Sunday 28 October 2012

I Have Two Lists...(One is More Little Than the Other)

Continuing to investigate why some people might mistakenly believe BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme to be anti-Catholic, here's another list - this one chronicling items over these 93 editions (other than those connected with the clerical abuse scandal) that seem to be angled against the Roman Catholic Church.  Even if (like me) you aren't a Catholic, can you see why Catholics (especially non-liberal Catholics) might feel that the programme is pursuing a hostile agenda against them?  

Again, however, please note that most of these items are targeted (if I may use that loaded word) against conservative elements in the Catholic Church; hence my strong sense that Sunday is far from being anti-Catholic per se.  Please also see if you agree that this list provides some support for my belief that the programme betrays a pronounced bias towards a liberal Catholic ('Tabletista') outlook. [Actually, to give you the full effect I will also include the Sunday items on Catholic clerical abuse from my earlier post, indicating them by the use of {} and the word 'abuse'.]

He won't be smiling for long!

The List

16/1/2011 - A report on the new Ordinariate (set up by Pope Benedict for disaffected, conservative Anglicans, but not popular with some Catholic liberals) by Trevor Barnes, featuring another critical Tablet writer (missed from my earlier Tablet-based post), Stephen Bates of The Guardian (among others)followed by a fairly tough interview between Jane Little and Archbishop Vincent Nichols on the issue, in which Jane asks questions largely from a critical stance.

{23/1/2011 - Abuse}

30/1/2011 - Interview between Edward Stourton and Tina Beattie of The Tablet. Dr. Beattie doesn't welcome the Pope's new Ordinariate or the influx of conservative ex-Anglicans, and explains why.

13/2/2011 - "And our Reporter Trevor Barnes looks into the row concerning the admissions policy of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in West London. Parents of pupils at the School are concerned that its Catholic identity and ethos will be lost if the School is forced by the local Diocese to change their criteria for admission."

{20/2/2011 - Abuse}

6/3/2011 - Ed Stourton discusses Pope Benedict's attitude towards Judaism, asking Ed Kessler (who writes for The Tablet) some questions from a stance critical of the present pope.

13/3/2011 - During a discussion on International Women's Day, feminist Dr. Lisa Isherwood attacks John Paul II and the "fetishism" of Mary within the Catholic Church. She is not challenged over this by William Crawley.

13/3/2011 -  Adam Easton reports on a controversial Polish historian who is critical of the Catholic Church's record in Poland during the Second World War.

{27/3/2011 - Abuse}

27/3/2011 - Jane Little: "Only weeks to go until the beatification of John Paul II. But while the late pope is on the fast track to sainthood one prominent Christian martyred during his reign is not. Archbishop Oscar Romero...[etc]. Jane talks to Fr Juan Hernández Pico, a Central American Jesuit who is in the UK to deliver the Romero Lecture." [He is a liberation theologist and attacks the Vatican.]    

3/4/2011 - "More than 260 alleged victims of a baby-trafficking network in Spain begun under the dictator General Franco are demanding an investigation. How much was the Catholic church involved? William Crawley talks to the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Spain." 

{10/4/2011 - Abuse}

{1/5/2011 - Abuse}

1/5/2011 - John Paul II Beatification Special, with liberal Catholics (many from The Tablet) critical of the conservative tendencies of the late pope and the speed of his beatification outnumbering supportive voices by some margin; also a downbeat report from Adam Easton on the possible decline of the Church in Poland.

8/5/2011 - "William Morris, [liberal] Bishop of Toowoomba Diocese in Queensland talk about why his support for the ordination of women has led him to step down from his post, after a letter from Pope Benedict XVI." [Critical of the Vatican.]

22/5/2011 - "The President of the Philippines has risked ex-communication from the Catholic Church over his plans to distribute free condoms and offer sex education in schools. BBC Correspondent Kate McGeowan tells Jane how this threatens to divide this strict Catholic country."

5/6/2011 - "Why has the Vatican prevented Dr Lesley Ann Knight Director General of Caritas International from standing for a second term? Presenter William Crawley will discuss the controversy with her predecessor Duncan McClaren and our Rome Correspondent David Willey." [Both Duncan McClaren and David Willey are critical of the Vatican's decision - David Willey of the BBC especially.] 

