That complex, bookish pope letter

1595641 A Sunday blessing from the Pope at StPeters RomeDear Roman Catholic readers of GetReligion: I feel your pain. Truly, I do.

Some of you have written to me to express your dismay about the mainstream media's coverage of the new theological document released by that complex, bookish fellow named Pope Benedict XVI. In particular, I realize that you are upset about the focus taken in the first few paragraphs in the story published by the only newspaper that really matters, The New York Times.

Thus saith the powers that be, through their scribe Ian Fisher:

Pope Benedict XVI strongly reasserted on Tuesday the church's opposition to abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage, saying that Roman Catholic politicians were "especially" obligated to defend the church's beliefs in their public duties.

"These values are non-negotiable," the pope wrote in a 130-page "apostolic exhortation," a distillation of opinion from a worldwide meeting of bishops at the Vatican in 2005.

"Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce laws inspired by values grounded in human nature."

Now, I want you to stop and think about this for a moment.

I know that you all realize that the ghost of Sen. John Kerry the non-confessional Catholic looms over this story. You are also smart enough to know that the odds are 10-1, or better, that the next Democratic Party candidate for president is either going to be a liberal United Methodist or a member of the United Church of Christ. Meanwhile, the leading GOP candidate -- at this hilariously early point in the race -- is a thrice-married Roman Catholic who is pro-abortion rights and pro-gay rights.

You know the odds are good that every journalist who receives a paycheck from the Times knows all of this.

So what did you expect the newspaper to put at the top of this story?

pope inaugural 1Did you really expect them to focus on the main contents of a document titled "Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission"?

You also knew that mainstream newspapers would focus on another part of this authoritative text:

In the document, the pope also repeated that celibacy remained "obligatory" for priests. In the 2005 meeting, numerous bishops lamented the shortage of priests in many parts of the world, opening a rare public debate about possible limited changes, such as allowing married deacons to ascend to the priesthood.

But Benedict ruled out any such changes. "I reaffirm the beauty and importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God," he wrote.

Both of these subjects had to dominate the early reports. You know that.

That isn't the important question. The important question is whether editors at the Times realize that they have missed the sections of the exhortation that are, at the level of pews and altars, the most controversial -- the heart of the document focusing on worship and liturgy. If you want to create a tornado in a bunch of Catholics, start messing with the liturgy and, especially, start talking about Latin.

Yes, it is important to look ahead to the question of what conservative Catholic bishops will have to say about Rudy Giuliani and Holy Communion. But it is also important to ask if there will be another Times story about the heart of this document. Until then, everyone will have to read all the fine details at Amy Welborn's Open Book. You can also visit Ruth Gledhill's blog at The Times of London.

So hang in there and let me know if you see any stories in the next few days by reporters who "get" liturgy.



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