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Liberal orthography

We did not capitalize religious titles in an article on possible successors to Baltimore’s Cardinal William H. Keeler, and one reader is irked by our disrespect for the clergy:

In your article on the Cardinal, I noticed you did not capitalize Cardinal and Pope in several sentences. It would be nice to be a little more respectful. But then again, this is the Sunpaper. They seem to have reverence for the very liberal issues they report about each day.

The tendency in American English through the 20th century into the present has been to reduce capitalization. The Sun follows Associated Press style in refraining for capitalizing titles unless they immediately precede a name. Pope Benedict XVI is the pope on subsequent reference, Cardinal William H. Keeler is the cardinal, President Bush is the president, Queen Elizabeth II is the queen, Gen. David Petraeus is the general, and so on.

The Wall Street Journal, not commonly understood to be a Leninist bastion, matches AP style on pope and cardinal in its stylebook. So does the stylebook of the Religion Newswriters Association. So, for that matter, does the Catholic News Service. No disrespect is intended.

There is an odd kind of backhanded compliment implicit in the reader’s complaint: an assumption that a news operation of more than 300 journalists can achieve a carefully thought-out ideological program on all subjects, down to spelling and punctuation. But I see what gets written and, sometimes groaning, what gets published, and I know that that is just not so.   

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