instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, November 17, 2003

A heads up to journalists

In last Friday's "Word from Rome," John Allen writes:
I asked [Cardinal Francis] Arinze[, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship,] about the forthcoming document on "liturgical abuses," meaning violations of the rules as spelled out in the church’s various liturgical books, being prepared by his office and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He said it will not be a dry catalogue of abuses, but an exposition of the faith that underlines the liturgical regulations.
This means the document will have a particularly high Ginger Factor; most of it will make no sense at all to the journalists reporting on it.

This, in turn, means the journalists reporting on it will represent the document as a dry catalogue of abuses, catalogues of abuses being the one thing journalists understand about Vatican documents. They will, in short, fail in their vocation as journalists when they report on the document.

The usual corollaries will obtain: significant numbers of Catholics, who wouldn't read a Vatican document for a dollar a minute, will be led to think it's a dry catalogue of abuses, and so will be led further from understanding the faith that underlies the liturgical regulations, as well as having their anti-religion vice strengthened; Church officials, knowing or anticipating this, will attempt to digest the document to bite-sized chunks ignorant Catholics might be coaxed to investigate; this attempt to digest the document will produce a few paragraphs of text with an infinite Ginger Factor, followed by a dry catalogue of abuses, which the National Catholic Reporter will make readily available to its readers.

This whole sad cycle could be avoided if journalists would only not ask the Rev. Richard McBrien to explain the document to them.

(Incidentally, I don't agree with the general principle, "When in doubt, blame the writer for a high Ginger Factor," expressed on the page defining the Ginger Factor. It's a subjective measure (how much I understand) of objective data (the words in the document). I may well bear most or all of the blame for not understanding something I read.)