{12/6/2011 - Abuse}

{19/6/2011 - Abuse}

{26/6/2011 - Abuse}

10/7/2011 - "The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament was set up in the mid-nineteenth century to support the Anglo-Catholic revival within the Church of England. But the charity has caused an uproar over its recent gift of a million pounds, more than half its assets, to members of the new Roman Catholic Ordinariate. Our reporter Kevin Bocquet investigates." [Problems over the Ordinariate.] 

{17/7/2011 - Abuse}

17/7/2011 - Listener e-mail read out attacking the Catholic Church over its gift to the Ordinariate.

Doesn't seem to be enjoying listening to 'Sunday'

17/7/2011- "The news has been dominated again this week by the hacking row. We report on the influence of the Murdoch family which has spread to the Catholic Church, who accepted a hundred thousand pound donation from Rupert Murdoch. But should the Church have taken the money and now should it give it back? Jane asks Bishop Keiran Conry and Francis Davis [occasional contributor to The Tablet]."

[24/7/2011 - Troubled Sino-Vatican relations.]

{31/7/2011 - Abuse}

21/8/2011 - Papal Mass in Madrid. The BBC's Sarah Rainford outlines the criticism of the Pope's visit. [She also describes the enthusiasm of the massive crowds attending though.]

28/8/2011 - "Next week Catholic parishes in England and Wales will begin using the new translation of the Roman Missal. It's critics have described it as 'archaic' and 'clumsy', it's supporters have heralded it as 'an opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the mystery we celebrate each week'. Martin Foster, Acting Secretary of the Liturgy Office of the Bishops Conference and Catherine Pepinster, Editor of the Tablet newspaper share their views with Edward." 

{4/9/2011 - Abuse}

{18/9/2011 - Abuse}

{25/9/2011 - Abuse}

23/10/2011 - Edward Stourton interviews the new U.K. ambassador to the Vatican, and describes it as "a sort of medieval court" that "in some ways hasn't really changed at all." [The ambassador disagrees with him.]

23/10/2011 - A report on the conflict between the Scottish National Party and the Catholic Church over gay marriage.

{30/10/2011 - Abuse}

{6/11/2011 - Abuse}

{13/11/2011 - Abuse}

{4/12/2011 - Abuse}

{18/12/2011 - Abuse}

{15/1/2012 - Abuse}

{5/2/2012 - Abuse}

{12/2/2012 - Abuse}

4/3/2012 - A chat between Ed and David Willey over an exhibition of documents from the Vatican archive. Ed asks about 'Hitler's Pope' and wonders why those documents aren't in the exhibition. 

4/3/2012 - A chat between Ed and the BBC's Robert Piggott over Cardinal O'Brien's criticisms of the government over their plans for gay marriage. They both worry about the "strength" of the cardinal's language, with Robert adding that the socially conservative Catholic leader in Scotland (at the time) has made "some fairly extreme remarks before."

11/3/2012 - A sequence discussing a letter about gay marriage from the Catholic bishops. Three liberal-minded experts present a series of points arguing that concepts of marriage have always changed fundamentally over history, thus invalidating the bishops' position. This is followed by an aggressive interview by Ed Stourton with Archbishop Vincent Nichols in which Ed challenges his socially conservative position on the subject of gay marriage.  

18/3/2012 - A report from Trevor Barnes on the reaction of lay Catholics to the Catholic bishops' letter on gay marriage. The report features three ordinary Catholics who oppose the bishops' socially conservative stance and only one who supports it.

{25/3/2012 - Abuse}

15/4/2012 - U.S.-based Sunday reporter Matt Wells seems to up the 'bias by labelling' stakes by describing socially conservative American Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum as an "über-traditional Catholic".  

22/4/2012 (Website links to wrong edition. Thankfully I made notes at the time). "The Vatican has ordered a crackdown on nuns in the USA it considers too radical...Jane Little brings us the latest on the story." [We hear from a liberal nun, highly critical of the Vatican.]

