The Pope and the Press

When the Extraordinary Synod of the Roman Catholic Church ended (December 1985), thousands of words were written about the event by religious journalists of every variety. More interesting, however, from a rhetorical point of view, was the pre-Synod journalism; it provides an excellent illustration of the not-uncommon attempt of the press to formulate the agenda of public events, not merely to report or to comment on them. In the United States, certain religious journals hoped to influence the agenda of the Synod, and failing that, to prejudice their audience against what the Synod might teach.

The strategy is not new. If, for instance, these journalists are warned that the new Canon Law will insist on Catholic universities being Catholic and not something else, they will be sure that before the Canons are promulgated they have published the reasons why they will not (cannot) work in this country, heading the Vatican off at the pass, as it were. With respect to the Extraordinary Synod, America and Commonweal, among others, provided excellent samples of this cowboy journalism.

A number of bishops and a variety of clerical opinion-shapers share the hope of creating an American Catholic Church with much closer ties to modernism, to the contemporary secular scene—a liberal Church which understands the nature of power and which will devote itself, at least for a while, to the things of this world as its...

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