Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What a load of cobblers... Cathnews report on Sacramentum Caritatis

According to Church rules adopted in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council of 1965, congregations wishing to celebrate Mass in Latin were forced to seek permission from Rome or from their local bishops.
Yes, dear friends, this little snippet of wisdom comes from none other than that most excellent of news sources, Cathnews.

One can tell from their report that no-one at Church Resources actually bothered to read the Exhortation before reporting on it. As usual, they have simply relied on second-hand reportage about the document. Never-the-less, the clergy on the team--or even the moderately educated layperson--knows that this claim is false. Any priest has the right to say the Mass in Latin, and any parish that wants it can have it. It's the pre-Vatican IIrite that can't be used without the local bishop's permission. The official language of the Novus Ordo mass remains Latin.

And while "Archbishop Adrian Doyle, who attended the bishops' synod" may well believe that "the Pope's preference for Latin prayers would be unlikely to change the celebration of Mass at parish level", the Exhortation is more than the "Pope's preference". In saying "I ask that future priests ... be trained to understand and celebrate Holy Mass in Latin, use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chants," the Pope is actually issuing a directive which has the highest authority in the Church and which each and every Catholic Seminary is now obliged to make a part of their curriculum. From there on in, once seminarians have again been trained in the art of saying mass in Latin and have experienced the beauty of the Gregorian Chant, it will only be a matter of time before we begin to experience the same liturgical renewal that was experienced in many parishes in the early 20th Century. It happened then (with the opposition of many bishops, take note)--it can happen again.

Arabella (who often posts comments on this page) has left a sensible reply on the Cathnews Discussion board to "Judith":
Have you read the document? It seems you are reaching conclusions from a reading of the article on the front page of CathNews. This article is very misleading in a number of ways. I’m amazed a Catholic news service has done such a bad job of summarizing the document.

The document does not say there will be a return of the Latin Mass. It merely says that when the ‘modern’ Mass is celebrated with an international congregation that it would make sense to pray some of the most common prayers in Latin.

Imagine, for example, World Youth Day. It would make a lot of sense if participants knew some prayers in Latin thereby giving them a means to pray together.

Yes, there is talk of an upcoming document enabling the ‘Latin Mass’ (meaning the Mass last in common use prior to 1962 (? or about then)), but that will only be for those who prefer this Mass. It will not be enforced upon anyone.
The distinction between the context of large international masses and the local parish Sunday mass is important, and is made on the basis of what the Pope has actually written in paragraph 62 of the Exhortation. Her suggestion about World Youth Day is a good one and an obvious one--which surely the WYD director has already noted and underlined with purple pen (as is his wont).

As for the rest of the Cathnews article, well. Pinch of salt. As Arabella advises, read the Exhortation for yourself here. And for just what the Pope did direct the Church to do, see this blog below.


At Thursday, March 15, 2007 1:02:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Don’t shoot the messenger!

Cathnews doesn’t originate any of its own content. Its purpose is to tell subscribers what the wider Catholic and mainstream media is saying on matters of interest to Catholics. It does this partly by giving summaries of news reports from other sources, and partly by providing links directly to those other reports.

Cathnews subscribers are presumed to be interested in both accurate and inaccurate reporting. (Conceivably, indeed, some of them are particularly interested to know about the inaccurate reporting.)

Hence it is not part of the brief of Cathnews to “correct” inaccurate reporting as it relays it, or to suprress it entirely, or even to point out in editorial comment of its own that the report is incorrect.

Apart from the question of whether it is desirable that Cathnews should provide this kind of commentary on the wider media coverage of issues of interest to Catholics, I don’t think it has the resources to do so, and it certainly doesn’t hold itself out as doing so.

You can fairly criticise Cathnews if, in summarising other reports, it introduces an error that is not to be found in the original report, and this does sometimes happen.

But that is not what happened here. By following the links that Cathnews gives, you can establish that this particular error – and, I agree, it is clearly an error – originates ultimately in a report written by one Nicholas Rigillo for Deutsche Presse-Agentur. A quick Google search suggests that Rigillo is DPA’s man on the ground in Rome, and most of what he writes is about Italian politics rather than Catholic issues. Errors are therefore not surprising.

As a press agency report It is likely to be picked up in a number of media outlets other than the one in which Cathnews found it. Some of these other outlets may not be English-language outlets.

So, in this instance, Cathnews is accurately relaying what the wider media is saying, which is what it aims to do.

At Thursday, March 15, 2007 2:16:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Accepted to a certain degree, Peregrinus. Although there is some similarity with Adam's excuse re the fruit that was found in his hands...

Clearly Cathnews does not repeat in full everything that other reports have written, but edits and collates these reports and sticks in an "According to Deutsche Presse-Agentur" or such here and there as acknowledgement. So, they could easily have "snipped" out this obvious error, rather than repeat it.

