Tag Archives: media

On Hermits, Friends, and Marmots

I have to say, Brother Rex was terrific on EWTN last night! It was great to see and hear him, not only being thoughtful and serious, but also being very, very funny. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much watching a Catholic TV show.  If you were not able to catch his appearance on “The Journey Home” with host Marcus Grodi, the episode will be archived to EWTN’s YouTube page sometime in the next few days.  You can also download the audio podcast for free through iTunes.

Thanks to Marcus Grodi, we’ve even come up with a mascot animal – the marmot – for this project as a result: but in order to understand that, you’ll have to watch the episode of course!

Today we’ve kicked off our guest blogging campaign on the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage site, with a great piece on developing a deeper theology for women by Catholic author, speaker, and talk show host Teresa Tomeo.  We’re truly grateful that she’s sharing her time and talent with us, and with all of you, and thank her for this contribution. Teresa’s is the first in a series of posts we’ll be featuring on the site, every Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks, to help draw attention to the work we’re trying to do to get this hermitage established.  These posts will be in addition to Brother Rex’s own brief reflections which he posts on the site during the day.

I also want to thank both my dear friend Catholic new media “diva” Lisa Hendey and writer and commentator Mark Shea for the wonderful pieces about FLPH which they each posted to Patheos yesterday.  You can read Lisa’s post here, and Mark’s post here.  Two more hugely talented, gracious people in the Catholic media community, lending a hand in this effort: we’re really blessed!

I hope you’ll continue to keep the FLPH effort to establish a permanent hermitage in your prayers, gentle reader, since above all that is the most important thing we can do.  And again, if you feel inclined to donate or know someone who may be interested in doing so, please pass the link to FLPH along to them.  It’s not often these days that one gets to help establish an actual hermitage, so this is really a unique opportunity to help someone live out his vocation in a life of prayer on behalf of all of us.

Thanks very much for your support!

The Marmot

The Marmot


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Happy Pope-versary, Media

One year ago today, Pope Francis was elected head of the Catholic Church, and a media feeding frenzy surrounding him began.  We have now had twelve months of endless storytelling on this Pope, yet because so much of that coverage has based on shoddy, inaccurate reporting, one has to question whether most people have an accurate picture of who the man really is.  In fact it has been so bad, that he himself recently commented in an interview that he doesn’t like the way he’s being portrayed in the media as if he is some sort of Superman [which is good, because I'm not resigning from that post any time soon.]

This morning for example, NPR aired a report on “Morning Edition” from senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggoli in Rome, marking the first Pope-versary of this pontificate.  Poggoli began by contrasting Pope Francis with his predecessors, referring to the latter as “doctrinal conservatives”.  She never mentioned of course, that Pope Francis has not actually changed any Church “doctrine”, a term which the media uses almost exclusively as code for “teachings about sex”.

In the course of her piece, Poggoli spoke to two people: the president of “Catholics for A Free Choice”, a heretical pro-abortion organization funded in part by pornographer Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Foundation, and a priest from the personal prelature of Opus Dei.  The former heads a small group with no standing whatsoever in the Church, yet was given two opportunities to talk about his impressions of Pope Francis and what he expects this Pope to do.  The Opus Dei priest was allowed about 20 seconds to briefly compare the personal speaking styles of Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, and Blessed Pope John Paul II: that’s it.  I must confess, I was totally underwhelmed by this so-called journalism.

Catholics who are active in their faith know that there are other media outlets one can turn to, when it comes to getting actual news reporting on Pope Francis, rather than advocacy disguised as journalism.  Yet that figure, whatever it may be, is not a significant enough percentage of the market to make much of a difference on mainstream media reporting.  I suspect this is partially due to a regrettable tendency among some Catholics to be insular, and pat ourselves on the back saying, “At least *we* know what the truth is.” However if we have learned anything from Pope Francis over the past year, that excuse for doing little or nothing simply isn’t enough.

In looking back over twelve months of stories about Pope Francis, we can see that rank-and-file Catholics are going to need to take greater advantage of those “water cooler” opportunities with friends and contemporaries to clear up misconceptions arising out of bad journalistic practices.  Agenda-based reporting against the Church is nothing new, of course.  Ask yourself when was the last time you heard a mainstream media reporter try to explain *why* the Catholic Church is pro-life, instead of just treating the term like a scarlet letter that can be pinned to a cassock.

What we have already learned in the first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate is that he wants us to go outside of our comfort zones to bring other people in.  From the poor to the marginalized to the disaffected, Pope Francis is making an effort by what he says and does, to remind us that the Gospel is not something we are supposed to remember only when we want to feel good about ourselves. We do not share the message of Jesus Christ with others, if we sit home encased in a comfy cocoon, facing no challenges and thereby refusing to grow in faith.

Perhaps today then, when your luncheon companions are discussing current events and bring up this anniversary, you might buck up the courage to engage in conversation about who Pope Francis really is.  Why not take advantage of the opportunity, when you run into your neighbor at the post office and talk about the news, to discuss what Pope Francis stands for as the head of the Catholic Church.  It won’t get you on CNN or ABC, let alone NPR, but at least you’ll be educating someone on why they should reject the media cartoon character we have all been presented with over the past year.


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The Honeymoon’s (Almost) Over

So will this be that moment when the media finally turns on Pope Francis?

In a rather fortuitous bit of timing following my post yesterday, the Pope may now find himself in a bit of a pickle, when it comes to his relationship with the media.  Today the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a report not only condemning the sex abuse scandal, but going even further, insisting that the Catholic Church change its teachings on issues like contraception and abortion.  The Vatican has issued an initial, somewhat terse response, acknowledging the findings of the Committee but also its “regret to see in some points of the Concluding Observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.”

Putting aside the issue of the sex abuse scandal itself, one does have to ask oneself what children have to do with issues such as contraception and abortion.  Well, other than the fact that both prevent children from existing, of course.  The fact that these issues were thrown in to a final report on what was supposed to be an examination of how the Church handled the abuse crisis seems rather strange – until, that is, one looks a little more closely at who created it.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child is composed of 18 “experts” from around the world.  One of them, Ms. Amal Aldoseri, a Vice-Chairwoman of the Committee, is the foundress of Y-PEER Education in her home country of Bahrain. Y-PEER is an organization which seeks to “increase access to information, knowledge, and services on sexual and reproductive health,” i.e., teach adolescents how to put on a condom, take The Pill, or get an abortion.  Another Vice-Chairwoman of the Committee, Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne of Sri Lanka, began her career as the medical officer/project director of a “family planning” clinic in her home country, i.e., “teach adults how to put on a condom, take The Pill, or get an abortion.  Therefore it should surprise no one that demands that Catholics become gnostics – or at best, Anglicans – when it comes to issues of sexual reproduction would issue from a body headed by such individuals.

What interests me most at this point is anticipating how Pope Francis himself is going to react to this report, for react he must, whether he wants to or not.  The story was the lede on virtually every news outlet today; in fact it was the first story I heard on NPR this morning, a network whose reporting bias works better than any alarm clock at getting me out of bed in a fit of yelling and indignation.  The media will be paying very close attention to what the Pope has to say about the findings and recommendations issued by the Committee, and they will hound him until he does so.

When that statement comes, the Pope will find out who his real friends are.  He may once again surprise us by finding a way to deftly avoid the diplomatic and public relations trap that has been laid for him.  However it is hard to see how he will be able to step around a direct challenge to the fundamental teachings of Christ, the Apostles, and their successors, handed down through the Catholic Church in an unbroken chain for the past 2,000 years.

Hopefully his response, when it comes, will be a clear and unequivocal statement, even if it means that the press honeymoon will come to an end, as a result.



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Pope Francis: Politics, Policy, and the Press

It is usually not a promising sign, when attending an event to discuss the Pope and public policy, to find that the average age of those in attendance is about 62.  One could almost hear the faint clatter of tambourines being stuffed into PBS tote bags as the attendees filed into Gaston Hall at Georgetown University, my alma mater.  One could also have spent hours playing that classic Post-Vatican II spotting game, “heterodox nun, or feminist liberation theologian?” Still, unlike when President Obama last spoke there, Georgetown decided not to cover up the cross and “IHS” monogram on the proscenium, and that is to their credit.

