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Ghosts of Volhynia: Get Religion, June 30, 2013 July 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani. … We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.

Massimo d’Azeglio, Memoirs (1867).

When the Kingdom of Savoy created the modern Italian state in 1861, it also began the work of creating an Italian identity. Not since the fall of the Roman Empire had the whole peninsula been ruled as a single state — and its inhabitants saw themselves as Milanese, Neapolitans,  Romans, Tuscans and so forth. It took a world war and Mussolini to solidify an Italian identity.

National identity has not been a problem East of the Danube. A Pole has long identified himself as a Pole. While there may be regional dialects and traditional customs, a Pole knew what he was not —  a German or Ukrainian or Lithuanian or Russian or a Jew.

The Twentieth century was not kind to this corner of the world crushed between Hitler and Stalin. The Jews are gone — killed by the Nazis. The Germans are gone — driven West at the close of the Second World War — and the borderlands emptied of Poles, pushed West into former German lands by the Russians. This bloody history returned to center stage this weekend when Polish and Ukrainian church leaders issued a joint statement of apology and forgiveness commemorating the 1943-47 massacres in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.

A comparison of the reporting from Warsaw and Kiev on this issue indicates the passions of the past remain alive. Religion and nationalism remain intertwined in the conscience of Eastern Europe. And, like the dog in the night, this story is all the more significant because of who is not barking — Moscow.

On 28 June 2013 the front page of Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborcza reported that the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, had traveled to Warsaw to seek forgiveness from:

every Polish family who lost relatives from the hands of my compatriots.

Archbishop Józef Michalik of Przemysl, the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, was quoted by the Warsaw daily as saying in response, the Ukrainian statement was a:

a sign of sound and brave patriotism, free of nationalist or backward thinking.

Radio Poland provided some background:

The appeal accompanies the 70th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres, which took place in a Nazi-occupied region that had been divided between Poland and the Soviet Union prior to the Second World War. After sporadic killings, a concerted action was launched on 11 July 1943, and from 1943 to 1945, it is estimated that 100,000 ethnic Poles were killed in the Volhynia area. Units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a guerilla force of Ukrainian nationalists, carried out the actions.

“We are aware that only the truth can set us free, the truth, which does not beautify and does not omit, which does not pass over in silence, but leads to forgiveness,” today’s statement reads.

Besides citing “the evil” that was done against ethnic Poles, the resolution also refers to Polish counter-attacks, and the partisan war that unfolded. It is estimated that about 2000-3000 Ukrainians were killed in Volhynia, and about 20,000 more when the fighting spread to other areas of south east Poland (1944-1947).

The agreed statement from the church leaders follows upon motion adopted last week by the Polish Senate calling the Volhynia massacres an “ethnic cleansing bearing the hallmarks of genocide,” Radio Poland reported.

Peering at this issue through a Polish lens, the story is one of Ukrainian contrition. Yet if you look at the Russian and Ukrainian newspapers we see a slightly different story — moral equivalence and inter-Orthodox rivalries. Ukrainska Pravda provides details about the agreement which was endorsed by the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches in Poland and the Ukraine remembers the events of 1943-1947 to be a

mutual ethnic cleansing of the Ukrainian and Polish population carried out by peasant self-defense units …

Ukrainska Pravda further noted the agreed statement had to be re-written after the head of the Roman Catholic Church said the first Greek Catholic draft that called on each side to forgive and ask forgiveness, implying a degree of moral equivalence between the two sides, was “nonsense”.

The Russian-language Ukrainian news portal Polemika headlined its story: “The Catholics of two countries have urged reconciliation between the people of the Ukraine and Poland”.

But while the agreement was between the Ukrainian uniate and Polish Catholic Churches this was not an all-Catholic affair as:

The request for forgiveness, [Archbishop Shevchuk] said, had been joined by the head of the Orthodox Church of Kiev, Patriarch Philaret, and the Volhynian Council of Christian Churches.

“What of it?”, you might ask. Poland and the Ukraine are very far away and Volhynia is the back of beyond of the back of  beyond. I have not seen this story reported in the Western or English-language media, save for the Radio Poland English-language broadcast.  Those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Orthodox-Catholic relations or with the players in this story may well pass this by as being a bit of religion news exotica.

