Saturday, March 29, 2008

Peter Steinfels on "Clichéd Coverage" of Benedict XVI

Pope Is Coming, as Is Clichéd Coverage in the Media, by Peter Steinfels. New York Times March 29, 2008:

This will now be the eighth or ninth papal trip to the United States, depending on whether one counts John Paul II’s several hours of layover in Anchorage in 1981. What is surprising about every papal visit, at least after 1965, when Paul VI addressed the United Nations, is what so many people find surprising. Each time they are surprised, for example, that the pope hasn’t abandoned the notion that all human lives, even in their earliest, embryonic phases, deserve protection and that therefore abortion is wrong.

They are similarly surprised that many American Roman Catholics honor the pope yet disagree with papal positions, whether about using contraception, restricting legal access to abortion, ordaining married men or women to the priesthood, or recognizing same-sex relationships.

This kind of disagreement may signal, as some argue, a severe crisis in church authority. Or it may be more of a norm throughout Catholic history than is widely realized. But whatever it is, it is not new.

The most surefire satirical segments on “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” consist of quick clips of newscasters or politicians beating the same phrase into the ground. It is easy to imagine clips from 1987 until now with one talking head after another intoning about the pope coming to visit “a divided flock ... divided flock ... divided flock.” What rings false is not the fact. It is the breathlessness.

Breathlessness is always a problem with papal visits. The trouble with melodrama is that it displaces genuine drama. Caricature replaces character.