The Catholic Thing
WYD: a Martian's View Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 22 August 2011

It would be easy to indulge anger over the coverage – actually the lack of coverage – of World Youth Day (WYD) in Spain this weekend. Several Catholic and even non-Catholic commentators noted the palpable bias in basically ignoring a remarkable modern phenomenon: 1.5 million young people from all over the world showed up to pray and bond with the pope and one another in the heart of secular Europe. But given the likely alternatives, maybe ignoring the event was not so bad after all.

As you probably saw, when the event was even noticed, it was usually presented in the context of Spanish political divisions, in which a few thousand protesters got equal billing with perhaps two hundred times as many participants. An early, mistaken analysis about the estimated $70 million costs of WYD – which were largely met by the young people and philanthropic sponsors – got mixed up with resentment over Spain’s need for austerity measures to deal with its economic situation.

Since Catholics are almost as dependent on secular news reports as anyone else, even a few priests protested the alleged harm being done to Spain’s poor. Under the circumstances, some of the WYD organizers were forced to justify the whole event as a net economic benefit to Spain, as did government officials, which you can see if you read to the end of this story.   

If you tried to find information from other secular sources, you might be surprised that they almost all derived from this single AP report, reproduced whole or in part. All news operations face budget constraints these days, but where you choose to put resources says something about what you regard as important. Other than the AP story, there was little serious WYD news in English.

What there was reflected the longstanding practice of assigning not particularly probing or well-informed reporters to cover religion. A garbled story that women who had had abortions would be absolved at WYD, instead of being excommunicated, gave rise to cascades of misunderstanding. The initial stories gave the impression that women who have had abortions are excommunicated in confession instead of automatically being so by the act itself – an elementary error that would get you fired or reassigned in any other news area.     

My personal news favorite was the NYC station that informed viewers that the pope would be celebrating the “sign of the Cross” in Spain. The context made it clear that what was meant was the Stations of the Cross – which are not exactly “celebrated” by Catholics. Even in our burned-over, formerly Christian nation, you would think that there was an odd Catholic or two tucked away in a NY media outlet who might have corrected this simple error.

    Move along, folks. Theres no story here.

It’s the slow summer season. Even the president and Congress are on vacation until Labor Day. I browsed through the media expecting that some editor somewhere with news holes to fill would realize that WYD just might be an interesting and unusual “human-interest story.” But the human-interest stories that emerged were from some quite incredible quarters.

Now, we all know that the most advanced, right-thinking people believe that Christianity is retrograde, and a spent force. That those same cutting-edge detectors of trends largely make their bones by arriving early, though not too early, at what will be tomorrow’s progressive crusades.

Yet even allowing for that settled media reality, you might have found it a little odd that, say, The Washington Post had no interest in WYD, but featured a Style-section commentary titled: “Egyptian gays buoyed by uprising.” No joke. You can look it up. Any decent person deplores the way the Muslim world treats homosexuals, but exactly how likely is a Gay Arab Spring? The smart money would bet on it being quite unlikely, now or in the lifetime of anyone old enough to read that story.

William McGowan’s Gray Lady Down is a sad look at the decline of the once prestigious New York Times. But I doubt that even he would have believed that, on the Sunday that brought WYD to a close, the newspaper would have run a full-page story on the difficulties and expense transgendered “women” encounter in looking curvy. (Note to Kathleen Sibelius:  HHS needs to issue some additional riders to Obamacare.) In the Sunday magazine, another whole page lamented that: “Istanbul’s brothels sure ain’t what they used to be.”

In fairness to the Times, though my edition of the paper had nothing on WYD, the online site had a concluding account. My paper did, however, contain a story on nuns disappearing as administrators of Catholic hospitals because nuns – at least in the liberalized orders – are a dying breed.

Let me hazard a wild judgment: The proverbial man from Mars, touching down this weekend, would find the news balance outlined above as evidence that our culture has gone off the rails, so far in fact that we’re either numb to it or have accepted it meekly. We have no interest in the central religion of the West, which is likely to survive and influence people for the foreseeable future, and labor instead to find politically correct stories that are obsolete the day they appear.

But if the media don’t find WYD newsworthy, there are other events in secular Europe itself that might grab the attention of a public jaded by the usual coverage of Egyptian gays and the costly struggles of the trangendered.

In the last decade, for example, 1.5 million pilgrims have walked to Compostela in Spain from many nations. Every year, several hundred thousand celebrate the feast of Cyril and Methodius even in Levoca, a small city in Eastern Slovakia, to say nothing of the large numbers in Fatima, Lourdes, Knock, Czestochowa.

