Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Object Lesson - Do Not Trust The Media

There is a simple rule of thumb when dealing with media reports: do not trust them. Alternatively, we should resort to Reagan's maxim with regard to the Soviet Union: "Trust, but verify."

Unfortunately TF has apparently stumbled on this by taking a media report at face value. He has written a post based upon an article appearing on the "Indian Catholic" website. That article claimed that Pope Benedict had used quotations from Hindu sources in what TF called Benedict's "'Good Friday' meditations."

Trust, but verify: I checked the papal archive at the Vatican website, but could find nothing that sounded even remotely like this. This seemed strange, since documents for Easter (two days later) are already there. So I resorted to the next best thing for this sort of information: Zenit. Ta da!

Here is Zenit's article on the occasion (oh, and here is the official program for it - in Italian [large PDF warning] - which I was finally able to dig up). And as you can see (if you visit the Zenit link), the Indian Catholic article on which TF relied seems to have been confused. First of all, the occasion wasn't "Good Friday Meditations and Prayers." It was the Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis. Secondly, the article says that the Pope "led" these things, but that's imprecise with respect to the present subject. Yes, he presided, but (as we shall see) that doesn't mean that he was responsible for the content of all that was said.

Thirdly and most importantly, the meditations for the various stations were composed not by the Pope, but rather (as the Zenit article makes clear) by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, India. Furthermore, as the program makes clear (even this much is obvious without being able to read Italian), and as is borne out by the Zenit translation, the Pope didn't even read the various meditations during the Stations; rather, they were (presumably) read by the archbishop himself. In any case they could not have been read by the Pope, since the meditation for the First Station includes the following:
Pope Benedict XVI says that even in our times "the Church does not lack martyrs."
Since the Pope isn't exactly notorious for third-person references to himself, we may safely conclude that he did not read the meditations. So we see that the Pope didn't write the meditations in question, and he didn't read them during the Stations.

Of course, this pretty much makes a hash out of TF's remarks, which were based on bad information. It's fair to say, though, that his comments were relatively measured, particularly in comparison to those whose comments he has thus far approved for the post. TF asked:
Will we see clarification from the Vatican? I am guessing not.
Will we see clarification from TF? I am more hopeful about him than - for whatever reason - he seems to be about the Vatican. But time will tell. In any case, the Vatican has nothing to "clarify," as far as I can tell.

No doubt some will still find reason to criticize the Pope over this, despite the fact that he wasn't the author of the material in question. Some people will never be satisfied with what Catholics do or say, just because we are Catholic, and the Pope gets more of that unjust treatment because of his office. So I'm not going to bother trying to defend everything that appears in the meditations and prayers in question. I will, though, point out that the reference to Gandhi was actually highlighting the fact that Gandhi borrowed from Christ (scandal!). TF also seems to have found a particular quotation from a Hindu writing ("Lead me from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality") to be suspicious, but in the context of the Stations it is clear that it was presented not by way of "plundering or joining" the Philistines (as TF put it), but rather was explicitly described as an ancient Indian prayer, in a portion of a meditation devoted to various human reactions to death and tragedy. That meditation goes on to explicitly declare "that the reality is Christ" (emphasis in original) - a rather unambiguous Christian reply to that ancient prayer.

Lastly, as TF understands, all truth is God's truth. There can be no contradiction between truths, and surely it goes without saying that truth may be found in every culture - whether Christian or not. There may not be much to be found sometimes - so far as we can tell - but it's not possible to survive in this world while at the same time denying literally all truth. And there is nothing wrong with "plundering" that truth, as TF put it, or with commending those who hold it for the fact that they do so.

Ironically (given certain folks' remarks about the story TF posted), the prayer immediately following the reference to Gandhi started with this:
Lord, often we judge others in haste, indifferent to actual realities and insensitive to people's feelings! We develop stratagems of self-justification and explain away the irresponsible manner in which we have dealt with "the other." Forgive us!
Amen. Lord, have mercy. Pray for us, holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


Mike Burgess said...

Amen, and amen! Very nice research job, and a very charitable presentation. It's good to be reading you again; here's to the upcoming posts you promised!

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks! I appreciate it.



Martin said...

Indomitable Ignorance. He read your post and doesn't get it because he doesn't want to. Anyway, thanks for always standing up for the faith.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks for your kind words.

I find it difficult to avoid drawing the same conclusion that you do. It seems to me that the facts are pretty unambiguous. To insist in spite of this that nevertheless it's the Vatican and not the reporting which is in the wrong is pretty disappointing. I nearly updated the post to commend him for his own update, but upon seeing his second update I opted to let readers decide for themselves what they think about it all. I'm pretty satisfied that I have fairly represented things.