Yet as the Balkan wars of the 1990s demonstrated religio-ethnic wars can return to Europe. I am not suggesting that will happen in this case, but a rapprochement between Kiev and Warsaw is not in the interests of Moscow. While Polemika reports Metropolitan Philaret backed the agreement, nothing was said about Metropolitan Vladimir. Philaret leads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, which broke away from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the oversight of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church for nationalistic reasons. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Vladimir (the larger of the two), issued its own statement commemorating the 70th anniversary of the massacres.

For Metropolitan Vladimir the causes of the “interethnic conflict” remain the subject of historical debate. However the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) has

… always supported the motherland and always cherished Christian patriotism. … Our love for our native land takes form “in protecting the homeland from the enemy, working for the good of the Fatherland, and caring for for people’s lives”

But Vladimir noted the church had

denounced the “sinful phenomena of aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, national exclusiveness, ethnic hatred” … The Volhynia tragedy was a sad example of just such a sinful distortion of national feeling. Christian patriotism is incompatible  with violence against other people. Because the Orthodox Church unequivocally condemns ethnic hatred, as being contrary to Christian ethics.

However ….

Unfortunately, today we see how the different political forces try to use the sad anniversary of the Volhynia tragedy for social manipulation. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church unequivocally condemns any attempt to use the tragedy, which claimed many Polish and Ukrainian lives, for political speculation.

Is he talking about Ukrainian nationalists or the Polish Senate? As Vladimir follows the Moscow line, my assumption is that this will be heard in Warsaw as a rebuke of Poland.

He closes with the statement that:

Our peoples are neighbors. We have to build fraternal relations, overcoming the heavy burden of historical confrontations and conflicts. … The Orthodox Church has always tried to carry out the mission of reconciliation between nations involved in the feud. Today, we call on the Ukrainian and Polish nations to seek mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.

For Vladimir the terms of reference are those rejected already by the Catholic Church. I expect Moscow to weigh in at some point, but the grounds of dispute seem pretty clear. Religion, ethnicity and history still have a hold on the politics of the East.

First printed in Get Religion.

Master of my Domain: Get Religion, April 23, 2013 April 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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… (T)he best persuaded of himself, so cramm’d, as he thinks, with excellencies that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him.

Twelfth Night, 2.3.150-152 (1623)

The counterrevolution has begun.

The press is pushing back against its critics over the Kermit Gosnell affair. Stung by the criticisms and the hypocrisies detailed by Mollie Hemingway on this website, Kirsten Powers at USA Today and other outlets, some have begun reporting on the murder trial of the Philadelphia abortionist. Other outlets in their op-ed sections havedefended their non-coverage or sought to deflect criticisms – – the New York Times‘ Tiller editorial is classic sleight-of-hand, substituting one story for another. “Nothing here to see folks. Move along.”

A few have embarked upon the high road. Writing in Religion Dispatches Diane Winston argues in “The Myth of News Media as Secularist Conspiracy” there has never been a golden era when reporters

provided smart, in-depth, contextualized coverage of religious leaders, issues, ideas, and communities.

In support of this contention, the article offers historical examples purporting to show the press has always done a poor job — missing stories, printing pablum in place of news or voicing prejudice such as H.L. Menken’s critique of Fundamentalism in his account of the Scope’s “monkey” trial or the “anti-Hindu coverage that ran through Western newspapers in the 1910s and 1920s.” The crux of her argument is that the problem is not a lack of:

trained religion reporters, but rather Americans’ widespread ignorance about religion. Religion is absent from many high school curricula and university classrooms, and many of us barely know the religious history of our own country much less the role of religion worldwide.

But her argument then pivots, stating:

Yet, I’m not convinced that improving the American educational system is really at the heart of Cannon’s plaint about religion coverage and his subsequent post on Kermit Gosnell.

Making more Americans aware of religion and historical incidents like an anti-Hindu press — a history of which I was not aware — would not have mattered in the Gosnell story as:

The Gosnell story is not a religion story, it’s a crime story. People with religious convictions may read their passions into it, but Gosnell did not seem to be motivated one way or the other by a faith commitment. Yet cultural religionists imply that the absence of religious commitment in the nation’s newsrooms—and consequent acceptance of baby-killing, oops abortion, is among the reasons that the Gosnell story was overlooked.

The notion that the news media is a secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths is wrongheaded.

I do not agree. There is just a hint of Coriolanus going before the plebs here. That large sections of the media believe an abortionist charged with multiple counts of murder is a crime story without significant religious or moral overtones speaks to the failings and biases of the press, not readers. (One need only look to the loss of market share and trust the mainstream media have experienced to know that all is not well — or the studies and monographs on the triumph of ideology over reporting in major American newspapers.)Nor does she show a logical connection between her observations about ignorance of the audience and the silence about Gosnell.

Criticisms voiced by GetReligion have nothing to do with the private conscience of reporters who write about religion but about their ignorance of the topics they are covering coupled with a self-satisfied, complacent, high opinion of their own importance and disdain for views that conflict with their own. Large sections of the American press are like Mr. Podsnap who “stood very high in Mr. Podsnap’s opinion,” — they see religion reporting through the lens of anthropology and institutions, not through the culture and belief of people.

And it is this failure of intelligence, relevance and imagination that lies behind the Gosnell fracas. The personal views of reporters are irrelevant — it is their professional competence at issue.

Let me offer an example of good religion journalism to illustrate my argument of ideology free competent reporting. In a front page story Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborczalast week reported on a paper released by the Polish Bishops’ Conference (Konferencja Episkopatu Polski) objecting to in vitro fertilization, abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, arguing they were a threat to humanity.

In vitro fertilization should be “banned” because it:

begins with masturbation… All doubts in the field of human existence should be resolved in favor of life. We must also stand firmly against all kinds of action that are a threat to humans. Even the loftiest purpose does not justify actions that put human life in danger,” reads the document written by the Bishops’ Bioethics Expert Team

“A Christian must care about the truth. This is why he or she should uncover lies, one of which is the particularly harmful suggestion that in vitro fertilization is a treatment for infertility. It does not treat anything. Infertile people stay infertile. They entrust the production of children to strangers,” the bishops write.

According to the authors of the document, in vitro is the poorly-fulfilled desire of infertile couples, who wish to be parents. The church authorities believe that it gives permission “to sacrifice a few human beings” in order to have a child. This refers to the embryos that are destroyed during in vitro trials. “The sperm is obtained from a father through masturbation, the mother’s body is repeatedly manipulated, meaning that the child becomes a product,” the document reads.

These quotes are a gift. When reporters dream, unlike other men (and women), they dream dreams of bishops condemning masturbation. The possibilities for displaying smutty lowbrow humor are endless. Yet given this set up, the Gazeta Wyborcza plays it straight giving the bishops space to explain their views — to paraphrase my colleague TMatt, they allow people not just paper to speak.

Archbishop [Henryk] Hoser is the main author of the paper. Trained as a physician, he is one of the Episcopal Commission on Bioethics’ experts.  Yesterday he said: “The prenatal human is viewed more as a thing, not as a human being [by those who support IVF]. Many lives are lost in a procedure intended to produce a sole survivor. 

[The Church] opposes the creation of extra embryos produced to be frozen and considers this tantamount to killing them. “Most frozen and thawed embryos die in the process or are otherwise unable to continue healthy growth. Yet the embryo is a person and each embryo turns out to be a helpless member of the human family,whose dignity and rights are ruthlessly trampled.”

Against these comments Gazeta Wyborcza sets contradictory medical opinion.

“Not true. Medicine is moving forward. Maybe 20-25 years ago you could propound this thesis, but not today. … [If properly stored the rate of success of frozen embryos] in implantation in the uterus is the same, or even greater than in the case of embryos transferred without freezing,” argues Prof. Waldemar Kuczynski, Chairman of the Section of Fertility and Infertility of the Polish Gynecological Society and consultant to the government program … The bishops’ arguments are “biased and unfair”.

The article also points to what it believes to be an inconsistency in the bishops’ argument.

The hierarchy also criticized contraception and abortion … “Claiming the right to abortion is an expression of a highly unworthy conduct …”. Anti-abortion rhetoric is heard more often in the church, but in the 90s the bishops approved the so-called Compromise Law that allowed abortion in three cases: rape, danger to life or health of the mother, and severe irreversible damage to the fetus.

Why is this a good article? It is a straight forward summary of the report with comments from critics. First off, the article pulled quotes from the report that would excite its readers, while also providing quotes that placed the controversial statements in context. Both sides can hear their points of view expressed clearly, the article provides the key quotes from the report, places them in context and allows the church to explain why it said what it said. It also wrote this story with its audience — not against it. There is no mockery (that I could see) as it takes its audience’s faith seriously — it understands these are moral questions not merely “health news”.