After all, Cathnews itself has become an "authority" and a source for local news and does bear some sort of responsibility for the promulgation of truth and error. We should never knowingly pass on a falsehood, even if the falsehood doesn't originate with us.

Furthermore, since much of the press coverage of Sacr. Car. has come from the great unwashed and uniformed secular press, Cathnews should exercise some care as to its sources. First impressions are so important with papal documents, especially very very large and detailed ones such as this which people are hardly likely to read for themselves if it is given a negative wrap from the very beginning.

At Friday, March 16, 2007 4:31:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I’ve been slow in coming back to this one. Sorry. Computer problems.

I have to say that I disagree with what (I think) you are saying here.

The implication of what you say seems to be either that:

- Cathnews should ’snip’ news reports with which it disagrees, i.e. edit out the content that it believes to be wrong, or

- Cathnews should add its own editorial comment on the news that it relays, pointing out disagreement or errors.

As to the first, definitely not. If the media are saying things about the Catholic church or issues of interest to Catholics which are untrue, or debatably untrue, then I want to know about it. It is not the business of Cathnews to protect my sensitive soul from this painful knowledge.

As to the second, at the very least there are practical issues. Currently the collation of news reports is a subeditorial exercise requiring only enough knowledge of Catholicism to make a judgment about whether the general subject of the report is likely to be of interest to Catholics or not, and whether different news reports can properly be grouped together as dealing with the same basic issue.

Commenting on news reports from an informed perspective is an entirely different exercise, which requires a considerably better informed person to carry out, and which I think would also take a good deal more time. Even if Cathnews has the resources to do this, I don’t think it could offer the overnight morning e-mail service that it currently provides.

There is also the question of perspective and bias. Pointing out that it is only celebration according to the 1962 missal which requires an indult may be uncontroversial, but many matters which might seem to call for editorial comment from Cathnews would be rather more controversial. Best to let the Cathnews readers supply their own controversy, I think. We have reason to think that they are more than capable of it.

The truth is there are plently of services out there which point readers to news reports of interest to Catholics, and supply editorial commentary on them from a Catholic perspective. Most (all?) of them are blogs, and they tend to be highly opinionated, and to offer commentary from a particular perspective, which is not necessarily the only perspective consistent with a Catholic standpoint. One of the attractions of Cathnews, and I think one of the reasons for its very broad appeal, is that to a large extent it avoids this, letting its readers supply their own perspectives on news reports (and offering the discussion board as a forum for doing so).

I accept that correcting this particular error doesn’t involve much in the way of bias or perspective, but once Cathnews starts editorialising at all it will become very difficult to hold the line. Already Cathnews is regularly criticised on its own discussion board for not having editorialised in a way that a particular boardie would wish. I think it is in a much stronger position editorialising as little as possible.

I take your point that “Cathnews has become something of an authority”. But the correct position, I think, is that Cathnews is not an authority on what is or is not happening in the church, or on what affects the church. Rather, it is an authority on how the media are covering things that are happening in the church, and things that affect the church. There may be a case for saying that the Cathnews front page should flag more clearly exactly what it is they do and don’t do in their service. But I wouldn’t have them change the service itself.

Incidentally, I don’t know if you are all familiar with a blog called It covers reporting on religion in the mainstream media, and comments on it, in a critical and informed way. In fact, it only covers reports on which it wishes to offer its own comment. It has a strong American focus, and its comments reflect the stance of its contributors (which is, broadly, American Protestant). Nevertheless, it’s interesting, not least as an example of an alternative to Cathnews’s way of dealing with religious reporting in the mainstream media.

At Friday, March 16, 2007 9:56:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

I'll check out "getreligion". I have thought about this a little more too over the last few days. What you say about the way Cathnews works is not quite accurate, is it?

I mean, I have a newsblog myself for the Commission, called "Ecumenical and Interfaith Newsblog" ( There I never comment (well, so rarely as to be never), I just cut and paste and acknowledge the source and link to it. I don't include whole articles generally due to space, and everyone can go directly to the source (of which there is only ever one per blog). But when I put the item up, I make it quite clear that I am not the author, nor is the Commission. I name the source, I name the author, I put up the article. I never collate more than one article in each blog, even if they are on the same issue. Naturally, however, I do use the very minimum degree of editorial discretion required to make the choice of what to put on the blog and what not to.

Now, Cathnews editorial discretion goes much further than this. It starts with the fact that they often cobble together several sources into the one article on a given topic. At other times, it adopts the style of saying "it was reported in The Age/Eureka Street etc. that..."

Already, that means that a Cathnews article is a completely new article which reports on other articles rather than simply repeating them. And the way in which these articles are introduced (or the angles taken--or even, for that matter which items are chosen for reporting) are all editorial decisions of Cathnews.

So perhaps the decision should be made one way or another: Are we simply going to repeat the news, or are we going to edit it to some greater or lesser degree?

If a lesser degree of editorial activity is chosen, then it should be made clear to Cathnews readers that Cathnews does not vouch for the veracity of the information it conveys.


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