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Australian bishop to the forces arrested on abuse charges: The Church of England Newspaper, July 4, 2014 July 22, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Roman Catholic Bishop to the Forces in Australia has been arrested for child abuse. The Rt. Rev. Max Davis, bishop of the diocese for the armed forces, is accused of abusing a student at St Benedict’s College near Perth in 1969. The Catholic Military Ordinariate of Australia said in a statement: “An allegation has been made to the police that in 1969 Bishop Max Davis abused a student at St. Benedict’s College in New Norcia,” adding that “at that time ― 45 years ago ― the bishop was not ordained. The bishop emphatically denies the allegation and the charge will be defended.” The Australian Defence Force: “Bishop Davis has stood aside from his office as Catholic bishop of the ADF and Catholic member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services.”

Interview: Issues, Etc., April 7, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Here is a link to an interview I gave to Lutheran Public Radio’s Issues, Etc., program on 7 April 2014.

3. Media Coverage of the Crisis in the Ukraine & Gay Bishops in the Church of England – George Conger, 4/7/14

George Conger of GetReligion.org

GetReligion

Is Mehmet Ali Agca crazy or just a bad Catholic?: Get Religion, April 27, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The upcoming canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II have generated some very good press for the Roman Catholic Church. While a fewarticles have sought to punch holes in the reputations of the soon to be saints — a frequent criticism I have seen is that John Paul was negligent in disciplining the serial abuser Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ — most converge has been positive.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel published an in depth piece on the miracles associated with John Paul, that treated the issue with sympathy and empathy. It is too early to tell how outfits normally hostile to the papacy such as the BBC or the European leftist press will present this story. However, interest in the canonization outside of religious circles appears to be very high.

On Friday Vatican Radio reported that 93 nations will send official delegations to the April 27 canonization service, while two dozen heads of state and as many as 150 cardinals and 1,000 bishops will be present at the Mass.

One oddball item that caught me eye amongst the flurry of articles was an interview conducted by the Italian wire service ANSA with John Paul’s would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca. Here the lede of the story that ran with the headline: “Foiled killer said sinful to ‘deify’ John Paul”:

Pope John Paul II is not a saint, because only God can be considered holy and attempts to “deify a human being” are sinful, Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate the pope in 1981, said Thursday in an interview with ANSA.

The article offers some background information on Agca, who in 1981 shot and nearly killed John Paul — a crime for which he served 20 years in an Italian prison, before being deported to Turkey, where he served a further ten years imprisonment for a 1979 murder. The article further notes Agca:

 has claimed at various times that his attempted murder of the pontiff was ordered by Ayatollah Rhollah Khomeini of Iran and the Soviet-era Bulgarian Secret Police.

The piece then offers an insight into the assassin’s mind, giving him space to speak.

Agca, who was released from jail in 2010, said that he “definitely wanted to kill” John Paul II so it’s a “miracle” the pontiff survived the St. Peter’s Square attack, which shocked the world. “I have seen with indisputable evidence that on May 13, 1981, God performed a miracle in St. Peter’s Square,” …

The Turkish national added that he feels no remorse because his act was part of a “divine plan”. “There’s an immeasurable difference between a divine miracle such as my assassination attempt and a psychopathic, unjustifiable crime,” said Ali Agca. “I’m extremely happy to have been at the center of a divine plan that’s cost me 30 hellish years in solitary confinement”.

Which leads me to ask, which God? Whose divine plan? Is Agca a Muslim, Christian or something else? Is he crazy?

Upon his release from prison in Turkey in 2010 Agca claimed he was “the Christ eternal” and the Messiah. Ten years in a Turkish prison are likely to addle most people’s brains and long-distance psychiatry is a risky business.

But as a point of journalism, when the subject of an interview begins to talk about god, divine plans and the like, should not the newspaper clarify the religious tradition or belief system being offered? ANSA offers background on Agca’s past and his prison history, but in a story that focuses on religion it is silent as to the subject’s own beliefs and chosen faith.

Or, is “30 hellish years in solitary confinement” excuse enough not to press too hard upon the mind of Mehmet Ali Agca?

IMAGE: The famous encounter in which Pope John Paul II offered forgiveness to his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.

Assad’s Easter and mysterious attacks on Syrian Christians: GetReligion, April 24, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Antiochian Orthodox, Get Religion, Greek Orthodox, Islam, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Why are Syrian Christians being targeted by Islamist rebels?

The Western press cannot agree on a reason, a review of recent reports from Syria reveals.

Can we credit the explanation given by the Wall Street Journal — that the rebels do not trust Christians — as a sufficient explanation? And if so, what does that mean? Are the reports of murders, kidnappings, rapes and overt persecution of Christians in Syria by Islamist rebels motivated by religion, politics, ethnicity, nationalism or is it a lack of trust?

Is the narrative put forward byITAR-TASS, the Russian wire service and successor to the Soviet TASS News Agency — that the rebels are fanatics bent on turning Syria into a Sunni Muslim state governed by Sharia law — the truth?

On this past Monday, The Wall Street Journal ran a story on its front page under this headline:

Christians of Homs Grieve as Battle for City Intensifies

That story examined the plight of Syria’s Christians. The Journal entered into the report by looking at the death of Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, who had been murdered by members of an Islamist militia in the town of Homs.

The well-written article offers extensive quotes from a second Syrian Roman Catholic priest on this tragedy and notes the late priest’s attempt to bridge the divide between Christians and Muslims. In the 10th paragraph, the story opens up into a wider discussion of the plight of Syria’s Christians and recounts Assad’s Easter visit to a monastery — whether Catholic or some variety of Orthodox, that detail is left out.

While the fighting raged in Homs, President Bashar al-Assad showed up unexpectedly on Sunday in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, about 30 miles northeast of the capital Damascus. The town was overrun by Islamist rebels in September and reclaimed by the Syrian army a week ago.

State media released video footage of Mr. Assad surveying smashed icons at the town’s damaged monasteries and quoted him as saying that “no amount of terror can ever erase our history and civilization.”

The fight over Maaloula, like the killing of Father Frans, both reflect the quandary of Syria’s Christians. Many feel an affinity for Mr. Assad. His Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, dominates the regime while the majority of Syrians—and opposition supporters—are Sunni Muslims.

Most Christians have become all the more convinced that only the regime can protect them after some rebels came under the sway of Islamic extremists who have attacked and pillaged their communities and churches and targeted priests and nuns.

Some Christians still seek to build bridges with both sides of the civil war, as Father Frans did. But in a landscape where religious and sectarian affiliations often define and shape the struggle, they find themselves under fire from both sides.

Many rebels say they don’t fully trust Christians, while regime supporters see those who reach out to the opposition as naive or traitors. Father Frans found himself in that position, say some close to him

What are we to make of these assertions — “some rebels” are Islamists, or that “many rebels say they don’t fully trust Christians?” Is that a fair, suffient or accurate statement of affairs?

A look at the Financial Times report on President al-Assad’s visit to Maaloula on Easter Sunday makes the argument that the Assad regime is playing up the Islamist angle for his political benefit. But it assumes the persecution is real.

President Bashar al-Assad made an Easter visit on Sunday to a historic Christian town recaptured by the army, in a rare appearance outside the capital that shows his growing confidence in state control around Damascus.

The visit also aims to portray him as the protector of Syrian minorities against a rebel movement led by Islamist forces.

The wire service stories also connect Christian fear of the rebels with support for Assad. AFP’s account closes with the explanation:

Syria’s large Christian minority has sought neutrality throughout the three-year war, and has viewed the Sunni-led rebels with growing concern as jihadists have flocked to their ranks.

The Los Angeles Times opens its story on the Maaloula visit noting that both Assad and the rebel leadership are courting Syria’s Christians.

But Assad appears to be winning.

DAMASCUS, Syria — President Bashar  Assad made a symbolic Easter visit Sunday to the heavily damaged town of Maaloula, a Christian landmark  enclave recaptured from Islamist rebels last week by government forces. The president’s visit, broadcast on state television, underscored his efforts  to portray himself as a defender of Christians and other minorities as he  prepares for an expected reelection bid in the midst of a devastating war now in  its fourth year.

Maaloula and several of its historic churches sustained significant damage  during heavy fighting and bombardment. Church leaders say priceless icons were  looted or destroyed during the rebel occupation of Maaloula, famous for its  preservation of Aramaic, a version of the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

“No one, no matter the extent of their terrorism, is able to erase our human  and cultural history,” Assad declared in Maaloula while in the company of senior  Christian clerics. “Maaloula will remain steadfast … in the face of the  barbarity and darkness of all who target the homeland.”

Opposition groups seeking Assad’s ouster generally dismissed the trip as a  stunt or faked. The exile-based Syrian National Coalition sent Easter greetings  to Syria’s Christians “at a time when Assad destroyed the country because of a  people who are demanding freedom.”

Comparing the reporting by Peter Oborne of the Daily Telegraph on the plight of Syria’s Christians to the the Wall Street Journal reveals the shallowness of the WSJ’spiece. Reporting on his visit to Maaloula shortly after it was recapture by government forces, Oborne writes:

Below, the village itself appeared practically deserted; most of its 5,000-strong, mainly Christian, population have fled since it first came under rebel attack, on Sept 4 last year.

According to Samir, a soldier who said he had been born in Maaloula, and joined up to defend his village, the ancient religious centre “will not change hands again because most of the young men in the village have joined the military”.

His friend, Imad, said there had been 32 churches in Maaloula and claimed that “all of them have been destroyed” – although it was clear from the vantage point near the monastery that in fact churches were still standing, albeit with signs of damage and some burning.

Anger among regime supporters at what they claim are the excesses of the rebels – who include radical Islamist insurgent groups – was palpable. “I can’t describe my feelings because the terrorists are destroying the Christian religion,” said Imad, who said he had been an electrician in Maaloula before he joined the military and the rest of his family moved to Damsacus two years ago. Samir claimed that the rebels had behaved brutally to young men of the town when they first arrived, killing many.

However, there have been no documented massacres of Christian inhabitants under the rebels’ rule of Maaloula and a group of nuns who were released last month after being kidnapped by the Islamist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, said they had been treated well.

Oborne’s article allows both sides to speak, while offering facts that put the claims in context. The complexity of the war in Syria is better served by the balanced but nuanced approach taken by the Daily Telegraph, I believe, than the shy style adopted by the WSJ. While I have no firsthand knowledge of the events unfolding in Syria, Oborne’s story just feels right — it is a first-class example of the craft of reporting.

Where does the truth lay in all of this? The WSJ piece doesn’t feel right to me. I am not saying it is incorrect, but it is incomplete.

As a stand-alone piece on the murder of Father van der Lugt, the WSJ article is great. It seems to get into trouble, however, when it moves into a wider discussion of the causes and political-religious currents of Syria’s civil war. Frankly, I am not convinced it is telling the full story. It leaves me wonder why the WSJ is being shy in examining the persecution of Christians by Muslims?

Francis links abortion with abuse, yet press doesn’t follow: GetReligion, April 16, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Italian press has placed an interesting interpretation on Pope Francis’ Friday comments on the clergy abuse. It reports that in the pope’s mind clergy abuse of children is tied to the “abomination” of abortion. Look for this theme in the Anglo-American press and tell me if you can find it? I can’t.

Francis’ comments to the International Catholic Child Bureau meeting at the Vatican on April 11 received wide spread coverage. CNN reported:

Pope Francis made his strongest condemnation yet of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy on Friday, asking for forgiveness and pledging to impose penalties on “men of the church” who harm children.

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests — quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests — to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the Pope said in remarks quoted by Vatican Radio.

As an aside, I chose CNN’s story over the others because of its aesthetic and journalist quality. It is really quite good. To my mind Daniel Burke is one of the most highly skilled writers covering religion and this article shows why he deserves that accolade. The language is tight, conveying the story in a minimum of words.  The story is told well with very little fluff or filler. The article is balanced — offering comments from abuse activists while also allowing Francis to speak. The author’s views on the issue can be discerned by the layout of the story — paragraph placement is one of the key elements in constructing an article — yet there is no preaching or bombast in a topic (clergy abuse of children) that is often spoilt by opinion masking as news. A great job all round.

Yet, Burke is back in America and must rely on material provided by others when reporting on Rome. Has he been given the full story by his stringers in Rome?

For on the same day as the pope spoke to the International Catholic Child Bureau, he addressed a pro-life group. For the Italian press, the messages Francis offered on the clergy abuse scandal and abortion were intertwined. The lede to the story ”Pedofilia, il Papa chiede perdono per gli abusi commessi dai sacerdoti” in the Milan-based Corriere della Sera makes this clear. (N.b. with a circulation of over 350,000 Corriere della Sera is one of Italy’s largest and most influential newspapers. It’s main competitors are the Rome’s la Repubblica and Turin’s La Stampa.) It states:

Pope Francis has asked “forgiveness” for the child abuse perpetrated by men of the Church. In unambiguous tones, Francis said: “I am called to this burden” to “ask for forgiveness”, and to assure you that we will not take any “step back” in addressing this problem and seeing that “penalties will be imposed.” Children should be protected and have a family, the pontiff said. “They have a right to grow up with a father and mother.” And before that children must be protected in the womb, he added, because “the unborn child is the innocent par excellence.” Drawing upon the words of the Second Vatican Council Francis added “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”

The Corriere della Sera article gives a fuller picture of Francis’ views on the clergy abuse scandal than the CNN piece by stressing Francis’ argument that both are crimes against children and against God.

 

It could be argued that a pope condemning abortion is not news. However, Francis was the center of a media frenzy last year when in an interview the the Jesuit publicationAmerica, he said:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.” …“The teaching of the church … is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

This was interpreted by some media outlets as evidence that Francis would change, perhaps not the substance, but certainly the tone of church teachings. The New York Times lede to its September 19 story on the interview followed this line:

Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics.

Why the silence from the Anglo-American press on the pope’s latest abortion comments? GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly has addressed the dichotomy between the coverage and reality of Francis’ views on abortion in other posts. Is there something in the mindset of American reporters that prevents them from making the link between abuse and abortion that the Corriere della Sera has made?

