The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

The pope, and the greatest story never told

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One of the biggest surprises of Pope Benedict’s historic trip to the United Kingdom may be how few people realize that it was, in fact, historic.


Sunday night, I was chatting by phone with my father-in-law in Maryland. I told him I’d been busy with the papal coverage all weekend.

“Didn’t seem like much happened,” he said.

“Really?,” I replied. “He was the first pope to visit the Church of England’s Westminster Abbey. He stood there with the Archbishop of Canterbury, side by side, as they both pronounced the final blessing and made the sign of the cross together.”

“He did that?” My father-in-law sounded genuinely surprised.


“He went to the hall where Thomas More was sentenced to death and delivered a speech about religion to the civil leaders of Great Britain.”

“He did?”

“And he took part in his first beatification: Cardinal John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism.”

I could almost hear him scratching his bald head. “How come nobody said anything about that?”

Now, my father-in-law is a pretty smart guy, and what you might consider an observant Catholic. He attends mass every morning. He keeps up on current events. Now retired from the FDA, he regularly checks in with the Washington Post, USA TODAY, MSNBC and CNN. But he was baffled that this stuff I was telling him wasn’t on the nightly news.


“All we saw down here,” he explained, “was that he met with sex abuse victims.”

I started to wonder what sort of coverage the trip had received. After I hung up the phone, I searched through several newspaper websites. I clicked on the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe. Nothing, nothing, nothing. None of them mentioned on their home page the pope’s just-completed trip.

When I got to work on Monday, I searched CNN Newsource, which provides newsfeeds to my show, “Currents,” as well as to countless other news programs around the country. I found a grand total of one item, running about a minute long, slugged “Anti-Pope Demonstrations.”


That was it.

Based on my conversation with my father-in-law, you could be forgiven for thinking that the pope made the trip just to meet with victims of sex abuse — and that a lot of Britons were ticked off about it.

Now, I know: it’s tempting to argue that it was a conspiracy of media bias. But I think there’s something sadder and less sinister at work: it’s the economy, stupid. The religion beat, in most places, just doesn’t exist anymore. (Ironic, considering that a recent report says it’s something that people crave.) But it’s one of the first things to be cut in a budget crunch. In television news, the days when CNN had a Delia Gallagher or ABC had a Peggy Wehmeyer are long gone. It’s worse at newspapers, many of which are on life support, gasping for air. Truly historic moments, potentially earth-shifting events, like the pope’s trip to the UK, are going under-reported, or un-reported, or mis-reported. They get coverage, but not necessarily from a regular reporter, who understands the nuances of the beat. As a result, they happen in a void, without any real context beyond the hot-button issues of sex or violence or protest. And isn’t it sad: that seems to be all that we hear about religion — any religion — in the media these days.

Call me old school, but there’s something wrong here.

If my father-in-law, a fairly well-informed guy in the pews, didn’t know what he didn’t know, I have to wonder: how many others in the pews are also being left in the dark?

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Eugene Paano

posted September 21, 2010 at 7:03 am

The BBC, which may be the best web source for non-USA news, had fairly extensive coverage.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 7:43 am

Great piece Dcn. Greg!
I know that EWTN doesn’t “count” as MSM, but as a weekly listener to Raymond Arryo’s the World Over, (and that’s really about all that I have time to watch anymore, and even that is on my iphone), it was pretty obvious that this visit was a “big historic deal.”
It is very sad, but once again, “the people (of England)” proved the media wrong, turning out in record crowds, proving once again that our hearts are made for God.
I’m not sure I agree, at least totally, with your budget theory. There never seems to be any shortage of funds for all things (Catholic) negative or all things Islam in the “political correctness” arena. Perhaps the bigger deficet is in the absolute loss of the sacred. For the most part, the majority of this country, has lost God. Sundays are for the most part, “football days.”

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posted September 21, 2010 at 8:51 am

The ability of journalists to collect and disseminate news is being destroyed by the internet, most specifically that the internet gives everyone free access to information whether or not they pay for it. So there is no news for anyone, whether or not they are willing/able to pay for it.
The Church teaches that people should have free access to medical care, drugs, medical devices, and all forms of medical technology (i.e. knowledge) whether or not they pay for it. You all better hope that if the Church gets its way you and the people that you love get diseases that we already have cures for, because medical research will disappear the same as religion reporters…

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posted September 21, 2010 at 9:14 am

That would be pretty interesting Cathy, being that the genesis of medical research, as well as the university systems (and the legal system while on the subject), was from the Catholics, especially monks and priests; the greatest contributors to medical science and astronomy.
Perhaps the greater worry is the government taxing and redistrubuting the fruits of capitalisim to such an extent that the “faithful charitable” no longer have the money to fund the programs for the poor or help a neighbor, as it will all be “managed” by big government (totally in opposition to the cc’s teaching on keeping things at the local level, among the people. It’s an non disputable fact that no one has done more (socially) for the greater good of people worldwide than the Catholic Church, the builders of Western Civilization.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 9:36 am

“Truly historic moments, potentially earth-shifting events, like the pope’s trip to the UK, are going under-reported, or un-reported, or mis-reported.”
I think one difference is that not all would agree it was a “earth shifting event.”
I guess time will tell.
For those interested there was coverage with the BBC and different religious cable and internet coverage.
So any person in the pew could keep up with it if they had an interest, and I am sure they did. If you felt it was important to stir up interest, there was almost nothing in our catholic paper, and no mention at all in most parishes. How did your parish handle informing and explaining to people this “earth shifting event”?

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posted September 21, 2010 at 9:38 am

My dad, who is “old school” always grumbles about the main stream media and how liberal it is. I keep telling him – the main stream media is dead – they just don’t know it! The news sources you mentioned – CNN, MSNBC, etc. I never watch them. We live in such an exciting time that there is so much choice and variety for information on the internet to choose from! I’ll admit – there is a ton of junk on the internet, but there are some incredible resources as well – blogs, podcasts, videocasts, you name it. Tell your dad to stop wasting his time with CNN and if he wants Catholic News he should read Rocco’s Whispers or The Anchoress. I read both of those over the weekend and one webpage of Rocco’s Whispers had 100x more coverage of the pope’s UK visit than USA Today or the Wash Post.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 10:19 am

it’s the economy, stupid.
Get real. They had plenty of resources last spring to smear the Pope on the front page with lies about sexual abuse coverups.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 11:02 am

Deacon Greg,
I appreciate your posting, and I agree that it was sad. As one who watched the coverage non-stop, I wasn’t paying much attention to the fact that there was no reporting of it in the US presses. However, I just don’t agree that the economy was the reason. The Pope and the Church are plastered all over the news whenever something is amiss–such as the horrific sex abuse scandal. THAT is news. But how many journalists have any sense anymore of history? I doubt whether many in this country realize how historic it was that the head of the Roman Catholic Church spoke in Westminster Hall (mentioning Thomas More), or was invited to Westminster Abbey, or addressed the Anglicans at Lambeth Palace. If they had any sense of the history in that country, they would understand how newsworthy his visit really was.
God bless.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 11:28 am

I agree with Jude and Romulus on this. I think you’re being too generous with the mainstream media in your suggestion that the lack of coverage of the Papal trip was about budget cuts. There never seems to be a shortage of money available for headlines that misrepresent or focus primarily on negative news regarding Pope Benedict and the Church.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 11:31 am

The other good news about this trip seems that the Vatican has improved their communication somewhat. Text of speeches were translated and made available immediately.
Among the million beautiful words spoken by Pope Benedict during the trip, these were spoken off the cuff in answer to a journalist’s question, and are among my favorite:
Q.Can one do something to make the Church as an institution more credible and attractive to all?
The Holy Father: “One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this sense, the Church does not seek to be attractive, but rather to make herself transparent for Jesus Christ. And in the measure in which the Church is not for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wishes to have power, but simply is herself the voice of Another, she becomes truly transparent to the great figure of Jesus Christ and the great truths that he has brought to humanity, the power of love; it is than when the Church is heard and accepted.

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Margaret Perry

posted September 21, 2010 at 11:41 am

I was shocked that not even the priests at mass mentioned it–and I go to a parish in Washington DC where praise of the Pope is common, and the role of religion and the state is often explored. But there was no mention of these truly historic events.