But this is not a pro-church puff piece. The criticisms are given a full airing and the newspaper’s skepticism of the absolutist position on abortion is made clear by reference to the church’s tolerance for some abortions.

Ask yourself if you believe the New York Times would have printed this story? Which takes me back to the defense of the non-reporting on the Gosnell trial. Perhaps it is old news, a local crime story that would upset readers with the testimony of savagery and barbarity worthy of Auschwitz? Or then again could there be a “secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths”?

Whatever you may decide, what the press has done (returning once more to Maria’s description of Malvolio in Twelfth Night) is that it has shown itself to be an “affection’d ass”.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Polish anti-Semitism and the press: Get Religion, November 20, 2012 November 21, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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A new film that premiered last week has resurrected moral questions that some Poles hoped had been settled long ago. The 20 Nov 2012 front page of the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza was dominated by the controversy surrounding the film Poklosie (Aftermath).  The headline reads  “Poklosie under attack — but the reaction of many Poles is that they are under attack from Poklosie.

The film questions Poland’s self-identity as an innocent victim of Nazi aggression. While there is no doubt that Germany sought to destroy the Polish nation, killing  millions, destroying its cities and attempting to eradicate its culture, film director Wladyslaw Pasikowski has challenged one of the pillars its post-war identity — the country’s innocence in the Holocaust.

Poklosie is a war movie that dramatizes the 1942 massacre of 340 Jews in the village of Jebwadne. However these Jews were not killed by the Nazis, but by their Polish neighbors who herded men, women and children into a barn and set it alight. Set in the fictional village of Gorowka, the site of a war-time massacre blamed on the Germans, the film takes place shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. The movie tells the story of two brothers who in attempting to preserve Jewish tombstones arouse the ire of villagers who fear they will uncover the crimes of the past.  As they used to say in Hollywood, this is a message film, and the message is that hiding past sins results in modern evils.

Amongst the motives for the massacre of the Jews by their Polish neighbors in the film is that Jews were Christ-killers. The incidents recounted in Poklosie are based on true events. In 2003, a Polish government commission released a report saying that claims the Polish Jews of Jebwabne were killed by the Nazis was false. They had been murdered by their Polish Christian neighbors.

I have not seen reference to this story in the American or British press so far — but articles last week in the French press on this story caught my eye. Le Figaro‘s story « La Pologne confrontée à une page noire de son histoire » and Le Nouvel Observateur « Poklosie  : le film qui fait polémique en Pologne » approach the story from an entertainment angle — a film that forces Poland to confront a “black page” in its history — that sort of thing.

The Polish press has treated this not as a movie story, but as an existential question. “Who are we? Where have we come from in our history? Do we share in the sins of our ancestors? Has our faith as Catholics led us to this?”

The Associated Press last year reported that in 2001:

Poland’s bishops made an apology for the Jedwabne massacre and other crimes against Jews under the German occupation, in a special ceremony of prayers in Warsaw. It was viewed as a step toward reconciliation with Jewish groups who often accuse the Catholic Church of being too tolerant of anti-Semitism.

However, conservative and nationalist newspapers have been harshly critical of the movie. They reject the assertion that Poland shares in the collective guilt of the Nazis for the Holocaust and reject the movie’s depiction of Polish peasantry being “evil anti-Semites” roused by their priests to commit murder against the Christ-killers. In the conservative weekly Uwazam Rze, Piotr Zychowicz writes in an article entitled “Polacy, Zydzi, kolaboracja, Holokaust”:

No nation has a monopoly on being evil and no nation has a monopoly on being good. Nations are composed of millions of people, and people, it so happens, are very different.

In an interview published in the right wing news and opinion website  Niezalezna.pl, Bogdan Musial argues the historical narrative of Poklosie is a false creation of the media.

Many American Jews left Poland and their father and grandfathers became victims of Holocaust. A big part of the Jewish Diaspora considers Poles to be anti-Semites. Remember the film industry and the media have a strong influence on the intellectual environment and they impose their cultural belief in Polish anti-Semitism.  There is also in German a harmful and false belief in “Polish nationalism” while there is also a lack of historical consciousness in Poland.

Prof. Musial goes on to state there is no doubt that a crime was committed in Jebwabne, but “reactions to the accusation of anti-Semitism should be measured.” He also suggests the “discussion about the anti-Semitism is designed to draw people’s attention away from the crimes of the Communist” era.