There’s a scoop waiting here. And these people are all part of a marginalized and socially ridiculed minority that inclusive and sensitive journalists will not want to ignore.     

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by MJ Anderson, August 22, 2011
Isn't it odd that the Gray Lady and other publications seem unaware that their editorial choices have led to their sclerosis? Or is it the case that they would prefer to perish if that is the cost of carrying forth the politically correct worldview?
written by Dave T, August 22, 2011
The only coverage I caught was the closing Mass. While heartened by the size and enthusiasm of the young people, I was discouraged to see the lack of Christian symbolism. I mean, exactly what was that thing near the altar? Am I missing something here, or what?
written by Manfred, August 22, 2011
An excellent column, Dr. Royal. I grew up in an America where lip service was paid to "Christian" or family values. But then reality hit, where one of the sub-groups admitted to an 80% illegitimacy rate, and forecasts in general began looking bleak. In order to stave off millions on welfare, it was felt that contraception and abortion were the tools to accomplish this. The slippery slope began and secularism came out from behind the curtain where it had always been. There is no going back as the Rubicon has been crossed. The lines are drawn with the Church on one side and the World on the other. It promises to be interesting.
written by Louise, August 22, 2011
I had a very devout friend (may she rest in peace) who used to say "All growth takes place in the dark." If this is true, maybe a news blackout is not a bad thing. In the secular darkness, this young shoot may grow in strength and vigor, with deep roots, so that, when it it ready to spring forth in full blossom, it will be strong and supple, able to withstand the violent winds in which it must flourish, and it will bear much fruit.
written by Yezhov, August 22, 2011
When will we finally admit to ourselves for real that the mainstream media is anti-Catholic? Instead of sucking up to them, we should boycott them and their advertisers. Imagine, if all the Catholics in the northeast instead of cravenly panting to be accepted by the likes of the NY Times, pitched their copies of the NYT into the trash and cancelled their subscriptions. When the MSM start loosing money, there will be a wonderful to behold readjustment to their mindset.
written by Nick Palmer, August 22, 2011
I used the Boston Globe search engine on Friday to check "hundred" plus "protest" for the last two years. Over 650 stories. Yet, over 1 million Catholics, mostly youth, travel to Spain? One story before Sunday (my daughter's group went over on Wednesday 10 August, and the largest Boston Archdiocesan group went on Sunday 14 August. And that story? An AP blurb about the "protesters."

I submit for your amusement a letter I emails to the Globe editors on Wednesday 17 August, and, which they chose not to publish:

"Dear Globe,

I noted with wry amusement and little surprise that today's Globe is bereft of any mention of World Youth Day in Madrid. For your information it was formally kicked-off yesterday. I am sure space was tight, used as it was to inform us of a study that many people use "Sorry, I'm on the phone" as an excuse (surprisingly not paid for with Federal dollars), and to learn of the reinstatement of the traditional names to Canada's navy and air force.

Meanwhile, several hundred young adults from Boston are joining hundreds of thousands of others on a pilgrimage of truly global scope. Is your editorial staff merely baffled by the faith and commitment of these pilgrims? Or does the omission reflect repressed hostility toward those "clinging to God and guns"?

Couldn't you have regaled readers with another NYT-originated hit piece accusing Pope Benedict XVI of orchestrating unspeakable child abuse? What about a good ol' James Carroll Catholic bashing? Too bad HE wasn't running the Church, there'd be far more important things to do than World Youth Day. Perhaps we could have seen a diabolical Dan Brown-esque conspiracy theory?

Yesterday I participated in an online survey sent by the Globe regarding my opinions on the paper. Do you really need a survey to help to understand your double-digit year-over-year circulation decline?

written by Grump, August 22, 2011
On the other hand, millions saw the 60 Minutes profile on NY Archbishop Tim Dolan that made him look like Bozo the Clown. All Morley Safer could talk about was the priest sex scandals and Dolan played defense the whole interview. Plus he came off as way too garrulous and palsy-wowsy. Where's Bishop Sheen when we need him?
written by David Philippart, August 22, 2011
Maybe secular media outlets are afraid to touch coverage of religious events because (a) they know they usually get details wrong; and (b) they are criticized for getting details wrong. Either way, I see no plot or persecution.
written by Ryan Hilliard, August 23, 2011
The graces and fruits that will spring from WYD require no advertisement.
written by Denis, August 26, 2011
Here in the uk the pattern is very similar. A massively hostile media who only want to cover "Catholic" events when there is something really bad to say about them. I think in the USA you would be struck by the similarities between NYT and London Times. What I'm really happy to say is that the press here have been forced to acknowledge WYD as a success. It must have been galling for them to do so.
Man proposes God disposes!

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