Once again, let's repeat together the following foundational truth of journalism -- reporters are not responsible for the headlines that grace or disgrace their news stories. In today's exciting update on this subject, a copy editor at The New York Daily News produced a headline that, for the most part, undercut most of the content of a news story about a recent sermon by New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a soon-to-be cardinal who is also the president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Dolan has a reputation as one jolly, smiling dude.
The headline is pretty blunt and contains one of those verbs that mainstream journalists seem to reserve for religious leaders who are convinced that some moral doctrines are true and others are, well, not true.
Brace yourselves. Here 'tis:
In homily, Archbishop Timothy Dolan rails against sexual immorality
Cardinal-to-be encourages flock to follow their moral compass
The key word, of course, is "rails." One online dictionary offers the following definition of that colorful and rarely used word:
intr.v. railed, rail·ing, rails
To express objections or criticisms in bitter, harsh, or abusive language.
Keep that in mind as you read the top of the report in question:
New York's cardinal-to-be delivered a no-holds-barred sermon on morality Sunday, telling his flock to stand firm against popular culture’s message that sex outside marriage is okay.
“The one who, with God’s grace and mercy, tries his or her best to be pure and chaste is often thought of not as a hero, not a saint, but as a freak in our culture today,” Archbishop Timothy Dolan said at St. Patrick’s.
“The biblical teaching on sexual responsibility is countercultural,” he continued, hailing those who stay true to their moral compass. “Anyone who tries his or her best to live it can expect a lot of temptation and even ridicule and criticism.”
OK, still waiting for some bitter, harsh language to show up in this story. This is rather frank talk, but pretty ordinary pulpit language from a traditionalist, or at least the ones that I have covered through the years. Yet, readers should note that in the very next sentence, this story attempts to link this sermon directly to judgments about heaven and hell. You see, readers are told that this was a "fire-and-brimstone homily."
OK, let's look for that kind of fiery language as well, while continuing to search for all of that bitter and abusive stuff.
Dolan linked “sexual immorality” with society’s ills -- violence, sex crimes, disease and broken families -- and called on priests to do a better job of encouraging the sexually virtuous.
“The church has at times in the past, sadly, come across as as some naysaying, puritanical nag, always giving a big ‘No, no, no’ to one of life’s greatest joys,” he said.
But modern society often reduces sex to “animal rutting” or its “most popular contact sport,” he said. He didn’t mention any one show or star by name, but Dolan clearly seemed to be targeting the bedhopping that’s become regular fare on TV and reality shows like “Jersey Shore.”
OK, perhaps the Daily News team has softened some of the abusive rhetoric that was served up by the archbishop. Perhaps the goal was to prevent sensitive readers from being shocked or hurt. Tabloid newspapers are careful about that kind of thing. However, what I am reading is simple, if somewhat colorful language. In other words, no sign of "railing" in this sermon -- unless the really nasty stuff didn't make it into the paper.
I suspect that is not the case because of the following observation -- featured at the end of the report -- by a Catholic in attendance at the service.
Ed Murphy, 64, of South Bound Brook, N.J., also believes Dolan knows how to deliver the key message of Catholicism.
“He says what’s important, but he says it in a nice way,” Murphy said.
Methinks that this story came off the rails, somewhere. Strange, strange, strange. I sure would like to see the full text of the sermon, though. Perhaps there is "railing" in there after all.