Sede Vacante: The Sky is Not Falling on the Catholic Church

If the media focus on the Vatican were a floodlight and not a spotlight, it would be clear that the story of religion in free fall is cultural and not Catholic.

Even in Lent, I am hard pressed to find many perks in my current state in life. As a prisoner with no online access at all, I really struggle to write. It’s not just my inability to access what’s going on in the world beyond these stone walls. The bigger problem with writing from prison is that almost everyone around me suffers from ADHD – Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. No, I take that back. Most of them don’t actually suffer from it at all. I do!

Today while trying to come up with a title for this post, no less than a dozen prisoners interrupted me with “Watcha doin’?” or “What’s up with all this Pope stuff?” Well, what I’m doing is trying to write about “all this Pope stuff,” and “What’s up with it?” depends on which cable news channel you’re watching.

Wondering whether I should add patience to my growing list of things to work on for Lent, I just asked the last guy who stopped by whether I’m an impatient person. “Of course you’re not,” he said. “If you were, you would just tell me to ‘Beat it!’ like everyone else does.”

So there you have it. I have a lot more patience with other prisoners than I do with the news media right now. As I write this post, CNN has been broadcasting all day long a news segment about an Italian press report of corruption, scandal and blackmail in the Vatican, and of course all of it is the “real story” behind the Holy Father’s recent decision-making process.

The story spinning at CNN is not at all like the one I wrote last week in “Pope Benedict XVI: The Sacrifices of a Father’s Love.” CNN was so saturated with its far more sordid version of papal events that I needed another take on it. So I switched to FOX News for a couple of hours only to find not a single mention of the story. The Vatican Secretary of State was recently quoted about this story:

“It is regrettable that as we draw near to the beginning of the Conclave when Cardinal electors shall be bound in conscience and before God, to freely express their choice, news reports abound which are often unverified or unverifiable, or completely false, provoking damage to people and to institutions.”


Not long ago, the American news media reported on a scandal in the U.S. Secret Service. While in Columbia preparing security for a visit by the U.S. President, several Secret Service and military officers were caught up in a prostitution scandal. With surgical precision, some in the news media seemed intent on reporting the story without letting any of it tarnish this President or his Administration.

As Commander-in-Chief, the current President has apparently been shielded in the news media from multiple military sex scandals, mass murder on a military base, the Benghazi U.S. Embassy disaster, and the list goes on and on. In stark contrast in the mainstream secular media, every sordid story out of Rome always seems to land in the lap of the Pope. I once wrote of such a double standard in “Breaking News: I Got Stoned with the Pope,” a TSW post about the Church and duplicity in the news media that might be worth reading anew as you wait for events in Rome to continue unfolding this month.

And in this long period of waiting, there’s another post of mine that tells the story of another Pope’s merciless tarnishing with a broad media brush for scandalous claims that were not only untrue, but for which the media itself bore much more responsibility than the Pope ever did. If you want a cautionary tale for how the news media is handling the story of Benedict XVI and the current papal transition, take a break from the news to read anew, “Hitler’s Pope, Nazi Crimes, and The New York Times.” Some readers told me that it changed forever the way they view Pope Pius XII. At least one commenter wrote that it should also change forever the way you view the news media, especially in regard to stories about the Catholic Church. If you Google that title using quotes, you will see how widely that post circulated. No one refuted any of it, however. Not one word.


So why should the news accounts about Benedict XVI be treated with any more respect for truth and accuracy than those of Pius XII? There is actually a connection between these reports in the news media. In a comment on that post about Pius XII, reader Dorothy Stein wrote that it was largely disgruntled Catholics with an agenda, and not the Jews of the generation that lived through World War II Europe, who became the loudest slanderers and detractors of Pius XII.

A similar phenomenon is now true of Benedict XVI. I have read repeated praise of him, of his papacy, of his brilliance, of his justice – the latest coming from the Chief Rabbi of Rome – while Catholics with varying agendas cast shadows over him, some subtle and some overt. I don’t buy any of it. Most of these Catholic critics are simply using the story of this historic papal transition the same way they used the story of the clergy sex abuse scandal. The agendas of disaffected, disgruntled and sometimes sadly misled Catholics are typically given a soap box in the news media.

