The Washington Post went to a Catholic cathedral in Washington on Sunday to survey the "faithful" on how they feel about the church's opposition to condoms -- and reporter Michael Ruane apparently could not locate a single Catholic who believed in the church teaching. The headline was "Catholics mixed on condoms," but the message the Post was sending was "All Catholics think Pope is wrong, and should be ignored." Six Catholics quoted in the story opposed the Vatican, and one was "mixed." Most were like Mary Claire Odell of Silver Spring:
"The Catholic church is not that swift to recognize" the need for change, she said. "They just recognized Galileo. Quite honestly, it takes them a while, but hopefully they're getting there.
"I think it's about time," she said. "Let's be serious. Let's jump into the 21st century. I think you'll find a lot of people saying the same thing."
Ruane noted a Washington Post poll found 88 percent of Catholics found artificial birth control "morally acceptable," but the Post had no space for the supposed 12 percent. (Secular media organizations often count anyone as a "Catholic" who says they are, even if they haven't been to church since they were six.) The closest thing to a Catholic who believes in the church position said that an anti-condom teaching wasn't really accepted, but the ruling was "probably correct," and then maybe "God" speaks to you to do something different;
Asked about the condom ban, Danny Coleman, 71, owner of the Dubliner Irish pub and the Phoenix Park Hotel, said with a laugh: "I already have six kids, so I don't really give it a lot of thought."
He said he believed condom use was "generally accepted, whether or not it's the position of the church."
He added, though, that the church had to have a position on condom use, and that banning it between married couples was probably correct.
"The church has to have some guidelines," he said, "and then you interpret [them] a little bit differently . . . God speaks to different people different ways."
What's left in between the lines of a story like this is how objective were the Post reporter's questions? It's quite easy to imagine a Post reporter putting on that "you can't possibly believe this" air, or perhaps suggested to interviewees that with millions dying of AIDS in Africa, the Pope was condemning people to death (or celibacy). Ruane began his story by painting the picture of how the oldest, staunchest Latin Mass Catholic thinks the Pope is mistaken:
The gray-haired chief usher for the Latin Mass was headed with his metal cane for the steps of Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle when he paused to consider the latest church teaching on condom use.
"As a Catholic," said Lucius Robertson, 91, he opposed the use of condoms. "As a John Doe," he said he approved.
"It's strictly personal," he added, "a singular decision."
Ruane's story ended with two European college students man suggesting the Pope isn't really ruling for the Church. One said he's "not the Supreme Court," and the other said he's just establishing a "narrative."
"He gives a direction," added Laurence de l'Escaille, 24, a Belgian student at the school, as the couple emerged from the 10 a.m. Mass. "He doesn't say he expects everybody to follow it by the letter . . . He's just saying this is in theory what should happen . . . He's making a narrative."
"You need a narrative," she said, "if only to disagree with it."
There is no doubt that a majority of church-going American Catholics would probably disagree with the contraception teaching: it is probably the hardest teaching to accept. Even then, some might tell a pollster they support it, and then not practice what they preach. Ruane and the Post didn't ask the question of how the church's priests teach it from the pulpit. (In my experience, there's not much, even in conservative parishes.) The Post's failure to balance six pro-condom voices with a single defender of the Vatican position clearly signals they think it is a damaging relic that doesn't deserve a smidgen of objectivity.
PS: On the matter of Galileo, the parishioner may be referring to a papal investigation on Galileo in 1992. But the Catholic League notes the Church had removed Galileo from a Forbidden Books list by 1757.