Thursday, May 26, 2005

Truth Under the Knife

It's always fun when John Foley speaks. God love him, in the tradition of his hometown (Philly, for the uninitiated), the man always has something to say. And, as my colleagues learned during the interregnum, he's got a guerilla website or two up his sleeve, to boot.

With a hat tip to the Fair Amy, here's an excerpt from an address (full text) given yesterday by the PCCS president at a Catholic Press Association powwow in Orlando. It's thought-provoking to be sure -- the emphases are my own.

Since I was informed before the publication of certain recent news that one of the communicators to share the podium today is Father Thomas Reese, let me first say that I had absolutely nothing to do with the current situation, that I found out about it in the newspapers, that I appreciate receiving America magazine each week, and that Father Reese is a fine gentleman and a fine priest who did excellent work during the recent events in Rome -- where we occasionally encountered one another, but that I generally find myself in agreement with a recent editorial in Our Sunday Visitor and with Russell Shaw's op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that a priest-editor, who in some way is expected to represent the magisterium of the Church, cannot appear to give equal weight in a publication sponsored by a religious community to articles which present the teaching of the Church and articles which dissent from it.

In August 1968, the editor of The Catholic Standard and Times in Philadelphia was on vacation when "Humanae Vitae" was published -- and I found myself in charge. A number of Catholic publications ignored the fact that there was dissent from the encyclical; a greater number highlighted the dissent and put the encyclical in a subordinate position. I decided to use the encyclical as the lead story and to use the dissent as a separate story on an inside page with the jump of the encyclical story from page one -- and then I did an editorial in support of the encyclical.

I felt that the encyclical represented the official teaching of the Church, which had to be highlighted and with which I happened to agree then, as I do now, but that the dissent was a significant fact that could not and should not be ignored. I also thought that the official teaching of the Church should be supported editorially -- both through comment and through story placement. If I were still an editor, I think that would remain my publication philosophy today.

Now, fast-forward to today's Catholic Standard & Times. If there were dissent, they would be the ones to ignore it and ask, "What dissent?" And if it were impossible to ignore, then there'd be some "news" story about angels hitting heretics over the head with 2x4's. Yes, welcome to Philly -- check your reason at the door.

But, seriously, I know this will be an inflammatory question but it invites itself: Does truth, as advanced by the church, really need to be enhanced by a policy of affirmative action?

If truth is truth, then it should need no cosmetic surgery, no "this is the church's position" parental-warning sticker, no tiara or cappa magna on top of it to set itself apart; it should be able to stand on its own and be acclaimed for its logic, for its simple beauty.

To use a music business analogy, truth able to stand on its own and creating "truth" through falling-over-yourself buzz is the difference between artistry and exploiting the audience, it's like raising Clay Aiken to the level of U2 based on Aiken's PR, not his talent. In the process, of course, Dr. Bono's integrity gets watered down -- and that's just intolerable, it's an insult to him.... Get it?

Back to theology, the result is that if you're giving all those bells-and-whistles, the emphasis on the logical element is diminished and the incentive for thinkers in communion to deliver something cutting, salient and innovative is lessened with it because they have the Good Churchkeeping Seal of Approval regardless. What is more, by setting one view above through artificial means, the counter-point gets the benefit of the very human fascination with the verboten, attracting more interest because it is seen as banned, anathema, off-the-reservation.

But then again, the church doesn't get this lesson -- every time they come after me, they fail to realize they're giving me the best p.r. money doesn't have to buy. If Neuhaus, Weigel, et. al. can do what they do with impunity and blessings, then so can Rock.

Hey, even Foley said it, I'm not a priest-editor -- I don't take my truth Botoxed.....



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