This past week, the discussion boards of CathNews seemed to have settled down into a post-Canonisation lull.
I say seem to have, because deprived of a daily diet of St Mary (twice a day in the case of the special CathNews editions for our subscribers), and her perceived connections to child abuse at Kapunda (for the final time – she was not there, her sisters were; she did not report the abuse to Bishop Sheil, her Sisters told Fr Tenison Woods, and he reported the allegations to the Bishop), a minor snit erupted over one topic in particular.
You would have thought that the reception of an infant into the Church via the sacrament of baptism would have been a cause for joy. But on Wednesday, an item on the newsletter and on the website raised the hackles of even the most usually rational and balanced readers. You can imagine the effect on those of us who are a little off the wall from time to time.
The story – which ran third on the newsletter – was headed “Newest Murdoch scion baptised” and drew from a piece Andrew Hornery had written for The Sydney Morning Herald about the service for the infant Aerin Elisabeth. This beautiful little child was photographed in the arms of her mother, Sarah, on the front steps of St Mary Magdalene’s in Rose Bay.
The shot said everything to me – a gorgeous afternoon, a baby baptised, a radiant mother presenting her third child to become a member of the Body of Christ.
It is a wonderful, if usually unremarkable, thing, baptism. Happens every Sunday in churches around the world. And sometimes – as in this instance – on other days. (One reader cracked up about that, wrote it should have happened on a Sunday. Here’s a thought – maybe it was the only day that suited all the parties?)
However, it was made newsworthy by the surname of the child – Murdoch. And also by the guest list – media mogul grandpa Rupert arrived for the ceremony, his former wife Anna was there. So were his eldest daughter Prudence, and their children Elisabeth and James.
In the pews, too, were James Packer and his wife, Erica, and some of the Murdochs' close friends, among them designer Collette Dinnigan, television presenter Karl Stefanovic, NRL chief, David Gallop, and Foxtel head, Brian Walsh.
There was mention in the story that Wendy Deng, the third Mrs Murdoch, was not among the family group; and that Rupert’s youngest children, nine year old Grace and seven year old Chloe, also seemed to be absent. Andrew H went on to refer to their own baptism earlier this year – in the Jordan, at the spot where John is supposed to have baptised Jesus; Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman as godparents; Queen Rania of Jordan on that guest list. One commenter to the board, casting an early stone, sniped about the number of divorces among the congregations.
Subscriber and CathNews blogger David Timbs was particularly concerned. His first submission deleted (too nit picky, I thought), he had another go:
Attempt #2: This is not a news story about a child's Baptism into the Catholic Community. It is a gossip piece dressed up as news: Socialites, celebrities, fashion, real estate. When referring to Rupert's daughters being baptised in the toxic Jordan, I'm astounded that the 'gusher' from the SMH didn't provide the reader with fashion news about the Baptism. I can see it now: John the Baptist (known affectionately to his friends as 'Jack the Dipper'), dressed in an immaculately tailored camel hair garment by Mordechai of 'Negev Creations' presided as civil celebrant at this important rite of passage for local lad Yeshu (promising future!) - loincloth by Jocks de Jericho. The delightful Dove, which amazed everyone, featured courtesy of God! The apres were celebrated in the cozy atmosphere of Herod's.
But he wasn’t finished with us: “Is this really worthy of prominent Catholic ‘news’?”
Tony Robertson in Brisbane was also exercised by the Murdoch baptism – or rather, its inclusion in CathNews: ‘Can we please have a separate site for the “celebrity Catholic” news feeds. Perhaps there should be a competition for the name of the site: No Idea Mick Spotting (apols for the lack of inclusive language, but Michelle spotting just doesn't work.) Any other suggestions??’
Here is my view, and it is one shared by the editors of CathNews. News cannot always be stern, and serious, and good for you. It would be impossible to deal with – from the point of view of the readers, and that of the editors as well. There must be texture. And that means that sometimes, it has to be lighter, less serious.
That is part of what these sorts of stories are doing on CathNews. They provide a relief, sometimes, a brightness. But underneath that, here is a simpler message about Christianity in action. It might have been easier for the Murdochs not to have their baby baptised in the church in Rose Bay at all.
But they did make a public declaration on her behalf when they did. And in doing so, they demonstrated the very fundamental moment of a Christian’s life in faith. It doesn’t matter who you are – the road to salvation through Christ begins at the font. And that is where that gorgeous little Murdoch kid has started. Welcome, Aerin, is what we should all be saying to her, not carrying on snobbishly about the story.
Christine Hogan is the Communications Manager for Church Resources, and moderates the sometime immoderate discussion boards of CathNews.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.