One Catholic writer for a mainstream secular newspaper wants to elect a nun as the next pope. Another wants an end to the priesthood. A host of others want a distinctly American Catholic Church with only loose ceremonial ties to Rome. They want a married priesthood, women priests, and same-sex marriages. What they really want is to be Episcopalian, a fate, as you will infer below, that hasn’t worked out so well for the Episcopalians.

There’s another important religious story that’s taking a news media back seat while the Catholic Church and Vatican take center stage. If the news media used a floodlight instead of a spotlight to report on religion, this story would come more clearly into view.

For the first time in the history of the United States – which leads the trends of Western Culture – Protestants have lost their majority status. In a development of immense meaning for the future of religion on this continent, Americans who identify themselves as “Protestant” have slipped below fifty percent of the population. It’s even worse than that. In just the last five years, self-identified Protestants have slipped from 53% to 48% of the U.S. census. If the umbrella term, “Protestant” was broken down into its widely varying denominations, then the cultural picture is far more bleak for religion.

The largest representations of self-identified Christians in the United States are Catholics. Slightly more than 75 million Americans, or 24% of the U.S. population, describe themselves as Catholic. In the North American continent as a whole, 90 million are self-described Catholics – by far the largest religious grouping on the Continent.

That’s not the bleak part. The alarming news is that the second largest “denomination” is not a Protestant grouping such as Baptist or Methodist. The second largest group – nearly 49 million North Americans – describe themselves as agnostic, atheist, or no religion at all. They are the “Nones,” and they have risen from 15% of Americans in 2007 to almost 20% in 2012. One in three of them are under the age of 30.

Despite all the news media’s never-ending “spotlight” on the foibles of the Catholic Church, the majority of these self-described “Nones” (for “No Religion”) are not disaffected from the ranks of Catholics, but from the ranks of ever increasingly liberal Protestant denominations. The “Nones” share a political identity. They are not dominated by people who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, but as “secular,” and they are predominantly young, male, white, liberal Democrats. 75% of the self-described “Nones” voted for President Obama in November. They are the up and coming secularists embracing Big Brother with open arms that I wrote of in “Electile Dysfunction: Accommodations and the Advent of 1984.”


So if you think the biggest religious news story is scandal in the Catholic Church, then The New York Times and The Boston Globe and other secular news media are succeeding in throwing up a smoke screen that obscures from view the real story threatening the religious and cultural identity and landscape of the free world.

And by the way, you might have noticed that The Boston Globe is for sale . . . again. It’s the second time in the last decade that its parent company, The New York Times, has tried to unload it. The Times purchased The Boston Globe for $1.1 billion in 1983, and its highest bidder today is less than ten percent of that investment.

The Times itself has slipped to a distant third in circulation behind the now flagship American newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, and the trendy USA Today. The day is fast approaching when most of the mainstream news media will be entirely online, and then its Catholic news will compete with . . . . YOU GUESSED IT!!. . . . Catholic bloggers like Father John Zuhlsdorf, Father George David Byers, and one or two others among the supposedly “Best Catholic Bloggers” who will herein go unnamed. These good men and their public witness are champions of Catholic truths, and I hope you’re listening to them in this time of false witness and false prophets in news of the Catholic Church in the public square.

Editor’s Note: Catholic writer, Ryan A. MacDonald has a compelling new article about news of These Stone Walls.

Please Click here to vote for These Stone Walls for Best Catholic Blog

Remember–you can vote once every 24 hours in each category on every day of the voting period (10:00 A.M. EST February 19, 2013, through 11:59 P.M. EST on March 19, 2013)

About Fr. Gordon J. MacRae

The late Cardinal Avery Dulles and The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus encouraged Father MacRae to write. Cardinal Dulles wrote in 2005: “Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials.” READ MORE


  1. Arkanabar says:

    God is with us; He has granted us a Spirit of good cheer, not a spirit of fear.

    These things that you fear: what are YOU doing about them? If they have your attention, I suspect this is where God will give you the charisms He has in mind for you. You fear for the education of children; have you considered teaching them at your parish? That will certainly put you in position to tell them the truth, about Jesus, His love, and why that leads to rules about right and wrong that do not change.

    I am not trying to minimize the evil that abounds, and has abounded for the last century and more. But where evil abounds, grace also. God is calling you to be a channel of His grace.

