Acceptable prejudices: The Guardian and Catholic bashing

Crain's New York Business reports the Guardian has set up shop in the US and is open for business. In a piece entitled "The British are coming: Guardian hits U.S.", CNYB notes the British daily's website "had more than 10 million unique visitors in the U.S. in August." The head of the US operation, Janine Gibson, states their aim is “combine the Guardian's internationalist, digital journalism with American voices and expertise." I am one of those 10 million visitors from the US and a daily reader of the newspaper's website. At the outset of this post I should say I have been a freelance contributor to the Guardian and am a friend and reader of the paper's religion reporter Riazat Butt.

While I do not share the Guardian's pacifist, socialist, sandal-wearing, diversity worshiping, vegetarian, tree-hugging, anti-American weird-beard liberalism, I admire some of its writers. Stephen Bates, the paper's former religion reporter, who prepares the Diary column is one of the best working journalists writing today. He is one of the few British reporters who "get religion" and "get" its place within the intellectual and cultural life of the United States, and whose work is always worth reading.

The Guardian's stable includes a number of superior writers, but at times the newspaper lends itself to parody, mouthing the biases of the chattering classes. Take a look at "Bishop of Derry calls for end to celibacy in Catholic church" from its Ireland reporter.

The story is rather straight forward.  The former Bishop of Derry Edward Daly has published his memoirs: A Troubled See, Memoirs of a Derry Bishop. Daly, who came to prominence on Bloody Sunday in 1972 when he was photographed waiving a white handkerchief as he escorted a wounded man to safety after troops opened fire on demonstrators, offered his views on several issues facing the Roman Catholic Church.  The Irish Times reported Bishop Daly was not enamored with the Latin Mass, finding it "lifeless and somewhat meaningless" and believed the church should reform the way it selected its bishops, stating “the virtual absence of pastorally experienced clergy in positions of authority in the Irish church” helped inhibit renewal promised by Vatican II.

And, the Irish Times reported he also had a word to say about celibacy.

I ask myself, more and more, why celibacy should be the great sacred and unyielding arbiter, the paradigm of diocesan priesthood? ... (There) is certainly an important and enduring place for celibate priesthood. But I believe that there should also be a place in the modern Catholic Church for a married priesthood and for men who do not wish to commit themselves to celibacy.

So that's the story. Retired bishop with colorful past questions mandatory celibacy. Let's see what the Guardian team elects to do with this.

It opens with a flourish.

On Bloody Sunday in 1972 Father Edward Daly faced down the Parachute Regiment responsible for shooting dead 13 unarmed Derry civilians, waving just a white handkerchief as he protected the wounded from the army's bullets in the Bogside. Now 39 years later the retired Bishop of Derry is confronting an even more powerful force than the Paras: the Vatican.

Dr. Daly, who was the Bishop of Derry for 20 years during the Troubles, has become the first senior Irish Catholic cleric to call for an end to celibacy in the church. His intervention in the debate over whether priests should be allowed to marry is highly significant because he is still one of the most respected figures in the Irish Catholic church at a time when faith in the institution has been shattered by the paedophile scandals involving clergy.

Challenging centuries of Catholic theocracy, Daly has said that allowing the clergy to marry would solve some of the church's problems.

Crusading hero priest v. the evil Vatican curia, in other words. How's that for telegraphing your point of view. Is the bishop really calling for an end to celibacy? All priests must marry? Of course not. He is calling for an end to compulsory celibacy.

Is he the first? Of course not. Off the top of my head I can recall the furore caused by the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, in 1995 when he called for a debate on compulsory celibacy. And there was Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe -- but Killaloe is in the back of beyond in Co. Clare so it may not count. I will grant that Bishop Daly would have been the first to call for an "end to celibacy." But since he did not actually say that, I don't believe it is a point the Guardian might want to press. And it is nice to see the paedophile angle worked in. Can't have a Roman Catholic story without the perverts can we.

And what should we make of the use of the word "theocracy"? A theocracy is a church run state like the Dalai Lama's Tibetan government in exile or Muslim countries where Sharia law controls civil law or the Vatican City State.

So, is the Guardian suggesting that Ireland is priest-ridden island under the wicked rule of the Whore of Babylon? I'm prone to flashbacks, (the colors, the colors) and these opening paragraphs took me in my mind to Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow for a Rangers - Celtics football (soccer) game. The subtlety of this article comes close to that of a Rangers fan in full roar.

