Razing Ratzinger: Media Won’t be Sad to See Benedict Go

It will be interesting to see if the media soften their almost uniform hostility to Pope Benedict XVI in the few remaining weeks of his papacy. It’s doubtful, since resigning his office won’t make Joseph Ratzinger any less Catholic. And his real sin, in liberal eyes, is just being too Catholic.

When the long, vigorously orthodox pontificate of John Paul II came to an end in 2005, liberals in and out of the Church hoped the next Pope would roll over on their most cherished issues: women priests, married priests, homosexuality and abortion. To say that Ratzinger’s selection was a disappointment is an understatement.

Since then, the media have maintained a relentlessly hostile narrative about Benedict XVII, his positions, his statements and his past. There are far too many incidents to include them all, but here is a quick list of highlights.

Extreme Conservative

Even before he became Pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger was called “God’s Rottweiler” for his unapologetic defense of Catholic orthodoxy. Just two weeks before Ratzinger’s elevation to succeed John Paul II in April 2005, ABC’s Charlie Gibson said, "German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is also mentioned, but his extreme conservative views and his age might be his undoing when votes are cast in the Sistine Chapel.”

Gibson’s misgivings were echoed again and again around the networks. Despite an ABC/Washington Post survey that found that 81 percent of U.S. Catholics approved of the selection, CBS’s John Roberts said, "Many Catholics...found nothing to celebrate." Roberts’ colleague Mark Phillips called the new Pope an “archconservative” and “the most polarizing figure in the Catholic Church.”

Journalists continued to play up Benedict’s conservatism, and continued to misunderstand his relationship to actual Catholics. Prior to the Pope’s 2008 visit to the United States, CBS’ Harry Smith asked Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George to "Explain the difference between the private man and the public Pope that some Americans are maybe even a little unsure or fearful of." ABC’s Dan Harris said Benedict was "sometimes controversial," a "hard-liner" for "strenuously condemning divorce, homosexuality, and abortion." The Pope, Harris said, is "more conservative than many American Catholics." Certainly more conservative than any American Catholics Harris might know.

In the event, the papal visit was a tremendous success. Massive and enthusiastic crowds greeted the Pontiff across the United States, leaving reporters mystified. ABC reporter Claire Shipman said "many Catholics are rethinking their views of [Pope] Benedict XVI." According to Shipman, "most [U.S.] Catholics" thought, at the time of his selection, that Benedict "might clash with American values."

But of course, what Shipman meant was “media values.”

In December, 2008, Time magazine’s Jeff Israely wrote, with the Christmas season upon us, there is growing proof that the 82-year-old Pope is also quite willing to play the part of Scrooge to defend his often rigid view of Church doctrine.”

Hitler Youth

Perhaps NBC’s Katie Couric was looking for other ways to raise red flags about the newly installed Benedict XVII on April 20, 2005, when she asked liberal Father Andrew Greeley if Cardinal Ratzinger’s “past associations … will create a rift between Christians and Jews, and what can he do to fix that?”

Those past association are: As a German boy during World War II, Ratzinger was forced to join the Hitler Youth, and was then drafted into the German Army. He quickly deserted and was eventually captured by the Allies.

The connection, plus his defense of orthodoxy, makes it easy for liberals to deride him as a Nazi. And they have.

In 2009, one Allison Kilkenny used a Huffington Post blog to spew hate at the Church and the Pope, ostensibly over Catholic opposition to gay marriage. “In addition to preying on the fears and prejudices of the unenlightened masses, I have no tolerance for tax-exempt pyramid schemes that take money from poor people to build golden houses in Italy for a decrepit former Nazi youth, who now wears a funny hat and occasionally blathers in a dead language about hating gay people, suppressing women, and always -- always -- refusing to wear condoms.”

In 2011, in a public interview with Bob Balaban at the Hamptons Film Festival, left-wing activist and actress Susan Sarandon told an audience that she had sent a copy of a book to Pope John Paul II. She then said: “The last Pope, not this Nazi one we have now.”

In 2012, perpetually apoplectic liberal talk radio host Mike Malloy ranted, “You child-raping sons of bitches in the Catholic Church, I am so sick of all of you – especially your priests and your bishops and your scum, the Nazi Pope, I am so sick of all of you.”

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

In 2010, The New York Times published a series of articles about Benedict as seeking to protect the church at the expense of children's safety in various incidents of abuse in Germany, Ireland and here in the United States. The Times reported that as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Benedict oversaw the transfer of a priest accused of abuse in the 1970s and 1980s to another parish where he again worked with children after he began therapy for his problems. A March 24, 2010 article, since heavily questioned, about a Wisconsin priest allowed to remain in the priesthood even after he abused 200 deaf boys from the 1950s through the 1970s placed the blame squarely on Benedict. The reporting was incomplete and biased. Ratzinger’s role in decision making about abusive priests was overstated. But there is no overstating the media feeding frenzy over the story.

During a two month period in 2010, the Times itself ran 64 stories on the allegations. Interestingly, the Times was far less curious in 2012 about similar questions regarding its incoming CEO, former BBC chief Mark Thompson.

The broadcast networks weren’t any less eager, broadcasting 26 stories about the allegations during Holy Week, 2010. In 18 of those stories reporters used language that presumed Ratzinger’s guilt.

ABC, CBS and CNN highlighted an American Catholic priest publicly calling for Benedict to resign over the charges. They called Father James Scahill "outspoken," "brave" and "gutsy." What they didn’t say is that Scahill is a leftwinger who dissents from Church orthodoxy on a number of issues, and has been honored by Voice of the Faithful, a liberal groups that, among other things, calls for an end to priestly celibacy.

At the Huffington Post, once columnist called for Benedict to be arrested, saying that “If Roman Polanski can be arrested on sexual abuse charges after 32 years of hiding, so can the Pope, holy or not.” Another asked if the Pope can be fired, calling the Church “diseased.”

The hits just keep on coming, right through 2012, when Benedict was attacked for once again defending traditional marriage in a “holiday hate speech.” Benedict will probably miss a lot of things about being Pope, but his portrayal in the media won’t be one of them.

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture