Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

The Mainstream Media and religious illiteracy: why be ignorant, when you can be misinformed?

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, April 10, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The very first phrase in a recent news article from the BBC relating to the Catholic Church in Ireland brought to mind something that has been rolling around in my head lately: the trouble with the Mainstream Media on Catholicism, Christianity and the life and family issues, (ie: sexual morality) is not actually their vicious mendaciousness and ignorance.

Malice against the Church is nothing new or exciting, but there is also an awareness starting to dawn that these media people don’t know much about it. We are starting to hear more admissions that there is a bias in the media.

But I’ve been thinking lately, that even this doesn’t adequately cover it. It isn’t their total ignorance of anything about the Church whatsoever, but the total impenetrability of that ignorance.

There is in the mainstream media, which the BBC more or less embodies, not even enough of a clue to cause them to pause for a moment and wonder whether they should look something up. The real trouble is their ignorance of their ignorance.

Today’s example is a story from the BBC, with the totally-and-completely-unbiased-we-swear headline, “Concern at Vatican ‘silencing’ of Irish priest,” the first sentence of which tells us that “The body that represents priests in Ireland has said it is disturbed over the Vatican’s silencing of one of its members for his liberal views.”

“The body that represents priests in Ireland” eh? Do tell. Which body would this be, exactly? It certainly sounds official and important. Gosh, I mean, could this be yet another example of the wicked old arch-conservatives in Rome trying to squash another progressive, forward-thinking movement to usher in a new era of reform, openness and wonderfulness in the Church?

It’s the first sentence in the story, so it must be important. And it’s the BBC, so naturally, we would never dream of wondering whether it is true.

The story goes on to say that the group has “warned that forcing Father Tony Flannery …to stop writing for a Redemptorist Order magazine would fuel belief of a disconnect between Irish Catholics and Rome.”

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I mean, here is this nice group of priests, just trying to keep things together in Ireland’s difficult times, and these horrible old guys in Rome are just tearing things down, for no better reason than to maintain their medieval power structures.

But wait, here’s something funny. The group the story is talking about is the Association of Catholic Priests, that the BBC hastens to tell us is “800-strong”. What association is this, you might now be wondering. No? You weren’t wondering that? Could it have been the BBC’s use of the term, “body” in a way that might have allowed you to assume that this is some kind of officially recognised organisation of the Catholic Church?

Could it possibly have been that the BBC writer was hoping no one would cut that name out of his story and paste it into the LifeSiteNews search engine? And what do we come up with there?

Woah-nellie! That’s not any official body of the Catholic Church, either in Ireland or anywhere else! In fact, this is a group of priests who have set themselves up in deliberate opposition to the Catholic Church, specifically to tear it down. Precisely what the BBC writer is implying the Vatican is doing… what gives here?

And, why, look at this, they’re trying especially to convince the Church that the old sexual morality was wrong. That wouldn’t be at all in line with the BBC’s unofficial position on the matter, would it?

Nor, it seems, did anyone think we might take Fr. Flannery’s name and put it into Google. Let’s see, what can we learn about Fr. Flannery CSSR?

It turns out that he is the author of no fewer than six books, a multitude of articles, and, one little online bio notes, is well-known for his criticisms of the Catholic Church: “…he is widely regarded as a spokesman for liberal reform of the Catholic Church”. He is, in short, a campaigner, a full-time professional anti-Catholic lobbyist, ironically, being paid a salary by the Catholic Church to undermine its own teaching, and discredit its leaders and institutions, (a job, I might add, that the Irish bishops have made much easier). This movement seeks to knock down the institutions, moral teaching and structures of Catholicism, a project that is obviously dear to the heart of the BBC.

So, in fact, three or four clicks will reveal that this “article” by the BBC is, in fact, a piece of political propaganda, carefully fashioned to point a totally-unbiased-we-swear finger at the Pope for trying to hold his priests accountable for being… well… Catholic.

A lot of this is malice, of course. The deliberate pushing, lobbying essentially, of a particular set of political ideas, without the courage to come out and admit that is what they are doing. The fact that everyone who reads an article online is also capable of uncovering this naked partisanship with a few clicks of the trackpad doesn’t seem to have dawned on them yet. Nevertheless, we still try to give the benefit of the doubt where we can.

We still say that much of this is based on “religious illiteracy” in the media, and among the public who believes what they read there. And obviously this is true, but I have noticed that this is only the first layer of the problem.

