So far, most of the mainstream media coverage of the Vatican's move to open a door for Anglo-Catholics into the Church of Rome has focused on the Anglican side of the story. This has, in part, created a news template that says Pope Benedict XVI has played a winning card that will result in thousands, if not millions, of new members for his flock. That's understandable. However, as GetReligion has noted, there is a problem. Some Anglo-Catholics have been petitioning Rome to make this kind of move for years -- since the mid-1990s, in fact. There was clear evidence that the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was paying close attention years before before he stopped up to the throne of St. Peter.
Some journalists may have been stunned. However, anyone who has been paying close attention to the rumors and reports about the negotiations was not terribly surprised.
Well, according to The National Catholic Register, this standard wisdom in the mainstream press about the pope "stunning" move has led to another problem -- an outbreak of generic anti-Catholicism in the mainstream media. Yes, that's a strong statement.
You need to read the report itself to chase all the news links, but here is a sample of what writer Tim Drake has to say:
Venues such as National Public Radio, the London Times, and the Kansas City Star describe the Church as "poaching." USA Today says the Church is "rustling." Other media outlets used the term "luring." Some question whether the move was a "hostile takeover." And London Times' columnist Libby Purves says that "converts may choke on the raw meat of Catholicism."
Mainstream newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post have used the word "bid." The Boston Globe uses both the words "lure" and "bid."
No matter how you look at it, they're all unsavory terms used by the secular media to describe the Church's actions. Even some Catholic commentators have taken to calling the move "sheep-stealing," saying that there's an unwritten rule that the Church doesn't proselytize other Christians.
Since when did the Catholic Church cease to be an evangelizing Church, bringing the Gospel to all peoples?
Meanwhile, a GetReligion reader dropped me a note to question this article's use of the word "evangelizing" to describe the Vatican's motives in this case. After all, doesn't this suggest that the pope is claiming, in a not-so-subtle fashion, that Anglicans are not really Christians until they swim the Tiber?
Not really. It helps to know that the late Pope John Paul II used the phrase "The New Evangelization" to describe many forms of outreach by the church, including its own efforts to reach Catholics who had strayed from full Communion with the faith. Certainly, Rome views Anglicans as Christians who are part of a church body that is not in full Communion with the Church or Rome, which, like it our not, Catholics believe is uniquely the Body of Christ. Remember all of those headlines in 2007?
You do not have to agree with that doctrine to understand how traditional Catholics would use a term like "evangelization."
Once again, journalists face a basic question: Do the facts of this story suggest that Pope Benedict XVI sought out this contact with Anglican traditionalists or was it the other way around? Was this an invasion or a rescue mission, at the request of a flock of Anglo-Catholics who had, for several years, been requesting help?
Photo: Inside Canterbury Cathedral, looking toward the high altar. From the Grouchy Traveller website.