Journalists, Adrift, on the Holy See

A while back Richard John Neuhaus suggested that maybe not all journalists are thoroughly educated about religion.

An eager young thing with a national paper was interviewing me about yet another instance of political corruption. “Is this something new?” she asked. “No,” I said, “it’s been around ever since that unfortunate afternoon in the garden.” There was a long pause and then she asked, “What garden was that?” It was touching.

What prompts me to mention this today is that I’m just off the phone with a reporter from the same national paper. He’s doing a story on Pope Benedict’s new encyclical. In the course of discussing the pontificate, I referred to the pope as the bishop of Rome. “That raises an interesting point,” he said. “Is it unusual that this pope is also the bishop of Rome?” He obviously thought he was on to a new angle. Once again, I tried to be gentle. Toward the end of our talk, he said with manifest sincerity, “My job is not only to get the story right but to explain what it means.” Ah yes, he is just the fellow to explain what this pontificate and the encyclical really mean. It is poignant.

Wherever you go, you run into people who say they were disillusioned with the press when they saw how a story in which they were involved was reported. What they knew for sure had happened was grossly misrepresented. Frequently they say the reporter was biased or even malicious, and that is undoubtedly sometimes the case. But over the years of dealing with reporters–and, again, there are notable exceptions–I have been led to embrace something like an Occam’s razor with respect to journalistic distortions: Do not multiply explanations when ignorance will suffice.

Anyways, to help journalists like Neuhaus’s interviewers, holyoffice has put together a glossary of important Christian terms. Two of my favorites are the description of Orthodox Christians as “Catholics with beards” and this explanation, which “shades from humor into journalism,” as a friend put it:

The Emerging Church

This is a term that refers to churches attended exclusively by white people in their 20s and 30s who have at least one tattoo or body piercing. Their distinguishing characteristics are a refreshing, “up to date” interpretation of Christianity, and a reluctance to directly answer questions.


  1. Reminds me of a noted British classical scholar, who in my presence said that everywhere she traveled, she noted tombstone inscriptions and that she had come upon one in Chapel Hill that was most curious. It read “She hath done what she could.”

  2. That’s funny too because it’s not that unusual of a grave inscription, I think.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *