Listen now: Concerning the Vatican synod's midterm report & media's wishful thinking

It was, of course, the story of the week. And now the weekend.

In the latest GetReligion podcast, Todd Wilken interviews me about my post on the mainstream media's reaction to the Vatican Extraordinary Synod on the Family's midterm report.  

Among other things, I talk about how, amid the mainstream media's wishful thinking for hope-'n'-change in Catholic teaching -- which you can see in headlines asking whether the Church is "evolving" on same-sex marriage -- some mischaracterized the Vatican document as being focused on gay issues.

Witness this tweet from CNN Belief Blog:

As I wrote in this space, among mainstream reporters, only Time's Elizabeth Dias recognized the report for what it was: It's descriptive, not prescriptive, reflecting topics that are under discussion but are far from being resolved.

In comparison with Dias's level-headed analysis, even the usually reliable John L. Allen Jr. overemphasized the importance of the report. Although he noted it was not a definitive statement, he claimed, without evidence, that it reflected the views of a "majority" of the synod's participants:

A midterm report in a synod of bishops has no official standing in Catholic theology as a statement of binding church teaching, and it’s also possible that the meeting’s approach could evolve before the synod closes at the end of the week.
Moreover, this synod will reach no final conclusions, as Francis has designed it to lay the groundwork for another, larger summit of bishops in October 2015. In any event, in the Catholic system a synod of bishops has no power of its own, but merely makes recommendations to the pope.
Nonetheless, Monday’s report is indicative of where a majority of the roughly 200 bishops gathered in Rome presently stand, most of whom are the elected presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world.

Allen did, however, follow up with a report, co-written with Inés San-Martín, in which he acknowledged that some bishops said the impression that the document gave of a consensus was mistaken:

The Vatican today released a summary of the discussion that followed release of the document, though without identifying speakers by name. ...
One cardinal taking part in the synod told reporters today that some media coverage distorted a proper understanding of the document, falsely suggesting that it contained firm conclusions of the whole body.

“We’re now working from a position that’s virtually irredeemable,” said Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa.

“The message has gone out that this is what synod is saying, that this is what the Catholic Church is saying,” he said. “Whatever we say hereafter will seem like we’re doing damage control.” ...
Inside the synod, 41 prelates took part in the debate after the presentation of the document, including German Cardinals Walter Kasper and Gerhard Müller, Americans Timothy Dolan and Raymond Burke, Ghana Peter Turkson and the Patriarch Gregorio III Laham.

Although in general the Vatican summary said Erdo’s landmark document was appreciated for accurately capturing the synod’s conversation, warnings were issued that it might “give rise to confusion.”

"Might" give rise to confusion? Based on mainstream-media coverage, that's the understatement of the week.

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