Pope Benedict XVI and the Media

In light of almost every major American media outlet wringing their hands over precisely when it is that Pope Benedict XVI is going to announce that he’s decided to allow women to be priests, embraced gay marriage, decided that John Paul II was cracked over the whole birth control thing, and taken full personal responsibility for the entire clergy sex abuse scandal—not to mention their constant preoccupation with the “public perception” of the Pope (e.g., “The scourge of liberal theologians,” “He’s a dusty, professorial type,” “Why isn’t he John Paul II?”) instead of, you know, actually reading any of the words he’s ever written—there couldn’t have been a better time for Tracey Rowland’s new book, Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, to appear. There have been plenty of books and articles published about Ratzinger/B16 since he became Pope which cast him as anything from a dangerous conspiratorial anti-modernist to a neoconservative bastion of freedom and democracy, but Rowland, I think, understands him from the inside. That is, she doesn’t attempt to create a critical evaluation of his thought in order to discern his wider agenda, which of course would be fine and has its place; she uses his ideas to develop her own (and she’s no slouch of a thinker by a long shot, as she proved in After Vatican II: Culture and the Thomist Tradition). There’s an excellent review by Ryan T. Anderson of Rowland’s book on the Books & Culture website which, short of reading Benedict’s work or Rowland’s book on his theology, could do a lot to mitigate some of the ridiculous expectations and misunderstandings of Benedict that I read and hear every day.

I don’t say all this to align myself in direct opposition to the concerns of the media listed above but rather to point out that there is a coherence and a continuity to Pope Benedict’s thought that has been almost completely ignored in most of the coverage I have heard. They seem baffled that Benedict’s first two encyclicals have been about love and hope (from the Vatican’s watchdog!), and they definitely don’t apprehend that the better part of Joseph Ratzinger cum Benedict XVI’s career has been dedicated to a critique of not just the issues the media keep bringing up but the intellectual traditions many of those issues represent. Now I also don’t want to sound like I’m saying that the media must read all the books he’s written in order to report accurately and directly on his visit, but it wouldn’t kill them to at least take a sympathetic look at the broader arc of his work through the last several decades instead of commenting backhandedly about how it butts up against our modern liberal presuppositions. In other words, it seems like they’ve told us more about themselves than they have about Benedict XVI.


4 comments so far

  1. timothycairns on

    You need to watch Fox News! their coverage has been the opposite of what you have written above!

    In the National Post in Canada (on Tuesday) they had an article saying he was a big liberal!


    its all perspective

  2. chad on

    I’m in agreement with Tim – I thought a tent revival had gone on at Fox News during their coverage of the Pope’s departure. All of a sudden, everyone was a lifelong devoted Catholic whose great-grandmother was a first generation immigrant from Sicily.

  3. jeffreimer on


    That article you linked to makes the point better and more directly than anything I said in my post. For instance:

    “One of the problems with most press coverage of the Catholic Church is that the left-right template doesn’t fit very well.”

    Tim and Chad: I’m going to have to take your word for it on Fox News.

  4. chad on

    It was either watch the Pope depart on Fox News or watch Hillary Clinton on CNN tell me how she can give me the beatific vision. I choose the former.

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