First Things columnist William Doino Jr., a friend of this blog, finds echoes of the past in Religion News Service National Reporter David Gibson's coverage of the Vatican's Extraordinary Synod on the Family:
During Vatican II, the New Yorker’s “Xavier Rynne” (aka Fr. Francis Murphy), famously depicted the Council as an epic battle between backward, conservative reactionaries, and broad-minded, liberal reformers. This popular but highly misleading style of reporting continues to this day.
At the indispensable Get Religion website, Dawn Eden catches and corrects a recent report by David Gibson, of the Religion News Service, published just before the Synod opened, that falls into this trap.
“In Gibson’s report,” writes Eden, “we have the conservative meanies against the proponent of ‘reforms’ who want to ‘fully integrate divorced and remarried Catholics into Church life.’”
But, as Eden notes, this is quite misleading, for the Catholic Catechism (no. 1651) emphasizes, rather, “that the divorced, and remarried, even with the sacramental restrictions, ‘can and must’ participate in Church life.”
Further Gibson’s report “does not acknowledge ways in which [Cardinal Raymond] Burke and others are seeking to show compassion while upholding Church teaching,” continues Eden. Instead, it depicts Burke as merciless, and repeats “unsourced datum that Burke is reportedly set to be sidelined by Francis,” which Eden regards as “a cheap shot, pure and simple.”
Doino goes on to make distinctions regarding true and false ideas of reform, asserting that
misleading labels aside, moral laxity is not reform, dissent is not enlightenment, and rebellion is not renewal.
How did Gibson respond to being characterized as a modern-day Rynne? Did he defend himself against Doino's (and my) criticisms of him for applying loaded political terminology to discussions of doctrine? Did he make an effort to show that, contrary to my assertion, he was fair to all sides?
In a word, no:
A Twitter user responded:
Perhaps a kinder way to explain Gibson's behavior is to acknowledge that he is becoming an increasingly vocal evangelist for what your GetReligionistas now call Kellerism -- the journalistic conviction of former New York Times editor Bill Keller that there is no need to be balanced and fair (and sometimes accurate) on religion issues. A couple of back-to-back items from a recent Roundup column of Gibson's bear this out:
Roman Catholics are having a meeting — but should they?
It’s a synod of bishops, being held at the Vatican, on family issues, and the unusually public sparring among cardinals is growing, as I wrote here. Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s high court, blasted Cardinal Walter Kasper, who says his reform proposals have the backing of Pope Francis himself. ...
Buckle up, the fun officially starts on Sunday and runs for two weeks. Our own Josephine McKenna will be covering the action from Rome.
Meanwhile, conservative Catholics are discovering dissent
For 35 years, “dissenter” was an epithet and cudgel against Catholics who disagreed with anything the Roman pontiff said. But now that Francis is pope, says Michael Brendan Dougherty, conservative Catholics ought to embrace their inner dissenter -- and they may need to, if that aforementioned synod does something they don’t like
Note how Gibson calls the synod “fun,” and then mocks "conservative" Catholics for allegedly, suddenly embracing dissent. His evidence? One blogger -- exactly one -- and actually, Dougherty is a self-acknowledged traditionalist, not a mainstream doctrinal conservative, and his column is an attack on conservatives for defending Pope Francis, i.e., for not dissenting from him.
So, the very article Gibson points to to prove alleged conservative dissent, proves just the opposite -- how much conservative support Francis has among mainstream “conservative” (i.e. faithful) Catholics.
Granted, none of Gibson's digs at "conservatives," nor his glee at "[hitting] a nerve," would be out of place were he an opinion columnist.
But his job title is National Reporter, and his reports are presented by RNS as standard, balanced, hard-news journalism in keeping with the American model of the press. Readers looking for unbiased religion journalism deserve better than a reporter who sets his sights on hitting the nerves of Catholics who want to see balanced coverage of people who are trying to defend church doctrine.