29/4/2012 - "The Catholic Education Service has suggested that Catholic pupils sign a petition against gay marriage. Is it legal for them to do so?" [An expert says 'no'. A headteacher is critical - though not as critical as Edward Stourton seems to want her to be. Then Ed gives socially conservative Jack Valero of Catholic Voices a tough interview.]

{6/5/2012 - Abuse}

27/5/2012 - The Catholic Church in America v. the Obama Administration. Ed talks to Jane Little. Catholics "really vocal" and "very angry" over some legislation on contraception, displaying "ferocity" and "strong language". A lay critic accuses the American Catholic leadership of pursuing "a very right-wing political agenda". A liberal bishop worries about them being "very far to the Right."

Contemplating excommunicating Ed, perhaps?

27/5/2012 - "Services aimed at drawing indigenous Catholics in Australia back to Mass have started in Sydney's inner city where the church is including special liturgies, hymns and prayers written by Aboriginal people, and smoking or water ceremonies to serve as penitential rites. Phil Mercer reports." [There's a lot of criticism of the Catholic Church in this report].

3/6/2012 - Scandal at the Vatican. "More details have emerged this week in the Vati-leaks scandal; the pope's butler was arrested amidst allegations that he didn't act alone and that a shadowy group of Cardinals were behind the leaks. Robert Mickens [of The Tabletreports from Rome." [Robert piles on the criticism of the Vatican].

{10/6/2012 - Abuse}

10/6/2012 - "Last month the Vatican censured the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, saying they were pursuing a radical feminist agenda. On Tuesday they meet with Vatican officials in Rome to put their case. Edward speaks to Sister Joan Chittister, who is no stranger to Vatican censure, to reflect on recent events." [As in the 22/4/2012 edition, we hear from an liberal nun, again attacking the Vatican. This time there's also a very brief clip of some defending the Vatican.]

24/6/2012 - The Catholic Church in America v. the Obama Administration again. Loaded introduction from William Crawley: "On Thursday America's Catholic bishops launched a "Fortnight for Freedom" in the face of what they say is the biggest threat to religious liberty in generations. The primary focus of their campaign is not the persecution of Christian minorities in Iraq or Egypt but rather the policy of President Obama's health department which is insisting that women who work for Catholic institutions should have access to free contraception, if they want it." Matt Wells then reports from Washington, with only one 'talking head' - who criticises the bishops' socially conservative attack on Obama administration. 

[15/7/2012 - Troubled Sino-Vatican relations.]

{15/7/2012 - Abuse}

15/7/2012 - "Melinda Gates admits she struggled with her Catholic beliefs before committing to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on contraception and family planning."

22/7/2012 - Scandals at the Vatican. "The Vatican bank still has a long way to go in terms of financial transparency according to a report from the Council of Europe. David Willey explains the story behind the scandal plagued bank." [Edward Stourton recalls other recent/current Vatican scandals.]

29/7/2012 - Trouble for the new Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow over his controversial remarks about a recently deceased gay Labour MP. Ed pursues Catholic philosopher John Haldane over the issue. 

[5/8/2012 - Problems for the Catholic Church in China.]

2/9/2012 - Apparent (liberal) criticism of the Vatican from deceased Cardinal Martini. David Willey speaks admiringly of the late cardinal. 

2/9/2012 - "Some call him "the American Pope" - the most powerful and charismatic church leader of the modern era. But for others, Cardinal-Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, is presiding over a disastrous showdown with the White House over the Health Care Bill, that could lead to an irrevocable split between the conservative and liberal wings of the American church. Matt Wells reports". [Actually not a report that treats Cardinal Dolan unfairly].

9/9/2012 - Robert Mickens of The Tablet gives his take on Cardinal Martini. Robert is unhappy at the Vatican's behaviour since the cardinal's death and full of praise for him. 

30/9/2012 - Scandal at the Vatican. David Willey on the trial of the Pope's former butler.

7/10/2012 -  Scandal at the Vatican. David Willey again on the trial of the Pope's former butler.

7/10/2012 - "On the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, controversial [liberal] theologian Hans Kung, expert advisor to the Council alongside the then Joseph Ratzinger, tells us why he won't be celebrating the anniversary." [Dr. Küng is highly critical of the Vatican.]