The term “religiously illiterate” simply doesn’t cover it; people, particularly the media, are religiously ignorant. There isn’t much about the Catholic Church that the media, and the wider public informed by it, doesn’t not know.

To complicate matters, on top of that ignorance and malice there is a large inventory of ideas, completely absurd nonsense, that “everyone knows” about the Catholic Church, that are total rubbish. (Here, Robert Spencer does an amusing job of shredding a sample of the problem from the New York Times.)

Put these four problems together, malice, blank ignorance, the total lack of awareness of that ignorance and wild misinformation, and it creates a perfect disaster for the public. How can we expect ordinary people, many of whom have never heard the term “media bias” to know where or when to click? How many out there would have read that story by the BBC and have known what questions to ask?

I’m afraid I laughed when I read recently about some Vatican occasion when a bishop or cardinal or someone was ever so delicately tiptoeing around the notion that many people in the western countries are a little in the dark as to what Catholicism actually teaches.

I could not help thinking of the occasion, many years ago, when I went to Catholic school in Ontario to give a talk. I have noted before that the lower grades, 8s and 9s, were quite receptive and interested, though ignorant as 10th century Inuit. The later grades, however, the 16-17 year-olds, had at some point heard the vague rumour that the Catholic Church taught two things they didn’t like and they were having none of it, or me. They had heard that they weren’t allowed, as Catholics, to sleep with whomever they pleased, and that they also weren’t allowed either to contracept away or simply to kill the products of their amusements afterwards. The shocking cheek of those old guys in Rome, trampling all over their rights like that!

I went into the class and it was immediately obvious that they were ready to tear me apart. I asked a few questions and quickly found out what I already knew.

“So you guys have been in Catholic schools all your lives and by this time, you figure you know everything the Church teaches, right?”

Nod nod nod.

“And based on that knowledge, you have examined these teachings in the light of your consciences and have come to the rational and well-informed decision that you don’t agree, right?”

(General murmurings, foot-shuffling.) “Yeah…I guess so…”

“OK, so you won’t mind a little pop quiz then. I teach catechism to some kids at my parish who are about 13 or 14 and are getting ready for their Confirmations, and I’ve just finished writing their exams, so it’s still fresh in my mind.”

(Worried looks, but still defiant.)

“Ready? ...What is the Hypostatic Union?”

A room full of more impenetrably blank looks you could not find at a convention of Italian medical secretaries.

“No? OK, maybe that was a little obscure. Then what about the difference between venial and mortal sin?”

...We all listen to the crickets chirping for a few seconds…

“Uh huh. Well, what about the difference between the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception?”

...chirp… chirp…

“OK, well this one is the easiest, a give-away… Ready? Who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity?”

I had to stop here because I thought one of us was going to cry and it wasn’t going to be me.

“So, you have come to the considered opinion that you reject the Church’s moral teaching on sexuality, but you don’t have a third-grader’s knowledge of what that teaching is, or the reasons behind it. Have I got it about right?”

This situation feeds itself, particularly in the media, who also don’t know enough about religion to know what they don’t know, and are equally sure they are fully possessed of What Everyone Knows About Catholicism, thus creating an almost impenetrable wall that admits no possibility of communication.

What can be done? Read LifeSiteNews, for one thing. And fight back, for another. First equip yourself for the discussion (I won’t say “fight”). Learn everything you can about how to answer the arguments against traditional Christian morality (This is not proposed as an exercise only for Catholic Christians).

This is something for which LifeSiteNews is the ideal tool. We write in these pages about both sides, what the other side is doing, thinking and saying, and why, and what is being done about it on the other side.

The peddlers of anti-Catholic, anti-Christian hatred, are counting on your ignorance. The author of this piece I have focused on here was depending on his audience not wondering whether this were a legitimate organisation of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

He was selling you a paradigm that liberals base all their hate-mongering on: that there is a “good” Christianity that is all for abortion, homosexuality and sexual libertinism, in the name of “freedom” and “conscience” and on the other side, the dark forces of “conservatism” whose only interest is in squashing your fun for their own nefarious purposes. It sounds silly when you write it out like this, but that really is it in a nutshell. Whether they are paid by the BBC or whether the Redemptorist order in Ireland is signing the cheques, the desired outcome is precisely the same.

They can only sell it to you if you are buying. And you will only be in the market for these ideas if you are not already in full possession of the Truth.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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