Last evening’s gathering, “The Pope, Politics and Policy” to discuss what has become known as “The Pope Francis Effect”, was sponsored by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.  Moderated by the Initiative’s director, John Carr, the panel discussion featured John Allen of the Boston Globe, Ross Douthat of the New York Times, and Kerry Robinson of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.  I was unsure before the evening began as to why Ms. Robinson was put on the panel, given that a third journalist or an academic would have made more sense in the context of the discussion.  After the event ended, I remained unsure as to why she had been put on the panel, since she contributed nothing of any interest to the discussion.  So we shall have to leave that to the ages.

Although billed as a discussion of the new Pope’s effect on public policy and politics, the most interesting comments of the evening were Mr. Allen’s, with respect to understanding the differences and similarities between the present and preceding popes.  On top of which, he had wonderful stories to share, like the time Pope Francis showed up early at a parish in suburban Rome, and told the parish priest he wanted to hear confessions before mass if there were any takers.  The pastor then dashed into the church and grabbed 8 people, telling them: “You’re going to confession. Now.”

Perhaps the most salient point made by Mr. Allen was his observation on why Pope Francis is receiving a different media reception than did his predecessor.  Whereas for the media Pope Francis was basically a blank slate, Pope Benedict XVI was thought to be a known quantity.  Joseph Ratzinger was “Der Panzer-Cardinal”, “God’s Rottweiler”, and so on, and the coverage he received from the mainstream media was tailored to that narrative.  For example, even though as is now well-known, Pope Francis paid his own hotel bill and thanked all the staff after his election, no one talked about how Pope Benedict went back to his apartment, alone, after he was elected, packed his own bag, and went around thanking the neighbors for their service.

In another example, Mr. Allen pointed to a visit Pope Benedict made to Brazil back in 2007, which he himself also attended.  As the reader is probably well-aware, Pope Francis incurred the ire of certain conservatives as a result of some of his statements on the evils of putting profits ahead of people.  Yet back in 2008, the supposedly ultra-right-wing Pope Benedict gave a speech in Brazil railing against unregulated capitalism in no uncertain terms, a speech Mr. Allen described as making Pope Francis look like “milquetoast” by comparison, which was largely ignored.

During one of his responses to the questions posed during the evening, Mr. Douthat addressed an issue which I myself raised on the Catholic Weekend show this past Saturday: at what point will the media turn on Pope Francis?  It is likely, as Mr. Douthat pointed out, that at some point the narrative will change, and the media will decide that Pope Francis has somehow failed to live up to their expectations.  There will no doubt be great wailing and gnashing of teeth at The Grey Lady, and elsewhere, once the honeymoon is over, yet this is an almost inevitable result, due to the nature of present-day media coverage of world leaders, celebrities, and so on.

One cannot continue to sell copies of one’s magazine telling the same story over and over again.  The press in general prefers to see a star fall from grace rather than remain on an even keel, because then they are able to sell copy on the way up, as well as copy on the way down.  Thus, the only reason Pope Francis is on the cover of Rolling Stone this month, in an article which even Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, had to decry as being “superficial” and of “surprising crudeness”, is because the Pope has been on every other magazine cover, and Rolling Stone needs to sell copies.  A year, perhaps two years from now, Mr. Douthat wondered, what sort of cover stories will we see from these same publications?

By way of conclusion, it was clear that the general tone of the evening was agreement on a single point: the widespread interest in this pope is a good thing, and not just for making people reconsider what they may previously had thought about Catholicism.  As Mr. Allen noted, some of the cardinals might, privately, if pressed, express a bit of surprise that Pope Francis is not quite as conservative as they had thought him to be, at least on liturgical matters.  However, his election has changed things for the better for many of them, when it comes to doing their duties at home.

Now, when the cardinals visit parishes or attend functions, people approach them not in anger over the sexual abuse or banking scandals, but to tell them how they are fascinated by the new pope.  It allows the cardinals some breathing space, and this, hopefully, will give them the time they need to think about what direction the Church is headed in, rather than being chained forever to answering for the mistakes of the past.  In the end, perhaps that respite, that time for prayer and reflection, and whatever results from it, will turn out to be the real “Pope Francis Effect”.



