Too lit­tle bal­ance shown in re­port­ing on Catholic Church

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FAITH - JOHN LONGHURST

FOR 20 years, I worked in com­mu­ni­ca­tions for in­ter­na­tional re­lief and de­vel­op­ment agen­cies. Dur­ing that time, I al­ways tried to find good news to re­port about the de­vel­op­ing world — no mat­ter how ter­ri­ble, dis­as­trous or con­flict-rid­den things might ac­tu­ally be in var­i­ous poor coun­tries.

It’s not that I wanted to gloss over the bad news. It’s just that I knew sto­ries of dis­as­ter, war and death would al­ways find a way to get re­ported by the main­stream me­dia. Good­news sto­ries, on the other hand, seemed eas­ier to over­look and ig­nore.

I saw my role as try­ing to pro­vide a bit of bal­ance. I wanted to re­mind peo­ple in North Amer­ica dis­as­ter and death weren’t the only things hap­pen­ing in places like Africa, South and Cen­tral Amer­ica and Asia. I wanted them to re­mem­ber a lot of good, de­cent, kind and hope­ful things hap­pened in those places, too. I wanted to draw their at­ten­tion to peo­ple who were tri­umph­ing over great odds, pro­mot­ing peace, pro­vid­ing so­lu­tions or help­ing each other thrive — of­ten without North Amer­i­can help.

I wanted to show while bad things do hap­pen in the de­vel­op­ing world and should not be ig­nored — they aren’t the only story.

Thoughts about my pre­vi­ous em­ploy­ment came back to me this past week as I watched, read and heard me­dia re­ports about the sex-abuse scan­dal fac­ing the Ro­man Catholic Church.

That story is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. It needs to be told, even if it is hard for those who love that church to hear it. But just as sto­ries of dis­as­ter and death aren’t the whole pic­ture of the de­vel­op­ing world, we need to re­mem­ber the ter­ri­ble sex­ual abuse of chil­dren, and the sub­se­quent at­tempt to hide it, isn’t the only story to be found in the Ro­man Catholic Church, ei­ther.

What we need, in other words, is a bit of bal­ance. And not just for the Ro­man Catholic Church, but for re­li­gion in gen­eral, which has also taken a bit of bat­ter­ing of late as a re­sult of this ex­pe­ri­ence. While the scan­dal has dom­i­nated the news cy­cle, there are other re­li­gious sto­ries that could be told — and they aren’t all bad news. Like th­ese few ex­am­ples, which crossed my desk in the past few weeks.

In south­ern Su­dan, Mus­lims are help­ing lo­cal Ro­man Catholics build a church in Dar­fur. The Mus­lims say they are do­ing it to ex­press thanks to Chris­tians around the world who have spo­ken out against the con­flict in that coun­try.

The Men­non­ite Cen­tral Com­mit­tee re­ported a record $5.9 mil­lion was raised last year through the sale of used goods at 56 thrift shops across Canada. Over $2 mil­lion of that to­tal came from shops here in Man­i­toba.

Also in Man­i­toba, the Fort Garry Men­non­ite Fel­low­ship, the Angli­can Dio­cese of Ru­pert’s Land and Aberdeen Evan­gel­i­cal Men­non­ite Church are work­ing to­gether to spon­sor a fam­ily of 14 Pales­tinian Mus­lim refugees who were trapped in refugee camps on the bor­der be­tween Syria and Iraq. The three will pro­vide about $25,000 each to help spon­sor the refugees.

Faith and de­vel­op­ment groups such as World Vi­sion, A Rocha, the Evan­gel­i­cal Fel­low­ship of Canada, the Oikos Cen­tre for the En­vi­ron­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­gary and the El­liott Allen In­sti­tute for The­ol­ogy and Ecol­ogy at St. Michael’s Col­lege, are jointly spon­sor­ing a con­fer­ence this week­end on the spir­i­tual di­men­sions of abus­ing the planet, with a call for peo­ple of faith to be bet­ter ste­wards of the Earth.

Ear­lier this year, Shahina Sid­diqui sent out an emer­gency plea when her or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Is­lamic So­cial Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion, sud­denly lost its of­fice space. On March 31 they, along with the Cana­dian Mus­lim Women’s In­sti­tute and a food pantry that serves Mus­lim refugees and im­mi­grants, found new quar­ters on Princess Street. “The move was ex­haust­ing, but we are set­tling in fine,” says Sid­diqui.

At a meet­ing in the Nether­lands last month, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 40 re­li­gious groups, in­clud­ing Chris­tians, Jews, Mus­lims, Hin­dus and Bud­dhists, pledged to pre­vent the stigma­ti­za­tion of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV and AIDS. The groups signed a “per­sonal com­mit­ment to action” in which they vowed to “be clear in my words and ac­tions that stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion to­ward peo­ple liv­ing with or af­fected by HIV is un­ac­cept­able.”

The Arch­dio­cese of Win­nipeg has de­vel­oped a Code of Priestly Con­duct that calls on priests to be ex­em­plary in fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of Christ in their min­istry and to main­tain the high­est level of ac­count­abil­ity and trust. The code also con­tains a for­mal com­plaint process that pro­vides “trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity.”

Much more could be writ­ten, but I think you get the pic­ture — when it comes to re­li­gion, there’s more go­ing on than just bad news. You just have to look a lit­tle harder to find it.

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