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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyWhen headlines go awry

When St. Benedict wrote his Rule for monks 1,500 years ago, he began with the word “Listen.”

Commentaries have been written about his use of this word — “to listen.” In the context of the Rule, it applies to listening both to God and to the members of one’s community.

In his inaugural encyclical in 1964, Ecclesiam Suam, Pope Paul VI stressed the word “dialogue.” The church needs to dialogue with today’s world, he pointed out, and that attitude has replaced the image of the church as a walled fortress.

In the world of blogs and “alternate facts” today, another word comes to mind: “read.” Read what articles really say. Read and understand the whole story.

In his Feb. 3 column in the National Catholic Reporter, Jesuit Father Thomas Reese gives an example of how important it is “to read” more than headlines.

He quotes a headline from a blogger: “Pope Francis Just Issued a Blistering Statement Against Christians Supporting Trump’s Muslim Ban.” The source cited was a Catholic News Service story that ran in the Catholic Herald on Oct. 13, 2016.

Reese notes: “The CNS story clearly states that the pope was speaking to German pilgrims on Oct. 13, 2016, but the blogger blithely ignores the facts for the sake of a good headline. Nowhere in the CNS story is the name Trump or the words ‘executive order.’ ”

In fact, the story reported an incident that happened before the American election was even held!

In other words, it’s important to know “how to read.” In today’s world of social media and “fake news,” one must be critical.

This week’s Prairie Messenger reports that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has warned that some bishops are interpreting Pope Francis’ document on marriage and family, Amoris Laetitia, in a way that is not in accordance with Catholic doctrine. The report does not name any bishops or bishops conferences that the cardinal may be referring to.

Some bloggers, however, have filled in the blanks. They refer to the German bishops conference, which issued a commentary on Amoris Laetitia, as giving approval to adulterers to receive communion.

A quick reading of these headlines may lead one to think that the German church is close to formal dissent and schism. However, a report carried in the English Tablet magazine, gives a fuller — and more complete — context:

“The German bishops’ conference has underlined the importance of respecting individual decisions of conscience with regard to allowing remarried divorcees to receive the sacraments, in their long and eagerly awaited interpretation of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

“While emphasizing that Amoris Laetitia leaves no doubt that the ‘indissolubility of marriage belongs to the church’s essential deposit of faith,’ it at the same time says that ‘no one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel,’ the bishops recalled.
“They noted that Amoris Laetitia particularly emphasises the importance of avoiding judgments which do not take into account the complexity of the different situations in which people live.

“The bishops pointed to AL 305 which says that if one receives the church’s help and in certain cases also the help of the sacraments, one can live in God’s grace even if one is in an ‘objective situation of sin — which may not subjectively be culpable or fully culpable.’

“At the same time, however, they underlined that all remarried divorcees cannot automatically be readmitted to the sacraments. An individual decision of conscience must be preceded by both a serious examination of conscience and a longer spiritual process accompanied by a priest, the bishops explained, and even then it will not always be possible to allow the individual concerned to receive the sacraments ‘in every case.’ ”

Do these reports cover the same story? we may ask.

In a world where Twitter and Facebook are replacing legitimate newspapers, we are in danger of relying on catchy headlines and false news. It will be important “to read” and “to listen” to the whole story or our “dialogue” with one another will be severely distorted.