What we've got here is failure to communicate -- debates about Cardinal Marx and gay blessings

Our review of the US press coverage of claims that Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, the president of the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz (DBK), had given his permission to clergy to bless same-sex unions has sparked rigorous debate on social media.

Criticism of the article “Let your Ja's be Yes” has taken two general lines -- discussion of the underlying issues and discussion of our criticism of the Daily Caller -- the U.S. publication singled out in the review.

Please note that the question of whether Cardinal Marx should, nor should not, endorse same-sex blessings is outside the parameters of this site -- we focus on journalism. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards themselves?) the Roman poet Juvenal asked in his Satires (VI, lines 347–348). This website seeks to answer this question as it pertains to the coverage of religion in the secular press.

The criticism of our reporting can be summarized in a tweet from reader Samuel Johnson, who challenged our translation of the German-language interview. He stated that our review was “a very problematic criticism, because the writer of the Crux published CNA authored piece, Anian Christoph Wimmer, is a native German speaker who also writes for CNA's German website. This is not a case of an English-speaking reporter misunderstanding.”

I responded by noting the critique was of the Daily Caller, not CNA. To which, Mr. Johnson responded:

The problem is that you write in criticizing the Daily Caller, "If we listen to the Marx interview then through German ears, rather than through the filter of English print, the story is turned on its head." But evidently, listening through German ears doesn't necessarily turn the story on its head, since after all Wimmer listened with German ears and heard a, "Yes."

While I am not a native German speaker, I do have some small fluency in languages, and am persuaded I had the better translation. The discussion essentially ended there, as it had become a question of competing truths -- mine versus the translation used in the Daily Caller story.

A new day, however, brought new developments to the story.

The bishops' conference in Germany released its own translation in English of the cardinal’s remarks, which rejected any assertion that the cardinal was giving carte blanche to his clergy to bless gay unions.

On Feb. 7, 2018 the Catholic News Service released a “second day” story on the Marx interview. Its lede stated:

The president of the German bishops' conference urged priests to provide better pastoral care to Catholics who are homosexual, but he said, "I think that would not be right" when asked if he could imagine the Catholic Church blessing gay couples.
German Catholic media had interpreted the cardinal's remarks as moving a step back from a suggestion made by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck in January that the Catholic Church should debate the possibility of a blessing ceremony for Catholic gay couples involved in the church. But some English-language media and blogs portrayed Cardinal Marx's remarks as meaning he "endorses" such blessing ceremonies.

It was not only the Catholic media in Germany, but the secular press too saw the interview as a tentative, ambiguous -- but in the end, non-affirming statement about gay blessings.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on February 3 reported:

Continue reading "Failure to communicate -- Cardinal Marx and gay blessings," by George Conger, at the website of The Media Project.


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