The 1200-word piece, long for a British news story, lays out what the bishop wrote in his book and shares anecdotes from his life. When the article turns back to history, offering context for the bishop's views, we find more problems.

Catholic priests have been unable to marry since the Gregorian reforms in the 11th century made celibacy compulsory. Historians have contended that the move was partly for spiritual reasons, but was mainly to ensure estates held by clerics would pass back to the church upon their deaths rather than to offspring.

Which historians say this? What about the Catholic version which teaches that the Church's obligation of celibacy goes back to the apostles in an 'unbroken' line. And that the motivation for celibacy was the closer following of Jesus Christ, who required his apostles to leave wife and family, to become "eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom".

While attempting to pile on further, the Guardian fumbles the ball. Take these passages on Anglicans going to Rome.

However, in recent years Pope Benedict XVI has made allowances for married Anglican ministers to transfer to the Catholic church after a number made the move in protest at controversial Anglican issues including the ordination of women priests, and acceptance of ministers in same-sex relationships. ...

The other development has been the welcoming into the Catholic church of traditionalist Anglicans, unable to reconcile their faith with the ordination of women or the consecration of openly gay bishops. Their incorporation has been made easier since October 2009 when Benedict issued a controversial ordinance allowing them to retain much of their identity, liturgy and pastoral arrangements.

Anglican clergy who have entered the Catholic Church and have sought to be re-ordained as Catholic priests (a move introduced by John Paul II in 1980) may have been horrified by Anglican events of recent years, but they became Catholics because they believed the truth claims of the Catholic Church. Gay bishops and blessings, women clergy and inclusive language liturgies may well have sharpened the mind, but the Catholic Church is not a girl picked up on the rebound from a bad break up. The Guardian may well think the Roman option was a knee jerk response to the innovations of recent times, but I doubt any of those who crossed the Tiber would make this claim (or if Rome would have re-ordained them if this was their motivation.)

But I digress. Back to the story. Try these samples:

The debate over whether to admit married men to the priesthood, however, is one not even the pope can stifle.

Stifle? How? When? Come on.

..the continuing sex abuse scandal. .. The first senior figure to argue the case for a link between an unmarried priesthood and sex abuse was the bishop of Hamburg, Hans-Jochen Jaschke, who in March 2010 told a newspaper interviewer a "celibate lifestyle can attract people who have an abnormal sexuality".

Is there a link between the "celibate lifestyle" and clergy sexual abuse? If so, show us. How about a contrary view articulated in a study commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops that linked child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the '60s and '70s to the feminist movement, a 'singles culture' and divorce. It may strain the credulity of the typical Guardian reader to think the virtues celebrated by the newspaper are vices, but it should have received a nod none the less.

And let us not forget to take a gratuitous shot at the pope.

In 1970, the decline in priesthood vocations persuaded nine leading theologians to sign a memorandum declaring that the Catholic leadership "quite simply has a responsibility to take up certain modifications" to the celibacy rule. Extracts from the document were reprinted in January. Not least because one of the signatories was the then Joseph Ratzinger, now pope Benedict.

Is Benedict a hypocrite? What is unsaid is that according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung in 1970 Karl Rahner, Walter Kasper, Karl Lehman, Joseph Ratzinger along with five other theologians wrote to the German Bishops' Conference asking that the requirement that all priests in the Latin Church to be celibate should be reconsidered in the light of  the "new historical and social conditions" unfolding in Europe and North America. The full text of the document has not been released and has not been verified. However, from what has so far been printed the nine asked that the question be discussed, which is different from calling for it to be rejected.

Coming soon after the charge the Pope was stifling debate, the lack of balance in this charge of papal mendacity is troublesome and to my mind speaks to the failings of this article, and the difference between good and bad journalism.

In his 1946 essay, “Why I Write”, George Orwell stated, “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism.” I make the same claim for work of journalists whom I admire. Though Stalinism and Fascism no longer have a place in Western intellectual life, the cant, hypocrisy and moral dishonesty they represented remain part of our intellectual and philosophical lives--and it is here--in challenging the orthodoxies of left and right--that one can find the best Guardian reporting.

Does this article meet this standard? No. It is riddled with errors, condescending towards it subject, and is entirely predictable.

That unfashionable poet, Edna St Vincent Millay, wrote in her “Dirge Without Music:

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

A journalist who takes his craft seriously, who is not resigned to the world around him, who writes with moral purpose (but without moralizing) prepares stories that are a joy to read. This article is not one of those stories.

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