Vatican Radio and the Holy See Press Office / Vatican Information Service released reports on the addresses made by the pope, but these came out in separate stories. If all you had to work with were the press releases, connecting the dots may not have been obvious to US based reporters.

The “why” should also be examined in the context of “should”. Should CNN and other news outlets linked the abortion and abuse stories? Is this an editorial step too far byCorriere della Sera? Or have they offered the insight and context expected of quality newspapers?

My imperfect knowledge of the situation does not allow me to say CNN or the Corriere della Sera had it right. My instincts though tell me the Italian report gives a broader, and ultimately better, picture of what is actually happening in Rome.

No peace in our time for the Ukraine: GetReligion, April 3, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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One hundred years from now, when the history of these past few months in the Ukraine have been told and retold, what will be the key points scholars will discuss in their analysis of events? Will it be John Kerry’s or David Cameron’s or Angela Merkel’s diplomatic initiatives?

I think not. Who today remembers the names or the diplomatic moves of the French or British Foreign Ministers during the Sudeten crisis? (George Bonnett and Lord Halifax). We remember Neville Chamberlain, but not for the reasons he may have desired. While the Angl0-American newspaper fraternity focuses on the Western political angle of the Ukraine crisis, there are deeper — more profound — forces at work that have been all but ignored.

Scholars and students will likely note the peripheral noises made by the great and good of America and Western Europe, but I suspect their work will focus on the age old clash between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East. The crisis in the Ukraine is really about the interplay of religion, nationalism and politics. (Bet that came as a shock that GetReligion would bemoan the absence of religion in the news reports out of Moscow and Kiev.)

We are not alone, however, in calling attention to this so far neglected aspect of the dispute. Writing in the Washington Post last month, Henry Kissinger stated:

The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then.

Dr. K noted:

The Ukrainians are the decisive element.They live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939 , when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian , became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or break up.

We can see the clash of Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy in statements made by leaders of the two churches. Statements that have so far gone unreported in the Western secular media and have only had an airing west of the Vistula in religious newspapers.

On March 26 the Catholic news service, Asia.Net reported:

The Moscow Patriarchate strongly condemned the Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Church in Ukraine for “meddling” in politics, in the current crisis in the country. For its part, Russia continues to accuse the Ukraine of “religious intolerance,” a charge the latter sharply rejects, noting instead how all religious denominations have come together to oppose violence and express support for Europe.

It cited a broadcast made by Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian Orthodox Department for External Church Relations, on March 22 aired on the Moscow-based television network Russia 24.

According to the transcript of the interview printed on the website of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion went for the jugular, attacking the Greek Catholics as a fifth column for Western interests in the Ukraine. He condemned the leader of the uniates, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk and his predecessor Lubomyr Husar for taking a:

 … very clear position from the beginning of what was a civil conflict, which grew, unfortunately, into an armed bloody conflict. They fought not just for so-called European integration, but even called for the Western countries to more actively intervene in the situation in Ukraine. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk with Filaret (head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate) even went to the United States, to the State Department and asked for U.S. intervention in the Ukrainian case.

Hilarion went on to condemn the Greek Catholics for backing the protesters that brought down the pro-Moscow Ukrainian government. This politicking was not the mark of a true church. Orthodoxy, in contrast:

… does not get on one side of the barricades. It unites all, and when necessary, steps between the warring parties, as did the monks who came out and stood up, risking their lives, their health, to prevent bloodshed between two warring parties.

The Greek Catholics have not taken the Russian Orthodox attacks lightly. In a March 28 interview with the Kiev newspaper The Day, (translated into English by Catholic World Report) Archbishop Shevchuk hits back at Moscow, calling them tools of the Russian state.

The silence of the Moscow patriarchate is “the sign of a definite weakness,” the Ukrainian prelate says. “For whenever the Church finds herself unusually close to a specific governmental institution, whenever harmonious state-church relations turn into a sort of domination of one by the other, then, obviously, the Church becomes incapable of speaking the truth in all its fullness in specific historical circumstances. And therefore I think that this is exactly what we are seeing now.”

In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church is preaching “God save the Tsar” and the tsar is Vladimir Putin.

Reading the statements from the Russian Orthodox Church published in the Moscow newspapers and the statements of the Catholic leaders published in Kiev quite clearly demonstrates the religious dimensions of this dispute. Putin’s Moscow is the inheritor of the civilizing mission of Holy Mother Russia while the Catholic Church is the bulwark standing fast in the face of the Asiatic hordes.

One expects, of course, to see media bias in the Russian and Ukrainian newspapers. Bias is to be expected from newspapers that see this conflict as a battle of civilizations.

To my mind the real issue here is the silence of the Western press. They just don’t seem to get it.

AP sees the Catholic abuse scandal everywhere: GetReligion, March 15, 2014 April 24, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The news of the election of Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan as president of the Polish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has me scratching my head and asking myself “What were they thinking?”

I have nothing against Archbishop Gadecki. In fact I know little about the man. And after reading the story from the Associated Press you dear reader will know even less. The rolling of eyes and gnashing of teeth (it didn’t reach the rending of garments level of distress) I experienced came not with the archbishop but the AP.

I have seldom seen such a poor job of reporting as found in the AP story whose headline in the Buffalo News read: “Poland’s Catholic bishops pick new leader Gadecki”.

While there are no major errors of fact in this story — the man’s name was spelled correctly, he is a Catholic archbishop, and was elected to lead the Polish Episcopal Conference — you might be excused in thinking this was another story about the clergy abuse scandal.

The opportunities to make mistakes in a four paragraph story are limited. Yet in a story ostensibly about the election of Archbishop Gadecki to lead the Polish church, his name is not mentioned until the third of four paragraphs, while we get pedophilia in the opening and the close.

Here is the lede:

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s Roman Catholic bishops have elected a new leader to succeed Archbishop Jozef Michalik, who angered many with 2013 comments that suggested victims of pedophilia were partly to blame.

The news of the election of a new archbishop is contained in clause one, but the real story is the departure of Archbishop Michalik from office. The AP is using its editorial voice to set the tone for the story. And what we are told is the archbishop was an insensitive lout who said stupid things about the clergy abuse scandal.

The AP doubles down in the second paragraph …

Wednesday’s vote was unconnected to the controversy over Michalik, who had served 10 years — the maximum permitted — as leader of the Polish Episcopal Conference. He remains archbishop in the southeast Polish diocese of Przemysl.

… where the “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” theme is strengthened. In paragraph three we read:

Catholic commentators welcomed the election of Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, a conservative but conciliatory figure based in the western city of Poznan. Gadecki previously was deputy leader of the bishops conference.

But this amount of space devoted to Gadecki seems a bit too much for the AP as we are back to Michalik in the close.

In October, Michalik told reporters that children of divorced parents were more likely to suffer sexual abuse because they may seek “closeness with others” and encourage sexual contact. Michalik denied he meant this.

Tell me again, what was this story about? Was it a report on the election of a new leader for Poland’s Catholics? The title and the opening clause of the first sentence might suggest this to be true. Or was this article about the departure of Michalik, tainted by the ordure of the abuse scandal?

One can see the questionable news judgment the AP displayed when you compare this piece to the article on Radio Poland‘s English-language service webpage. It’s lede stated:

Archbishop of Poznan Stanislaw Gadecki was elected to the post on Wednesday afternoon, after predecessor Archbishop Jozef Michalik completed the second of a maximum two terms. “I am shaken in the face of this responsibility, which moves me from a diocesan level to a nationwide one,” Archbishop Gadecki told reporters following the election.

“The situation of the Catholic Church in Poland today is very delicate, but I will not lose courage,” he said.

This story discussed the Catholic Church’s troubles in Poland, but also lets us know a bit about Gadecki.

Commentators in the Polish press emphasized in the lead-up to the election that Archbishop Gadecki belonged neither to the circle of the conservative private station Radio Maryja, nor to the liberal faction within the Church.

And if you turn to the Polish press you can read the real story of the significance of Gadecki’s election. According to journalist Dominika Wielowieyska writing in the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza Gadecki is the right man for the Catholic Church as he will pull the bishops back from politics.

I am particularly pleased that Gadecki criticized the bishops for becoming active in political parties – especially in the PiS. (Conservative opposition party) That is already a step forward. The departing chairman Jósef Michalik once voiced the strange opinion that he didn’t see such meddling as a problem. The new chairman, by contrast, also no longer backs Radio Maryja, which makes no bones about its support for the PiS.

There is a story in the Gadecki election that I believe Western readers would find of interest in light of the American Catholic bishops recent forays into the political arena. But the AP is the news service that time forgot. They write as if a Catholic story must include references to the abuse scandal, no matter if the space given to this issue crowds out the story being covered.

This is what is called hack work. Somebody was paid to knock this story out for the AP, who then passed it on to their subscribers without giving it proper editorial scrutiny. The AP and the author made a few bucks, the readers and truth were left the poorer for this story.

Propaganda vs. journalism in PBS Catholic abuse coverage: GetReligion, March 12, 2014 April 24, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Good Episcopalian that I am, I am ready to believe the worst about the Catholic Church.

Perhaps it was my upbringing, the culture in which I was formed, the schools where I was educated, my crowd. But accusations hurled against the Catholic Church of corruption, cruelty, mendacity — of being downright un-American –stick in the back of my mind. “Why not?”

I was also reared in Philadelphia and as a boy worshiped at the altar of the Eagles and Phillies. Longing and loss then were taught to me early on, as was support for the underdog.

Yet as much as I enjoy watching a good thrashing of the Vatican, I also am troubled by unfairness, foul play and sneakiness.

Which brings me to the documentary broadcast by PBS’s Frontline show entitled “Secrets of the Vatican“. This is an extraordinary film. It is beautifully made. I would not hesitate to say that the camera work, the musical scoring, the editing, and the writing are exquisite. Documentary film making does not get any better.

And yet, “Secrets of the Vatican” is also vile. Repulsive in that art and the extraordinary talent of its creators are put to malign purposes. It is propaganda — a film crafted to make arguments rather than to speak the truth.

At this point I must stop and respond to the cries of two competing choruses. My opening remarks about my own anti-Catholic bigotry are hyperbole designed to introduced the topic of bias. Nor am I claiming “Secrets of the Vatican” has suborned perjury from those whom it has presented on film.

It is, however, exaggerated, unbalanced, and seeks to inflame rather than inform. I do not expect a plaintiff’s attorney who specializes in clergy sexual abuse cases to present both sides of an argument in the documentary, but I would expect a film maker to do so, giving voice to the opposing side.

Catholic commentators have excoriated the film, accusing it of rehashing old stories and telling only half the tale. The popular conservative blogger Fr. Z wrote:

 The objectives of the show are to pin all responsibility for every case of clerical sexual abuse not just on local authorities but on “the Vatican”, to detach sexual abuse from homosexuality, to undermine a celibate clergy, and to convince you that there are more homosexual priests than there really are.  Finally, Pope Francis is the most wonderfullest Pope ehvurrr.

Let’s look at one vignette from the film — the claim that Catholic clergy are more likely to be child molesters than non-Catholic clergy — that illustrates my disquiet.

Frontline interviewed Dr. Martin Kafka, a Harvard University psychiatrist who has studied this issue. Kafka made the claim:

The number of Catholic clergy who are accused of or prosecuted for child and adolescent sexual abuse vastly outnumber the number of Protestant clergy.

Taken in isolation this statement could be construed to mean that reports of child abuse by Catholic clergy “vastly outnumber” reports of child abuse by Protestant clergy. That would be a statistic compiled by the FBI that would speak to reports of abuse.

However, in light of the surrounding comments, images and testimony offered by the film, the implication of Dr. Kafka’s statement is that Catholic clergy are more likely to offend than non-Catholic clergy.

 

The link comes in through the discussion of repressed sexuality and the film’s advocacy for allowing Catholic clergy to marry.

As a religion reporter I have covered the clergy abuse scandals for over a decade, but my reporting has focused on the Episcopal and Anglican churches. The Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the US, and the Anglican churches in Australia and Canada have seen their fair share of abuse cases. The scandal even touched the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church who received into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church in Nevada a laicized Catholic priest who had been disciplined for abusing children while he was a choirmaster in Missouri and Minnesota — but did not tell the parish in Las Vegas where he had been assigned about his past.

But there has never been any evidence or study that I have read that substantiates claims that Catholic clergy are more likely to offend than Protestant clergy.

The Denver Post‘s Electa Draper addressed this issue in 2010 — and I have seen nothing that would challenge her reporting.

Draper states that while no studies comparing the rate of abuse between different denominations and faiths has been made that would substantiate the claim that Catholics are more likely to offend, the insurance companies who insure churches against abuse claims do not charge Catholics higher premiums than Protestants.

Wisconsin-based Church Mutual Insurance Co. has 100,000 client churches and has seen a steady filing of about five sexual molestation cases a week for more than a decade, even though its client base has grown. “It would be incorrect to call it a Catholic problem,” said Church Mutual’s risk control manager, Rick Schaber. “We do not see one denomination above another. It’s equal. It’s also equal among large metropolitan churches and small rural churches.”

Iowa-based Guide One Center for Risk Management, which insures more than 40,000 congregations, also said Catholic churches are not considered a greater risk or charged higher premiums. “Our claims experience shows this happens evenly across denominations,” said spokeswoman Melanie Stonewall.

She also reports that the:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children President Ernie Allen said his organization has received more than 825,000 reports of child abuse and does not see any statistical indication the Catholic Church has a greater prevalence of cases than any other setting — after accounting for the size of the church, the largest Christian denomination in the U.S. and the world.

“There is a common denominator among those who abuse children,” Allen said. “They seek out situations where they have easy access and cover. It should surprise nobody that an abuser is a teacher, coach, youth leader, pediatrician, minister, priest or rabbi.”

This is what we call reporting. What we see in “Secrets of the Vatican” is called propaganda.

Kasper family values: GetReligion, February 28, 2014  April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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In a break with 1500 years of tradition a leading Vatican official announced that Catholics should now read the Bible. In an address to a gathering of prelates in Rome last week Cardinal Walter Kasper conceded Scripture might play a role in developing church doctrine. The confession came amidst internal debates over ending the automatic excommunication and damnation of divorced and remarried Catholics — a practice polling data found not to be relevant to most Catholics. The change, experts say, was an admission that the Catholic Church had been out of touch with modern thinking on sexuality — and most other important issues — for centuries.

No, this was not the lede of the Associated Press’ story entitled “Cardinals delve into divorce-remarriage debate”, but the AP did tack very close to the wind with this story on Cardinal Walter Kasper’s address to an extraordinary consistory for the family attended by approximately 150 members of the college of cardinals. The topic of Cardinal Kasper’s address , which was not released to the public, was on the church’s pastoral sacramental support for divorced and remarried Catholics.

The story comes close to hyperbole in its statements about the place of Scripture in the life of the Catholic Church, while also repeating the now rather tired bad Benedict / good Frances (or Walter Kasper) theme.

The tone of the lede sets the direction for the remainder of the story. The “liberal” Catholics are praised while “conservatives” are rubbished.

Cardinals from around the world delved head-on Thursday into one of the most vexing issues facing the church, how to find ways to provide better pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics who are forbidden from receiving Communion and other church sacraments. German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a pre-eminent theologian who has called for “openings and changes” in dealing with these Catholics, delivered a two-hour keynote speech to the two-day meeting, which is serving as preparation for an October summit of bishops on family issues.

What does pre-eminent mean? Eminent over whom? Is the point of comparison is the conservative Pope Benedict XVI — the one whose policies call for “openings and changes”?

And, is it correct to say that divorced and remarried Catholics are “forbidden from receiving Communion and other church sacraments?”  The AP doubles down on its assertion in the next paragraph.

Church teaching holds that unless the first marriage is annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion or other sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned from their church.

Again the tone is needlessly harsh. It is correct to say that divorced and remarried Catholics may participate in the worship service of the Eucharist, but not receive.

Other sanctions include being allowed to participate in communal celebrations of Reconciliation and, visit privately with a priest in Confession but not receive absolution. They may serve as an official witness at a Catholic marriage, but not as a catechist, teacher, Godparent or Confirmation sponsor.

However, they may celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick when in danger of death and have a Catholic funeral and be buried in a Catholic cemetery, have their children baptized and enrolled in Catholic school or religious education program participate in the public spiritual and social life of the parish, but not serve in public ministries or leadership positions. The ban is not universal as the AP suggests — but it is none the less strong.

The article then shifts into the bad Benedict / good Francis mode, adding Walter Kasper to the good team. It states:

Kasper frequently cited the Bible as a source of inspiration in a signal, almost Protestant in nature, that the answer to the problem lay in scripture. He told reporters that Francis had asked him to pose questions to the 150 cardinals to begin a debate on the issue.

This could have come from the Protestant anti-Catholic song book. Catholicism is not Biblical and Catholics are ignorant mackerel snapping left footers. Their teachings float free from Scripture. Which is of course all rather silly.

It is true Scripture plays a greater role in the life of the Protestant churches than the Catholic Church, but the AP’s almost Protestant jib is unfair and unprofessional as it does not explain the role of Scripture in the development of doctrine or in the liturgy of the church. While the Protestant churches have from the beginning encouraged its members to study Scripture and its scholars dominated the field of Scriptural interpretation for centuries that changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so. It is fair to say the Catholic Church has changed its attitude towards the study of Scripture over the last century, but the AP goes too far when it suggests that it now has discovered Scripture as a source for doctrine.

There was an opportunity here for the AP to tell a fascinating story about an issue close to the hearts of many Catholics. But it chose not to.

First printed at GetReligion.

What’s God got to do with it — in Maidan square?: GetReligion, February 21, 2014 April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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I’ve said it oncetwice, and I’ll say it again — there is more than one Orthodox Church in the Ukraine.

Does this matter? Is this pettifogging carping — dull minded pedantry? Am I just showing off a store of useless knowledge, or Is it important to distinguish between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) (KP) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriachate) (MP) when reporting on the demonstrations in Kiev?

If you want to understand what is going on and break free from the narrative being peddled that this is a conflict over “fundamental European values” (Guardian) with the protestors “defying the post-Soviet order imposed by Russia” (Economist) in order to build what British Foreign Secretary William Hague believes will be a “free, sovereign, democratic” Ukraine — then it is important to understand the local issues driving this conflict. Contrary to what the Western European politicians want to believe, this is not a rerun of the Cold War with Angela Merkel and David Cameron replacing Ronald Reagan as the hero. What then is going on?

On page A8 this morning the Wall Street Journal ran a story entitled “CathedralTurns Into Hospital as Ukraine Protests Worsen.” Casualties from the fighting in Independence Square, or Maidan Square as it is know to the locals, have been brought to the cathedral for treatment by volunteer doctors.

The lede states:

KIEV, Ukraine – In St. Michael’s Cathedral, Orthodox priests chanting prayers have been replaced by doctors calling for medicine.

The golden-domed church has been transformed into a field hospital of sorts for protesters injured or worse in days of deadly clashes with police.

And then the story shifts to interviews and man in the street accounts from doctors, volunteers and patients being treated at the cathedral. The article is strongly written and crisply presents the sights and sounds observed by the Wall Street Journal’s man in Kiev.

 

“We’ve had four or five corpses here already today,” says Taras Semushchak, a 47-year-old surgeon from Lviv in western Ukraine. “Most had gunshot wounds from snipers and Kalashnikovs.”

Yet for all the color reporting, the article does not ask the question why are the wounded being treated at St. Michael’s? Why not at St. Sophia’s Orthodox Cathedral on Volodymyrs’ka Street? Why a cathedral in the first place?

Is this a Kievan counterpart to the Occupy Wall Street crowd seeking to use Trinity Wall Street in lower Manhattan as a base of operations? With the difference being the Episcopal Church said no while the KP said yes?

Is a better analogy St. Paul’s Cathedral in London permitting protestors to use their precincts?

In our past posts on this subject, tmatt and I have explored the religious dimensions of this story noting there are three principal churches in the Ukraine: the Moscow Patriarchate, the  Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church).

The leaders of the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow. In late December the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its Ukrainian bishops, released a statement condemning proposals for the Ukraine to move closer to the EU at the expense of its relations with Russia.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last November Patriarch Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate urged the Ukraine to break free from Moscow and secure its political, economic and religious independence. He was reported to have said:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

The Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholic Church have lent their support to the demonstrations — and as the Wall Street Journal story reports, the KP has opened its churches as sanctuaries for the wounded. The Moscow Patriarchate in Kiev has backed President Yanukovich — and its calls for calm echoes the president’s public statements to date.

Leaving out the affiliation of the cathedral to the KP blurs the ethnic-religious elements of this conflict. And it makes the setting of this story meaningless. It could just as well have been a school, museum or other large civic structure.

But aside from the spiritual resonance of a cathedral serving as a hospital for the souls of the sick and a cathedral serving as a shelter for the wounded — there is a practical link between St. Michael’s, its clergy, the KP and the unfolding demonstrations in Kiev. That’s a fact. It matters.

First printed at GetReligion.

The Guardian ridicules the saints, the Virgin and prayer: Get Religion, February 6, 2014 February 8, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Why do we fight? Why do we write? What motivates our editor tmatt and the team at GetReligion to do what we do?

For me, as I expect it is for my colleagues, it is the love of the game. To showcase the best examples of the craft of journalism — while chiding those that fall short.

I began to follow GetReligion shortly after it went online in 2004. I was a professional acquaintance of one of its co-founders, Doug LeBlanc and a long time admirer of his work and that of the editor, Terry Mattingly. Their call to improve the craft (not police it as some critics have charged) resonated with me. When I joined three years ago I was honored by their invitation and the opportunity to participate in their work by looking at the English, European and overseas press.

I was tasked with looking at stories such as this one from last week’s Guardian entitled: “Spanish government questioned over claims of divine help in economic crisis”, with an eye towards applying the standards of classical Anglo-American journalism to the story, as well as offering American readers a window into the British and European press world.

Critics often charge The New York Times and other American newspapers with spinning the news to advance the interests of a particular party or interest group. Advocacy journalism, as it is called, violates the tenets of classical liberal journalism which rejects overt politicking. The reporter’s role is to establish the facts and let them dictate how the story is written.

European advocacy style reporting draws upon a different intellectual tradition. “All history is contemporary history,” idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce said — history exists but only in the present tense.

In this school the past has reality only in the mind of the author.

At its worst, this relativist-subjective approach leads to the Dan Rather “false but true” mindset, but most practitioners understand that the reporter must be faithful to the truth. But it is further understood that truth does not have an independent existence from the reporter’s intellectual constructs.

Advocacy reporting is the norm for many Continental newspapers, and the shading of tone to advance a particular cause is expected by most European readers. The British press remains divided on this point. Most stories in the Guardian, The Times, Telegraph, Independent and regional papers follow the classical line. Yet many stories that deal with politics, religion and what in America we call the culture wars are written from an ideological perspective.

The practical problem with this relativist approach is that it leave gaps in the story and is open to abuse. This item from the Guardian is an example. It begins:

If higher powers are helping to lift Spain out of its economic crisis, one political party wants to know exactly who they are and what they’re doing.

Amaiur, a leftwing party from the Basque country, has put a series of questions to the governing People’s party after the interior minister, Jorge Fernández Diaz, said recently he was certain that Saint Teresa was “making important intercessions” for Spain “during these tough times”.

In a letter to the government on Tuesday, Jon Iñarritu García of Amaiur asked for clarification about what help the government was getting from one of Spain’s most popular holy figures.

The article then quoted the politician as asking:

“In what ways does the minister of the interior think Saint Teresa of Avila is interceding on behalf of Spain?” he asked. “Does the government believe there are other divine and supernatural interventions affecting the current state of Spain? If so, who are they?”

“What role has the Virgin of El Rocío played in helping Spain exit the crisis?” he asked.

The article transitions with an acknowledgment that this is nonsense, but then notes that this nonsense is a weapon in the fight against reactionary clericalism. This is followed by an over the top comment equating opposition to abortion with fascism.

The letter took on a more serious tone in asking about the separation of church and state in Spain. “Does the government believe they are respecting the secular nature of the state? Does the government plan to push for a religious state?”

The increasingly blurry line between church and state in Spain has been in the headlines recently as the government moves forward with its proposal to roll back women’s access to abortion.

In an article on Diaz’s comments, El País columnist Román Orozco wrote: “If I closed my eyes … I would think I was listening to some old shirt of the Falange.” Saint Teresa was a favourite of General Franco, who kept her hand by his bed until his death.

As journalism this is garbage. It leads one to ask what the Guardian has against St Theresa? There is no pretense of balance or factual reporting here. The author takes what he acknowledges to be an absurdity and uses it to slam those who do not share his ideological views. It is simply an exercise in hyperbole that ignores facts or context.

In his 1946 essay, “Why I Write”, George Orwell stated, “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism.”

The totalitarianism we face today in the West comes not from Stalinism or Fascism. It arises in the the cant, hypocrisy and moral dishonesty of our intellectual and philosophical worlds. It is in challenging the orthodoxies of left and right, that one can find the best Guardian reporting. But the Guardian at times represents the ugliest impulses of our intellectual lives.

Does this article deserve condemnation? It is riddled with errors, condescending towards it subject, and is entirely predictable. And, it is malicious.

That unfashionable poet, Edna St Vincent Millay, wrote in her “Dirge Without Music:

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

A journalist who takes his craft seriously, who is not resigned to the world around him, who writes with moral purpose (but without moralizing) prepares stories that are a joy to read. This article is not one of them.

And why do we write? To speak out against the totalitarianism of small minds and corrupt reporting.

First published in GetReligion.

Finding a faith angle in the Ukraine: Get Religion, January 27, 2014 January 30, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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A spate of wire service photos from the demonstrations in Kiev may have awakened the Western press to the religious element in the protests. As GetReligion‘s editor tmatt has noted, photojournalism has led the way.

The pictures from Kiev are telling a fascinating story — but unless you know what you are seeing and can interpret the images or place them in their political and religious context, you will not understand what is happening.

The “Eurorevolution” as some Ukrainian newspapers have dubbed the protests is about economics, politics, national identity, and religion. It is being articulated in protests over a trade agreements. Yet the dispute has as just as much to do with the Soviet past and the present battle over gay rights in Russia.

However, the press has so far been unable to get its head round all this. The stories I have seen rarely address more than one of these topics at a time and then do so from an American/English perspective.

Even when there is a direct religion angle to the news, as in this story printed on Jan 27, 2014 on the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, western reporters on the ground appear to be unaware of the symbolism (or perhaps iconography as we are talking about the Orthodox) of what they are reporting.

The ABC story entitled “Ukraine protests: Thousands mourn slain protester in Kiev as opposition rejects president’s bid to end unrest” is an example of the Western press’ lack of comprehension of the forces at work. It states in its sub-headline:

Thousands of people have packed into a church in Kiev for the funeral of a young protester shot dead during clashes in the Ukrainian capital last week.

Then the lede reports on the clashes, notes the calls by protestors for the president to step down and then moves to the funeral of one protestor killed in clashes with the security services.

There have been violent clashes in Kiev as demonstrators demand president Viktor Yanukovych stand down for pulling out of a free trade deal with the European Union in favour of closer economic ties with Russia, Ukraine’s former Soviet overlord. The fate of the government remains unclear, with demonstrators vowing to continue protests despite the president’s offer to give top jobs to opposition leaders.

The opposition called off a massive Sunday rally out of respect for the funeral of Mikhail Zhyznevsky, whose coffin was borne through the streets of Kiev before his burial. Zhyznevsky, a Belarussian living in Ukraine, was one of three people officially recognised by the prosecutor’s office as having died from gunshot wounds after clashes last week.

