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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Drew Belsky

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2016 candidates react to the Supreme Court’s marriage decision

Drew Belsky
By Drew Belsky

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Five days after the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision mandating the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples, most of the 2016 presidential candidates have made their opinions on the issue known.

While all of the Democrats currently in the race aggressively supported the ruling, the Republicans' reactions to the Supreme Court's marriage ruling have been more varied.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is expected to announce his candidacy soon, criticized the Obergefell decision, calling it "a grave mistake." Walker suggested that "the only alternative" to Friday's decision is "to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage."

Texas senator Ted Cruz has doubled down on Walker's call for a constitutional amendment. Not only is Cruz seeking an amendment to protect states' right to define marriage, but he also hopes to amend the Constitution to demand "periodic judicial retention elections" for Supreme Court justices – namely, Cruz said, for those who "overstep their bounds [and] violate the Constitution."

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush shied away from a constitutional marriage amendment. "Guided by my faith," Bush said in a statement, "I believe in traditional marriage." However, "in a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate."

Florida senator Marco Rubio agreed with Bush, exhorting Republicans to "look ahead" and concentrate on the nomination process for new judges. Likewise with Ohio governor John Kasich, who said on Face the Nation that "it's time to move on" and "take a deep breath."

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

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina concurred. While "I do not agree that the Court can or should redefine marriage," Fiorina said, "[m]oving forward...all of our effort should be focused on protecting the religious liberties and freedom of conscience."

South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham forthrightly condemned a constitutional marriage amendment as "a divisive effort that would be doomed to fail." Graham told NBC News, "I would not engage in the Constitutional amendment process as a party going into 2016. Accept the Court's ruling. Fight for the religious liberties of every American."

Libertarian-leaning Kentucky Senator Rand Paul wrote in Time Magazine that the federal government should remove itself completely from the marriage issue. "Our founding fathers went to the local courthouse to be married, not Washington, D.C.," Paul wrote.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal "strongly disagree[s]" with the Obergefell ruling, but he admitted on Sunday that his state would ultimately comply with the Supreme Court's decision. "We do not have a choice."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went one step farther. While he "agree[s] with Chief Justice John Roberts" that "this is something that should be decided by the people, and not ... five lawyers," the governor admitted that "those five lawyers get to impose it under our system, and so our job is going to be to support the law of the land[.]"

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum foresees a widespread silencing of those who dissent from the Supreme Court's interpretation of marriage. "There's no slippery slope here," Santorum told the Family Research Council Friday; "religious liberty is under assault today – not going to be, it is – and it's going to be even more so ... with this decision."

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee expressed similar sentiments, excoriating the Supreme Court for flouting millions of Americans who voted to affirm "the laws of nature." Huckabee said on Friday, "I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat."

On the other end of the spectrum, former Democratic Maryland governor and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley contended that it is homosexuals, not religious objectors to the Obergefell decision, who need more protections from the state.

Calling the ruling a "major step forward," O'Malley proceeded to demand passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that criminalizes "discrimination" based on an "individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity." Opponents worry it would force religious employers to hire homosexuals and transgender people.

Passing ENDA, O'Malley said, would help "more fully realize the vision of an open, respectful, and inclusive nation that Friday's decision aspires us [sic] to be."

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Drew Belsky

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Obama Department of Justice to Virginia school: Let girl use boys’ bathrooms

Drew Belsky
By Drew Belsky

July 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - The Obama administration's Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a "statement of interest" Monday in support of a Virginia high school sophomore who is seeking to use bathrooms designated for members of the opposite sex.

In June 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against the Gloucester County School Board on behalf of 15-year-old Gavin Grimm, who is biologically female but wants to use male bathrooms and locker rooms.

Grimm claimed that she had used such facilities without incident for seven weeks until December 2014, when the school board enacted a policy requiring "transgender" students to use private restrooms.

