Is there a difference between the Catholic ““church and its “hierarchy”?
That’s a question that very few, if any, editors and reporters working in either the mainstream or religious press seem to have asked themselves. It’s just another of the many questions to come out of the clerical sex-abuse scandal and the downfall of now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick that highlighted news coverage since this summer.
It’s a question that was surfaced by Father Thomas Reese (for decades a major source in many mainstream news reports) in a recent opinion piece that ran on Religion News Service. Journalists need to think about what he’s saying, so here’s an excerpt:
I remember in the 1980s taking a tour of the House of Commons in London. The tour guide pointed to a plaque on the wall in honor of a minister “who was killed by the Irish Catholics.” Not the IRA, not the Provos, not the terrorists, but the Irish Catholics.
Today we do the same thing when we say, “Muslims are killing Christians.”
Saying that the Catholic church did not protect children is just as wrong. It was the bishops. It was the hierarchy.
We should not blame the the people of God for the sins of the hierarchy. In many other churches, the people have some say in selecting their leadership and therefore have some responsibility for their hierarchy’s actions. Not so in the Catholic Church, where new leaders are chosen by current leaders.
If the hierarchy had been open with the laity about the sex abuse crisis, if the bishops had listened to the people, we would not be in the mess we are today.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Reese has an interesting take, but one that's loaded with journalistic naivete.
When speaking of Catholicism, the term “church” does often refer to the hierarchy in references used by journalists in news accounts. In this regard, the words “church” and “hierarchy” are often interchangeable.
Catholicism is a hierarchical religion and journalists are, in most cases, not referring to the faithful when saying “the church” failed to protect children or young seminarians. It’s akin to using terms like “the people” when talking about a criminal trial and referencing “prosecutors” or “the government.” It reminds me of some of the gripes Mormons have had, and are still having, with the way the press has identified them.
Dictionaries are still of vital use.