Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Church Militant and the Newspaper Wars

Another interesting thing. Yesterday, in the SMH, a great kerfuffle ensued as it was revealed that "anti-annoyance" laws had been introduced for World Youth Day. Never mind that such laws are in place at sporting stadiums across the state at every game that takes place in them. No, it must be the Catholic Church quashing freedom of expression and expecting the people of Sydney to become the mindless Pope-adoring zombies it naturally wants them to be.

This is pretty representative of the tone the SMH has taken towards the whole thing, which is generally along the lines of "I didn't vote for this! It's disrupting more important things like business and corporate-ness in the economic hub that is the CBD! Its costing money!!! Catholics, go home!" All of which is by no means unexpected.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Daily Telegraph, which went to great lengths today to demonstrate that, unlike the SMH (and the editor made the point explicitly in his editorial), the Daily Telegraph is the friend of World Youth Day. 'They [the complainers] are aided in their non-cause by the Sydney Morning Herald, a newspaper so sensitive to the concerns of one culture that it routinely deletes references to 'men of Middle-Eastern appearance' from police reports and yet runs absurd front-page stories slamming Youth Day and promoting T-shirts bearing the lines '$5500- a small price to pay for annoying Catholics'....Our bottom line on World Youth Day is this- we hope that its a success and we think that it will be. Our question for our media friends elsewhere is: surely shouldn't you wait until something has actually happened before declaring it a disaster?"

Well, quite.

This might of course have something to do with the fact that, apparently, the Telegraph is the "WYD Sydney08 Official newspaper" (was there one of those in Cologne?) but I wouldn't be one to say. But, well and good, you might think. The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that (or the naysayer of my naysayer, perhaps). But then, if the Telegraph is prepared to be so positive, what exactly does it think World Youth Day is all about?

The answer comes on p7 in an interview with one Carla Mascarenhas. "Its not about preaching the gospel," she says, "its about bringing people together."


Somehow, I suspect the Pope would disagree with a statement like that. But, whatever the Pope thinks (and if I know Benedict XVI, he would probably retort by pointing to Christ and how His preaching of the gospel brought and brings people together in a way that all other things in history have been incapable of doing), this is far more illuminating of what the Telegraph staff think. One gets the image of WYD as a sort of feel-good Woodstock about joy and togetherness focussing on nothing much in particular- apart from navel-gazing and everyone saying to each other, "I'm really excited! Aren't you excited? I'm so excited!" The idea that the whole thing might be centred on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and that its culmination will be the making present of the Eternal Sacrifice of Calvary at Randwick Racecourse in the presence of hundreds of thousands of young people on the Sunday morning doesn't seem to have been noted. Indeed, the vague suspicion that the Pope might stand for something or Someone other than himself doesn't seem to have crossed the minds of anyone at the Telegraph offices! In point of fact, the image of WYD put across by the Telegraph seems suspiciously like the Olympics, except with no sport in the middle, just the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. I think some surprises will be in store.

The whole thing reminds me of nothing so much as the critical reaction to Mel Gibson's film Apocalypto. That film I went and saw soon after it came out, enjoyed it a lot, and then went leafing through dozens of reviews to see if anyone else had. I subsequently came away with the singular impression that most of the reviewers hadn't understood what the film was trying to say, and those that did didn't like it. While the SMH is unrelievedly hostile, I think it perceives at least dimly that its cherished values are threatened by what will be happening in Sydney in a fortnight, whereas the Telegraph seems to think the Church shares its values. In this the SMH at least is closer to the truth.

Ultimately, of course, regardless of media, newspapers and talk, the Catholic Church does its own thing, because it marches to a different drumbeat to the surrounding culture. It is, after all, the Mystical Body of the most unpredictable Man Who ever lived, Who didn't even stay dead when everybody expected Him to. Those who try to second-guess the Church, categorise it and pigeon-hole it into their own political, cultural or ideological boxes, or harness it to further their own agenda will ultimately be confounded. The Church is bigger than them and it is alive with a very different sort of life.

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