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ROME, October 10, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - [Let's begin right out of the box with full disclosure and a disclaimer: This is not a hit piece on John Allen of the Boston Globe / Crux. John Allen has appeared on ChurchMilitant.com's Mic'd Up show and, unsurprisingly, presented himself very well. -MV]
Comments made earlier this week by Australian archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane have reason to be doubted.
In an interview granted to John Allen of Boston Globe / Crux, Coleridge gave estimates of what he thought the outcome would be of hypothetical situations regarding the so-called Kasper proposal for allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
In the first scenario of granting full, sweeping acceptance to the idea on a universal level, Coleridge said he thought the "vote" would go against the Kasper proposal roughly 65–35. When asked how he thought bishops would line up with a proposal where individual countries' bishops' conferences would get to decide, he predicted a 50/50 level of support.
Allen's interview and its hypothetical ramifications have helped set a narrative in place early in the Synod that needs a high level of scrutiny. The most basic scrutiny is very simple: How does Coleridge know this?
There are nearly 300 delegates in the Synod. Many of them are lodging complaints about language and translation issues, control of the process (a familiar refrain from last year's Synod), the inability to alter the Instrumentum Laboris (the working document that has been assailed from various quarters as theologically unsound), and so forth.
So the question is a worthy question that any reasonable person should ask. How does Abp. Coleridge venture such a guess almost before the Synod has even begun its work? How does he know, or presume to know, the way such hypothetical votes would go?
He hasn't possibly had the time needed to do his own canvassing. And if he is relying on reports from brother bishops, the same question applies: How do they know? Many of these bishops have never even met before. Are they talking to bishops from countries whose native language is different from their own? The Synod has been such a source of confusion for many of the bishops in its early days that Pope Francis himself had to intervene on day two and go over "procedures" again.
Is it possible that Abp. Coleridge has some special insight that other bishops do not have? Other bishops ChurchMilitant.com has spoken with have said they have no idea how the consensus of bishops would vote on these hypothetical proposals because it's simply too early.
So a second question falls from all this: Why are Coleridge's "guesses" being published as though they are newsworthy? How could they be newsworthy? They are, after all, only the guesses of one delegate — guesses that other bishops either dispute or don't put much stock in.
So is there some agenda-driven journalism going on here? John Allen used to work for the National Catholic Reporter, a radically liberal publication with various "stories" and editorials routinely challenging dogmatic teachings of the Catholic faith, while not busy actually denying them. Not that Allen himself ever engaged in such straight up "reporting" subverting the Faith, but he did draw his check from the paper that does. His reports are known to be generally even-handed. While they are accurate, accuracy is not the issue.
In fairness, it must be stated that the veteran Vatican reporter is a darling of the Holy See Press Office, almost always getting picked first or early by Fr. Federico Lombardi when it comes time for questions from media seats.
It's difficult to pin down exactly where Allen falls on some of these theological questions (perhaps the reason so many bishops like talking with him — because they find a kindred spirit). But should a man who reports on Catholic affairs be hard to pin down when it comes to his views on theology and Church teaching? (Inter Mirifica, anyone?)
Surely he has views, right? Where does he stand on the teaching of Humanae Vitae, for example? What about his thoughts on the very question so urgently being asked at this Synod, which he asked Coleridge about: Holy Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics?
Allen, and other self-proclaimed Catholic media, should be held to a different standard than, say, reporters from AP or Reuters or CNN. They are secular and do not claim to believe anything the Church teaches.
But Allen and the rest of the Catholic brigade are not just reporters. We are Catholic first and foremost and have a duty therefore to present our reports in a way that promotes the Faith — even when that promotion means shining the spotlight on traitorous or poorly formed clerics.
While we do look for and promote stories, those journalistic efforts should first be at the service of the Church, not an agenda that is either at odds with the Church or indifferent to it. True, Allen now gets paid by a secular outfit, but he is still a Catholic, and that places a responsibility on him to someone higher than the Boston Globe.
So something seems a little off about this Abp. Coleridge story, both the content and the choice to write and publish it. Here is a question: Is it possible that the story was floated as a trial balloon to fix a narrative in place at the very outset of the Synod?
News people are funny animals. Once a phrase gets established as "fact," all of a sudden it gets repeated over and over again as though it actually were factual. It's called setting the terms of the debate, and he who sets the terms usually wins it.
It's curious what stories do not get picked up by Allen or various other Catholic reporters, stories that are not guesses on the part of left-leaning bishops, but bona fide facts.
ChurchMilitant.com, for example, was the first to report on all three of the following major stories, yet not one was even picked up on by Allen. (He has our number and email.)
These are just three examples of significant stories ChurchMilitant.com either has been the first to report or has broken, yet not a peep from Allen or any of the other "veteran" reporters hanging around the press office.
Why aren't these stories being picked up? Why are "easy" stories that rely on nothing more than guesswork and unsubstantiated conjecture and a few minutes to type out being given such play and replay?
Something strange is going on. It's about time those asking the questions started getting asked some questions.