Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Prejudice Blocks Truth

On Friday the Mail & Guardian tweeted: “Archbishop of Durban Wilfred Napier: I don’t know any gays”. This tweet and the subsequent tweets from others related to this, highlighted the intense need that some people have to vilify the Church and its leaders.  It also highlighted the extent to which prejudices can cause people to misunderstand very simple statements like: “I don't know any homosexuals”.

The Cardinal’s statement, which was the first line in an article published by the Mail & Guardian, was used completely out of context. One can only guess at why this was done.  Maybe it was done to attract more readers to the newspaper? Maybe it was intended to vilify Cardinal Napier? Maybe Nic Dawes, the editor, needed to justify an upcoming income bonus?

The one liner was clearly used in an unethical manner, whatever the motivation was for using it. The editor, Nic Dawes, showed that he is prepared to sacrifice integrity for the sake of achieving his objectives. I wrote about this in: “Mail & Guardian: How to Use A Sound Bite Unethically”.

Without getting into the issue of the context in which Cardinal Napier said I don't know any homosexuals, I am fairly sure that we can all agree that Cardinal Napier is clearly not saying that he does not know of any homosexuals. He is also definitely not saying that he has never met any homosexuals.

Pierre de Vos, who previously attacked Cardinal Napier in his Blog, Constitutionally Speaking, is one of the few people on Twitter who I noticed had actually distinguished between Cardinal Napier saying he 'knew' and he 'knew of'.  The two terms, though very similar, clearly convey a very different meaning.

Pierre de Vos acknowledged this difference by tweeting an invite to coffee, clearly so that Cardinal Napier could get to 'know' some homosexuals.

Most people on Twitter seem to lack the discerning abilities of Pierre de Vos.

Some people on twitter claimed that since they had received the sacrament of Confirmation from Cardinal Napier and were homosexual, that Cardinal Napier is clearly wrong in saying he did not know any homosexuals.  (I wonder how many people have received the sacrament of Confirmation from Cardinal Napier in the approximately 32 years that he has been a bishop.  How many of these does he 'know' and how many does he 'know of'. I don’t think any reasonable person will expect that Cardinal Napier knows each and every one of them.)

There were other examples of people on Twitter that misunderstood what Cardinal Napier had said, possibly because it suited some or other agenda.

Max du Preez tweeted: “Cardinal Napier never met a gay person, Mbeki never met anyone with HIV/Aids…

It seems Max du Preez wanted to take this conversation in a particular direction and so why would he let something as simple as correctly understanding a man’s words, stop him from doing so.

Here is another example of the Cardinal’s “I don't know any homosexuals” becoming “I have never met any homosexuals”.

There is nothing whatsoever anywhere in the report in the Mail & Guardian, to suggest that Cardinal Napier ever said or meant to say that he had never met homosexuals before or that he did not know of any homosexuals.  Yet there are countless examples of people on Twitter who read exactly that into Cardinal Napier’s words and then proceeded to ridicule him for that. 

I have long stated that I believe the Church needs media savvy people to help the Church and its leaders to engage with the media. Having said that, if the media continues to operate in such unethical ways as the Mail & Guardian did in this instance, the presence of the best and most professional media savvy personnel will serve no useful purpose. 

Similarly if Catholics, particularly practicing Catholics, use these opportunities to jump on the bandwagon, vent and put the boot into the Church and its leaders, because of their prejudices, what good is it going to be to have media savvy personnel helping?

Add to that the fact that the editor of our only South African Catholic newspaper, Gunther Simmermacher, not only re-tweeted Max Du Preez’s tweet, but then also chose to join in and used that highly unethical one liner to ridicule Cardinal Napier.

Great example shown by our Catholic newspaper editor to the editors of secular media isn’t it?

Prejudice blocks any ability to see the truth. The message that the Church is sharing, through the media, via people like Cardinal Napier will continue to be blocked while we have people, many sadly Catholic, who allow their prejudices to interfere with the message being received as it is intended. 


  1. Whilst I have no time for the people who used this 'sound bite' to suit their own agendas, I have to wonder what Cardinal Napier was thinking when he made this statement. I'm definitely not clear, on a purely intellectual level, on what exactly it was the Cardinal was trying to say. It simply makes no sense to me, in any context. Religious, secular or otherwise.

    The simple truth is that our Church leaders are not media savvy. Does this mean that they should 'spin' the truths of our Faith? No. It simply means that they need to become more aware of the daily trends in the media and adapt themselves to the modes of expression in the media in order to convey the Truth in such a way that it will be interpreted correctly and unequivocally. This doesn't mean that there will be no negativity or criticism - that will always be there - but it would go some way to preventing a fiasco like this.

  2. Fiona, you are right. I believe the best approach is that our bishops should not do media interviews or Q & A sessions. Issue an official statement when a particular message needs to be given. Other than that stay away.

    As for what the Cardinal was trying to say. I believe that he was communicating that he does not look at people or think about people and identify them as anything other than people.

    He doesn't see or think of a person as homosexual. He doesn't see or think of a person as heterosexual. This is why being homophobic is so unlikely. He simply doesn't think of people in these ways.

    Problem is that many people today have huge difficulty understanding that someone may be able to go through life and not identify another person by a label, such as heterosexual, etc.

  3. "Dogs bark but the caravan marches on"
    I totally agree that our bishops should issue statements & not bandy words with the gutter press

  4. I see Gunther Simmermacher has seen the light and realised that having a twitter handle @Editor_Gunther is inappropriate. Editor is not really a title, like Cardinal or Sir, is it? He has humbly reverted to @GSimmermacher, which makes more sense. I am surprised he did not choose MrGSimmermacher.

    He has also now added to that twitter account a disclaimer that his tweets are now personal and not connected to his Employer. It's a bit late, but at least it's progress, especially after his embarrassing tweet in the role of editor of The Southern Cross, our only South African Catholic newspaper!