Today’s guest blogger is Dan Pawlus, Vice President of Communications for Interfaith Youth Core and co-host of “30 Good Minutes” a weekly ecumenical and interfaith program on WTTW 11 (PBS) in Chicago. He is an active member of Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago.
As someone who watches the religion media cycle for trends, it’s been a disappointing few weeks. The ongoing reporting of the Catholic Church and its latest struggles with abhorrent abuse issues have largely dominated the media stage. As a practicing Catholic, this has, once again, been painful to watch.
I’ve always been aware that the dark side of the Catholic Church and its very human problems has been an attractive target for mainstream media coverage. Catholic Church bashing has long been a sport that seems to play well to a media appetite and larger societal thirst to bring the institutional Church to its knees and shove it off its perceived pedestal. But this news cycle has also reminded me of how predictable the coverage of the Church has become.
First there was the reporting of newly surfaced cases, then the stories on the lack of leadership by the Church hierarchy, and then the media squabbles between the Church and the media itself. Every story playing to a grand narrative of conflict and distrust. Haven’t we seen this all before? Few, if any journalists, had the patience or luxury to wait for a more nuanced angle in this 24/7 news cycle we live in.
I can hardly begin to understand the deeply personal and spiritual harm the betrayal of guilty priests has brought on their victims. The detailed stories of their iniquities are plentiful in the press and the dissection of the problem seems almost endless.
Yet, in the midst of this ongoing onslaught of negative news and outraged analysis, a few journalists have dared to hold up to the light more positive views of the Catholic Church and other faith traditions.
Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times aptly cites “two Catholic Churches, the old boys’ club of the Vatican and the grass-roots network of humble priests, nuns and laity.” While acknowledging the harsh and negative realities of a few corrupt religious he also lifts up admirable examples of faithful priests and nuns doing God’s work in Sudan and El Salvador.
Lisa Miller of Newsweek has also released a new book entitled Heaven in which she profiles examples of people who deeply value their faith lives that positively motivate their daily behavior and inform their understanding of an afterlife. Reading the personal stories she presents is a like a refreshing breeze in a media landscape that almost always veers towards often predictable coverage of the dark side of religion.
I am sure the news cycle will continue to unravel the thread of horrible personal stories about religious people who have gone astray. They’ll always be an appetite for that kind of stuff and those who have done wrong should be held accountable. But, I also relish more positive, thoughtful examples of people of faith. I hope those stories can find a way to make it through the quagmire of the media noise more often so that we can be reminded that there are many inspiring aspects of religion as well. After all, we haven’t all gone to hell in a hand basket.