    I do my best to say the rosary daily, begging grace for all the clergy and religious, but with special intentions for Pope Francis, Papa Emeritus Ben, and those unjustly accused and persecuted.

  2. Lynda Finneran says:

    Thank you, Fr. You’re giving a great service to the Church and the world. Beannacht De ort.

  3. Helen says:

    God bless You, Fr. Gordon, and thank You for Your love and tenacity in sharing, with us, the truth…. How seldom we see that in these dark days.

    Your writing, herein, continues to set pictures in my head of Jesus saying to us: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth”? Luke 18:8

    When I look back, over my life as a cradle Catholic, I would have NEVER guessed that things would get so mean, distorted and dark. The gray is getting smaller and smaller…. black and white are coming together. Right is wrong; wrong is right. Where will it all end? It actually makes me want to cry, at the sadness and shock of it all. More and more, Have we EVER needed a Savior more than now??? I’m scared…especially for the young. Do they have a chance of ever knowing Jesus..and His love, in this dark, distorted world?
    Is the day coming when we will be herded into prisons for believing that God does exist? So much evil, so much pain.

    Fr. Gordon, Your articles are always so informative…and most especially, NEEDED. Please continue to tell us the Truth…because it is becoming more and more rare.

    Please plead prayers for our Holy Father Benedict Emeritus, who is suffering… unjustly. My heart breaks for him. He NEEDS our prayers.

    As always, You ARE in my daily prayers. God bless You, continue to use You…and FREE YOU!!!

    Praise Him for You!!


  4. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Thanks again Fr. MacRae.

    Just as secularists say that Religion is the greatest threat in the world today, I say media is the greatest threat.

    Bloggers such as yourself and those you mentioned have to try and swim upstream amongst all the muck and mire we call the media who are bringing us all down. We keep relying on the wrong ones for information. I hope your blog will continue to clue the clueless as to whom they should be listening to when they search for truth.

    As for myself, I try to read as much good Catholic media as I can, and listen to EWTN for most everything else. This is the only media I can physically stand.

    A quick listen to media you mentioned, I heard today that Cardinals Dolan and O’Malley are being considered frontrunners for pope.

    Well on EWTN I heard that if you enter the conclave a pope, you leave a cardinal.

    Bye, bye birdies!

  5. Domingo says:

    Reading your blog, I always get this feeling that when I want to read more, it ends. More! More! More!

  6. Ellen says:

    Dear Father, you are such an inspiration! Thank you for your invaluable perspective and insights. I wish I could do more for you. I keep telling people about your plight every chance I get. I share your posts on Facebook, but more importantly, I pray for you faithfully at the Offertory of each daily Mass. God is listening. He will vindicate you! Be stouthearted! Prayers will continue for you even after your release. Times are getting more and more difficult especially for priests. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.

  7. Gail Ramplen says:

    Father Gordon, you are constantly in my prayers – and my patience is being sorely tried! Why does it take the American In/Justice system so long to come right? It is a disgrace! The American System of cost-defective justice is severely tarnishing your country’s image. Even worse, the American Administration and Courts seem hell-bent on selling their evil goods on the rest of the world. Shame on them and shame on the dupes that listen to them. Upcoming to America is the generation of escapees from the right to extinction given to this reigning generation – the new Americans have won the right to to be rubbed out with minimal expense, no recourse to justice, and to have this subsidized by the survivors/escapees of these atrocities. Talk about Hitler! The Americans are the worst yet! The silent holocaust – rubbing out far more than Hitler ever did – and they dare to criticize Pius XII! What hypocrites.

  8. NotMyNormalName says:

    I have ADHD, and everybody suffers from it.

    Oremus pro cardinales.

  9. Jeannie Ash says:


    See? The clarity of those enduring martyrdom (you don’t have to say it, but I can!) is so often just so on target!

    God bless you!


  10. Gina Nakagawa says:

    Father, how wonderful, at last we hear from a person with an intelligent voice! God bless you. If your blog is not recognized as the best thing around, I promise I will keep voting for it all year until the powers that be get it right! God bless and keep you. Mother Mary comfort you.

  11. Bonnie says:

    So the media wants us all to be like Chicken Little. I love your title. I didn’t even know about the larger religious statistics you shared with us, thanks!
    Keep us on the right track. You are in our daily prayers.

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