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Gary MacIsaac

posted September 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Tell your father in law to watch Fox News and he will get a much
more balanced version of the news than the sources you cite.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Romulus, Jude and Julie, I think you’re proving Deacon Greg’s point (as I understand it.)
If there were dedicated religion reporters with a better nuanced understanding of the Church and how it functions, the ‘horror show’ stories would, I would like to think, have been presented in a more factually accurate context.
NOT necessarily more positive. Some of the most severe criticism has come from those who have an informed sense of how we have failed as a church to address these issues: it has been more severe because it has been accurate.
“If it bleeds, it leads.” If there had been riots, injuries and/or fatalities during the Pope’s trip it certainly would have been covered. That kind of reporting doesn’t require any knowledge of the subject. In old broadcast days of yore we used to call that “rip ‘n read” because it went directly from the newsroom teletype to the on-air microphone without ever passing through the newsman’s brain. I long for the days of beat reporters who because genuine topic specialists, but SunnyRJ is correct – those days and what we think of as the ‘traditional’ MSM are essentially dead.
We are in the era of disintermediation, whether we like it or not. But this can be a very good thing. I can get higher quality news about my faith now than I ever could before because no one is deciding for me what it means – the filters are gone. What that means to me is that we all can take it on ourselves to become ‘repeater stations’ for the good things that we see and hear. We have the technology – we’re using it right now. If we have email lists perhaps we ought to use them to spread the news about good things like the Pope’s trip to our friends every now and then.
God bless.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 2:35 pm

“I was shocked that not even the priests at mass mentioned it”
Why are you blaming the priests. They are supposed to speak about the Gospel on Sunday. You have the internet, EWTN and others sources.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 3:05 pm

If there were dedicated religion reporters with a better nuanced understanding of the Church and how it functions, the ‘horror show’ stories would, I would like to think, have been presented in a more factually accurate context.
I doubt it. Your view presupposes, against all evidence, that religion reporters and their editors are in the truth business. Deacon Don, they are in the “I desperately want to keep my job” business. That’s the best of them. The worst are overtly hostile (because they went into journalism “to make a difference”, you know). And their idea of a difference is the Pope’s head on a pike in the center of Rockefeller Plaza.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 3:35 pm

I don’t know anywhere where the Church authoritatively teaches that people should have free access to health care. The issue of semantics has come up before, but the Catechism only says that we have a right to health care, not a right to free health care.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 8:50 pm

If the Pope’s visit to the U.K. was under reported by the papers, at least coverage, photos and videos could be found on the internet. Thank the heavens for the internet.

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posted September 21, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Tell your father in law to watch Fox News and he will get a much more balanced version of the news than the sources you cite.
That would be funny were it not so sad. Regular Fox watchers are the most ill-informed news consumers. They believe what is not true, and double down on the lies when confronted with the truth.

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posted September 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Romulus, sadly I can’t disagree with what you say. That’s why I started my statement with “If.” I don’t pretend it exists in MSM to any extent.
Over many years I’ve seen ample evidence of both good and bad situations, but in more recent times have watched colleagues who couldn’t do their jobs for the time they spent looking over their shoulders as their organizations underpaid them, undercut them, and tried to replace them with syndicated copy.
Dealing with clients, I frequently suggested that if they wanted their story told with words *they* would like used, they should consider issuing boilerplate articles and copy to print media in a form that could be cut and pasted by overworked reporters, and making digital files of sound bites available online. More often than not it worked; it may not change a reader or listener’s mind, but at least it gives you a seat at the table.
In recent weeks, I think it was The Anchoress who roared (approriately IMHO) about the Vatican’s media-less-than-smarts. She was right when she said that it’s not rocket science. There are techniques and tools and we must use them because no one else will do this for us.
You’re right – it is a stressed world where personal survival is what gets many folks’ primary attention. That’s why personally initiated communication and meeting places like Deacon Greg’s become more and more essential.
God bless

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posted September 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm

The reason why it didn’t get any coverage except for the protests is probably because the pope and his doctrines are both irrelevant in our day and age.
… oh, and the fact that he is a predator who covered up thousands of criminals who had raped and psychologically abused thousands of little helpless kids, some of whom were deaf and mute. I’m sure that makes most people with common sense question the supposed moral authority of a man so powerful he can commit these crimes and not be in jail.

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posted September 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Of course the U.S. media won’t report what the Pope’s activities in the U.K. consisted of. It is because the U.S. media are in it for money and sensationalism sells. It wasn’t in the U.S., it wasn’t the President, it wasn’t fear based, it wasn’t gossip, it wasn’t judging. It wasn’t politically based, as each news source in the U.S. is. But, without a doubt, it was historic. If you want the news, you have to see it from multiple sources. World sources. The BBC, Vatican radio, web sites, podcasts, and other “new media” sources, just to name a few. Investigate these other sources. Then judge for yourself.
God Bless.

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posted September 27, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Last night I watched “What The pope Knew”, an hour long documentary about all of the abuse scandals that this pope knew about. The most egregious was the story of father murphy who preyed upon and molested deaf children at a catholic school in WI. (actually, they are all horrible) There is proof that this pope knew about murphy and many, many others but chose to hush it up. Many of these priests were moved into other parishes where they found new victims; a pedophiles dream.

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