Mourners spilled over into a square outside Saint Michael’s Cathedral on what would have been his 26th birthday, many bringing flowers and waving Ukrainian flags with black ribbons.

The article goes into details of the funeral noting the presence of the chief opposition leaders, and then notes the political symbolism of some of the flags flown at the funeral.

Some red and white nationalist flags from before Belarus became a Soviet republic – currently banned by the country’s authoritarian regime – were also seen at the ceremony.

The article then closes out with reports on the street protests. All of this I assume is correct, but the story leaves out so many pieces of the puzzle that a anglophone reader will not truly understand what is happening.

Among the things the ABC neglects to mention is what sort of church St Michael’s may be. It belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate — not the larger Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate.

As I noted in a report last year on GetReligion, there are three principal churches in the Ukraine. One under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, or Moscow Patriarchate; an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Kiev Patriarchate; and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

The leaders of the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow. In late December the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its Ukrainian bishops, released a statement condemning proposals for the Ukraine to move closer to the EU at the expense of its relations with Russia.

 

God was on Russia’s side and God wanted the Ukraine to be linked, forever, with Russia. Faith should determine whether the Ukraine joined the EU or a Russian customs union, the Russian bishops said.

We call upon all to remember: the emancipation of morals will with time fully destroy a people, depriving their and each one’s soul of purity and integrity. As far back as the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom warned: “When families are broken, cities and states will fall”. It is as if the voice of the teacher of the Early Church speaks to our contemporaries. And the holy martyr Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) of Kiev and Galich noted in his works: “The whole human society is based on the family and in it, like a building in its foundation, it finds its solidity and stability”. That is why it is so important today that we stand for the immutable, God-given moral law concerning both family life and all the spheres of human existence including that of the development of society and state.

What are the Russian bishops talking about? Gay rights.

For the Moscow Patriarchate, the EU’s support for gay rights compared to Russia’s distaste for them should dictate how the Ukraine ordered its economic affairs. There is much much more to it that this — but that is the issue the Russian Orthodox Church has chosen to contest in the fight over an economic customs union.

The Kiev Patriarchate has been equally blunt. In a November speech in Washington Patriarch Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate was reported to have said the Moscow Patriarchate’s opposition to the Ukraine’s opening to the EU was treasonous:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

It is not just the bishops who are linking the political struggle with religion. On Jan 23 Interfax reported the far-right Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, believed the battle in the Ukraine was between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Partition of the Ukraine into an eastern Russian client state and a western European state was the way forward, he argued.

Russians and Russified Ukrainians, and Westerners, who always live in Austro-Hungary, will always be enemies. The only solution is to divide Ukraine based on the civilization principle: Catholics in the West and Orthodox Christians in the East. Otherwise this bloodbath will last a long time.

Before we go too far afield let’s head back to the ABC and St. Michael’s. The article picks up the political – nationalist significance of flags, but overlooks the symbolism of the funeral setting. The original St Michael’s Cathedral was demolished on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1936, one of the many attempts to destroy religion and Ukrainian nationalism by the Soviet regime.

The cathedral where the service was held was rebuilt in 1999. Holding the funeral of an anti-Moscow protestor at the iconic structure of Ukrainian nationalism and religious identity sends a message, which the ABC missed.

Now I am not arguing that the Kiev protests should be covered as a religion news story. What I am saying is that a good reporter should be as aware of religious symbolism as political symbolism. Religion may not play a part in the iconography of western reporters, but to ignore it in their accounts of the Ukrainian demonstrations misses a major part of this story.

First printed in Get Religion.

Interview: Issues Etc., January 27, 2014 January 29, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Issues Etc, Press criticism, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 27 January 2014.

Media Coverage of the Ukrainian Protests – George Conger, 1/27/14

George Conger of GetReligion.org

Podcast: Download (Duration: 14:19 — 5.9MB)

Good Anglicanism defined by CDF: The Church of England Newspaper, January 10, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ordinariate, Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has defined the essentials of  Anglicanism that may be kept by converts entering the Anglican Ordinariate of the Catholic Church.

In an interview published in the December issue of The Portal, Msg. Steven Lopes of the CDF said the Vatican’s “working definition” of “Anglican patrimony” was “that which has nourished the Catholic Faith, within the Anglican tradition during the time of ecclesiastical separation, and has given rise to this new desire for full communion.”

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer will not be the sole source. The “Anglican liturgical patrimony is not just 1549 or 1662, nor is it just 1928 or 1976. We can’t go back to a specific period and say ‘this is it’, but you have to look at the whole Anglican experience to see how that faith was nourished’,” Mgr Lopes said.

In October 2013, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – the English branch of the Ordinariate — launched a new Mass text which included passages from Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.

Francis the homophile: Get Religion, January 3, 2014 January 6, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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With but a few exceptions, the “Francis is nicer than Benedict” meme continues to entrance the Anglophone press.

It appears that many who were once hostile to the Catholic Church have been encouraged to see in the new pontiff a reflection of their own social and political desires. Some of these assertions about what the pope believes and what he will do as head of the Catholic Church have bordered on the fantastic.

In choosing the pope as its “person of the year”, Time magazine’s editor Nancy Gibb wrote Francis had:

done something remarkable: he has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music.

The new pope was a kinder, gentler man, Time believed, who had rejected “church dogma.” He was teaching a softer, more inclusive Catholicism, noting his:

focus on compassion, along with a general aura of merriment not always associated with princes of the church, has made Francis something of a rock star.

This is rather mild compared to some liberal paeans to the pontiff. The Guardian‘s Jonathan Freedland quipped “Francis could replace Obama as the pin-up on every liberal and leftist wall.”

When the gay-lifestyle magazine, The Advocate, named Francis its “person of the year”, it explained its choice by stating:

Pope Francis’s stark change in rhetoric from his two predecessors — both who were at one time or another among The Advocate‘s annual Phobie Awards — makes what he’s done in 2013 all the more daring. First there’s Pope John Paul II, who gay rights activists protested during a highly publicized visit to the United States in 1987 because of what had become known as the “Rat Letter” — an unprecedented damning of homosexuality as “intrinsically evil.” It was written by one of his cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. Since 1978, one of those two men had commanded the influence of the Vatican — until this year. …

The Advocate saw in Francis the potential for change in church teaching.

Francis’s view on how the Catholic Church should approach LGBT people was best explained in his own words during an in-depth interview with America magazine in September. He recalled, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

While these stories have focused on Francis in the context of feature or “people” stories, the meme has also made its way into straight news reporting. A story in Saturday’s  Independent illustrates the Francis effect on reporters. “Pope Francis tripled crowds at Vatican during 2013″  should have been a straightforward story. It begins with:

Pope Francis attracted over 6.6 million viewers to his audiences, Masses and other events in Vatican City in 2013. Since being elected for the position in March, the first Jesuit Pope attracted almost triple the number of visitors that gathered to watch former Pope Benedict XVI speak at Vatican City in the whole of 2012.

The story shifts as it then notes Francis had been named by Time and The Advocate as their “person of the year” with a quote used as a segue to what it sees as the pope’s contradictory statements on homosexuality.

However, his track-record as a champion for gay rights in the Catholic Church was marred after he apparently expressed “shock” at gay adoption in December 2013. The Bishop of Malta alleged that Pope Francis gave him his blessing to “speak out” against the Maltese Civil Unions Bill that aims to legalise gay adoption, in his Christmas Sermon.

The first half of the story prompts me to ask, so what? What does the rise in visitors to St Peter’s Square mean? Is this a gauge for something, if so what? What happened to the number of visitors to St Peter’s when Benedict became pope? Why is this news, and not a “fun fact”?

Should we assume, as The Independent does, that the changing tone on homosexuality has prompted a rise in the number of visitors to the Vatican? The Independent may think this to be the case, but from where does the evidence or authority for this assertion arise?

The second half of the story is bizarre. The Independent assumes Francis is a “champion for gay rights”. What does that mean? Is he pushing for a change in doctrine or discipline? When did this happen?  Or has The Independent confused style with substance?

The two parts to this piece, short as it is, do not hang together as a news story. There is no context, no balance, no sourcing to this piece. Though presented as a news story, it is an editorial making the argument that the church should get with the times and ditch its old fashioned teachings on human sexuality — “See how the people flock to Francis because he is a champion of gay rights!”

Should any news story make the assumptions The Independent makes about Pope Francis? Not if they want to practice quality journalism. It has confused fantasy with reality.

First printed in Get Religion.

Pope Francis: “ecumenism of blood” the new face of inter-Christian relations: The Church of England Newspaper, December 20, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church.
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The old ways of managing ecumenical relations among Christian churches is passing away, Pope Francis told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, with bureaucratic initiatives making way for a “ecumenism of blood”.

Speaking to Andrea Tornielli in an interview published on 14 Dec 2013, the pope was asked whether he saw Christian unity as a priority.

Francis responded: “Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians.

The pope said that while Christians are “united in blood”, Christians have “have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for.”

Francis illustrated his convictions on the changing face of ecumenical relations with an anecdote of a “parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: ‘I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s’.”

“This is what ecumenism of blood is,” the pope said.

“It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptised in. We need to take these facts into consideration

AP reports he did have sexual relations with that woman: Get Religion, December 10, 2013 December 11, 2013

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“Can a bad person be a good theologian,” asked Mark Oppenheimer in the lede of an October column on the scandals surrounding John Howard Yoder. Should private failings overshadow public achievement?

This question has been asked of prominent figures ranging from T.S. Eliot to Bill Clinton to Mike Tyson. Is the aesthetic value of the Wasteland diminished by Eliot’s anti-Semitism, or the former president’s accomplishments wiped away by his claim he “did not have sexual relations with that woman”? Does biting Evander Holyfield’s ear or being convicted of rape undo sporting achievements? Will Pete Rose ever be inducted into the baseball hall of fame?

Religious leaders are held to a different standard, Oppenheimer wrote:

All of us fall short of our ideals, of course. But there is a common-sense expectation that religious professionals should try to behave as they counsel others to behave. They may not be perfect, but they should not be louts or jerks.

By that standard, few have failed as egregiously as John Howard Yoder, America’s most influential pacifist theologian. In his teaching at Notre Dame and elsewhere, and in books like “The Politics of Jesus,” published in 1972, Mr. Yoder, a Mennonite Christian, helped thousands formulate their opposition to violence. Yet, as he admitted before his death in 1997, he groped many women or pressured them to have physical contact, although never sexual intercourse.

Oppenheimer does not cast stones, but he pulls no punches in discussing Yoder’s flaws. He does not call him a hypocrite, but asks whether interpretations of his work should be colored by  personal failings. This week MennoMedia, the publishing agency for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, announced it will add a disclaimer to new editions of Yoder’s books that speak to his history of sexual harassment and abuse.

These musings on celebrity right and wrong were prompted by an Associated Press article reporting on the marriage of a former Catholic priest who left the Legion of Christ under a cloud. The article begins:

Thomas Williams, the onetime public face of the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order who left the priesthood after admitting he fathered a child, is getting married this weekend to the child’s mother, The Associated Press has learned. The bride is the daughter of former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers.

The second paragraph notes Glendon’s position as President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences and names his wife to be — Elizabeth Lev. It then moves back to Williams.

Williams, a moral theologian, author, lecturer and U.S. television personality, admitted last year that he had fathered a child several years earlier. At the time, Williams apologized for “this grave transgression” against his vows of celibacy and said he had stayed on as a priest because he hoped to move beyond “this sin in my past” to do good work for the church. …

Towards the end of the article the Legion of Christ scandals are recounted and Williams’ fall from grace is placed against the order’s larger problems. The article closes on a curious note, however.

The Legion said the numbers indicate that less than 1 percent of the 1,133 priests ordained in the 72-year history of the order had been found guilty by a church trial of abuse, and less than 4 percent had been abused. A Legion spokesman said he didn’t know what the percentage was for the current number of Legion priests.

One percent of priests are abusers and four percent have been the subject of abuse? And what is the unknown percentage, abusers or victims? Should “abused” in the second clause of the first sentence be “accused”, or is the AP setting the two numbers against each other?

That technical point aside, my discomfort with this story comes in the middle of the piece when it shifts style, moving from reporting to commentary.

Asked for comment Thursday, Lev confirmed the wedding plans in an email, adding: “We have no intention of ever discussing our personal life in this forum.”

She had initially denied an intimate relationship with Williams, though they frequently appeared together in American circles in Rome, particularly with visiting U.S. student and Catholic tour groups.

Their wedding closes a circle of sorts, even as it raises some uncomfortable questions: Who beyond Williams’ superior in the church knew about the child while the couple tried to cover it up? Was Williams already in a relationship with Lev when she became a regular contributor to the magazine he published? And did the family ties to Williams influence Glendon in her defense of the Legion and its disgraced founder despite credible reports that the founder was a pedophile?

Who is asking these questions? And for that matter, why the move to the “‘enquiring‘ minds want to know style”? While asking out loud these questions may titillate some readers, to me they speak to the reporter’s frustration of not being able to get past the “no comment” email.

There is no balance to this article. By that I do not mean a “yes he did, no he didn’t” exchange, but an appreciation of Williams’ work as a moral theologian. Was he a clerical hack and hypocrite, or did he produce valuable work? The article does not ask nor answer this question — leaving it the level of a “moral theologian” who was caught engaging in immoral practices.

The degree of vehemence in this piece may lead one to suspect personal animus. Why else would the AP omit the news that their child has Downs syndrome. The Daily Mail, which takes great delight in exposing the foibles of naughty clergy, found time in its piece to applaud Williams for having done the right thing in marrying the mother of his disabled child.

Yet the story the AP has reported is true. Where then is the line between a harsh but fair report and a hatchet job?

In this instance the back story of the scandals at the Legion of Christ do have a place, as does Williams’ personal fall. Yet a complete story would tell us about human failing and redemption.

There is no context in this story, only anger. Not moral outrage at a priest failing in his vows, but a cartoonish depiction of one man’s fall. There is no humanity, no decency in the tone and presentation of this story. It is a hatchet job.

