If "news" can be defined as "what the editor says it is," as
Walter Cronkite's longtime producer Leslie Midgley 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, Va., 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, Va., but the diocese had no proof of
a sexual relationship and left the priest 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 D.C.'s back yard. It was a newsworthy
But compare that to the Post's other religion piece, this time
on Page 1, 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, Va., 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.