If "news" can be defined as "what the editor says it is," as Walter Cronkite's longtime producer Leslie Midgely once observed, it follows that what is "newsworthy" can also speak volumes about the editorial slant of the news outlet. Just ask anyone who a) takes his religious faith seriously and b) reads The Washington Post.
On Sunday, August 25, readers of The Washington Post were presented with two major stories on religion. In the Sunday Style section came another disturbing story about the Catholic Church from Post religion reporter Caryle Murphy. For months, the Post has surpassed other national media outlets in its interest in Catholic failings among both priests and their bishops. But this story was not the standard template of a gay priest preying on young men.
This was the stuff of soap operas. At All Saints Catholic Church in suburban Manassas, Virginia, a well-regarded priest, Father James Verrecchia, abandoned his vows of celibacy and had an affair with a married parishioner. The husband who watched his wife fall in love with their spiritual guide complained to the Diocese of Arlington, but the diocese had no proof of a sexual relationship and left him in place. Once the marriage crumbled into divorce, Father Verrecchia suddenly left the parish, and the priesthood, and married the woman who is pregnant with their child. Now the husband is suing the diocese for its inaction.
Caryle Murphy is a meticulous reporter, both in substance and detachment. This is a scandal of broken vows, shattered faith, and failed spiritual leadership in Washington DC's back yard. It was a newsworthy story, sadly.
But compare that to the Post's other religion piece, this time on Page One, and a very different story emerges. "Church's Growing Flock Changes Heart of Texas," proclaims the headline of Lee Hockstader's report on the "Cathedral of Hope" in Dallas, Texas. Ah! Finally a positive story about the Catholic Church maybe? Not exactly. And the sermon of pastor Mona West is not exactly fire and brimstone either. "Six days shall you shop, but on the seventh day you shall cease all shopping. And that includes Home Depot. Or at least two out of four Sundays."
This celebrated temple of warmth and humor is-wouldn't you know it-90 percent homosexual, and Hockstader is cheered that "for many congregants, the church provided a soothing backdrop against which to tell friends and relatives they were gay." By the very human standards of growing attendance of parishioners (and tiny, sporadic gatherings of protesters), Hockstader signals that this church is helpful and correct, and its opponents are not only wrong, but are melting, thus making Dallas "a less intolerant place." The dean of this cathedral, Michael Piazza, tells the Post that their creed is "We are trying to remove barriers for people, and not putting things between people and God."
More traditional creeds-not to mention a cornerstone of Christianity-teach that the biggest barrier between man and God is sin. By extension, a "church" teaching the homosexual lifestyle to be acceptable behavior, and no barrier to God, is doing its parishioners no heavenly service, but merely providing them earthly convenience. But journalists like Hockstader find this thinking medieval, apparently. In fact, Hockstader's only acknowledgment of this perspective was finding a hothead from Operation Rescue to call the church the "Synagogue of Satan."
Journalists like Hockstader see no need to reform, or even confront, liberal faiths that have no behavioral standards at the very same time they insist that conservative faiths peel away their traditions.
On NBC's "Today" show recently, interviewer Ann Curry asked Catholic expert George Weigel the usual (and tired) formulation: "Many people are saying maybe the problem is that we are requiring our priests to be celibate. Why, then, not change that?" Weigel hit the question out of the ballpark: "To blame this crisis on celibacy is like blaming treason on the Pledge of Allegiance. This is obviously a question not of celibacy, but of men failing to live out the celibate vows they have made." Curry incredulously replied: "But who could?"
The vast majority of priests-which is to say, the 99.6 percent who haven't been implicated in sex scandals-can. Spiritual leaders are supposed to inspire us all to become better people, make great sacrifices, change our behavior to prove our love to God. But apply Curry's philosophy to the tragedy in Manassas and you're tempted to conclude that sex is natural and celibacy is unnatural, so who could expect the errant priest to follow archaic rules? And when archaic rules are abandoned, reporters like Hockstader can revel in "churches" that preach the glorification of what God called sin.