{14/10/2012 - Abuse}

14/10/2012 - Vatican II special. A strongly liberal take on the historic conference, full of Tablet contributors and leading questions from Edward Stourton. [Many criticisms made of the conservatism of the current Vatican]. 

Turn off the radio, Your Holiness, and go and get yourself another beer!

So what?

OK. So what exactly does a long list of 'bad news stories' about the Roman Catholic Church - as covered by a single BBC programme - prove? Of course, as my occasional asides suggest, there's probably a lot more to it than a mere list of news items, but does the list itself [minus the asides] prove anything?

Listening to the programme on a regular basis may suggest to some Radio 4 listeners that the Catholic Church is undergoing a sustained attack from the producers, presenters and reporters of Sunday - given the frequency with which such 'bad news stories' seem to appear on the show. As a regular listener myself, I have been known to raise my eyes heavenwards every time yet another piece of bad news for the Vatican or for the Catholic leaders of the nations of the United Kingdom passes across my Sunday breakfast table. It has, at times, felt  rather as if I've been listening to a campaign by the good folks at Sunday. One of the reasons for this survey is to test whether such responses of mine are grounded in reality - just as much as it is about testing whether the programme's reporting is fair.

To that end, is it not far more likely that all this list really proves is that there's actually been a heck of a lot of bad news for the Roman Catholic Church over the past couple of years? Some of these stories have been widely reported right across the media - the Cloyne report and its dramatic fallout in the Irish Republic plus the trial of the Pope's butler being only the most obvious examples. Surely no one can reasonably complain about Sunday for covering such major news stories at length? I certainly wouldn't. (The only concern here remains the one central to this blog: Have the stories been reported in a fair and unbiased fashion?) The inclusion of some of the other 'bad news stories', however, remains rather more debatable. Still, I can see that strong cases (on grounds of significance and interest) can be made to defend the inclusion of most of them. They are interesting stories (at least to me). I remain sceptical, however, about the significance of some. What do you think of the programme featuring the angry American nuns on two separate editions? Or the 'donations to Murdoch' story? Or the Queensland bishop story?

No, the fact that the list shows that a massive amount of attention has been paid by Sunday to 'bad news stories' for the Catholic Church doesn't, in and of itself, prove bias - whether anti-Catholic or pro-liberal - on the programme's part. The BBC could easily defend itself against all such charges, doubtless in much the same way that I've defended their choice of stories just now.

Moreover (and preparing to state the blindingly obvious), current affairs programmes - just like newspapers - often tend to focus on bad news. They (we?) seem to find them more interesting.  'Good news stories' have often been relegated to the status of ITN's famous catchphrase, 'And finally...'. .(Sunday, in contrast, tends to keep its meatiest subject matter until the end of the programme). If a Council of Europe report concluded that the Vatican Bank had made great strides forward in transparency does anyone think that such 'good news' would be reported far and wide? I'd guess that you would really have to hunt to find reports of such a story. Sunday is, surely, only being typical of our world's media in general in favouring 'bad news stories' over 'good news stories' by a wide margin?

Furthermore, such a list of Catholic-specific items risks undermining itself by setting its terms of reference too narrowly. Another list follows, adding all the other Catholic-specific Sunday features - those omitted from the full list simply because they weren't 'bad new stories' or because they didn't strike me as being tilted towards criticism of conservative elements within the Catholic Church/Catholicism. There are even some 'good news stories' in this second list.

Another (shortet) list

23/1/2011 - "The first priests in the new Anglican Ordinariate were ordained last weekend. Former Anglican Bishop Keith Newton is the head of the ordinariate and we speak to him about how he plans to turn vision into reality." 

13/2/2011 - "To mark the Silver Jubilee of Pope John Paul 11's visit to India, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor tells Edward about his own journey to India as the Papal Representative, following in the footsteps of the former Pontiff." 

10/4/2011 - "What's in a name? Quite a lot, according to the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, who has joined the campaign to stop his local pub being renamed. He tells William the story behind "The Cardinal" pub and also how it ties into Catholic social teaching today."

1/5/2011 - John Paul II beatification special. William Crawley discusses the late pope with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

3/7/2011 - "This week the Pope ventured into cyberspace, tweeting from the Vatican. We will hear William's visit to the Vatican's Observatory at Castel Gandolfo just outside Rome, the Catholic Church's own link to outer space."