First published in Get Religion

Viva la Eurorévolution: Get Religion, December 3, 2013 December 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Religion ghosts haunt the stories out of Kiev this week, but the Western press has yet to hear their shrieks.

The events unfolding across the Ukraine — protests against the government’s move away from Europe towards Russia — are not faith stories as defined by editorial desks in London and New York, but the clash of nationalism and politics in Eastern Europe cannot be understood without reference to religion.

The Guardian‘s reporter in Kiev has described the scene on Monday morning:

Throngs of anti-government protesters remained in control of parts of central Kiev on Monday morning, as police kept their distance and Viktor Yanukovych’s government pondered its next move. After huge protests on Sunday, during which several hundred thousand people took to the streets of Kiev to call for the president’s removal, protesters erected makeshift barricades around Independence Square – the hub of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Nearby, the main City Hall building was taken over by protesters without police resistance on Sunday evening.

Many of the windows were smashed and “Revolution HQ” was daubed in black paint on its stone Stalinist facade. Inside, hundreds of people milled around receiving refreshments; many who had travelled from the regions to Kiev were sleeping on the floor.

The independent Eastern European press has characterized the street protests as a revolution.  Lviv’s Vissoki Zamok, stated that nine years after the Orange Revolution, “the Eurorevolution” was underway.

It is symbolic that on December 1, the anniversary of the referendum in favor of independence that took place 22 years ago, Ukraine was once again the theater of mass demonstrations in support of its sovereignty, the rights of its citizens and its European future.

Why is this happening? Protestors have taken to the streets to denounce President Viktor Yanukovych for refusing to sign an association and free-trade agreement with the European Union at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 29.

In a front page above-the-fold editorial on Monday the Parisian daily Le Monde stated:

Demonstrations of love for the European Union are sufficiently rare these days for them to be rather arresting. Absorbed by the debt crisis, the struggle for more growth and lower unemployment, the rise of populism and the management of its enlargement, the union has forgotten that it retains a formidable power of attraction. For people who do not benefit from the rule of law, Europe symbolizes the hope for freedom, democracy, and modernity.

This is the message sent to us by tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have been gathering day after day to protest on the squares of Kiev and the other cities of the country.

Reading Le Monde‘s editorial and related news coverage one might think les citoyens of Kiev were linked arm in arm marching to the seats of power singing La Marseillaise. But an American might well ask why a trade treaty would spark such an uproar. What is going on here?

It is in the secondary stories that we see glimpses of the religion ghosts. Reuters reports that when attacked by riot police, some protestors took refuge in an Orthodox cathedral and barricaded themselves inside a monastery.

Around 100 Ukrainian pro-EU protesters took refuge from police batons and biting cold on Saturday inside the walls of a central Kiev monastery. With a barricade of benches pushed up against a gate to keep police out, protesters – who had rallied against President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to reject a pact with the European Union – checked their wounds in the pre-dawn light.

Some attended a 6 a.m. service in the lilac and gold St. Michael’s Cathedral on the monastery grounds after which a group of bearded, black-robed monks approached protesters to hear of their encounters with police and urge them not to seek revenge. “They gave us tea to warm us up, told us to keep our spirits strong and told us not to fight evil with evil,” said Roman Tsado, 25, a native of Kiev, who said police beat him on his legs as they cleared the pro-EU rally.

Further down in the story Reuters tells us what sort of church it was that gave shelter to the protestors.

The Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral, where the faithful light candles before gilded icons of saints, was destroyed during the religious purges of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and rebuilt after independence.

What Reuters neglects to mention is which Ukrainian Orthodox church belongs to. St Michael’s belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate — not the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate.

What of it you might well ask. There are three principal churches in the Ukraine. One under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, or Moscow Patriarchate; an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Kiev Patriarchate; and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

And the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last month Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) was reported to have said:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

Statements released by the three churches in the wake of the uprising illustrate these religio-political calculations. The Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholic Church have lent their support to the demonstrations — and as Reuters reports opened its churches to protestors as a safe haven from the police. The Moscow Patriarchate in Kiev has backed President Yanukovich — and its call for calm echoes the president’s public statements to date.

By raising these religion points, I am not stating the Eurorevolution is being driven by religion. I am arguing that a well rounded news report should touch upon the religion angles in this story — provide the context for a Western reader to understand. Not all of the protestors are motivated by religious fervor — but religion lies close below the surface of national politics east of the Oder and a good reporter should relate this information to his readers.

First printed in Get Religion

Ban on divorced/remarried Catholics from receiving Communion reaffirmed: The Church of England Newspaper, November 22, 2013 November 25, 2013

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Divorced and remarried Roman Catholics may not receive Holy Communion, the Vatican has told the German Catholic church.

In letter dated Oct 21, 2013, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller directed the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau to retract its pastoral guidelines that permitted priests to “respect” the wishes of divorced and remarried Catholics who chose to receive the Sacraments.

The new policy introduced following the retirement of Archbishop Robert Zollitsch on 17 September 2013, said if divorced and remarried Catholics had made a “responsible moral decision” to receive Communion, their consciences should be respected.

The new policy was contrary to church teaching and “would cause confusion among the faithful about the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage,” Archbishop Müller wrote in his letter, published in the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost on Nov 11, 2013.

However, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, told Die Tagespost Archbishop Müller’s letter was not the final word.

“The prefect of the Congregation cannot end the discussion,” Cardinal Marx said. “We will see that this is discussed further, but with what result, I do not know.”

St Peter’s relics to be placed on public display by the Vatican: Church of England Newspapaer, November 15, 2013 November 14, 2013

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The Vatican will mark the conclusion of the “Year of Faith” with the first public exhibition of the the relics of St. Peter, the Apostle and first Bishop of Rome.

On 8 November 2013 Msgr. Rino Fisichella, president for the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, announced in an editorial published in the semi-official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano St. Peter’s relics will be removed from their grotto and placed on display to mark the close of the Year of Faith  on 24 November.

The editorial did not offer further details, but announced the Year of Faith – a major evangelization initiative for the Roman Catholic Church – will conclude on Sunday the 24th with Pope Francis celebrating the Eucharist in St Peter’s Square.

The Boys from Buenos Aires?: Get Religion, November 14, 2013 November 14, 2013

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What is an ultra-conservative Catholic? A member of the Society of St Pius X? A faithful Sunday communicant? A Trappist monk? Or is it someone whose name appears on the subscription lists of both My Daily Visitor and The National Review?

There is nothing improper, from the perspective of good journalism, in describing someone as an ultra-conservative Catholic — newspapers make editorial assertions in their headlines and ledes all the time. It is what draws the reader into the story.

However, the main body of the story should define what the reporter means when labeling someone as an ultra-conservative Catholic. A report Tuesday in the Buenos Aires daily Clarín on disturbances at the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral illustrates the need to be precise with language and labels.

In an article entitled “Incidentes en la Catedral: un grupo ultracatólico quiso impedir un acto por el Holocausto judío”, a group of young people attempted to disrupt a service commemorating the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the night in 1938 when the Nazis burned destroyed hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish owned shops throughout Germany, arresting tens of thousands of Jews. The “night of broken glass” presaged what was to come in 1942 — the Holocaust.

Clarín reported:

Un grupo ultraconservador católico trató de impedir esta noche, a los gritos y con insultos, una ceremonia ecuménica en la Catedral metropolitana al cumplirse el 75º aniversario de la “Noche de los cristales rotos”, considerada el inicio del Holocausto judío perpetrado por el nazismo.

A group ultraconservative Catholic tonight tried to stop with shouts and insults, an ecumenical ceremony in the Metropolitan Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of the “Night of Broken Glass”, considered the beginning of the Jewish Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis.

Let’s start with the basics. Who: ultra-conservative Catholics; What: disrupted Kristallnacht ceremony; Where: Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral; When: Nov. 11, 2013, Why: That we do not know yet.

The story continues:

Según contaron testigos del episodio a la agencia oficial Télam, cuando el arzobispo de Buenos Aires, Mario Poli, intentó comenzar la liturgia de conmemoración, un grupo de feligreses se puso de pie y comenzó a rezar a los gritos para impedir el desarrollo de la ceremonia.

According to eyewitness testimony gathered by the  official Télam news agency, when the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Mario Poli, tried to start the memorial service, a group of worshipers stood and began to pray and cry out in an attempt to stop the ceremony.

Los manifestantes también repartieron volantes con las leyendas “Fuera adoradores de dioses falsos del templo santo” y “Los pastores que llevan a los hombres a confundir el Dios verdadero con dioses falsos son lobos”.

The protesters also handed out fliers with the motto “Not worshipers of false gods holy temple” and “Pastors who lead men to confuse the true God with false gods are wolves”.

El accionar intolerante del grupo, compuesto en su mayoría por jóvenes, generó de inmediato el repudio de las autoridades diplomáticas, funcionarios y representantes de la comunidad judía presentes en la Catedral, así como de miembros de organizaciones de derechos humanos y de los credos cristianos.

The intolerant actions of the group, composed mostly of young people, were immediately repudiated by diplomats, civil servants and representatives of the Jewish community in the Cathedral, as well as by members of human rights organizations and Christian denominations.

The article continues with an account of the archbishop’s reaction to the protest, the content of the service, and background on Kristallnacht. What we do not learn is who these protesters were and why they did it.

The only description given is that they were ultra-conservative Catholics. May we assume these are members of the SSPX? Their anger appears not to be racial but theological. Their protests, as evidenced by the content of their banners as reported by Clarín and in their chants shown in the video above indicate they were opposed to the participation of Jews in worship held in a Catholic Church — not in Jews being Jews, per se. (As if that were an excuse.) Leaders of the SSPX have made the news in recent years through outbursts of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

But what if were not the SSPX but Roman Catholics giving voice to views once propounded by the inquisition? Suspicion and hatred of conversos or Marranos? (Descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity but suspected of secret adherence to Judaism.)

Or, are the fair skinned and some light haired youthful protestors (Argentinians of European descent) pictured in the video Dr. Mengele’s children? Descendants of Nazi exiles to Argentina who have come out in the open? Preposterous as this sounds, if I were the editor of a British red top tabloid I would go with that explanation. Hitler and Nazis are tabloid gold in Britain.

If you are curious about this story, the Associated Press added this titbit:

The Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, the South America leader of the Society of Saint Pius X, said Wednesday that the protesters belong to his organization and that they have a right to feel outraged when rabbis preside over a ceremony in a cathedral. “I recognize the authority of the pope, but he is not infallible and in this case, does things we cannot accept,” Bouchacourt said in an interview with Radio La Red.

“This wasn’t a desire to make a rebellion, but to show our love to the Catholic Church, which was made for the Catholic faith,” Bouchacourt added. “A Mass isn’t celebrated in a synagogue, nor in a mosque. The Muslims don’t accept it. In the same way, we who are Catholics cannot accept the presence of another faith in our church.”

Would not this information been helpful — in fact necessary — for a reader to understand what was happening with this story? Using the catch all phrase “ultra-conservative” to describe what sort of Catholics were protesting tells the reader nothing.

First printed in Get Religion.

Catholic call to support the ordinariate: The Church of England Newspaper, September 27, 2013 October 15, 2013

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The Archbishop of Westminster has written a pastoral letter to English and Welsh Roman Catholics celebrating the “beauty” of Britain’s Anglican heritage and urging their support for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

In his letter of 22 September 2013, Archbishop Vincent Nichols stated: “The ordinariate is the canonical structure set up in 2011 as the result of a generous initiative of Pope Benedict XVI. Under this structure, Anglicans who wish to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church, bringing with them some of the traditions and beauty of the Anglican heritage in which they were nurtured, may do so.”

He urged Catholics to “welcome and support the clergy and faithful” of the  Ordinariate “both for the part they play in the life and mission of the Catholic Church in this country and for the particular gifts they bring which add to our rich diversity.”

He also commended a second letter prepared by former Anglican bishop, Mgr. Keith Newton, the head of the ordinariate in England and Wales. It was “a small step towards healing one of the most damaging wounds of our history: the dividing of Christ’s Body, the Church in this land.”

The ordinariate had been an answer to prayer for some former Anglicans, but it had had a rough start.

“The ordinariate was a personal fulfilment of those prayers. It has been an incredible and uplifting journey for us all, full of grace, joy and blessings. Of course, we have experienced hardship and sacrifice as well. For many, especially those of our priests who are married with families, there has been great financial uncertainty; for us all it has meant leaving friends and familiar places of worship in the Church of England. We ask for your encouragement, your support and your prayers.”

Was Seamus Heaney a Catholic poet?: Get Religion, August 31, 2013 September 1, 2013

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Religion’s never mentioned here,’ of course.
‘You know them by their eyes,’ and hold your tongue.
‘One side’s as bad as the other,’ never worse.
Christ, it’s near time that some small leak was sprung
In the great dykes the Dutchman made
To dam the dangerous tide that followed Seamus.
Yet for all this art and sedentary trade
I am incapable.

So begins Section III of Seamus Heaney’s “Whatever You Say Say Nothing”, found in his 1975 collection of poems North. In a 2000-word 30 Aug 2013obituary entitled “Seamus Heaney, Irish Poet of Soil and Strife, Dies at 74″, The New York Times offered an appraisal of his life and work, noting that:

In 1995, he became the fourth Irishman to win the Nobel in literature, following Yeats, who received it in 1923; George Bernard Shaw (1925); and Samuel Beckett (1969).

In describing Heaney’s place within literature, The Times obituary makes repeated reference to the poet’s Catholic identity and the religious language found in his work.

A Roman Catholic native of Northern Ireland, Mr. Heaney was renowned for work that powerfully evoked the beauty and blood that together have come to define the modern Irish condition. … Throughout his work, Mr. Heaney was consumed with morality. In his hands, a peat bog is not merely an emblematic feature of the Irish landscape; it is also a spiritual quagmire, evoking the deep ethical conundrums that have long pervaded the place. … Mr. Heaney was enraptured, as he once put it, by “words as bearers of history and mystery.” His poetry, which had an epiphanic quality, was suffused with references to pre-Christian myth — Celtic, of course, but also that of ancient Greece. His style, linguistically dazzling, was nonetheless lacking in the obscurity that can attend poetic pyrotechnics.

