Archive for February, 2008

Prejudiced Attacks Recycled

By Father John Flynn

nichols.jpgROME, MAY 28, 2007 ( Sexual abuses mixed with allegations of Church abuse make for an explosive media formula, as Italians can testify. The state-owned television broadcaster, RAI, sparked a debate after it announced that it wanted to buy the rights to transmit a BBC program, “Sex Crimes and the Vatican.”

Last Tuesday the RAI announced its purchase of the documentary. But owing to strong protests over the program’s credibility, RAI director general Claudio Cappon stipulated that the talk show that will host the transmission, “Year Zero,” also has to give time to Church representatives for a rebuttal.

Along with presenting an account of child abuse, the BBC program makes accusations concerning a supposed Vatican-ordered cover-up. The documentary also accuses Benedict XVI of complicity in covering up sexual abuses in the past when he was a cardinal.

The tendentious nature of the BBC program was exposed in a declaration made last year by English Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who is chair of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults.

In an Oct. 2 press release, which came the day after the BBC broadcast the program in England, the archbishop acknowledged the distressing fact of child abuse. He clarified, however, that the part of the program that attacks the Vatican and the Pope “is false and entirely misleading.”

The prelate said it was false because the BBC program misrepresents two Vatican documents. The program refers to a 1962 document, “Crimen Sollicitationis,” which Archbishop Nichols explained, was not directly concerned with child abuse, but with the misuse of the confessional. A second document, “Ad Exequendam,” dated 2001, does not, he argued, hinder investigation of child abuse, but is rather “a measure of the seriousness with which the Vatican views these offenses.”

BBC bias

This isn’t the first time BBC programs have taken on the Catholic Church. After strong criticism the BBC eventually decided not to transmit its 2004 cartoon series, “Popetown.” The cartoon ridiculed Pope John Paul II and the Church.

The cartoon resurfaced last year in Germany, where MTV bought the rights with a view to transmitting it just before Good Friday, reported Deutsche Welle on April 12, 2006. Protests failed to block the program, with MTV deciding to broadcast the entire 10-part cartoon, after a test transmission of the first part, reported Reuters on May 9, 2006.

The BBC’s attitude toward religion was examined by the English newspaper Daily Mail in an article published Oct. 23. Following what was termed an “impartiality” summit convened by BBC Chairman Michael Grade, the paper cited “senior figures” as admitting that the broadcasting corporation was guilty of an anti-Christian bias.

Moreover, the Daily Mail reported, during the meeting, BBC executives admitted they would happily broadcast the image of a Bible being thrown away — but would not do the same for the Koran.

Attacking Mary

The BBC is not alone in its hostility to religion and the Catholic Church. Another recycled show, this time an American cartoon, “South Park,” recently came under fire in New Zealand. A May 23 press release by the New Zealand group Family Life International detailed a complaint made by Catholic bishops about an episode insulting the Virgin Mary, broadcast last year.

The bishops presented evidence in an appeal against the decision last year by the country’s Broadcasting Standards Authority, which refused to uphold their complaint about the insult to Mary, along with complaints about other episodes.

A lawyer for the bishops, Richard Laurenson, told the High Court in Wellington on Wednesday that the program breached the broadcaster’s obligation to maintain good taste, decency and fairness. A decision has been reserved in the case.

Another recent case comes from Canada, where a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation pilot program that portrays altar boys as drug addicts and the communion host as snack food has sparked protests, reported the Ottawa Citizen newspaper on May 16.

The program, “The Altar Boy Gang,” was denounced by the Catholic Civil Rights League. “With this program, the CBC has moved into the area of blasphemy of sacred rituals,” the organization declared. It also accused the CBC of double standards, noting that the insults toward the Catholic Church came after it hired a Muslim consultant last year to ensure that Islamic practices were respected in the program “Little Mosque on the Prairie.”

Earlier this year, it was a recycled Italian export that took on the Church, this time in the United States. The University of Minnesota decided to perform a play, “The Pope and the Witch,” by Italian author Dario Fo.

