Church seeks media fairness

  • November 27, 2009
{mosimage}Perhaps the only thing tougher for a New Yorker than fighting city hall is taking on the mighty New York Times. So all Catholics should applaud New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan for publicly criticizing the anti-Catholic bias found not only on the pages of the The Times, but pervasive throughout the media. 

Dolan wasn’t speaking for Canada when he wrote an essay recently that labelled media prejudice against the Catholic Church “a national pastime.” But his comments apply on both sides of the border. Canada’s mainstream media, like its southern cousin, often operates with one set of rules for minority religions and another for the Catholic Church. Maybe it’s time we also got angry.

Dolan’s ire had simmered for months and finally boiled over when he read, in his words, an “intemperate and scurrilous” Times column that used every anti-Catholic caricature possible in a “diatribe that rightly never would have passed muster with the editors” had similar stereotyping been applied to the Jewish or Islamic faiths. While acknowledging the right to criticize the church, the bishop railed at the columnist’s methods, citing blatant prejudice typical of The Times and other American media.

Is the Canadian media any different? Unfortunately, no. Following Benedict’s invitation to Anglicans, a column run in a national newspaper chain dripped with anti-Catholic stereotyping. The headline in one paper referred to the Pope as “Benny.” When the Pope  proposed a moral and spiritual remedy last spring to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, he was ridiculed in national newspapers and by at least one CBC program. Closer to home, when Antigonish received a new bishop last week, a national newspaper illustrated the story with a photo of disgraced Bishop Raymond Lahey.

There are times, of course, when media coverage will be harsh because the facts themselves are unpleasant. There is no sugar-coating, and none is expected, when a bishop is charged with serious crimes. But not all church news is bad or scandalous. 

 Earlier this month two new bishops were named for Toronto. One, Fr. Vincent Nguyen, was born in Vietnam, came to Canada as a teenager in 1984 with the “boat people” refugees, was ordained in 1998 and, at age 43, was nominated to become Canada’s first non-white bishop. The appointment was historic. Toronto’s newspapers typically rush to tell success stories that highlight racial and cultural diversity. This time, though, when the subject was a Catholic priest, they all went silent.

There was a time when the church received kid-glove treatment from the media. Those days are gone. Fair enough. To some extent, the church can blame itself for that. But the pendulum has swung too far.

Media coverage of all religions should be balanced, honest and unbiased. That’s not always the case today and it won’t improve until others join Archbishop Dolan’s battle to put an end to the national pastime of church bashing.

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