The obituary also notes Heaney’s close identification with Catholic Ireland.

Mr. Heaney was deeply self-identified as Irish, and much of his work overtly concerned the Troubles, as the long, violent sectarian conflict in late-20th-century Northern Ireland is known. But though he condemned British dominion in his homeland (he wrote: “Be advised, my passport’s green/No glass of ours was ever raised/To toast the Queen”), Mr. Heaney refused to disown British tradition — and especially British literature — altogether.

The Times also quotes a passage from his 1974 lecture, “Feeling into Words to describe his love of language, rhyme and alliteration.

 “Maybe it was stirred by the beautiful sprung rhythms of the old BBC weather forecast: Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Shetland, Faroes, Finisterre; or with the gorgeous and inane phraseology of the catechism; or with the litany of the Blessed Virgin that was part of the enforced poetry in our household: Tower of Gold, Ark of the Covenant, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Comforter of the Afflicted.”

Does all this make Seamus Heaney a Catholic poet? While his work has long been associated with Catholicism, is this a sociological or religious description? There is no doubt that Heaney is a Catholic poet in a sociological sense. Writing in The Listener in 1975, Conor Cruise O’Brien argued that in North, Heaney was giving voice to a tribal Catholicism. It was “the tragedy of a people in a place: the Catholics of Northern Ireland.” While critic Edna Longley stated Heaney’s North concentrated on the “Catholic psyche as bound to immolation, and within that immolation, to savage tribal loyalties.”

Was Heaney’s Catholicism merely communal? An accident of his Northern Irish nationalist Catholic birth? Or was it informed by belief in the tenets of the Catholic faith?  As a young man, Heaney spoke of his work as a “slow obstinate Papish burn’, but by 2002 he said that his Catholicism was more of a “‘sociological term than anything else.” In the 2002 book, In the Chair: Interviews with Poets from Northern Ireland (p 83) Heaney said:

‘Papish burn’, I’m sorry to say, caves in to that same old clichéd idiom. It doesn’t help. It’s not further language. Catholic is less conniving than Papish, but if you describe yourself as a Catholic in the North, it can still sound like a defiance or a provocation. In certain circles in the South, it might even be taken to mean that deep down you are unrepentant about child abuse by priests and not altogether against corporal punishment in orphanages. I exaggerate, I know, but only in order to emphasize the way the common mind tends to react when faced with the fact of religion and religious practice and religious value.

Which takes me back to The New York Times obituary. In what sense can Heaney be called a Catholic poet? He certainly was an Irish Catholic poet — in terms of sectarian identity. But should the sociological label — the ideological stance of nationalist and Catholic over against Protestant and loyalist — be applied to his faith life? I expect that in years to come academic monographs and dissertations will examine these questions, and I offer no dogmatic assertion that he was or was not a Catholic poet. Yet should not a newspaper be careful on this point — conflating ideology with faith?

Was The Times correct in leading its description of Heaney as “A Roman Catholic native of Northern Ireland” without inquiring into the content of his religious beliefs?

Or does the use of Catholic image, language and symbolism in his poetry enough to make him Catholic? Can we call him a Catholic poet though “Religion’s never mentioned here,” of course.

First printed in Get Religion.

Does The New York Times hate Timothy Dolan?: Get Religion, August 29, 2013 August 29, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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”The question is, should this indictment have ever been brought? Which office do I go to to get my reputation back? Who will reimburse my company for the economic jail it has been in for two and a half years?”

So said former Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan to The New York Times following his acquittal on state charges of fraud and theft in 1987. Accused by the Bronx DA of attempting to defraud the New York City Transit Authority of $7.4 million on a subway construction project in the late 70’s, before he entered the Reagan Administration, Donovan and his co-defendants were found not guilty on all charges — with one jury telling the Times she believed the prosecution was politically motivated. While rejoicing in the not guilty verdict after his two year ordeal, Donovan lamented that it was not fair that the news of his being a decent man would receive far less publicity than the accusation he was a criminal.

What should a newspaper do in this situation? How can it restore the reputations of those falsely accused? Human nature being what it is, the news of an evil man is far more interesting than that of a good one. Critics often accuse newspapers of printing only bad news — senior church leaders upbraid me from time to time for focusing on scandal, corruption and hypocrisy and downplaying the good works performed by church. It does little good to respond that I dutifully report on the good news, but no one reads it. Stories of church sponsored campaigns to stop child marriage in Africa or of female genital mutilation, for example, are read by only a few, while a naughty vicar story is good for tens of thousands of hits, while an Al Gore in bed with the Church of England will get picked up by Drudge and crash the servers.

In the Donovan case The New York Times acted properly and professionally according to the dictates of the craft. They reported without bias, cant or agenda. To have done more would have been special pleading, engaging in propaganda to sway public opinion to think as our masters tell us.

What then should we make of The Times coverage of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee abuse lawsuit? On 1 July 2013 The Times printed a story entitled “Dolan Sought to Protect Church Assets, Files Show”. This was followed on 3 July 2013 with an editorial entitled “Cardinal Dolan and the Sexual Abuse Scandal” and a 6 July op-ed piece by Frank Bruni entitled “The Church’s Errant Shepherds”. Apart from a correction on 16 July The Times does not appear to have followed up on the story.

Which is curious as the first article starts off with a bang.

Files released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Monday reveal that in 2007, Cardinal Timothy F. Dolan, then the archbishop there, requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation.

Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has emphatically denied seeking to shield church funds as the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009. He reiterated in a statement Monday that these were “old and discredited attacks.”

However, the files contain a 2007 letter to the Vatican in which he explains that by transferring the assets, “I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” The Vatican approved the request in five weeks, the files show.

The article continues in this vein, proffering evidence and arguments that while Archbishop of Milwaukee, Cardinal Dolan acted disreputably by moving church assets out of the reach of creditors. The Times editorial doubled-down on this assertion writing:

Tragic as the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church has been, it is shocking to discover that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while archbishop of Milwaukee, moved $57 million off the archdiocesan books into a cemetery trust fund six years ago in order to protect the money from damage suits by victims of abuse by priests.

While not labeling him a crook, the editorial board was quite clear in its opinion the archbishop had engaged in shady dealings and had not lived up to the high moral standard The Times expected of the Cardinal Archbishop of New York. The censure of the op-ed pales in comparison to the rage that seethes through Frank Bruni’s piece. The underlying acts of abuse were bad enough, but the institution’s response has been worse.

I mean the evil that an entire institution can do, though it supposedly dedicates itself to good.

I mean the way that a religious organization can behave almost precisely as a corporation does, with fudged words, twisted logic and a transcendent instinct for self-protection that frequently trump the principled handling of a specific grievance or a particular victim.

However, Bruni’s column is a column. A reader may agree with his sentiments or find them unhinged. They are written to provide entertainment based on current events — they are not reporting in and of themselves. The Times‘ op-ed piece is also only the opinion of the editorial board. One either agrees with its sentiments or does not. The underlying news stories however, are what makes or breaks the newspaper’s reputation for reporting. And here the paper disappoints.

On 30 July the Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a Federal District Court had ruled that Cardinal Dolan and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had acted properly — and morally — by shielding cemetery funds from creditors. The Journal Sentinel story entitled “In win for Milwaukee Archdiocese, judge shields cemetery funds from creditors” reported:

In a decision that could have far-reaching implications for religious institutions around the country,a federal judge has ruled against forcing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to tap its cemetery funds to pay sex abuse claims in its bankruptcy.

In issuing the ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa said including the funds would violate free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and a 1993 law aimed at protecting religious freedom. Randa cited the Catholic belief in the resurrection, which teaches that the body ultimately reunites with the soul, and the role of Catholic cemeteries in the exercise of that belief under canon law.

“The sacred nature of Catholic cemeteries — and compliance with the church’s historical and religious traditions and mandates requiring their perpetual care — are understood as a fundamental exercise of this core belief,” said Randa in overturning an earlier decision by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley.

Yet there has been nothing from The New York Times on this issue. When the ruling was handed down, I expected to see something. Perhaps another angry Bruni jeremiad on the courts protecting an evil institution, tut-tutting from the editorial board — but nothing. Perhaps it being August the staff are on holiday and no one was about to write this piece. Yet The Times has an AP subscription and could have run the wire service story.

What message is The New York Times sending by not reporting the court verdict, which as the Journal Sentinel story points out, stressed the judge’s decision that what Cardinal Dolan did was not only lawful, but was a moral act based upon the Catholic Church’s doctrines. Is The Times motivated by animus towards the Roman Catholic Church? Does it hate Cardinal Dolan?

I doubt the newspaper has a grudge against the archbishop. Life’s events are more often motivated by mistake and omission than deliberate aggression. Nevertheless, this does episode does not do credit to The New York Times.

Caveat: The New York Times may have reported this decision — if so, I have not seen it, nor been able to find it on their website. Times image courtesy of Shutterstock.

 

First printed in Get Religion.

The NY Times misses the battle for Belarus; Get Religion, August 9, 2013 August 10, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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I would like to draw your attention to a 28 July 2013 piece in the New York Times entitled “Putin in Ukraine to Celebrate a Christian Anniversary”. The article reports on the interplay of religion, politics and culture in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Yet the mention of religion in a story does not necessarily mean the reporter “gets religion.”

The article opens by focusing on what the Times sees as the political significance of the event, and then moves to an appreciation of the interplay of religion with politics.

MOSCOW — In an apparent attempt to use shared history to make a case for closer ties, President Vladimir V. Putin attended religious ceremonies in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday to commemorate the 1,025th anniversary of events that brought Christianity to Ukraine and Russia. At a reception in Kiev, the capital, Mr. Putin spoke of the primacy of the two countries’ spiritual and historical bonds, regardless of political decisions that often divide them. Relations have been rocky in part because of attempts by Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, to formalize its political and economic ties with the European Union.

“We are all spiritual heirs of what happened here 1,025 years ago,” Mr. Putin told church hierarchs at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. “And in this sense we are, without a doubt, one people.”

Mr. Putin’s trip was also the latest sign of the deepening ties and common agenda of the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. The events last week commemorated Prince Vladimir of Kiev’s decision to convert to Christianity and baptize his subjects in 988, an event known as the Baptism of Rus, … The attention has also lent apparent endorsement to church criticism of Western democracy and secular culture, particularly homosexuality….

Patriarch Kirill invoked the concept of the Holy Rus, referring to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as a unified spiritual expanse united under the faith. … The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

The article then looks at the church’s illiberal teachings, pulling quotes from Cyril made outside the Kiev celebrations.

The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

“This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything so that sin is never validated by the laws of the state in the lands of Holy Rus, because this would mean that the people are starting on the path of self-destruction,” he said at a Moscow cathedral, according to the Web site of the Moscow Patriarchate. He previously said that such “blasphemous laws” could prove as dangerous to believers as the executioners of the Great Terror during the government of Stalin.

Before I move to an analysis of the distortions to the story caused by the particular worldview of the Times, let me say a word about nomenclature beginning with names. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is called Kirill in this article and in other outlets is named Kyrill and Cyril. They are all the same name, but coming as I do out of an older style of journalism that anglicizes everything because that is how God intended it to be, I use Cyril — just as I call the pope Francis. And some regions of the world and nations are prefaced by “the” — the Sahara, the Arctic, the Sudan, the Ukraine — less frequently the Lebanon and the Yemen. I am not making a political statement when I call the host nation “the Ukraine”, implying it is a region rather than a nation state, or a mystical idealized place like la France of Charles de Gaulle, rather it is the style in which I was educated. That having been said …

The word “apparent” in the first line is problematic. It begs the question “apparent to whom?” The Times states this is Putin’s political goal and offers extracts from his speeches to illustrate this point, but spends little time in offering other views.

I am not saying the Times was incorrect in stating the trip for Putin was an opportunity to bring the Ukraine closer to Moscow. This theme was noted in the Russian press also. Moskovsky Komsomolets a Moscow-based daily with a circulation of approximately one million, called Putin’s Ukrainian visit “the second baptism of the Rus”, implying shared spiritual values make Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians “one people”.

The official text of Putin’s 27 July 2013 speech Putin makes this point clear.

The Baptism of Rus was a great event that defined Russia’s and Ukraine’s spiritual and cultural development for the centuries to come. We must remember this brotherhood and preserve our ancestors’ traditions. Together, they built a unique system of Orthodox values and strengthened themselves in their faith …

Putin then moves from spiritual unity to national economic solidarity, arguing the Ukraine’s strategic choice lies with the Eurasian and not the European integration project.

Competition on the global markets is very fierce today. Only by joining forces we can be competitive and stand a chance of winning in this tough environment. We have every reason too, to be confident that we should and can achieve this.

The stress placed on this point by the Times is not misplaced, but it is unbalanced. We are hearing only Putin and Cyril in this story — and what the New York Times thinks about them.

The article does not contrast Putin’s vision to the Ukrainian premier Viktor Yanukovych’s administration’s goal of Kiev assuming a leadership role in bringing not only the Ukraine, but also Russia and Belarus closer to Europe. It may well be the Moscow-based reporter’s job to write all-Putin all the time stories, yet the article’s emphasis on Putin clouds the issue.

The content of Putin’s speech is news as is the fact of the celebration of the anniversary of the Baptism of the East Slavs, but the significant event from a political and religious perspective is the boycott of the proceedings by the Premier of Belarus — a fact mentioned only by the omission of his name from the heads of state list given by the Times.

In other words, it is not new news the Russian Orthodox Church believes nationality, or Russianness is born from Orthodoxy. Nor is it news the Orthodox Church is opposed to gay marriage. Nor is it news that Putin is seeking to pull Kiev into Moscow’s orbit. Nor is the Times‘ comments about the rapprochement between church and state new news. Putin has been moving the state closer to the church for over a decade — and as the article states Putin revealed he had been baptized as an infant in the Leningrad during the Stalinist era. By focusing on the familiar — of how the ceremony relates to Putin, the Times missed in its coverage is the significance of the boycott of the ceremony by the Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka.

