Former Age religion editor Barney Zwartz has called anti-Catholicism “the new anti-Semitism”, describing it as “a rank prejudice acceptable in large swathes of society”.
Zwartz made the comment in a recent piece that he wrote for the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site, ‘Religion in the media: how has it changed, where is it going, why does it matter?’
The comment might come as a surprise to some Catholics after Zwartz’s own coverage of the Catholic Church, which at least on one occasion resulted in Age sister publication The Sydney Morning Herald having to apologise to Cardinal George Pell for smearing him.
(Ex-priest and frequent ABC commentator Paul Collins also apologised for comments he made in the 2013 piece, acknowledging “that my words as quoted were false and grossly unfair”, as did the Catholic news site, CathNews, for running the piece.)
In ‘Religion in the media’ Zwartz writes: “I was an outspoken critic of the Church hierarchy, especially over abuse and transparency, but I want to put on record that I think the ledger is vastly on the side of good.”
He said that the more general question as to why the news media was in general negative in focus came down to human nature.
“A mother cooking a nutritious meal day after day for her family is not news, obviously,” he wrote.
“But if she deliberately poisons them, then that is news. The old journalism school definition said ‘dog bites man’ is not news; ‘man bites dog’ is.
“In the religious realm, faithful priest ministering to his flock is not news; priest as paedophile predator is.”
He feared for the future of strident religion journalism, saying that during his career he could not realistically have pointed to the failings of religious institutions without the backing of the Fairfax-owned paper.
“Six times in my career writs were brought against me – nearly always, I believe, in an attempt to silence me.
“Without the powerful backing of the paper, that would have worked, because I can’t afford to take on an institution like the Catholic Church.
“But the paper always supported me, and never told me to back off.”
He said the decline of religion reporting and the dearth of religious literacy at Australia’s mainstream media outlets was a serious problem.
“Religion has an enormous influence on society and its institutions: think of schools, social welfare, universities and, above all, values.
“Most intelligent people can see that its global importance has, if anything, increased in recent decades.
“They see that it can be a tremendous force for good or ill. It is far too important to ignore.”