A crime has been committed and this is a fact. But the same fact is that the [2002 book Neighbors by Jan  Gross about the Jedwabne pogrom] is unreliable and distorts the history. The problem is that the so-called forces of progress in Poland consider this distorted history to be dogma. The people who denies this are called (by the so-called forces of progress in Poland ) freaks and nationalists. … Through the Gross’ glasses Poles are greedy, primitive, murders who are jointly responsible for the Holocaust and as anti-Semitic as Nazis. Not Germans, but Nazis! … Films such as Poklosie can only strengthen this image …

However the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest circulation daily appeals for critics to stop trying to halt the “cleansing process” of the national soul by appeals to to “nationalistic ideology”. Quoting Gross’s book it states there were Poles who killed Jews simply for profit. It defends Poklosie saying it is a:

… valuable work, unique in Polish cinema, reopening an only superficially healed wound of the Polish conscience.

In my recent posts at GetReligion I have been critical of the European-style advocacy journalism practiced by the New York Times and have argued its stories are neither balanced, fair nor complete in their reporting. And, the Times appears to be blissfully unaware of this problem. Yet advocacy journalism when it is done well can produce exceptionally fine work — such as the front page of today’s Gazeta Wyborcza — because it is written from an ideological and moral perspective that is not hidden by spurious claims of being objective. While I find the views express in Niezalezna to be unpalatable, taken in conjunction with Gazeta Wyborcza they provide a better picture of the affair than any single source.

I applaud the Polish press for addressing these issues of national identity, religious bigotry, and historical memory. Well done.

First published in GetReligion.

The problem of miracles: Get Religion Oct 8, 2011 October 8, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Writing about the miraculous — apart from baseball — is a tricky task. The key to a good miracle story is its tone. If a writer is too deferential to his subject he becomes an apologist. Too harsh and he becomes an antagonist. Adopting the voice of the village atheist or a credulous devotee fails the test of sound journalism.

There are some wonderful contemporary apologetic essays on miracles, Frederica Mathewes-Green’s piece “Why C.S. Lewis is So Irritating!” springs to mind, while Christopher Hitchens and some other members of the new atheists fraternity have equally well written critiques of the miraculous.

But the reporter’s task is to let the facts drive the story and to allow the principles of the drama to speak. The writer’s craft is then displayed by  having “A sense of the fitness of things, my dear” as Waldo Lydeker observed in Otto Preminger’s Laura. It courses through all his work by imparting faithfully the facts, the setting and the worldview of those involved — and allows a reader to draw his own conclusions.

This imperative is made difficult for a wire service reporter, however, who must cram as much as possible into 400 words or less. A wire service religion story can hit the right chord, but brevity sometimes robs the story of accuracy.

The balance between pitch and context is illustrated in a miracle story from the Associated Press. On Oct 2 newspapers around the globe ran a brief — 330 word — story whose title took some form of: “Catholics in Poland celebrate what they see as miraculous communion wafer.”

The AP has done a great job in finding the proper editorial voice, but the absence of context does not give the general reader enough information to know what is happening. The article begins by going through the “what,” “where” and “who” says so.

Roman Catholics in Poland gathered Sunday for a special Mass celebrating what they see as a miracle: the appearance on a communion wafer of a dark spot that they are convinced is part of the heart of Jesus.

The communion wafer in question developed a brown spot in 2008 after falling on the floor during a Mass in the eastern Polish town of Sokolka. Two medical doctors determined that the spot was heart muscle tissue, church officials have said.

The local archbishop offers his endorsement, a brief history is offered and an explanation of Catholic doctrine is presented.

Bialystok Archbishop Edward Ozorowski said during the Mass that in history, the “substance of Christ’s body or blood has become available to the human senses, and this also happened in Sokolka.”

“For God, nothing is impossible,” Ozorowski said.

The dark-spotted wafer was carried aloft in a reliquary by a golden-robed priest in a procession and was put on display in the town’s church of St. Anthony as about 1,000 faithful looked on, according to a report and footage carried by the TV station TVN.

Catholics believe that the bread and wine that priests use during the sacrament of communion — or the Eucharist — are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

The wafer was dropped by a priest celebrating communion in 2008. In accordance with church practice, the priest placed the wafer in water to dissolve it. Several days later a nun found that the wafer had not dissolved completely, and found a red mark on it.

