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Hugh Hewitt: U.S. media cover papacy like a horse race

Monday, February 18, 2013  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

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Racism in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? A cruise ship nightmare vacation? Marco Rubio’s water bottle?

Oh, and the world’s largest church, the weight-bearing wall of Western civilization, is about to select a new leader who might guide it for a generation.

Which story got the most coverage in major media outlets last weekend?

The only story from early February 2013 that will certainly reverberate through history for centuries to come is the one initiated by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to retire as pontiff. Slowly the secular media is beginning to grasp the enormous importance of this transition, but American media is attempting to shoehorn the event into traditional coverage of a political campaign.

Sunday’s New York Times was tipping Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as a papabile, along with New York’s own Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the front-runner among the Italians, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.

Reporter Laurie Goodstein invents a “they” to serve as her stand-in for her understanding of what the 117 cardinal-electors think, and uses paragraph four to announce that “[t]hey deemed Cardinal Marc Ouellet a gracious host on their visits to the Vatican, where he guides the selection of bishops, but some said he practically put the crowd to sleep during his talk at the International Eucharistic Congress last June in Dublin.”

There is nothing wrong with the gossip, or for the “paper of record” to play at pretend knowledge when it comes to the momentous decision on who will succeed Pope Benedict.

But perhaps rather than just conveying a snide aside on a cardinal’s allegedly bad speech (as terrible as Bill Clinton’s at the 1988 Democratic National Convention?) perhaps the secular media might go in harm’s way and actually watch or at least read such a speech and report on its substance.

Cardinal Ouellet’s talk, which Ms. Goodstein asserts “they” found dull, is available on the Web, at www.iec2012.ie, about 2 hours and 38 minutes into the video of the opening proceedings of that conference. The cardinal reflects on the “difficult time in the purification of the church,” and includes a candid statement that the “church in Ireland is suffering,” before a confident statement on the blood of Christ being the divine blood through which renewal is possible, “a great and marvelous mystery, a mystery of love.”

“When we receive Communion, the spirit of the Lord present in Christ’s body passes into our hearts and into our bodies, making us one new ecclesiastical body, the mystical body of the Lord,” Ouellet declares. This body represents “our deepest identity,” he concludes.

The 14-minute sermon may or may not strike the listener as dull. Certainly it isn’t an Obama campaign rally, or a State of the Union address interrupted by rising and falling legislators eager for some camera time.

Ouellet’s remarks are, rather, a strong affirmation of the Roman Catholic Church’s claims about the Sacrament of the Mass and the nature of the Eucharist. If those claims are true, the sermon is the opposite of dull. It is thrilling and revolutionary.

All of the papabili have enormous written and spoken records, the close review of which would make for interesting reading in the weeks ahead. That sort of reading would require reporters willing to suspend their own beliefs, disbeliefs, agendas and world-weariness and attempt to honestly report what it is the cardinals are struggling to get right: to whom to pass the stewardship of a church built on miracle and mystery in an age of infinite cynicism and spreading despair.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.

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