The Deacon's Bench

Pretty favorably, according to the usually-reliable John Allen.

In his year-end wrap-up (converted to a decade-end wrap-up this year, of course), he looks at some of the biggest Catholic stories of the decade, and takes an especially close look at perceptions of media bias:

Among some Catholics, it’s an article of faith that the secular media in the United States is hostile to the Catholic church. During the past decade, that conviction was solidified by the sexual abuse crisis, and amplified by the way the media sometimes cast the church as a heavy in the culture wars over abortion and homosexuality.

Simply adding up the total number of references to the Vatican doesn’t distinguish between positive and negative coverage, but it’s worth noting that two of the three clear winners for biggest stories of the decade were, by common reckoning, good ones for the Vatican: the global outpouring of affection for John Paul II at the time of his death, and the visit of Benedict XVI to the United States. Polls taken shortly after that trip showed the new pope winning high marks for his candor on the sex abuse issue, including the first-ever papal session with victims, and for the image of basic kindness he managed to project.

CNN actually carried three papal events more or less bell-to-bell during Benedict’s American swing: a Mass at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and the concluding Mass at Yankees Stadium. That had to be a record for most Catholic liturgy ever broadcast on an American commercial network in a single week. (As CNN’s commentator during those events, I can add a touch of personal astonishment that there’s actually money to be made simply by knowing the parts of the Mass!)

To be sure, the sex abuse story was a cancer for the church, including the Vatican, which ran throughout the decade. Coverage in the decade pre-dated the American crisis, beginning with revelations in March 2001 (first reported in NCR) about the sexual abuse of nuns in Africa by priests, and a November 2001 apology by John Paul II to the church in Oceania for sexual abuse by priests and religious. There were plenty of other negative storylines too, including fallout from Benedict’s Regensburg lecture and his decision to lift the excommunication of the Holocaust-denying (or, at least, Holocaust-minimizing) Bishop Richard Williamson.

Nevertheless, looking back at patterns of coverage over the last ten years, it’s difficult to sustain an impression of systematic anti-Catholic or anti-papal bias. On the whole, the press in this country seemed to cover the good with the bad — and, based purely on statistical counts, the good (from the Vatican’s point of view) often seemed to prevail.

Check out the rest. It’s a good read.

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