Monday, March 10, 2008

More ridiculous religion reporting...

Via the Times:
Failing to recycle plastic bags could find you spending eternity in Hell, the Vatican said after drawing up a list of seven deadly sins for our times.
Gah! 'The Vatican' said this? That tells us nothing... Plus, you can be sure that Failing to recycle plastic bags could find you spending eternity in Hell represents a huge over-simplification/misrepresentation of what was actually said.
The seven, which include polluting the environment, were announced by Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, a close ally of the Pope and the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Roman Curia's main court.
The "sins of yesteryear" - sloth, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath and pride - have a "rather individualistic dimension", he told the Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.
The new seven deadly, or mortal, sins are designed to make worshippers realise that their vices have an effect on others as well.
Announced? Why is this made to sound like an official act? I don't have the Osservatore Romano to hand, but I'm willing to bet that this was an interview or a homily or an article written in a private capacity rather than the 'announcement' of anything remotely official.
"The sins of today have a social resonance as well as an individual one," said Mgr Girotti. "In effect, it is more important than ever to pay attention to your sins."
According to Roman Catholic doctrine, mortal sins are a "grave violation of God's law" and bring about "eternal death" if unrepented by the act of confession.
They are far more serious than venial sins, which impede a soul's progress in the exercise of virtue and moral good.
Now, these three paragraphs are actually worth reading. As long as one realises that Archbishop Girotti isn't for a moment suggesting that 'the sins of today' somehow replace or supercede the 'sins of yesteryear', this all makes perfect sense.
Mgr Girotti said genetic modification, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice, causing poverty, becoming obscenely wealthy and taking drugs were all mortal sins.
Again, one can agree with that. Needless to say, some qualifications would need to be made. For example, wealth in itself isn't bad, but we'll assume that 'becoming obscenely wealthy' implies a misuse of wealth and a sinful attitude to money. Again, polluting the environment is certainly sinful - but again, it would need to involve grave matter for it to be mortally sinful.
That's what's objectionable about the headline and the opening of this piece. I find it hard to believe that a failure to recycle plastic bags is grave matter. However, ignorant reporting is used to make the Curia and the Papacy look both ridiculously trendy and simultaneously 'out of touch' by threatening hell-fire for something relatively minor. Mgr Girotti is a senior member of the curia and, as Regent of the Apostolic Penitentary, what he has to say about sin is worth listening to. If it were reported properly.
However, it's not. And therefore, people who have legitimate concerns about the excesses of the environmentalist movement are given reason to believe that the Vatican has adopted an untenable position.
Is it ignorance or malice that's responsible for the poor standard of religous reporting?


Chris said...

As we live in an increasingly secular society, the chance that even a religion correspondent will be familiar with the "lingo" of a particular religion is small. This limits his or her ability to explain such terms to the general reading public.

Take, for example, the general phrase here in the UK used to refer to the way New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson was chosen: "Robinson was appointed to the post of bishop of New Hampshire." No. No. No. Bishops here in the UK are appointed by the Queen on advice of the Prime Minister from a list of one person forwarded by the Appointments Committee. Episcopal Bishops in the US are elected. They are elected in a convention of the entire Diocese, lay and clergy, and their election is confirmed by majority votes of dioceses and bishops with jurisdiction.

The difference between appointing a bishop and electing a bishop is a difficult one to get across to people in a short article. So, most lazy journalists just say "appointed" because that's what happens here.

What to do? Very difficult question. Educating the journalists might be targeted but their editors still woudln't take the time to present the story accurately as that takes too much space. To try to un-secularise society is to start rolling that Sisyphean stone up a very high hill.

bill7tx said...

Hmm. Maybe Archbishop Girotti could add "misrepresentation through sensationalistic news reporting" to the list of serious modern sins. Not to mention "producing, promoting, and sponsoring tasteless occasions of sin masquerading as entertainment."

bill7tx said...

Unfortunately, the local news here in Dallas picked this up and did a segment on it, saying that \"the Vatican\'s number two man\" has announced a new set of mortal sins. Then they read the stupid list.

Have none of these people ever heard of fact-checking?

Disclosure: In my day job, I am a writer and an editor. I think my publisher would fire me (rightly) if I ever did anything as bone-headed as this.

Fr. Robert J. Carr said...

It is not "either or" (either ignorance or malice) it is "both and". The main focus is on the latter and not the former.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the you happen to know what L'Osservatore Romano edition this was said in. I have a couple of friends that are wanting me to explain what the Holy Father said and I can't find the actual source on Thanks and God Bless!