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“God’s Bucket List” and Teresa Tomeo at the CIC

Last evening despite the sub-zero windchill I went to the Catholic Information Center here in Washington to hear author and broadcaster Teresa Tomeo discuss her new book, “God’s Bucket List”.  We were a small bunch, I suspect limited by a combination of the polar weather and those too worn out from the preceding day’s March for Life to want to head out once more into the cold.  Yet for those who managed to spend time listening to Ms. Tomeo, and pick up her book to continue considering some of the points she raised, the evening was very worthwhile – both from the perspective of getting background on the book itself, as well as hearing some of her observations on the state of the media in this country at present.

“God’s Bucket List” is not a book about a celestial “To Do” list.  It is not about writing down the spiritual equivalent of things like “Climb Kilimanjaro” or “Eat Snails in Paris”; God is not asking you – necessarily – to put down spiritual things on a list like “Make the Camino to Santiago” or “Have a Silent Retreat”.  Instead, what the author argues is that the closer we can bring ourselves to God, the more we will find that He has a host of wonderful things He wants to give us – experiences, challenges, etc. – that can draw us even closer to Him.

Giving a summary of some of the key chapters of her book, Ms. Tomeo began by pointing out that stillness is one of the most important aspects of trying to figure out what God’s plan is for us.  This is something very difficult to do in contemporary society, where we cannot seem to drag ourselves away from glowing, noisy screens.  Settling ourselves, and letting Him say what He is going to say, is only going to be possible if we turn off the television and the mobile, step away from the computer, and be quiet for a while.

The author shared her own experience of preparing dinner one night, when she had arrived home early and was feeling frustrated by her work situation.  All was quiet in the house, but at one point as she was chopping cucumbers for a salad, she “heard” an indication that God did not want her to keep doing what she was doing; He wanted her to try something else.  She was so surprised she looked around to make sure she was not hallucinating.  That was the beginning of a path which lead to her current career in Catholic media, as well as to greater personal and familial fulfillment.

The “how” of making that change is, of course, even more difficult, as Ms. Tomeo acknowledged.  It requires letting go of what we know, and indeed many of us prefer the devil we know, as much as we may hate it, to venturing out into the unknown.  Most of us are not going to get a full set of instructions on how to proceed, no matter how quiet we make ourselves, or how open we are to hearing what is on God’s list for us.

The evening continued with some key ideas and stories in a similar vein, but also with the keen observation of someone who has worked in media for decades about how media has changed.  One important point Ms. Tomeo raised was that of outreach to the secular media, something which is not always easy.  Ms. Tomeo pointed out that we need to be both consistent and persistent, in reaching out to the secular media to bring across our Catholic views: criticizing when it is warranted, yes, but also taking the time to be nice, and to compliment when that is warranted.

During the Q&A session, I asked Ms. Tomeo how would one distinguish between discerning a call to make a change in one’s life, and simply engaging in escapism.  To this she replied that the steps have to be taken one by one, and that through prayer, self-examination, spiritual direction, and affirmation, we will know if we are heading the right way.  By affirmation in particular, she noted how things can start happening, such as people coming up to you with positive comments, or opportunities starting to present themselves, that in the aggregate seem to be indicating you are along the path to where you ought to be.  Though in her own case, it took her a couple of years to finally figure out that she was exactly where she was supposed to be.

As of this post I am already halfway through Ms. Tomeo’s book, and am enjoying the read.  Many of the points she made last evening are expanded upon in the text, and the author provides some very useful citations from Scripture of the concepts she discusses in the book.  That combination of Scripture, personal experience, and common sense make this guidebook to discovering God’s Will for you – His”Bucket List” for your life – highly engaging for both Catholics and Non-Catholics alike.  And as Ms. Tomeo mentioned she had never visited the CIC before last evening, hopefully the powers that be will invite her back again when the weather is more friendly, to talk more about her experiences as a journalist and a Catholic who is learning as she goes.


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