(more…)

Bishops downplay Palestinian terrorism in Middle East Statement: Anglican Ink, August 1, 2013 August 1, 2013

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The Bishop of Exeter and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton met last week with Israel’s Ambassador to the UK to share the churches’ concern over the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

In a statement released on 25 July 2013 that downplayed Israeli security concerns in the face of Palestinian terror attacks, the Rt. Rev Michael Langrish, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the Middle East Peace Process and the Rt Rev Declan Lang, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales department for international affairs, said in their meeting with Ambassador Daniel Taub they “discussed the grave problems confronting the peoples of the Holy Land, including the rise of extremism, settlement building and the impact of the separation barrier on communities.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Anglican Unscripted Episode 77: July 31, 2013 July 31, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, Anglican.TV, Archbishop of Canterbury, Property Litigation, Roman Catholic Church, South Carolina.
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Anglican Unscripted is the only video newscast in the Anglican Church. Every Week Kevin, George, Allan and Peter bring you news and prospective from around the globe.

STORY INDEX:

THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST 00:00
THE POPE IN AMERICA 04:13
JUSTICE FOR JUSTIN 10:34
RECIFE 15:59
SOUTH CAROLINA 21:59
FORWARD IN FAITH 25:38

Indulgences & WYD in the Guardian: Get Religion, July 23, 2013 July 23, 2013

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The Guardian, the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory and the editorial board of the New York Times were the targets of my wit on Thursday’s Get Religion podcast. Crossroads host Todd Wilkens and I discussed the media coverage of the Vatican’s announcement that those who followed Pope Francis’ tweets from the World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil would be granted an indulgence.

My colleague Mollie Hemingway looked at this topic last week in a post entitled “Media: Pope says retweets spring the soul!” that focused on the Telegraph. Mollie seemed to be having so much fun with the topic that Todd and I decided to join the party and focus on the Guardian story “Vatican offers ‘time off purgatory’ to followers of Pope Francis tweets”. The subtitle was even better: “Papal court handling pardons for sins says contrite Catholics may win ‘indulgences’ by following World Youth Day on Twitter”.

Todd opened the program by asking my expectations and reactions to the story. I responded that the Guardian story was “wonderfully awful”. It  played into the anti-Catholic animus that resides just below the surface of English life and would elicit a visceral response from some readers — the liberal secularist left would find comfort in reading about the latest foolishness from those enamored with sky pixies. The Little Englanders (who don’t normally take the Guardian as they place their full faith and credit in the Daily Mail) would respond with two words: “bloody papists”.

While the tone of the article was problematic, it was not in error. The Guardian did not make the mistake of conflating absolution and indulgences: forgiveness for sin over against the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. But the article could have provided context, offering examples of indulgences granted for Bible reading, praying the rosary or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

And, good Protestant that I am, I offered my view that indulgences were nonsense. And admitted to a liking for ridicule — stating this was part of my repertoire in reporting on Anglican affairs.

But in this instance, if you did not believe in Purgatory, indulgences could have no theological meaning. The disdain that was so close to the surface of the Guardian article, and animated my off the cuff remarks, had its roots in one of the significant divisions between Protestants and Catholics, Todd (a Lutheran) and I (an Episcopalian) observed.

Yet the misreporting of this story chronicled by Mollie Hemingway also had its roots in the lack of knowledge or interest in religion found in news rooms. I told Todd:

I would not be quick to say there is a vast left-wing conspiracy out there to smack down the Catholic Church. Where I think it comes from is an inveterate hostility found in 99% of news rooms against the Christian religion, against organized Christianity. You are going to find the greatest concentration atheists not in the Soviet Politburo but in the editorial offices of the New York Times. Their coverage is filtered through that worldview. So they don’t understand what is going on. They don’t understand the attraction of faith. They don’t understand the mystery of faith and frankly ridicule is the easy way out.

While the Politburo reference dates me — I believe this quip holds true.

Read it all in Get Religion.

CoE scholar awarded 2013 Ratzinger Prize: The Church of England Newspaper, June 30, 2013 p 6 July 2, 2013

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Dr Richard Burridge

A Church of England clergyman is the first non-Roman Catholic to be awarded the Ratzinger Prize by the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation. On 21 June 2013 Vatican Information Service announced that the Rev. Dr. Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College London and Prof.  Christian Schaller of Regensburg were this year’s winners.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Foundation’s academic committee, stated Dr. Burridge “is definitely an eminent figure in the field of Biblical studies and not only of the English language. In particular, he has made a great contribution in that decisive area of the historical and theological recognition of the Gospels’ inseparable connection to Jesus of Nazareth.”

Prof. Schaller, deputy director of the Pope Benedict XVI Institute of Regensburg was honored  “not only for his contribution to theological studies but also in recognition of the role he is carrying out in the publication of Joseph Ratzinger’s complete works.”

“The Foundation’s aim is to place the question of God at the heart of academic reflection,” according to the VIS report. “Its two principal activities are awarding scholarships to those pursuing doctorates in Theology and organizing conferences of high academic standard.” This year’s conference sponsored by the foundation will be held at the Pontifical Lateran University in October and will be titled, “The Gospels: History and Christology.”

Ghosts of Volhynia: Get Religion, June 30, 2013 July 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani. … We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.

Massimo d’Azeglio, Memoirs (1867).

When the Kingdom of Savoy created the modern Italian state in 1861, it also began the work of creating an Italian identity. Not since the fall of the Roman Empire had the whole peninsula been ruled as a single state — and its inhabitants saw themselves as Milanese, Neapolitans,  Romans, Tuscans and so forth. It took a world war and Mussolini to solidify an Italian identity.

National identity has not been a problem East of the Danube. A Pole has long identified himself as a Pole. While there may be regional dialects and traditional customs, a Pole knew what he was not —  a German or Ukrainian or Lithuanian or Russian or a Jew.

The Twentieth century was not kind to this corner of the world crushed between Hitler and Stalin. The Jews are gone — killed by the Nazis. The Germans are gone — driven West at the close of the Second World War — and the borderlands emptied of Poles, pushed West into former German lands by the Russians. This bloody history returned to center stage this weekend when Polish and Ukrainian church leaders issued a joint statement of apology and forgiveness commemorating the 1943-47 massacres in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.

A comparison of the reporting from Warsaw and Kiev on this issue indicates the passions of the past remain alive. Religion and nationalism remain intertwined in the conscience of Eastern Europe. And, like the dog in the night, this story is all the more significant because of who is not barking — Moscow.

On 28 June 2013 the front page of Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborcza reported that the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, had traveled to Warsaw to seek forgiveness from:

every Polish family who lost relatives from the hands of my compatriots.

Archbishop Józef Michalik of Przemysl, the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, was quoted by the Warsaw daily as saying in response, the Ukrainian statement was a:

a sign of sound and brave patriotism, free of nationalist or backward thinking.

Radio Poland provided some background:

The appeal accompanies the 70th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres, which took place in a Nazi-occupied region that had been divided between Poland and the Soviet Union prior to the Second World War. After sporadic killings, a concerted action was launched on 11 July 1943, and from 1943 to 1945, it is estimated that 100,000 ethnic Poles were killed in the Volhynia area. Units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a guerilla force of Ukrainian nationalists, carried out the actions.

“We are aware that only the truth can set us free, the truth, which does not beautify and does not omit, which does not pass over in silence, but leads to forgiveness,” today’s statement reads.

Besides citing “the evil” that was done against ethnic Poles, the resolution also refers to Polish counter-attacks, and the partisan war that unfolded. It is estimated that about 2000-3000 Ukrainians were killed in Volhynia, and about 20,000 more when the fighting spread to other areas of south east Poland (1944-1947).

The agreed statement from the church leaders follows upon motion adopted last week by the Polish Senate calling the Volhynia massacres an “ethnic cleansing bearing the hallmarks of genocide,” Radio Poland reported.

Peering at this issue through a Polish lens, the story is one of Ukrainian contrition. Yet if you look at the Russian and Ukrainian newspapers we see a slightly different story — moral equivalence and inter-Orthodox rivalries. Ukrainska Pravda provides details about the agreement which was endorsed by the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches in Poland and the Ukraine remembers the events of 1943-1947 to be a

mutual ethnic cleansing of the Ukrainian and Polish population carried out by peasant self-defense units …

Ukrainska Pravda further noted the agreed statement had to be re-written after the head of the Roman Catholic Church said the first Greek Catholic draft that called on each side to forgive and ask forgiveness, implying a degree of moral equivalence between the two sides, was “nonsense”.

The Russian-language Ukrainian news portal Polemika headlined its story: “The Catholics of two countries have urged reconciliation between the people of the Ukraine and Poland”.

But while the agreement was between the Ukrainian uniate and Polish Catholic Churches this was not an all-Catholic affair as:

The request for forgiveness, [Archbishop Shevchuk] said, had been joined by the head of the Orthodox Church of Kiev, Patriarch Philaret, and the Volhynian Council of Christian Churches.

“What of it?”, you might ask. Poland and the Ukraine are very far away and Volhynia is the back of beyond of the back of  beyond. I have not seen this story reported in the Western or English-language media, save for the Radio Poland English-language broadcast.  Those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Orthodox-Catholic relations or with the players in this story may well pass this by as being a bit of religion news exotica.

Yet as the Balkan wars of the 1990s demonstrated religio-ethnic wars can return to Europe. I am not suggesting that will happen in this case, but a rapprochement between Kiev and Warsaw is not in the interests of Moscow. While Polemika reports Metropolitan Philaret backed the agreement, nothing was said about Metropolitan Vladimir. Philaret leads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, which broke away from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the oversight of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church for nationalistic reasons. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Vladimir (the larger of the two), issued its own statement commemorating the 70th anniversary of the massacres.

For Metropolitan Vladimir the causes of the “interethnic conflict” remain the subject of historical debate. However the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) has

… always supported the motherland and always cherished Christian patriotism. … Our love for our native land takes form “in protecting the homeland from the enemy, working for the good of the Fatherland, and caring for for people’s lives”

But Vladimir noted the church had

denounced the “sinful phenomena of aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, national exclusiveness, ethnic hatred” … The Volhynia tragedy was a sad example of just such a sinful distortion of national feeling. Christian patriotism is incompatible  with violence against other people. Because the Orthodox Church unequivocally condemns ethnic hatred, as being contrary to Christian ethics.

However ….

Unfortunately, today we see how the different political forces try to use the sad anniversary of the Volhynia tragedy for social manipulation. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church unequivocally condemns any attempt to use the tragedy, which claimed many Polish and Ukrainian lives, for political speculation.

Is he talking about Ukrainian nationalists or the Polish Senate? As Vladimir follows the Moscow line, my assumption is that this will be heard in Warsaw as a rebuke of Poland.

He closes with the statement that:

Our peoples are neighbors. We have to build fraternal relations, overcoming the heavy burden of historical confrontations and conflicts. … The Orthodox Church has always tried to carry out the mission of reconciliation between nations involved in the feud. Today, we call on the Ukrainian and Polish nations to seek mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.

For Vladimir the terms of reference are those rejected already by the Catholic Church. I expect Moscow to weigh in at some point, but the grounds of dispute seem pretty clear. Religion, ethnicity and history still have a hold on the politics of the East.

First printed in Get Religion.

Cardinal backs gay civil unions over Vatican objections: The Church of England Newspaper, June 23, 2013, p 7. June 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Marriage, Roman Catholic Church.
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Cardinal Godfried Danneels

Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, has broken ranks with the Vatican and given his support to legislation to create same sex unions.

In an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir published on 4 June 2013 the cardinal said the Catholic Church “has never opposed the fact that there should exist a sort of ‘marriage’ between homosexuals, but one therefore speaks of a ‘sort of’ marriage, not of true marriage between a man and a woman, therefore another word must be found for the dictionary.”

“About the fact that this should be legal, that it should be made legitimate through a law, about this the Church has nothing to say,” the cardinal said.

A leader of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church in Europe, Cardinal Danneels was touted in the press as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II. His remarks follow similar comments made in recent months by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, archbishop of Bogotà – who retracted his statement last November.

On 3 June 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released a statement entitled: “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons”.

“The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions,” the statement said, released under the signature of then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger and given the imprimatur of Pope John Paul II.

The CDF held: “The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”

Cardinal Danneels’s comments follow a statement last month by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference in opposition to civil unions in Italy, “The family cannot be humiliated and weakened by similar representations that in a stealthy way constitute a progressive ‘vulnus’ on its specific identity, and that are not necessary to safeguard individual rights that to a large extent are already guaranteed by the law,” he said.

Pope Francis has yet to speak on the issue of civil unions in Italy or gay will marriage in England or France.

Reuters engages in papal Kremlinology: Get Religion June 26, 2013 June 27, 2013

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Pope Francis did not attend a musical gala last Saturday evening at the Vatican due to the press of work. This event prompted fierce speculation in the Italian press and a bout of papal Kremlinology from Reuters.

It may well be the pope’s absence from a concert given by the RAI symphony orchestra on 22 June 2013 was a deliberate snub — but the heavy breathing and speculation that stands in for factual reporting here does not engender confidence that that is necessarily so.

The article entitled “Pope ‘snub’ of concert stuns cardinals, sends signal” opens with a statement that is, simply stated, an assertion.

A last-minute no-show by Pope Francis at a concert where he was to have been the guest of honor has sent another clear signal that he is going to do things his way and does not like the Vatican high life.

Pope Francis did not attend the concert. That is clear enough — but was it a last-minute no-show? And to whom is it clear that this is a pointed message about the Vatican high life? And how do we know this? Where are the attribution clauses used by journalists?

Having made strong claims in the lede, Reuters should now deliver. The article continues:

The gala classical concert on Saturday was scheduled before his election in March. But the white papal armchair set up in the presumption that he would be there remained empty.

