I realize that castigating the so-called "traditional media" for their tendency to over-generalize and their seeming inability to grasp (or at least to report) anything more subtle than, say, a Maxim ad or a celebrity mishap is rapidly becoming so commonplace as to be clichéd. But after spending most of the early morning either getting ready for work or driving thereto, while listening to the folks at National Public Radio attempt to portray George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI as best friends forever without a hair's breadth of difference between their moral stances, I simply can't sit back and hold my tongue. This kind of garbage is especially galling given the fact that the people who were trying to tell me Bush's values and Benedict's are all but identical this morning are exactly the same folks who spent all of last week telling us how much better at this reporting thing they are than all those other folks at commercial radio stations, in the second installment of their annual beg-fest. If today is any example, they really ought to consider revisiting and revising their scripts for pledge week.
As even NPR admitted, Bush is officially a Methodist. Benedict, obviously, is Catholic. That simple affiliational fact means there are substantial differences between the two men on many significant areas of belief. (Not least of which, naturally, is the precise role of the guy who, like Benedict at present, sits upon the Throne of Peter.)
It is certainly true that Benedict is a theological conservative, just as his predecessor was. Not, as NPR correctly reported this morning, as theologically conservative as either the liberals in the Church feared or the conservatives would have liked, but still far closer to the conservative end of the spectrum than toward the liberal end, or even to the middle of the road. Bush, too, is alleged to be a conservative--though the conservatives in this country seem to be in the process of rethinking that claim. But really, when you get right down to it, that's about the extent of the similarity between his positions and those of His Holiness. Both oppose abortion, and both oppose gay marriage. Both seem to feel that there is a "faithful remnant," variously defined, that is under siege by malevolent forces in the culture at large.
All that said, however, the two men's positions start to diverge--and diverge quite quickly and quite radically. As governor of Texas, the Boy Who Won't Be King Much Longer signed the death warrants for more than 150 people during his six years in that office--or around 25 executions per year. While the Catholic Church does not explicitly forbid the use of capital punishment, it teaches that the state "...ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent" (John Paul II, encyclical letter Evangelium vitae, 25 March 1995, no. 56).
Or how about Bush's pet war in Iraq? It is difficult to see how it meets any of the conditions for a "legitimate defense by military force" laid out in Section 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, much less all of them, as required:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
And while the prayer of His Holiness on Sunday at Ground Zero in New York is almost certainly primarily directed toward those responsible for carrying out the acts that caused the "incredible violence and pain" he addresses in the opening of that prayer, its conclusion seems equally apposite in response to the Hedgemony's seemingly endless global war on whatever it is we're at war with this week:
God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.
It is also not difficult to read between the lines of the schedule and discern a certain, shall we say, diplomatic unease on the part of the Holy Father at being in the presence of the Boy Who Won't Be King Much Longer. The official welcome at Andrews Air Force Base was to last no more than 15 minutes according to the official schedule of the visit on the Vatican's web site. Pope Benedict will not be staying at the White House during his time in Washington; instead, he will stay at the residence of the Apostolic Nuncio, the Vatican's diplomatic representative in the United States. Tomorrow, His Holiness will go to the White House mid-morning for a formal welcoming, which is to be followed by a 90-minute "courtesy visit" (a private audience in everything but name) in the Oval Office. He isn't staying for lunch, and while the White House plans a Bavarian-themed dinner tomorrow evening in honor of the pope's 81st birthday, the pope won't actually be there: he'll be celebrating Evening Prayer (Vespers) at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with the U.S. Catholic bishops. He goes nowhere near the White House all day on Thursday, nor does he visit again before taking his leave on Friday morning and flying to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly.
As His Holiness is making that address, the White House is planning to ask John McCain and a bunch of other Republican flunkies in, at what it is pleased to call the National "Catholic" Prayer Breakfast. Their definition of "Catholic," however, leaves quite a bit to be desired, given that in the minds of the president, the White House, and the people organizing this affair, "Catholic" appears to be synonymous with "Republican." The trouble with that, however, is that the word "catholic" means "universal." Anything that is universal is by definition non-partisan: hence the obvious problem with inviting a bunch of Republicans to breakfast and trying to pretend it has anything to do with Catholicism.
Not surprisingly, this event hasn't exactly attracted a great deal of attention from the traditional media. Of course, from what I could observe this evening, the coverage of the papal visit was pretty scanty to begin with. By the time they dispensed with the arrival shots and a couple of soundbytes, they were out of time. Not that one ought to expect much better from a bunch of allegedly professional reporters who could keep a straight face while trying to pretend that George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI have "the same values."