ON THE EVE of the funeral of one of history's greatest popes, the American media is struggling to absorb the immensity of John Paul II's pontificate. Around every turn is another story, another dramatic trip, another chapter from his prolific writings. The ingrained impulse among much our media elites, however, is always to diminish.
The new media has assured that these growls haven't gone unanswered, and most viewers long ago learned to turn off Christiane Amanpour when she begins to prattle on. But there's a second journalistic sin at work in the agenda-driven commentary about the Pope's "failure" to modernize the Church on issues of celibacy, contraception, and the ordination of women. Simply put, most of the American media is simply ignorant of the Pope's critics on the right. There is a valid case to be made that whatever disenchantment existed with John Paul II came more from those Catholics still unreconciled to Vatican II, and deeply distressed about John Paul II's refusal to steer back into the pre-1960 Church.
The most obvious of these conservative dissidents is The Society of Pius X, which carries on the critique of Rome begun by the Society's founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre; but this is hardly the only outpost of conservative criticism of John Paul II. The National Catholic Register is another source for occasional conservative critiques of Vatican policies and enthusiasts for the Latin Mass and the rise of Opus Dei (described in this article from America--a Jesuit magazine) underscore that the Roman Catholic Church generally, and the American branch of it specifically, have vibrant, conservative circles within them--circles to the right of John Paul II.
But you wouldn't know it from mainstream media coverage. This blind spot probably results from simple ignorance. Reporters and pundits caught up in the conventional wisdom on John Paul II--wonderful guy, charismatic, but stubborn and reactionary--cannot begin to imagine that the great man was flanked on right and left, and in fact hewed a center-right course through his long pontificate. Some commentators must be aware of the conservative critique of John Paul II but leave it aside because it complicates the narrative and undermines the agenda. But my guess is that most are unaware and the specialists trucked in aren't in any hurry to throw attention, and perhaps credibility, on the right flank of the Church.
Non-Catholics are best advised to keep silent on matters of doctrine within the Church. It is, after all, no more the business of a non-Catholic what the Church commands on the celibacy of its priests than it is a non-Muslim to opine on the proper keeping of Ramadan.
But if the job of a journalist is to educate his or her audience on the drama unfolding within the coming conclave, perhaps they ought to google "Lefebvre" and "Tridentine Mass." I can assure you that there are far more Catholics worldwide pushing for the return of the latter than there are for a Vatican endorsement of abortion rights.
Not that you'd know it from watching the media.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.