The former religious affairs correspondent of the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting, who is now director of the Demos think-bubble, wrote an article today about Pope Benedict XVI's recent lecture at Regensburg ('A man with little sympathy for other faiths'). (AFAIK, Bunting is a practising Catholic, with liberal tendencies, yet hardline and intolerant when it comes to Benedict). At the end of Bunting's piece is a list of six quotations "from Pope Benedict". None were truly quotations by Ratzinger/Benedict, and so, despite them usually ignoring my valiant efforts to right their wrongs, I wrote to the Guardian's Readers' Editor forthwith.
Dear Readers' Editor
On page 14, G2 today, appended to Madeleine Bunting's hatchet-job on Benedict XVI, under the title 'More from Pope Benedict', there is a misleading list of quotations ascribed to Benedict XVI. For a start, none were spoken or written by 'Pope Benedict' - all predate Joseph Ratzinger's accession to that role. And each one, as G2 presented them, is problematic for one reason or another.
1. On homosexuality. What's given is a quotation from a document produced by the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. It is signed by Ratzinger and one other, on behalf of the CDF. It's misleading to ascribe it to 'Pope Benedict' alone. [See: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html]
2. On Buddhism. "Auto-erotic spirituality." Three qualifying words Ratzinger used were unfairly omitted. In the interview with the French newspaper L'Express, 20 March 1997, he said:
"If Buddhism is attractive, it is because it appears as a possibility of touching the infinite and obtaining happiness without having any concrete religious obligations. A spiritual auto-eroticism of some sort." [See: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Pope_Benedict_XVI]
"Of some sort". Also, 'spiritual auto-eroticism' is likely to be the correct translation, not 'auto-erotic spirituality' (although I haven't found the French original to confirm).
3. Ordination of women. See comments for 1. [See: http://www.fides.org/eng/vaticano/decreto_dfede310103.html]
4. Same-sex marriage. See comments for 1. [See: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040731_collaboration_en.html]
5. Rock music. "[A] vehicle of anti-religion"; "the complete antithesis of the Christian faith in the redemption." This is a misquotation from a speech he gave, called 'Liturgy and Church Music', at a conference in Rome in November 1985. The 'complete antithesis' quote precedes the 'vehicle' one in his text. More seriously, his words were: "In a way which we could not imagine thirty years ago, music has become the decisive vehicle of a counter-religion and thus calls for a parting of the ways." G2's rendering of it gave a misleading impression of what he said. The 'anti-religion' misquotation is on the internet but the G2 journalist should have gone to the source.
6. On cloning. "[A] more dangerous threat than weapons of mass destruction." Another misquotation. Understandable though - not only is it misreported often online, the original culprit was the Catholic news service, Zenit, who gave a misleading headline and lede to the story, which thoroughly misrepresented Ratzinger's words. This the relevant part from the Zenit report:
"Man is capable of producing another man in the laboratory who, therefore, is no longer a gift of God or of nature. He can be fabricated and, just as he can be fabricated, he can be destroyed," said the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Therefore, if this is man's power, then "he is becoming a more dangerous threat than weapons of mass destruction," he added. [See: http://zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=61058]
It's not cloning that is a more dangerous threat than WMD - it's we ourselves who are becoming potentially more lethal than WMD.
Of the six quotations, three were produced by the CDF and shouldn't be ascribed to Benedict, and three have been misquoted so as to make Ratzinger appear as if he were the intolerant hardliner portrayed by Bunting. But misquoting someone for effect is like re-touching a photograph in order to give a false impression. It shouldn't, perhaps wouldn't, happen in a serious newspaper.
p.s. Any movement on the Mormon front? (See previous emails.)
(It's been 10 days since I wrote to them about something they'd written about Mormonism and I've had no response. Maybe they're overworked, and I'm not helping.)
UPDATE (2006.09.27): First, I've had no response to my email to the Guardian. Second, I found the L'Express interview wherein Ratzinger talked about Buddhism. He said:
Si le bouddhisme séduit, c'est parce qu'il apparaît comme une possibilité de toucher à l'infini, à la félicité sans avoir d'obligations religieuses concrètes. Un autoérotisme spirituel, en quelque sorte. [L'Express]
So the Guardian's version was a mistranslation, which gave a misleading impression of what Ratzinger had said. I'm at a loss for words to explain why the readers' editor hasn't corrected the inaccuracies about Benedict and, before that, Mormonism. (Meanwhile, we get such corrections as: we meant 'flair', not 'flare'.)