There are some stories that you know are even more complicated than they seem. The so-called "Wafer-gate" controversy out of Canada assuredly falls into that category. It's not only Byzantine, but mysterious. While the flap raises some very important issues about eucharistic fellowship, there's also a delicious element of political skulduggery to it.
If you are the kind of person who reads ahead a story to find out what happens at the end, here's the spoiler: media heads have rolled. And other mysterious figures loiter backstage -- outraged clergy, members of the opposition who might have it in for Harper....enemies in the Vatican... Ooops, sorry, that was the plot of a Dan Brown novel.
First, the facts. As I wrote a few weeks ago Prime Minister Stephen Harper came under fire from various sources for taking communion in a Catholic church at a state funeral. It is helpful to know that Harper is both a member of Canada's Conservative party -- and a conservative Protestant Christian. Combine the political buzz around the Prime Minister with an action that would have been scandalizing to many of Canada's Roman Catholics and what do you have -- well, at least a few weeks employment for journalists.
But that wasn't the whole story. Some media outlets, apparently feeding on each other, spread the rumor (which, given that Harper receives communion in his own church, I thought was ridiculous on its face), that Harper had pocketed the host.
Tuesday the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal apologized to the Prime Minister for suggesting that he placed the host in his suit pocket. Here are the relevant paragraphs:
There was no credible support for these statements of fact at the time this article was published, nor is the Telegraph-Journal aware of any credible support for these statements now. Our reporters Rob Linke and Adam Huras, who wrote the story reporting on the funeral, did not include these statements in the version of the story that they wrote. In the editing process, these statements were added without the knowledge of the reporters and without any credible support for them.
The Telegraph-Journal sincerely apologizes to the Prime Minister for the harm that this inaccurate story has caused. We also apologize to reporters Rob Linke and Adam Huras and to our readers for our failure to meet our own standards of responsible journalism and accuracy in reporting.
So what happened? Well, we don't know -- but as the Cbc.ca website and others are reporting, the editor was fired, and the publisher's name is no longer on the masthead. So now we have a mystery. One commentator blames the Liberals -- or some specific cads in the opposition Liberal Party. Another writer says "not so fast!" And then we have the "what was the big deal about putting the host in your pocket" point-of-view. Of course, it would have been a big deal to many Catholics and other Christian denominations -- if it had been true.
Let's face it -- religion and politics have been strange bedfellows since the days of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. From the deep south down here in Pennsylvania, it looks as though someone, or someones, were trying to score a double by offending Canadian Catholics, and causing trouble for the Prime Minister. But in the process, the doctrinal angle (why is a Protestant taking comunion in a Catholic church) has gotten buried under a mess of political intrigue -- and problems afflicting this particular newspaper.
I have to admit, whoever plotted the "wafer in the pocket" element hooked me. Who done-it? Why did "they" do it? And for our purposes, a more problematic question -- why did journalists fan the flames?
Canadians, or anyone else -- now that there has been an apology and almost everyone is trying to move on -- is it really over?