Thursday, April 29, 2010

The slippery slope into Lake Zurich

Hundreds of urns containing human ashes have been found at the bottom of Switzerland's Lake Zurich. Indications are they originated in Dignitas, a business that has made Switzerland the suicide capital of the world.

A former employee said that dumping urns was standard procedure at the suicide facility, that Dignitas director Ludwig Minelli has himself dumped at least 300 into the lake. Authorities claim that someone has committed the crime of disposing of urns containing human remains without a licence.

This licence attitude was mocked in the film Return of the Pink Panther. As a Swiss policeman, Peter Sellers demanded to see a street beggar's "lee-saunce for zet men-key." All the while, an armed robbery was going on the the background. To top off the absurdity, Sellers retrieves and returns, with a tip of the hat, a packet of money dropped by the robber as he ran to the get-away car.

In the case of Dignitas, the Swiss show more concern with licence enforcement than the greater evil of assisted suicide. In fact, the government has legalized the procedure, creating the phenomenon of suicide tourism.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Globe and Mail Issues a Zinger

This post has been sent to The Globe and Mail editor and Kelly Grant.

For the  April 24, 2010, issue of The Globe and Mail, the newspaper's city hall bureau chief, Kelly Grant, wrote a piece about Toronto's Kensington Market.

After a brief history of the area, this zinger: "But a turning point came in 2007, when Yonathan Musse, a 19-year-old Alex[andra] Park drug dealer beloved for protecting kids and helping his neighbours, was fatally shot . . ."

By what stretch of the journalistic imagination can a drug dealer be considered "beloved" for protecting kids and helping neighbours? He was simply waiting until these same kids were old enough to become addicted to his products. That was his livelihood. His very existence in the neighbourhood endangered the lives of all.

Is this what The Globe and Mail considers helping one's neighbours?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who is the Catholic Church?

During all the reports about scandal in the Catholic Church, the common media persist in two errors. The media confuse the message and the messenger.

If a postman, while delivering a letter, walks across our rose garden, would we refuse to read the mail he delivers? A handful of messengers have despoiled the garden of faith. This in no way affects the message of the Gospels, the message of Jesus. And it in no affects my faith.

In fact, journalist John Bentley Mays writes that this crisis presents an ideal time for renewal and a "great opportunity for those who believe that the central task of Christianity is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God."

The media present a false idea of the Church as some monolithic creature in a foreign land. I am the Catholic Church. The people I see every Sunday are the Catholic Church. Along with a billion others, we are the Catholic Church. Because the perpetrators of these evils are also the Church, the rest of us have a heavy cross to carry.

Let justice and love prevail. Let's also have a clear understanding of the nature of the message of faith and who exactly constitutes the Catholic Church.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Glorious Poland

Sad the news of a plane crash on April 10, 2010, killing many of Poland's political, military and business leaders. They were en route to a memorial service commemorating the 1940 Katyn massacre of the nation's best and brightest.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the murder of some 22,000 of Poland's intellectual elite: military officers, police officers, professors, priests, rabbis, doctors, writers, teachers. The plan was to reduce the nation to an illiterate satellite of Moscow. In the long run, the plan failed. Resilient Poland regained its place among the learned nations of the world.

This is especially poignant as this week I read The Enemy at the Gate by Andrew Wheatcroft. The author describes the agony, the slaughter, and the near loss of Vienna to the Muslim Ottoman Empire in 1683. The Turkish attackers had tunnelled under the city walls already breached by bombardment. The inhabitants awaited their fate.

A little history. At that time, Vienna was key to Muslim expansion in Christian Europe. The first attempt to capture Vienna in 1529 had failed. This earlier siege was considered so serious that Martin Luther appealed to non-Catholics to come to the aid Catholic Vienna. Again, in 1683, Protestant troops assisted in the city's survival.

In the latter siege, relief came when John Sobieski, King of Poland, led the largest cavalry charge in history. With anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 horse bearing down on them, Ottoman troops retreated, never again to attack Vienna. "Long live the King of Poland" the inhabitants cheered as the victory procession moved through the battered city. Sobieski reported his triumph to other European leaders. Each letter began, "We came, we saw, God conquered."

During the Second World War, a Polish contingent formed part of the Canadian military in the liberation of France and invasion of Germany. An excerpt from a report on the 1996 death of resistance fighter Barbara Lielb Starowicz: "The liberation of the Oberlangen camp in north western Germany came in 1945 in one of the most magnificent ironies of the war. The First Armoured Division of the Canadian First Army comprised Polish veterans who were fighting under their flag and the Canadian flag.When the rumble of armour was heard in the camp, the Polish women, 1,728 prisoners of war, had no idea what it was -- German armour? Death in a scorched-earth retreat? The first tank entered, the crew was approached: We are Poles! They danced for days."

At this time of mourning, we think of glorious Poland with sadness and gratitude.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The New York Times and Objective Journalism

This post has been sent to the editor of The New York Times.

In 1964, I worked in the campaign of media personality and former evangelist Charles Templeton in his unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party. During a break in one of our strategy sessions, Charles reminisced. When he worked for the Toronto Star a few years earlier, the shortage of hospital beds was a major political issue. He proudly informed us that for 26 consecutive days he put the hospital issue on the front page.

One day we had no hard news to report, he told us. So I phoned a politician friend, and told him to ask a question in the provincial legislature, any question about hospital beds. The question was asked and featured on the front page of the next issue.

I felt admiration, marveling at the power he wielded. However, after years of media scrutinizing, I came to realize how false, how manipulative, how abusive of the reader. His cause was not to inform, but to further an agenda. Worthy or not, this was a misuse of the platform given to him. If he was executing Star policy, then the newspaper itself was wrong.

Media coverage of the troubles of certain members of the Catholic Church hierarchy brought the Templeton episode to mind. As of a few days ago, The New York Times has given negative front-page mention to matters Catholic for some 40 consecutive days. Which makes me wonder whether the Times is presenting news or riding a hobbyhorse. There may be some who marvel at what they consider determined journalism. There are others who resent being manipulated.

Lutheran theologian John Stephenson has challenged media coverage of these sex scandals. The press "cannot be expected to highlight insignificant details such as the fact that Benedict XVI has vigorously addressed this issue from the first days of his papacy." He continued, "When guilt is foreordained and execution already carried out, mere supporting evidence is of no account."

Barely a week ago [about March 23], the New York Times headlined the "news" that, as cardinal prefect in 1996, Ratzinger, quashed the canonical trial of of a priest of the Milwaukee archdiocese accused of unspeakable crimes.

"There is no likelihood of the NYT apologizing for this lie uttered a reader, after the paper declined to interview the canon lawyer who presided over the judicial proceedings in Milwaukee. According to him, the canonical process was still in full swing when the accused priest died."

Had the Times held that interview, it might have missed a day in its campaign. Increasingly, authoritative voices are challenging Times reportage. Unbiased sources are exposing factual flaws. When serious errors persist, the editorial process takes on the trappings of abuse of platform.

On May 6, a CBS/NY Times poll tested the American public on the matter of media bias. The poll showed that 53 percent of the respondents thought the scandal reports were accurate. I do not know if the newspaper has the wit to see the inverse situation -- that almost half the population thought the reports to be inaccurate.