This is why some Catholics are questioning media reporting on gluten-free communion

What's new?

That's Catholic media professional Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz's question. In an email to GetReligion, Szyszkiewicz writes:

The gluten-free host bit is old. The regulations have been in place for years and, for some reason, were raised again, this time by Pope Francis. 
Cardinal Sarah's letter is almost entirely made up of quotes from previous documents and nothing more. It's obvious that the journalists who reported on this didn't read the text to see that it's a rehash — or they didn't care about that fact. 
So what's the purpose of the reporting? To make the Vatican look like a bunch of bad guys who don't give a damn about celiacs?

What reporting is Szyszkiewicz talking about?

Here's the lede from the New York Times:

The unleavened bread that Roman Catholics use in the celebration of Mass must contain some gluten, even if only a trace amount, according to a new Vatican directive.
The directive, which was dated June 15 but received significant attention only after it was reported by Vatican Radio on Saturday, affirms an existing policy. But it may help to relieve some of the confusion surrounding church doctrine on gluten, a protein that occurs naturally in wheat and has become the subject of debates over nutrition and regulation.
The issue is especially urgent for people with celiac disease, a gastrointestinal immune disorder that causes stomach paindiarrhea and weight loss and that can lead to serious complications, or for those with other digestive conditions that make them vulnerable even to small amounts of gluten.
Many other people who do not have celiac disease may nonetheless have a sensitivity or allergy to gluten, and yet others have adopted a gluten-free diet in the belief that it is healthier — although science is far from clear on this point.

The Times is confident in its assessment — so much so that if you keep reading, you will notice that the entire story quotes not a single source by name. That's not to suggest that the Old Gray Lady doesn't provide a lot of links and key background. But the paper doesn't bother to quote a single expert who might support — or refute — its premise that this "new" directive is important.

Among those not convinced that the gluten-free thing is breaking news: Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey (yes, she is — as we awkwardly point out every time we mention her — a former GetReligionista).

Nonetheless, Bailey chose to write about it.

In a public post on her Facebook page, she explains:

I hear a lot of people mock those who are are "gluten free" or churches that try to accommodate them. Here, I explain how it's handled in the Catholic Church. The Vatican released a letter and a lot of reporters thought it was breaking news. It wasn't, but the topic is still interesting.

The Post lede:

A new Vatican letter to Catholic bishops worldwide has stirred up questions again over what kinds of bread and wafers should be used during communion in Catholic churches around the world. The letter sparked concerns for those who avoid eating gluten, including people who have celiac disease.
The letter drew attention from media outlets around the globe, but it actually reaffirmed earlier guidelines saying that bread and wafers must have at least some gluten in them. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops already has guidelines allowing churches to use low-gluten wafers and nothing will change in American Catholic churches, said Andrew Menke, executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship.
“Absolutely nothing has changed,” Menke said in a statement. “The ‘new guidance’ from the Vatican is simply a reminder to bishops that they need to be attentive to the bread and wine that is used for Mass, making sure that it’s consistent with the Church’s requirements.”

One thing you'll notice quickly: Bailey quotes actual expert sources by name and gives them an opportunity to assess the significance of the recent developments.

Hey, what a thought! Way to go, old friend.

I am curious what Szyszkiewicz thinks about the Post story: Better than others he's seen, especially given the journalist's explanation? Or does his concern remain the same? I hope he'll take a minute to weigh in via the comments section.

Please respect our Commenting Policy