A Feb. 22 article in the Catholic Spirit, the diocesan newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, reported that Minnesota’s bishops and several Catholic organizations objected to the play.

The article explained that the play, among other matters, depicts a “delusional, unnamed pontiff.” It also depicts the Vatican as being involved in the drug trade, and finishes with the Pope’s assassination.

An editorial in the same issue of the Catholic Spirit argued that allowing the performance of such a work “pollutes the atmosphere of mutual respect and that promotes the kind of prejudice and intolerance the university says it opposes.”


The increasing number of programs hostile to Christianity was commented on by Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England, in his pastoral letter for the New Year. In his text, dated Dec. 31, Bishop Roche decried the spreading abuse of Jesus’ name in television shows.

“It was if my television set had been infested with anti-Christian and deeply disrespectful and derogatory sentiments,” he declared, speaking of his experience in turning on the television recently and switching from channel to channel.

“There is an ease and a carelessness today in which it is possible, without any resistance, to ridicule Jesus, his Church and his followers,” noted Bishop Roche. He then went on to urge believers not to become infected by this tendency and to respect the name of Jesus in everyday conversations.

Hostility toward religion was also one of the topics that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor addressed during a March 28 lecture, at Westminster Cathedral Hall in London.

The archbishop of Westminster declared that he feared contemporary society is increasingly marked by “secular dogmatism or cynicism” toward Christians. He stated: “So when Christians stand by their beliefs, they are intolerant dogmatists. When they sin, they are hypocrites. When they take the side of the poor, they are soft-headed liberals. When they seek to defend the family, they are right-wing reactionaries.”

Secularist intolerance

The lecture took place in the context of a fierce debate over government legislation which imposed on Catholic adoption agencies the obligation to hand children over for adoption to same-sex couples. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor argued that it was no accident that the state’s increasing anti-religious tendency takes place at a time of a “new secularist intolerance of religion,” which increasingly marks society.

The question of how the media treat religion was dealt with by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, in its 2000 document “Ethics in Communications.” The council acknowledged the many positive contributions of the media to everyday life, and also how people benefit through the transmission of religious news and ideas.

Nevertheless, the ethics document also noted how sometimes religion unfairly suffers at the hand of the media due to incomprehension or even contempt. Often, religious fads are lauded, while legitimate religious groups are treated with hostility, the council explained in No. 18 of the document.

The council called for a greater application of ethical principles in the world of communications. “Communication must always be truthful, since truth is essential to individual liberty and to authentic community among persons,” the document exhorted (No. 20). A truthfulness sometimes sorely lacking in some media reports on religion.

The Fallout of Weak Family Life
Meeting in Poland Highlights a Key Social Concern

By Father John Flynn

ROME, MAY 27, 2007 ( More than 3,000 delegates from dozens of countries gathered May 11-13 in Warsaw, Poland, for the 4th meeting of the World Congress of Families. The WCF describes itself as an “international network of pro-family organizations, scholars, leaders and people of good will.”

On the first day of proceedings, Roman Giertych, minister of education and deputy prime minister of Poland, told participants: “The family is life. Without the family, there is no state. There is no government. There is nothing.”

The May 11 press release by conference organizers also reported similar comments made by a government representative from the United States, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and immigration. “As you know,” she declared, “the family is the oldest human institution, the first and most enduring community of individuals working together for the common good.”

During the following days the WCF examined topics ranging from the impact of the media on family life, to difficulties caused by pornography, to the challenge of contraception and euthanasia.

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, prepared a text for the meeting, which was read by Father Grzegorz Kaszak. “The vocation of marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman,” the text affirmed.

Marriage in America

A useful overview of the ill effects that result when marriage and the family fail came in a book published late last year by Kay Hymowitz. In “Marriage and Caste in America,” Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York, argued that marriage failures are exacerbating social differences.

A combination of divorce and out-of-wedlock births is producing a nation of separate and unequal families. These inequalities, Hymowitz warned, are putting at risk the future of large numbers of children who will start life with severe disadvantages.