Grimm testified in early 2015 that "[n]ow that the board has passed this policy, school no longer feels as safe and welcoming as it did before[.] ... Being singled out is a glaring reminder of my differences and causes me significant discomfort every time I have to use the restroom."

The Obama administration declared in May 2014 that sex discrimination under Title IX applies to those who identify as "transgender."  The Department of Education followed up last December by ordering federally funded schools to classify students based on "gender identity" rather than biological sex.

Regardless, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jeremy Tedesco told LifeSiteNews in June of this year that Grimm's and the ACLU's discrimination claims would not hold water.  Citing a district court case in Pennsylvania, Tedesco noted (emphasis in original) that "[t]he Court ... highlighted that Title IX's implementing regulations state that schools do not violate Title IX when they 'provide separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex.'"

Title IX, part of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, is a statute that "prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity."

"Every court to consider this issue has held that single-sex restrooms and locker room facilities are permitted under Title IX," Tedesco concluded.

Now, according to the DoJ's "statement of interest" in support of Grimm, filed this week, "[t]he United States has a significant interest in ensuring that all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of sex discrimination and that the proper legal standards are applied to claims under Title IX" (p. 2, all citations omitted).  Per the DoJ, Grimm "is likely to succeed on the merits" of her Title IX claim, and "it is in the public interest to allow [Grimm] ... to use the male restrooms at Gloucester High School."

Regarding the Pennsylvania case mentioned by Tedesco, the DoJ claims that "[t]he district court's reasoning in that case was faulty and should not be followed."

One Gloucester County School Board member who voted against the December bathroom policy fretted that "federal dollars are at stake." Her concern was well-founded: five months later, the Obama administration threatened to deny Virginia's Fairfax County School Board $42 million in federal funding if the board refused to change its own bathroom protocols.  The Fairfax board ruled in May – over the strenuous objections of parents in attendance – that "transgender" students could use facilities in accordance with their "gender identity."

"Although certain parents and community members may object to students sharing a common use restroom with transgender students," the DoJ declared in its brief for Grimm, "any recognition of this discomfort as a basis for discriminating would undermine the public interest."

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Lisa Bourne

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Girl Scouts returns $100,000 donation over transgender stipulation

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

July 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - An unusual request from a major donor to a regional branch of the U.S. Girl Scouts has drawn attention to the organization’s ongoing support for gender ideology and transgender issues. 

Girl Scouts of Western Washington CEO Megan Ferland revealed last week that the council had recently received a donation for $100,000. However, after the Girl Scouts’ practice of allowing boys who identify as girls to join the Scouts hit the news during the media’s coverage of the Bruce Jenner case, Ferland says she received a note from the donor putting a condition on the donation.

“Please guarantee that our gift will not be used to support transgender girls,” the donor reportedly asked. “If you can’t, please return the money.”

In the end, Ferland said she chose to give the $100,000 - what could have comprised nearly a fourth of the council’s annual fundraising goal - back to the donor.

“Girl Scouts is for every girl,” Ferland stated in a report from SeattleMet.com. “And every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout if she wants to.”

In the meantime, the council used the publicity over the refused donation to launch a social fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo, a social fundraising site. The #ForEVERYGirl has far exceeded its goal, raising over $300,000 for the group in just three days.

"Our vision at Girl Scouts of Western Washington is that EVERY girl in our region—regardless of her race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or geographic location—is empowered to unleash her potential, build her future and transform her world," states the campaign.

This is not the first time that Ferland has been involved in a controversy over the Scouts’ support for transgenderism.

When a boy self-identifying as a girl attempted to join a Colorado Girl Scout troop in 2011 and was initially refused by the leader because of his male gender, Ferland, then head of the Colorado council, issued a statement welcoming boys identifying as girls, and saying efforts were in progress to find the boy a troop. The council also renounced the troop leader’s actions in refusing the boy access.

“Every girl that is a Girl Scout is a Girl Scout because her parent or guardian brings her to us and says, ‘I want my child to participate,’” Ferland stated at the time. “And I don’t question whether or not they’re a girl.” 

Western Washington Girl Scouts current program brochures show that gender ideology is woven right into the council’s programming for girls, with promotion found right in the council’s workshops:

SafeZone for Girl Scouts Sat, May 23, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tacoma Learn how you can become an ally and advocate for your Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) peers. Includes activities and discussion around: inclusive language, the process of coming out, the power of the straight ally, how to respond to homophobic/trans-phobic incidents, where to go for help and much more. Bring lunch.

Girl Scouts and radical feminism

For years, pro-family leaders have raised alarms about partnerships and programs that indicate that the Girl Scouts have moved toward embracing a radical feminist identity.

As far back as 2004 a U.S Catholic Bishop intervened when a Girl Scout-Planned Parenthood partnership threatened young girls. 

Then-Austin Bishop Gregory Aymond warned local Catholics not to sign their children up for Planned Parenthood’s “Nobody’s Fool,” a sex-ed campaign designed for pre-pubescent children which had been integrated into the local Girl Scouts.

A survey, also from 2004, found that many Girl Scouts councils were partnering with Planned Parenthoood in some fashion. 

In 2010 the Girl Scouts were found to be pushing a radical agenda on its young members with Planned Parenthood given access to distribute an explicit ‘sex guide’ at a closed-door, no-adults-welcome meeting at the UN sponsored by the Girl Scouts.

Lincoln, Nebraska Bishop James Conley warned in 2011 as auxiliary bishop of Denver that involvement in the Girl Scouts could serve to make girls more open to the pro-abortion agenda.

Roughly 90 Girl Scouts of Northern California members and their families marched in San Francisco’s 2013 Gay Pride Parade. 

"The San Francisco Girl Scouts participate in many parades that celebrate the diversity of San Francisco," Girl Scouts of Northern California Communications Manager Dana Allen told LifeSiteNews at the time. "Girl Scouts is inclusive and reflects the communities we serve."

A sexuality-based Girl Scout troop was started earlier this year in Utah aimed at gay and lesbian families and boys who consider themselves “transgender.” It meets at the Utah Pride Center.

"As long as a youth identifies as a girl or with girls, even if they are genderfluid on the day that they registered, then they can become a Girl Scout," Shari Solomon-Klebba, the Utah Girl Scout outreach coordinator, and an open lesbian who started the troop, told a local news station at the time.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) urged caution last year in engaging with the Girl Scouts after conducting a two-year examination of the scouts. That study identified concerns about several Girl Scouts USA policies, affiliations and structural weaknesses.

Girl Scout alternatives

The representatives of two organizations for girls frequently considered a Christ-centered alternative to the Girls Scouts told LifeSiteNews this latest incident with the Western Washington Scouts underscores the need for other options for families and their children.

“There has been a huge cultural shift in redefining life-long truths that have many families carefully considering their youth program options. American Heritage Girls has often been regarded as a Christian-based alternative to the Girl Scouts,” American Heritage Girls National Communications Specialist Jennifer Troutman said.

American Heritage Girls marked its 20th anniversary this past week. There are more than 40,000 members within the organization.

“Now more than ever American Heritage Girls recognizes the importance of bringing Christ-centered, character development programming to girls across the nation.”  

The head of Little Flowers Girls’ Club concurred.

“I feel very blessed that we can offer an authentically Catholic alternative to Girl Scouts,” Joan Stromberg told LifeSiteNews.

Little Flowers started over 20 years ago, not as a reaction against what Girl Scouts were doing, or where they are now, Stromberg said, but as a way to help moms and girls bond together to learn about the world through a Catholic lens.

“It is sad that Girl Scouts policies and positions have put them in direct conflict with Church teachings,” Stromberg continued. “I am just pleased that girls and moms have alternative places like Little Flowers where they can go.”

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