The Truth May Or May Not Set You Free

Scroll down to read the previous post; it sets this one up.

Increasingly in some circles you see the nastiest and most snide accusations and remarks defended on the ground that these are nothing more than a kind of tough love aimed at purifying the Church. "The truth will set you free," is the claim.
1) First of all, as a friend in Catholic publishing pointed out to me in a little email round-robin we've been having, it's worth noting that when Jesus said "the truth will set you free," he was not talking about journalism! Let's review the passage from John 8, beginning at v. 31:
"So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered Him, 'We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, "You will become free"?' Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
In other words, Jesus is talking about himself. My friend said it quite well: "He doesn’t say, 'Information will set you free.' Still less does he say, 'Fearlessly repeating speculation and rumor as you sort out what might be true in it will set you free.' He isn’t issuing a commentary on free inquiry and society’s liberation. What he’s saying is that if you follow him, then you’ll know the truth, and that will set you free."
“I am the way the truth and the life.” “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” Got that? Jesus is the Truth that liberates.
2) Of course the press should be free. Journalists have a right to follow stories --even unpleasant ones--where they lead and to say and print uncomfortable things. But it is preposterous to think that true information liberates all by itself. At best, it can be an important servant of liberation, but a Catholic journalist must recognize a concommitant power to harm. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:1, "knowledge makes us arrogant but it is charity that edifies.”
JPG --who championed Catholic involvement in all forms of media, was nonetheless realistic about the limits of the information age. He argued that information saturation --far from liberating people-- had in some respects inhibited that liberation (see here). This is obvious when I'm occasionally listening to Laura Ingraham and the local station breaks in with its teaser for the news-on-the-half-hour: "A 7-year-old has died." (No lie, they actually led w/ that once, and their teasers are all like that.) We're all agreed, I think, that the "it bleeds, it leads" approach to information isn't ultimately very useful to us --even at the level of civic life.
Catholic journalism has its own "it bleeds, it leads" tendencies, even if the blood isn't literal in our case. In an interesting debate about Traditionalism in the current issue of Latin Mass, Joan Zola makes the point that this isn't exactly helpful quite well, albeit in a slightly different context. She writes:
Let us be realistic: a man who works all day supporting and caring for his family has only so much time left, and his spiritual development must be his main concern. The prayer and study this requires leaves him little time for controversy. His limited reading time is precious, and if he spends it on articles in some. . .publications, some sneeringly sarcastic in tone, they may keep him in a state of tension disquiet, and frustration. . . .a state that works against spiritual progress."
3) As long as we're discussing the limits of information, let's not forget that where theological and canonical concerns come up, a little humility is in order. In the letters pages of magazines and the comments pages of blogs, there are a lot of people for darned "sure" about matters in which they have no expertise. They may decry the Currans & Kungs of this world for preferring their own judgments to those of the Scripture and Magisterium, but how do these same people decide whether this or that spirituality is "legitimate" or whether this or that spiritual practice is "healthy" or "cult-like"? As Joan Zola writes, by "increasing reliance on one's own judgment in everything --what one wants to believe. (This is the death of open-mindedness, by the way, but let me not let an over-long post run on even more).
4) Let's not forget the Catechism gives us standards (scroll down in this link to read 'em) --drawn from the 10 Commandments and Christ's admonition that our yes mean yes and no mean no -- for whether the things we say or write are in fact true. My gossipy interlocutor made no claim that what he said was true. He said it was relevant, and "out there." Which amounts to Adam's, "she did it first" defense as far as I'm concerned.
5) What, then, of the claim that "the truth" must be pursued in order to purify the Church? As said above, of course journalists can and may pursue uncomfortable story lines. However, the obligation is, when you hear an outrageous rumor, to investigate the truth of it --not to simply repeat scandalous rumors and leave possibly innocent people and institutions to try to prove negatives to get their reputations back. Many stories turn out not to cut ice, and they should be passed over without comment rather than legitimized through repetition or publication. Stories that pan out should be reported dispassionately --but without sexy embellishments. It certainly isn't a Christian's place to repeat damaging comments simply because we privately think they have the ring of truth to them. You don't steal a person's life away based on "the ring of truth"!
But don't take my word for it, read Inter Mirifica to see what the Church says.
Late for an appointment, so apologize for typos, but you get my drift.