In the media war over the issue of same-sex “marriage,” the nation’s liberal newspapers have seen the Catholic church as a constant target of ridicule, especially so in their editorial cartoons. Church leaders and symbols have been portrayed as everything from minor annoyances in the face of “progress” to oppressive despots attacking the very foundations of freedom.

“The Vatican is seen as the most prominent institution of all opposing the liberal social agenda,” said Steve Jalsevac, director of Lifesite News. “The purpose of a lot of these editorial cartoons is to divert people from actually considering the issues.”

One such cartoon, printed in the Vancouver Province, depicted a Catholic priest denouncing same-sex “marriage” while patting an altar boy’s behind.

“It’s not a good logical argument to condemn the church because a handful of Catholic clergy and others have violated church teaching so heinously,” said Sean Murphy, director of the Catholic Civil Rights League for Western Canada. “People’s first response is to compare the teaching and the ideals which are put forward by the church with the conduct of a few individuals, and they question the validity of the ideals because of that conduct.”

Murphy also expressed concern over the “demoralizing” effect the portrayals of Catholicism in editorial cartoons can have on the religious in their everyday lives.

“Once the cartoon is out there, it becomes very difficult to undo the kind of harm that it does,” he said. “Being confronted with these issues, people feel as though they’d like to respond in some way, but may not be very articulate in expressing their support. Some are not sufficiently familiar with the arguments they can use, so they come away feeling like they’re babbling. Other people may attempt to respond and end up getting into an argument. In the workplace or in social situations, this can cause significant problems for them.”

Both Murphy and Jalsevac agree that people should maintain a thoughtful, balanced approach when responding to the issues. While Jalsevac states that anger is “never productive” when one is defending one’s beliefs, Murphy points out that although some of the editorial cartoons that have appeared may be offensive, none that he has seen would fall into the legal definition of “hate.”

“I’ve seen material that is certainly derogatory. I’ve seen material that’s sarcastic. I’ve seen material that you could say in some cases is certainly hateful, but none so far that would fall within the definition of a hate crime,” said Murphy. “I would be reluctant to consider making that kind of complaint, because the hate crimes law cuts both ways. The tendency is to try and turn such a complaint against people who, for example, are protesting homosexual conduct in relationships.”

Jalsevac suggests that a more effective protest would be to simply stop buying certain newspapers.

“It’s not easy to do, especially if there’s only one paper around that carries local news and sports and finance and so on,” he said. “Another very effective tool is to write to major advertisers in certain publications. Again, not easy to do because in a newspaper there are so many. Thoughtful letters to the editor can also be effective. Thoughtful, but not angry.”

Still, when dealing with the media, even a well-balanced argument can be misconstrued. “I responded to the editorial cartoon in the Province in a letter to the editor,” said Murphy. “The letter was published in part, but the strongest part of the letter that really highlighted the bias involved in the cartoon was edited out. They left out the whole section concerning the details of (director of Pink Triangle Press) Gerald Hannon’s articles. The effect of it was to make my comment seem like a smear or a slam rather than a statement that was well supported by the other material in the letter.”

Although he sees more ridicule of Catholicism – and indeed of any people who hold traditional beliefs – as being inevitable in the coming months, Jalsevac sees these attacks as having some positive effect. “One of the good things that has been happening recently is a certain number of religious leaders seem to have woken up a little bit,” he said. “They’re responding more strenuously to current developments than they have in the past. When religious leaders do that, the credibility and attractiveness of the churches increases dramatically, because the religious leaders are finally acting like leaders.”