At the heart of the whole U.S. nuns vs. the Vatican media storm is the April 18th “doctrinal assessment” in which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expresses it concerns about the theological orientation expressed by the leadership of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The report mentions a host of concerns about a decade or two of LCWR educational events, speeches, national conferences, etc.
The document is not hard to find and it is only eight pages long. Click here to read it.
Since this story is going to be around for some time, it’s important to note how many, if not most, mainstream reporters are framing the dispute.
Now, this is a story with two sides and there are articulate voices out there to quote representing the competing points of view. However, the actual Vatican document states many of the basic facts and, to my amazement, major news organizations have consistently been paraphrasing this document to say things that it does not, in fact, say.
That’s a problem. It’s hard to follow a debate when some of the key facts crucial to the contents of the debate have been twisted.
Consider, for example, the top of this new Reuters report, as it appeared in The Chicago Tribune:
(Reuters) — In Washington, D.C., and Toledo, Ohio, in upstate New York and in south Texas, protesters have gathered in recent weeks with a simple message: Let the sisters be.
The vigils in cities across the United States are intended to express solidarity with American Roman Catholic nuns, who are struggling to formulate a response to a sharp rebuke from the Vatican.
The Vatican last month accused the leading organization of U.S. nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, of focusing too much on social-justice issues such as poverty and not enough on abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia. The Vatican also rapped the group for standing by as some nuns publicly challenged U.S. bishops on matters of church doctrine and public policy.
Readers who have followed this story closely will spot all kinds of familiar errors. For example, the story frames the conflict with the whole “let the sisters be” construct, backed with descriptions of the protests (with no factual material about the size of these efforts, other than a later reference to an online petition with 50,000 signatures) that are meant to “express solidarity with American Roman Catholic nuns.”
Yes, way down in the story, there are voices that try to focus on what the Vatican document actually says:
Mary Ann Walsh, a nun who serves as spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said some protesters might have misinterpreted the Vatican’s action. Church officials demanded reform of the nuns’ leadership group, she said, but did not intend to criticize all 57,000 nuns in the United States.
There’s a simple logic behind this argument by Walsh — the Vatican document goes out of its way to focus on the leadership of some of these orders, as opposed to the rank-and-file members of the orders, in general. Thus, here’s the crucial question for the editorial team behind the story: Where are the quotes from the actual document? More on this point in a moment.
However, the most important problem with the top of this story is its paraphrased quotation — or statement of fact — that the nuns are under Vatican attack for “focusing too much on social-justice issues such as poverty and not enough on abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia.” The problem is with the first half of this statement, because the Vatican document simply does not say this. Instead, it praises the nuns for their work with the poor and needy, praises them for their application of the church’s doctrines and teachings in these areas, and then questions why these same teachings have not been applied as rigorously to abortion, marriage, euthanasia, etc.
The critical issue is this: Where are reporters getting the statement that the Vatican thinks the nuns have focused “too much” on poverty and social justice? The document does criticize the leaders of some of these orders for ignoring or undercutting the church on some critical issues, but that is not the same as saying that they have spent too much time on the care of the sick and the needy.
There's more and it's enlightening.
The answer to the title question and the answers to others posed by Mr. Mattingly are pretty clear though Mr. Mattingly seems to dance around them.
Darkness hates the light.
That's pretty much it. Not PC. A little too blunt. But that's it.
Darkness has an agenda and light gets in the way and so light must be attacked.
I'd love for Mr. Mattingly and the good folks at GetReligion to put some meat on those bones.