approved everywhere and support Obama’s HHS mandate—a more blatant attack on the religious freedom of Catholics than this country has ever seen in its entire history. As for me, then, I will regretfully but more truthfully stick with the language of crisis.

Perhaps, then, we also need to ask ourselves if there is a deeper cause of the crisis of catechesis.

I believe the answer is simply that moderns have turned against nature itself, as Blessed Pope John Paul II taught in Veritatis splendor and Evangelium vitae, and this has effectively served as an ever-thicker barrier to intuiting, wishing to transmit, or even having the ability to grasp, Catholic moral doctrine.

The Faith is dying because its foundation, human nature, has been repudiated in theory and in practice throughout the Western world, and whithersoever this cultural world exports its poisonous nihilism.

The Faith thrives where grace is actively sought; and grace can be grasped (to the extent that we can grasp it) only when nature is already known and loved, since grace perfects or brings to a superabundant completion the nature God created.

If the very reality of nature is no longer understood, the purposefulness of nature is likewise dismissed, and soon human freedom plummets into self-destructive willfulness, a whirlpool of diseased desire, a churning cauldron of lust, gluttony, avarice, all the deadly sins.

This is where the modern Church finds herself. Her members are metaphysically deracinated, culturally impoverished, spiritually prone and asleep. Even the created order no longer makes sense to them; their very bodies are a closed book, a meaningless mechanism to be exploited, like all technology, for selfish ends.

Indeed, for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the rejection of Humanae vitae was nothing less than a rejection of the created order as inscribed in its worthiest visible denizen, the human person. The almost universal failure of bishops and priests to preach persuasively and boldly the full truth about human sexuality and the goodness of nature was, in hindsight, a universal loss of faith in Christianity as such—in its goodness and authority, and especially its power to save us from the sin that consumes the human heart when left to its own devices.

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In short, they rejected the Faith tout court in rejecting the teaching about nature that points to the very motive of creation and redemption alike: God’s own inexhaustible goodness. Bonum diffusivum sui: the good is diffusive of itself, the good shares freely of its own wealth. This is how God acts; is this how we are acting?

A lot can be done by positive instruction, catechetical programs, and other methods of outreach designed to appeal to Catholics, especially those who are uncommitted or inconsistent.  But we must not omit the inverse: exposing error in all its ugliness, refuting the sophistries of the enemy, labeling sin clearly as sin, urging repentance and confession. When I first came across the following passage from Dr. Alan Keyes, I realized that I was face to face, at last, with a man who really understands the magnitude of the evil and is unafraid to speak it openly so that he might convict hearts of sin:

Every time abortionists rip a child limb from limb within the womb; every time they crush the fragile head; every time they scorch the life from its body with a death dealing solution; every time they scrape its nascent cells of life from the walls of a womb—Jesus is savagely beaten again; his skull pressed down with thorns; his limbs pulled savagely in their sockets; his hands and feet pierced through with nails; his breath drawn with fiery pain; his life finally extinguished; every time.

. . . And every time there stands vociferous in the crowd, the ambitious man of blood, Barack Obama. He is justifying the torture, forcing bystanders to aid in the atrocity, assuring that the nails are paid for and the henchmen of evil well fed and rewarded for their role in the daily crucifixion. Even the garments of the innocent children (their little organs or stem cells), like the vesture of Christ, he prepares for division among those who perpetrate the slaughter.

What a powerful homiletic model (not to mention examination of conscience) for priests and bishops everywhere! Yes, I admit, little children in the congregation are not the best audience for such graphic words, but surely, even taking that constraint into account, it must be possible to find effective ways to preach the “bad news” about sin.

As someone once observed, we are unable to hear and take up the astonishing good news about God’s forgiveness in Christ unless we first hear and face up to the crushing bad news about our fallen human nature!

We have to be convicted of our sin, of our dire need for mercy and healing, before Christianity resounds as the one and only answer to the deepest human need, the one and only response to God’s righteousness and glory.

We need to hear the bad news about our distortion and destruction of nature before we can hear the good news about the healing and elevating power of divine grace.

Allow me, a layman, to implore any priests or bishops who may read this: Be not afraid to speak the full truth—including the beautiful truth about human sexuality and the ugly truth about the evils that Satan has brought in to undermine mankind and the Faith!

Yes, it is true that one who does this will make some enemies (did not Jesus and Paul, and each of them rather often?); and yes, we cannot always be preaching about what is wrong. We must nevertheless frequently and clearly educate the faithful about sin, righteousness, and judgment (cf. Jn 16:8) if we are going to remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He came to deliver the world from sin, but those who do not know what sin is are trapped by it and will not escape. Knowledge is a precious form of mercy and deliverance.

Which brings us back to the point of departure: journalism.

We have grown accustomed to a world of mass media that spins and distorts everything it handles, indulges at whim in suppression or falsification of truth, and pushes its own agendas without the slightest qualms of conscience. Amidst such a hostile environment, all Catholics—and most of all, the members of the hierarchy of the Church—must take to heart the words of Saint Paul: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” (2 Tim 4:1-2).

Peter Kwasniewski, Ph.D. is a founding professor of Wyoming Catholic College and a widely-published author on liturgy, sacred music, Thomistic theology, and Catholic social teaching. His most recent books are Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014) and Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press, 2014). He lives with his wife and children in Lander, Wyoming.
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