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The Life of Pope John Paul:

Shepherd of Souls or Antiquated Authoritarian?

5. Conclusion

In all the attention the media will pay to the selection of a new Pope, and entering into an era evaluating what John Paul’s long and influential pontificate means in Church history, journalists should keep in mind that their coverage of the Church should be designed to present a fair and accurate picture of the proceedings without putting their thumb on the scale in an attempt to invent a Catholic Church more in tune with secular journalists. 

The secular media can clearly play a powerful role in reforming human corruption in religious institutions, as all the coverage of the nightmare of clerical sex abuse in the Catholic church has shown. Papal historian George Weigel has cautioned those who find too much joyful aggression in the coverage of corrupt priests that despite the major media’s secularism, their drive to expose and drive out corruption in the priesthood looks a lot like God’s work.

Pope John Paul told the faithful that in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the church teaches that one of its major goals in the world is to evangelize people to the gospel message of Jesus, to spread the good news of a savior who cleanses the sins of all who believe in Him. Church leaders hope that major media coverage can in some way bring readers and viewers a better understanding or deeper commitment to Catholicism.

This often seems to be in conflict with what the secular media wants. It seems to find Catholic and evangelical Christian evangelization and conversion not in their interests, a force inimical to “progressive” social and political goals. Its advocacy in favor of the “many Catholics” who share their beliefs can resemble their usual political coverage, trying to convince the loosely committed voter, or the loosely committed religious believer, that all good sense and all polling majorities inevitably will land on the side of the liberal worldview, that “tolerance” is the wave of the future, and “absolutism” belongs in a previous century.

The media all too often scratch that inevitable itch to not just report the first draft of history, but to push, prod, and persuade to create a history of their own making, to their own liking. The audience cannot merely be informed. It must be led to accept the media’s daily dogma.