31/7/2011 - "Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley talks to Jane about this year's Day of Life, which will focus on the meaning of Happiness."

4/9/2011 - "The Catholic Church's World Youth Day in Madrid attracted hundreds of thousands of young people including 21 year old Pascal from London who kept an audio diary for us."

20/11/2011 - "On this Sunday's programme, Peace and Reconciliation is the theme for the Pope's visit to the West African country of Benin this weekend."

11/12/2011 - "The Chief Rabbi will have a historic meeting with Pope Benedict in the Vatican on Monday. Samira speaks to Ed Kessler from the Woolf Institute at Cambridge who is coordinating the trip."

15/1/2012 -  "And the slowdown in vocations to religious orders has been a recurrent theme in recent years, some enclosed orders are reporting an increase in interest though. Ruth McDonald's been behind the doors of the Redemptorist convent in Dublin, to talk to some recent joiners".

4/3/2012 - "Continuing a series reflecting on the daily routines of people with prominent or unusual roles in the religious life of the nation, this week features Rachel, a Catholic hermit from Lincolnshire."

25/3/2012 - "As the Pope visits Cuba, BBC Correspondent Sarah Rainsford, reports on the significance of the trip and why this is the pontiff's second visit to Latin America, home to almost half of the world's Catholics."

8/4/2012 - "At Easter last year around 1000 Anglicans were received into the English Ordinariate. Trevor Barnes returns to Kent to see how those who left the Anglican Church of St Barnabas have fared in their new home and also what has happened to the church they left behind."

8/4/2012 - "A chapter of Cistercian monks on an island near the French Mediterranean town of Cannes are moving into the luxury wine and restaurant business. John Laurenson reports on the ideas and the food."

29/4/2012 - An attack by Cardinal O'Brien on David Cameron for "helping the rich at the expense of the poor."

13/5/2012 - "The First Holy Communion season is at its height in Ireland but even here austerity is having an effect as the government grant to help defray the costs has been cut in half. Ruth McDonald reports from Dublin on the impact on this important spiritual milestone within the Catholic Church."

27/5/2012 - "A bell which has been on a pilgrimage around Ireland and to Rome and Lourdes, makes a small detour to Media City for this weekend's Sunday programme. Edward talks to Pilgrimage Coordinator Tommy Burns."

1/7/2012 - "This week in Oxford leading academics and [Catholic] theologians have been discussing Human Dignity. Charles Wookey talks to Edward about their conclusions."

16/9/2012 - "He came as a "pilgrim of peace" yet Pope Benedict's trip to Lebanon has coincided with anti-Western violence across the Middle East and Lebanon itself. Robert Mickens has been following the trip."

23/9/2012 - "This week the Catholic Church organised a conference to discuss how Catholic Social Teaching might help FTSE 100 business leaders restore public trust in their companies. Trevor Barnes reports."


For starters, this second list (though much shorter than the first one) should scotch, once and for all, any accusations that Sunday is pursuing an anti-Catholic agenda. It clearly isn't.

As I believe I can demonstrate (as this blog proceeds), several of the items in this list can be seen as evidence of bias - and I think I can provide proof of bias from studying them. What they don't provide evidence for (or proof of) is that Sunday is anti-Catholic. I would argue that they demonstrate that the programme isn't anti-Catholic. Given the number of (generally liberal) Catholics featured on the programme (including its main presenter) and, above all, the remarkably close links between Sunday and the liberal Catholic Tablet magazine, as outlined a couple of posts ago, that was always an extremely unlikely proposition to begin with and could simply have been dismissed with a wave of the hand - except that some readers would prefer/need something more than an airy dismissal.

No, the bias I believe exists is a pro-liberal bias of the kind described by Roger Bolton which encompasses a strong sympathy for liberal Catholicism and a marked lack of sympathy for conservative Catholicism. Very few of the items on this second list provide counter-evidence to this contention of mine; however, neither of these lists, by themselves, prove that contention. To try to do that I'm going to have to look in depth at a large number of Sunday's many Catholic-centred pieces....before moving on!

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