NPR’s religion reporting kind of sucks. This story on the divided reaction of Kansas City Catholics to the criminal conviction of Bishop Robert Finn for sheltering a pedophile priest named Shawn Ratigan in his diocese is perfectly adequate in its reporting on the legal matters at hand and the Vatican’s response to the scandal, but look at who Frank Morris allowed to wade into the dirty fray in the name of Jesus Christ and the one holy catholic and apostolic church:
“Well, I love Bishop Finn,” says John Purk, a recently ordained deacon in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. “He’s a great friend. He’s a supporter. You know exactly what he’s thinking because it just rolls off his tongue.”
Like Finn, Purk holds traditional Catholic views of marriage, birth control, abortion and theology. It’s a belief system that Purk says reveals the deity of Jesus.
“Now, a lot of people have a problem with that, just like they had a problem with Jesus,” he says. “And so, the problems that Jesus encountered, this bishop encounters.”
One thing must immediately be said in defense of Al Sharpton: the reverend may take great satisfaction in profaning the cloth, but at least he doesn’t do so explicitly in the name of Jesus or the church. By John Purk’s reckoning, the persecution of Bishop Finn by–this should be an embarrassing position–the likes of Pope Francis is Christ’s crucifixion anew. People like–this is really fucking embarrassing to anyone who gives it a moment’s thought–Pope Francis have a problem with Bishop Finn’s handling of the Shawn Ratigan child pornography mess, and people have historically objected to various teachings of Jesus, QED: Bishop Finn is bearing his cross in this matter and the rest of us, inevitably led at least to some extent by Pope Francis, are mini-Pilates. Wow Much martyrs Such christlike Very passionplay.
This does not meet Jesuit standards for logic, in large part because it’s a batshit fucking crazy nonsense argument advanced in bad faith. If you were wondering why some yahoos in the Catholic Church don’t care much for the Jesuits, it’s often due to incidents like this: someone gets caught behaving negligently or immorally in a Church office, and the reaction is, shit, we need to do something about this, God have mercy on us all for failing so. You know, to take the beam out of one’s own eye first, etc. There may be a time to extol one’s own (self) righteousness as an obedient Catholic, but the aftermath of a diocesan pedophile priest harboring scandal is not that time, and the Jesuits have the common decency and tact to recognize this. If you were wondering why the first Jesuit to be elected pope in the half millennium of the order’s history is so popular, including with non-Catholics, it’s no coincidence.
It gets worse, especially for those who imagine NPR to be an intelligent outlet. There’s only one way to get an NPR reporter to tell the country that one “holds traditional Catholic views of marriage, birth control, abortion and theology.” It’s quite simple: one does not simply get Frank Morris to present this red herring to the public, unless one instructs Frank Morris to do so.
In point of fact, it was every bit as irrelevant for Purk to tell Morris that he’s a good obedient Catholic as it would be for me to tell Morris that I am the senior chaplain to the King of Prussia and therefore the God-appointed defender of traditional Reform theology. The difference, of course, is that if I tried to get this spiel into an NPR report, it would only get through with obvious scare quotes, since it’s completely ridiculous, obviously irrelevant, and suggestive of a reality-optional lifestyle of dumpster-diving on Skid Row. To get oneself extolled so on NPR, one’s conceit must have a modicum of social proof.
In other words, that-yonder claque of theocratic creeps likes to yell about the importance of traditional Catholic morality and theology in a way that no identifiable group of Americans loudly proclaims the King of Prussia as the sole rightful defender of the faith. This has nothing to do with the objective merits of Catholic teachings on theology and sexual morality versus the objective merits of their Lutheran counterparts or with the relative importance of the papacy and the throne of Prussia to modern politics. Purk’s argument is facially bullshit, but some bullshit arguments are given more weight than others. It’s because, well, you know, a lot of people believe in this stuff, and they’re passionate about it and whatever, and please don’t kill my four-hour journalistic objectivity erection. Ironically, the objectivity boner would be safely, if not humanely, killed if journalists actually approached their interview subjects objectively: as in, hey, this Purk character just threw a red herring in my face; motherfucker won’t stop waving the bloody shirt, so I’ma make a big ass of him on the radio, because if I don’t speak ill of his disingenuousness I’ll up and barf all over my audio equipment in disgust, and that would be expensive.
None of this is to say that Robert Finn is a rat bastard who needs to get on the next flight to Fiumicino so that he can promptly be administered his just and proper Jesuitical ass-kicking on St. Peter’s Square. He had a suicidal pedophile working under his supervision in a position of public trust. Anyone who envies the bishop for being in this spot is out of his fucking mind. It’s just that his theological and social stances as a bishop had fuck-all to do with his mishandling of the Ratigan nightmare, John Purk is a piece of shit for insinuating that they’re somehow relevant, and Frank Morris is a colossal toolbox for giving Purk a national platform for his spurious public confession of faith and morals.
Civics and religion should be mixed sparingly. John Purk’s statements were decent enough in a strictly religious sense–I assume he’s sincere about his beliefs–but a civic clusterfuck because he was using a bad-faith diversionary argument to try to shield a bishop from accountability to the civil authorities and to the Vatican. Deacon David Biersmith’s refusal to pray for Bishop Finn at mass is decent civics, but it’s shitty-ass Catholicism because, dude, we’re supposed to pray for other people, not against them, and I have to explain these things because everyone else is too busy yelling about wedge issues to manage basic catechesis. Voice of the Faithful, the great lay insurrection against the Archdiocese of Boston, was a muddleheaded attempt to force the reform of a deeply corrupt and self-dealing local clerical establishment at the expense of basic civic values, notably the right of the accused to have an adequate criminal defense, something for which the archdiocese was funding on behalf of its priests who had been accused of pedophilia. But if one must mix civics and religion, can’t it at least be done without NPR, for the love all that isn’t soul-numbingly anodyne and barfworthy all at once?
And why can’t Scott Simon host all the news shows? That’s easy to answer: it’s because ours is a broken world, and because if Simon replaced all the mealymouhted ballsuckers in the hosting pool, NPR would no longer be the great milquetoast Brahmin nightmare of our age.
Kyrie eleison down the road that we must travel.