The prevalence of single motherhood is especially high among poor women who have only a high-school education. The book cites studies showing that in the mid-20th century just about all women, regardless of educational level, married before becoming mothers. Divorce levels were also very low.

In the decades after the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, the incidence of both divorce and having children outside of marriage became much higher among women with lower educational levels, compared with their more highly qualified counterparts. By the turn of the century, only about 10% of mothers with a college degree or higher were living without husbands. For mothers with only nine to 14 years of education the level was 36%.

In 2004 the proportion of children born to single mothers reached 33% of all births. The vast majority of these children went home from the maternity ward with a mother who had low levels of education and who was poor.

Poverty and low grades

The elevated number of single mothers goes a long way to explaining the persistently high level of poverty among children in the United States, according to Hymowitz. No fewer than 36% of female-headed families are below the poverty line, compared with 6% of married couples.

Poverty is far from the only problem facing children of unmarried mothers. They also have lower grades and educational qualifications compared to children who grow up with married parents. This holds true even after allowing for differences in race, family background and IQ. Not surprisingly, this also means that as adults, children who did not grow up with both parents also earn less and have a lower occupational status.

This leads to a situation, Hymowitz continued, where the social and economic inequalities owing to single motherhood are perpetuated into the next generation.

These problems cannot be resolved just through better welfare programs, Hymowitz contended. She pointed out that when a divorced mother remarries, her children’s outcomes resemble those of children from single-parent families more than those from intact families. In addition, children of cohabiting parents tend to enjoy few of the benefits that kids from married couples enjoy.

Traditional marriage, and childbearing within marriage, Hymowitz argued, orders society in ways that we are still striving to understand. Children brought up by a married couple are not only given greater security and order in their lives, but they also grow up more likely to want to replicate this same family structure for themselves.

Hymowitz then dedicated a substantial portion of her book to examining what happened with black families, where the trend to single motherhood started much earlier. Already in the mid-1960s, critics such as Daniel P. Moynihan warned that the poor state of black families was part of the reason they were not achieving economic equality with whites. Voices such as Moynihan’s were, however, in large part ignored and we now run the risk of producing another unequal caste of society, those children born to unmarried mothers, argued Hymowitz.

Some of the attempts to cope with the increase in single motherhood, the book warns, such as increased distribution of contraceptives and welfare programs, only deal with the symptoms of the phenomenon. Strong families that provide plenty of parental oversight, along with robust cultural and moral values, are far more effective at encouraging adolescents to avoid becoming parents at an age when they should be concentrating on their education.

Concluding the book, Hymowitz did see signs of hope. In more recent years divorce, illegitimacy and teen pregnancy rates have declined. As well, family values and marriage seem to be enjoying a resurgence of support. Moreover, the idea that children in married, two-parent families do better is even being accepted by some of the cultural and social elites, who before would not entertain such a proposal.

Without being overly optimistic, Hymowitz opined that for some adolescents there could be a rediscovery of personal responsibility and family values. The danger is, however, that this could be restricted to just one group in society, namely, the children fortunate enough to count on two parents. The future of those who are brought up in the much more precarious situation of divorced families or single mothers is much less promising.

A credo

In the midst of continuing debates over the future of the family, the Poland meeting of the World Family Congress closed with a “Warsaw Declaration,” which a May 18 press release by organizers described as “a pro-family credo for the 21st century.”

“The natural family, creation of God, is the fundamental human community, based on the lifelong marriage between a man and a woman, in which new individuals are conceived, born and raised,” stated the declaration text.

The declaration affirmed that it is the family that teaches what faithfulness in love means, along with respect for the life of every human being. It is also through authentic family life that a moral community is generated, essential for the upbringing of younger generations.

The declaration specifically thanked the defense of the family by Pope John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI.

The final part of the text called on churches “to proclaim the truth about life, marriage and the family, affirming the latter as the first community of faith and the school of all vocations.”

The declaration also appealed to political institutions, academics and health professionals to support the family. “We ask all people of good will to be at one with families and to help them restore hope and bring concrete assistance when difficulties occur,” urged the text. A duty of increasing importance in a world whose future will depend in great degree on what happens to the family.