It winds toward a close by stating the miracle has not been confirmed by the Vatican, and ends with the wry twist of local skeptics asking the police to investigate.

… the Vatican is still examining the matter and has not yet officially decided whether to declare it a miracle, church spokesman Andrzej Debski said.

A group of rationalists complained about the matter in 2008, and called on authorities to investigate if a murder or other crime was involved if human flesh was indeed found on the wafer. Police say they have no evidence of any crime.

Now I like how this story has been framed. It is respectful to the Catholic principals while also giving skeptics the opportunity to scoff. However, a surface reading of the story presents a quibble: “local” should have been inserted before “church” in the second sentence, as we are not told until the end of the article that the Vatican has not yet ruled on this matter.

It the deeper issues of context and accuracy that troubles me. The statement about what Roman Catholics believe happens in the Eucharist is true as far it goes, but it is incomplete in explaining the theological importance of this story — the “so what” factor. Catholics believe that in the celebration of the Eucharist the the bread and wine are substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ by means of the consecratory Eucharistic Prayer. The accidents — the outward appearance of the bread and wine — remain the same. This change in substance is called transubstantiation.

What is claimed by the Catholic Church in Sokolka is a second, extraordinary Eucharistic miracle where the accidents have been changed also. In his Summa Theologica III, 76.8 ad 2, Thomas Aquinas explains this second miracle by stating:

… (W)hile the dimensions remain the same as before, there is a miraculous change wrought in the other accidents, such as shape, color, and the rest, so that flesh, or blood, or a child, is seen. And, as was said already, this is not deception, because it is done “to represent the truth,” namely, to show by this miraculous apparition that Christ’s body and blood are truly in this sacrament. And thus it is clear that as the dimensions remain, which are the foundation of the other accidents, as we shall see later on (77, 2), the body of Christ truly remains in this sacrament.

Eucharistic miracles have been recorded in the past. A 2005 story in Zenit (one of the best Roman Catholic news services) describes a conference that offered the results of an investigation into the 8th century miracle at the Church of St. Legontian in Lanciano, Italy.

A Basilian monk, who had doubts about the real presence of Christ in consecrated elements, was offering a Mass in the church. When he pronounced the words of the consecration, the host was miraculously changed into physical flesh and the wine into physical blood. The blood and flesh were preserved and these relics were examined by anatomists in 1971 who pronounced the flesh as being cardiac tissue, and the blood as human blood of type AB.

An informed reader would have been aware of the significance of the second extraordinary Eucharistic miracle repoted in Sokolka, and may have heard of the Lanciano miracle, a general reader is not likely to have been aware of this background.

Which leads me back to Sokolka. In recounting the archbishop’s remarks and summarizing the story, the AP has either made a mistake or the local church has shifted its position. In 2009 the Archdiocese of Bialystock released a report under the signature of its chancellor that was much more circumspect in its claims. A scientific investigation commissioned by Archbishop Ozorowski stated:

On 7 January 2009 the sample from the Host has been taken and examined independently by two professionals in pathomorphology of Medical University in Bialystok. They have issued a common statement as follows: “the sample sent to assess (…) in our opinion (prof. Maria Sobaniec-Lotowska and prof. Stanislaw Sulkowski) looks like the myocardial tissue, at least of all the tissues of living organisms it most resembles.”

The miraculous host “looks like” heart tissue is not the same thing as saying it “is” heart tissue.

The Bialystock metropolitan curial report states the files had been passed to Warsaw for review, but in the opinion of the local church:

The Case of Sokolka does not oppose to the faith of the Church, rather confirms it. Church believes that the words of consecration, by the power of the Holy Spirit, transform a bread into the Body of Christ and wine into His Blood. It also provides a call to ministers of the Holy Communion to distribute the Body of Christ with faith and attention and to faithful – to receive It with reverence.

In other words the report found that it could be true and belief that it is true is not contrary to the Catholic faith, but the Vatican must make the final decision. The AP story gives the impression that this is a new miracle (it isn’t), that the scientific evidence says it is true (no it does not), and that the Catholic Church has an official view of the miracle (it does not).

Am I asking too much? I do not expect a wire service story to offer Catholic catechesis nor to smack the story down as the ignorant vaporings of the Polish peasantry. Would the story have been improved by the addition of a few words of historical and theological context and a dash of nuance? Or is it impossible in this post-modernist age to be balanced? What say ye, GetReligion readers?

First printed at GetReligion.