Anti-Catholic bias in the Guardian?

Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859) Book 3, Chapter 15.

(COMMENTARY) The tom-toms announcing the death of Chief Wahoo, the logo of the Cleveland Indians, may not immediately bring to mind the arts carrying aristocrats to their deaths in Revolutionary France, but for Dickens the creek of the tumbrils’ wheels hurrying to the guillotine sounded, as do the drums from Cleveland, the death of an old way of life.  The mob must be satisfied with their choice of victim. Be it a King or a smiling Indian warrior. Vox populi, vox dei. The voice of the people is the voice of God.

In principle I have no objection to the smashing of idols in a good ideological rant. But it is somewhat trying to see these rants presented as journalism. The newspaper of Britain’s chattering classes, the Guardian, never ceases taking a hammer to the Catholic Church. As an Anglican I don’t mind a good kick in the Vatican’s shins from time to time, but when fairness, balance and context are replaced by conventional wisdom and bigotry, even a good Protestant like me can feel aggrieved.

The story from the paper’s Ireland correspondent reports the Dáil, the Irish parliament will relax the nation’s blue laws, permitting the sale of alcohol on Good Friday this year. The lede of the article entitled “Ireland lifts Good Friday ban on pubs selling alcohol” states:

Pubs in Ireland are to be allowed serve alcohol on Good Friday for the first time in 90 years after a ban on alcohol sales on the religious holiday was lifted. In a further loosening of the grip of the Catholic church in the country, the intoxicating liquor bill 2017 was passed in the Dáil with all-party support and will now be enacted in time for Good Friday 2018, which falls on 30 March.

The second sentence sets the direction of the rest of the story -- that this is a blow to the power of the Catholic Church.

The article continues with a quote from a representative of the Licensed Vintners Association in Dublin noting this will help pubs meet tourist demand. The representative states:

“Easter is a big weekend with tourists flocking to Ireland, and a lot of them show up for the world-famous Irish pubs and are shocked to find they are not open. It has been a long wait for this.”

It is not at all clear why Ireland is now a holiday destination for presumably British tourists who seek a weekend binge over Easter. Is this merely good for the tourist trade? If so, how many tourists come that weekend compared to other weekends during the year? The article answers this question by offering this observation on the quaint religious customs of the locals.

Easter weekend is arguably the biggest religious feast in the Catholic calendar. Drinkers regularly ignored the booze ban and stocked up at off-licences on Holy Thursday.

A quote from a government minister follows which notes Ireland has seen “changing demographics and increasing diversity in our population," which has “led to a reduction in traditional religious practice."

The article closes with an observation from the author that:

The church and state were once so intertwined in Ireland that there were also bans on divorce and contraception, both now long gone. A ban on abortion has been more divisive, with a referendum on the issue expected before the summer.

And that is it. An article about Catholic resistance to relaxing a Good Friday drinks ban has no Catholic voices. An article about the benefit to the tourist trade has no facts or figures about tourism. An article about the changing demographics and nature of religious practice in Ireland has no facts or figures or commentary on religious observance.

What this piece does have is assumptions. It assumes what the stance of the Catholic Church might be. It assumes all right thinking people will agree with the author’s worldview. Just as one need not spell out how awful Adolf Hitler was, there is no need in polite company to enumerate the sins of the Irish Catholic Church.

By way of background, the Irish Mirror reports the alcohol ban was introduced in 1927 by the Dáil, forbidding the sale or serving of alcohol on Good Friday, Christmas and St Patrick’s Day. The Dáil dropped the St Patrick’s Day ban in 1960 in response to public demand and modified the Good Friday ban permitting the sale of alcohol at hotels, airports, trains or boats.

The Dáil also amended the Good Friday rule in 2010 to permit the saloon keepers of Limerick to sell alcohol on Good Friday that year because it coincided with a Munster v Leinster rugby game.

Does that bit of information change how one reads the article? Where one’s knowledge of the situation informed only by what one could glean from the Guardian, the assumption that a clash of religion and state was at work -- the fell hand of the church being pulled from the necks of the downtrodden masses.

But this isn’t true. It is a false narrative fed by omission of key facts and fueled by ignorance tinged with malice.

The author could have padded his story a bit, finding past statements from Catholic bishops opposing lifting the Good Friday alcohol ban, but that half step was not taken in this story.

Rather we have an example of agitprop, which fails the basic tests of sound journalism.