The Catholic Church was back in the headlines last week and, as is so often the case these days, the headlines made depressing reading. Put briefly, the Vatican issued updates to Canon Law that strengthened the penalties against sex abuser priests and those who take part in the attempted ordination of women. The secular media eagerly seized this opportunity to suggest that, in the eyes of the Church, the abuse of children and the ordination of women were equally serious crimes. The Vatican denied this, but it was too late: the simultaneous announcement of the new canonical penalties – which would have attracted little attention a few years ago – positively invited the Church’s enemies to do their worst.
This sort of public relations disaster is more dangerous than Rome seems to realise. Malicious or ignorant reports in the media do not only damage the reputation of ordinary Catholics; they also cause ordinary Catholics to lose confidence in their pastors.
It is easy to forget that members of the Church cannot always discriminate between true and misleading stories in the press. On this occasion, faithful Mass-goers were among those left confused and angry by stories implying – incorrectly but plausibly – that something was wrong with the Church’s moral compass. At no time in recent years has the Vicar of Christ faced so many devious opponents; yet the truth is that anti-Catholic polemicists were handed this latest piece of propaganda on a plate. It must not happen again.