Was this a scheduling conflict? Was Pope Benedict XVI — a music lover — expected, or was it assumed Francis would take his place? Was this on the pope’s published agenda?

This detail leads to more questions. The assertions made in the lede are not in doubt, but Reuters better not wait too long before defending them.

Minutes before the concert was due to start, an archbishop told the crowd of cardinals and Italian dignitaries that an “urgent commitment that cannot be postponed” would prevent Francis from attending. The prelates, assured that health was not the reason for the no-show, looked disoriented, realizing that the message he wanted to send was that, with the Church in crisis, he — and perhaps they — had too much pastoral work to do to attend social events.

Which archbishop spoke? Papal secretary or a concert organizer? An observer might say the gathered prelates “looked disoriented”, but only a novelist (or a mind reader) could state that they shared a common thought. The story is starting to go under — but there is still time to save it.

An unnamed source is then produced to give support to the lede, and his comments will make or break the story — but all he says is:

“In Argentina, they probably knew not to arrange social events like concerts for him because he probably wouldn’t go,” said the source, who spoke anonymously because he is not authorized to discuss the issue.

The picture of the empty chair was used in many Italian papers, with Monday’s Corriere della Sera newspaper calling his decision “a show of force” to illustrate the simple style he wants Church officials to embrace.

And that’s it.

The remainder of the story is padded with background details to support the argument — but there is nothing here to allow this to be called a news story.

If Reuters took ownership of the editorial voice rather than push it off onto Corriere della Sera or an unnamed functionary this story would be an acceptable news analysis piece. Instead we have a story that feels like it was written in the back of a taxi on the way to the airport as deadline time fast approaches.

In the end, this story is an interesting example of what can be called Vatican Kremlinology. It seeks to divine meaning from symbolic acts. Who stands next to whom? What does a particular form of vestment signify? What does an empty white chair mean? Is it a sign of a purge? Semiotics may be great fun to graduate students, but reporters should stick to the presentation of facts.

Signs, symbolism and their meanings can play a role in explaining facts, but they should not be a substitute for facts in newspaper reporting.

First printed in Get Religion.

Archbishop of Canterbury to meet with Pope Francis in Rome: The Church of England Newspaper, June 16, 2013 p 6. June 20, 2013

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The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will hold his first meeting with Pope Francis on 14 June 2013 at the Vatican.

The Archbishop’s official diary states he “will be travelling to Rome, accompanied by Mrs Welby, for a personal and fraternal visit to Pope Francis on 14 June. … A more extended visit, for Archbishop Justin to engage with various other Vatican officials, will happen later in the year.”

On 4 June 2013 Msgr. Mark Langham told Vatican Radio this would be “important” but “informal, brief courtesy visit” to Pope Francis. The meeting has been scheduled so that the heads of the two churches can “get to know each other better and more deeply,” he said.

A press release from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said the Friday meeting will be an “opportunity for the Archbishop and Pope Francis to review the present state of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion.”

The statement said: “In particular, the interest shown by Archbishop Welby in global justice and the ethical regulation of financial markets so that they do not oppress men and women, is echoed in the constant teaching of the Holy Father. Ever since his experience as an executive in an oil company, Archbishop Welby has placed great emphasis on reconciliation, and has continued to press for the resolution of conflicts within the Church and society. This also evokes Pope Francis’ own call to build bridges between people of every nation, so that they may be seen not as rivals and threats, but as brothers and sisters.”

The statement added that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, “will accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury on this visit” and that his presence is “a sign of their close relations”.

In addition to meeting the pope Archbishop Welby is scheduled to visit the Excavations beneath St Peter’s Basilica to pray at the tomb of St Peter, visit the tomb of John Paul II and lunch with Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at Saint Martha’s, the lodging house for Vatican visitors where Francis lives.

A Vatican Gay lobby or a gay Lobby? : Get Religion, June 20, 2013 June 20, 2013

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Where should the stress be placed in Pope Francis’ phrase the “gay lobby”? Upon the first word “gay” or the second, “lobby”?

This semantic game animated my discussion this week with Todd Wilken, the host of Lutheran Public Radio’s Issues, Etc. program.  In our conversation broadcast on 18 June 2013, Todd and I contrasted The New York Times coverage of Pope Francis’s comments that a gay lobby existed at the Vatican to the coverage in the European and religion press.

Todd began to show by asking if this was new news? I was polite and responded that this is only 100 years or so old,  which I admit was a misstatement on my part. But it would’ve been bad form to quote Pope Pius V on a Lutheran program.

In his Constitution Horrendum illud scelus of 30  August 1568, Pius stated:

In his That horrible crime, on account of which corrupt and obscene cities were destroyed by fire through divine condemnation, causes us most bitter sorrow and shocks our mind, impelling us to repress such a crime with the greatest possible zeal.

Quite opportunely the Fifth Lateran Council [1512-1517] issued this decree: “Let any member of the clergy caught in that vice against nature, given that the wrath of God falls over the sons of perfidy, be removed from the clerical order or forced to do penance in a monastery” (chap. 4, X, V, 31).

So that the contagion of such a grave offense may not advance with greater audacity by taking advantage of impunity, which is the greatest incitement to sin, and so as to more severely punish the clerics who are guilty of this nefarious crime and who are not frightened by the death of their souls, we determine that they should be handed over to the severity of the secular authority, which enforces civil law.

Therefore, wishing to pursue with greater rigor than we have exerted since the beginning of our pontificate, we establish that any priest or member of the clergy, either secular or regular, who commits such an execrable crime, by force of the present law be deprived of every clerical privilege, of every post, dignity and ecclesiastical benefit, and having been degraded by an ecclesiastical judge, let him be immediately delivered to the secular authority to be put to death, as mandated by law as the fitting punishment for laymen who have sunk into this abyss.

Pius did not mince words.

One can say that this is not new news, but Pope Francis’ discussion of the problem was new. But should the news reports stress the homosexuality angle or the clique? The New York Times emphasized the gay in their report unlike the European press which focused on the lobby. Is this the difference without significance? I would say no.

Had this been the first instance accusations have been raised about gay clique at the heart of the Catholic Church then the emphasis would best be placed on what members of the clique had in common. But as this is not new — apart from the Pope’s admission to the existence of such a problem — the better story is a discussion of the clique.

We need to step back however and recognize the “gay lobby” phrase is not a quote but a third-party summation of Francis’s words. In Spanish and later in the Italian reports the word translated into English as lobby has connotations of a Mafia or a cabal — not merely a political a pressure group. The European reporting highlighted the problem of priests having a higher loyalty to members of this Mafia then to their ecclesiastical superiors or to the discipline of the church.

While sex is always a good story — and homosexuality is a meme the New York Times cannot do without — the deeper story is the cleansing of the Curia of an old boys network.This story focuses on the gay old boys network, but there are other networks in the Curia who have stymied reform. And in this area, I told Todd it was my belief that the agenda of Popes Benedict and Francis are almost identical — Francis is not the anti-Benedict beloved of op-ed writers on this side of the Atlantic.

Well, that is what I wanted to say anyway. Listen and tell me what you think.

First printed at Get Religion.

Interview: Issues Etc., June 19, 2013 June 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Issues Etc, Roman Catholic Church.
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Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 18 June 2013.

3. Media Coverage of a “Gay Lobby” at the Vatican – George Conger, 6/18/13

Podcast: Download (Duration: 14:19 — 5.9MB)

 

Put not your trust in Huffington Post headlines: Get Religion, June 18, 2013 June 18, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ordinariate, Archbishop of Canterbury, ARCIC, Church of England, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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I know a maiden fair to see,
Take care!
She can both false and friendly be,
Beware! Beware!
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s advice about women — especially blondes …

And she has hair of a golden hue,
Take care!
And what she says, it is not true,
Beware! Beware!
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee!

… is also good advice in reading headlines. As your GetReligionistas have stressed many times, seldom does a reporter get to write his own title. Yet when a sub-editor makes a mess of a headline the blame is laid at the reporter’s feet when the claim made in the title is not substantiated in the text. There have been times when stories I have written appear under a title that implies the opposite of what I reported.

Sometime back I was commissioned to write an article on a lecture given by the literary critic and philosopher René Girard at Oxford. I gave the story my all and … when I opened the paper after it came off the truck from the printer I found my article nicely displayed on page 5 with a beautiful photo of Girard scoring a goal in a World Cup match.

Too bad René Girard the philosopher and René Girard the soccer player are two different people. Perhaps my readers thought I was being droll, commenting on the élan vital of Girard’s latest book on mimesis by reference to the 1982 France v Poland match. Or they thought I was an idiot.

These meditations on my less than glorious moments in journalism are prompted by a Reuters article on the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s visit to Rome to meet with Pope Francis. The Huffington Post headlined the story: “Pope And Archbishop Of Canterbury Meet, Note Differences On Women Ordination, Gay Rights”.

While I was not in Rome for the press conference at the Venerable English College where Archbishop Welby and Vincent Nichols the Archbishop of Westminster spoke at the end of their day at the Vatican, this headline indicated I missed a major event. Until now Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby held near identical views on gay rights, same-sex marriage, and civil liberties of persons with same-sex attractions. Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting! What had they said to each other?

I dove into the Reuters story looking for details. But there was nothing there. I could quibble here and there with some of the language and editorial asides made by the author:

It was the boldest step by the Vatican to welcome back Anglicans since King Henry VIII broke with Rome and set himself up at the head of the new Church of England in 1534.

An Anglican would say Henry made himself Supreme Governor not head — the head of the church is Christ (there is a difference) and there was nothing “new” in a Church of England in 1534 — “new” implying a discontinuity between the pre and post 1534 church. A frightful papistical canard. Or:

In January this year, the Church of England lifted a ban on gay male clergy who live with their partners from becoming bishops on condition they pledge to stay celibate, deepening a rift in the Anglican community over homosexuality.

A celibate person is an unmarried person. A chaste person is someone who refrains from illicit sexual behavior. I assume Reuters meant to say chaste, meaning conforming to the church’s teaching that “in view of the teaching of scripture, [the Anglican Communion] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”. The working assumption is that clergy in civil partnerships are celibate, because they are unmarried, and chaste as they are to abstain from sexual relations outside of (traditional) marriage.

And it is the Anglican Communion, not community. Community implies an ashram in the woods somewhere, or a collection of sensibly dressed nuns in their cloister. (True there are such Anglican communities — religious with pearls and twin sets) but this is not what Reuters is likely to have in mind — but perhaps this is the “women” link to the headline?

Or:

The Church, struggling to remain relevant in modern Britain despite falling numbers of believers, published a plan in May to approve the ordination of women bishops by 2015, after the reform narrowly failed to pass last November.

It was the bishops — not the church — who published the plan. It still must be approved by the General Synod, which if the plan goes forward as currently written will likely be turned aside once more.

Anything about gays in the Reuters story? Nothing at all.

I looked about the web and found The Chicago Tribune had run the same item, but with a different title: “Pope Francis and new Anglican leader meet, note differences.” Rather a where’s Waldo headline — written for a bored seven year old. One is in purple, one in white. One has his wife with him (in the background) one has cardinals, etc.

I looked on the Reuters web page to see if the Huffington Post had shortened the article for space reasons, but found they had lengthened the title instead. The suggested title read: Pope Francis and new Anglican leader meet, note differences.” The gays and women bits came from the Huffington Post’s scribes — not Reuters.

Checking further I found I had not missed a major ecumenical story by staying home as La Stampa and the Guardian reported these comments by Archbishop Welby at the press briefing. La Stampa wrote:

Questioned whether he and Pope Francis had discussed the question of marriage and the debate over gay marriage, Archbishop Welby said “we are absolutely at one on the issues” by which he meant on the question of marriage (understood in the traditional Christian sense as between a man and a woman). He revealed that the Pope told him that he had read the speech he given recently to the House of Lords in which he opposed the British Government’s bill to introduce marriage between persons of the same sex.

Archbishop Welby added that he and Pope Francis are “equally at one in the condemnation of homophobic behavior” and “our sense that the essential dignity of the human being is where you start, and that is one of the absolute root foundations of all behavior, and the moment you start treating people as a category rather than as human beings with this essential dignity you have begun to lose the plot”.

What is the moral of the story?

Read the article, not just the headline. Though I will admit the Huffington Post editor who wrote this headline succeeded in his job, which is getting me to read the article. That is a different task than the reporter’s job of fairly presenting the news. Beware! You’ve been warned.

First printed in Get Religion.

Are gay blinkers distorting the New York Times reporting on the Vatican?: Get Religion, June 16, 2013 June 17, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The New York Times is shocked, shocked to hear Pope Francis say there is a gay lobby at the Vatican.

The suggestion that a gay mafia exists within the Curia has been a major news item in Italy and has generated stories round the world. The reactions have been diverse — and have reinforced the stereotypes of the major news outlets.

The New York Times‘ report is thorough, earnest and a bit dry, but misses the real story. Some of the Italian newspapers are having fits of joy in reporting on shadowy cabals of gay monsignori  cavorting in the Vatican — I am waiting for Freemasons to enter the story any day now. However the Italian press, along with the religion press, appreciate this story is not about homosexuality but doctrine, discipline, and divided loyalties within the Vatican.

For those not in the know — the story so far:

In a 6 June 2013 meeting with members of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Pope Francis was purported to have said in a discussion of reforming the church’s administration: “In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true. … The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there … We need to see what we can do.”

Why “purported”? Because the remarks were recorded in a summary of the meeting posted on a Chilean Web site, Reflection and Liberation, and later translated into English by the blog Rorate Caeli. The Milan newspaper Il Giornale reported that after Rorate Caeli released the transcript, Vatican reporters John Thavis and Marco Tosatti reported the news as did AFP and the Madrid newspaper El Mundo — and the world followed.

The Times begins its report by stating the suggestion there is a gay lobby is not shocking. What is shocking is that the pope would admit it.

For years, perhaps even centuries, it has been an open secret in Rome: That some prelates in the Vatican hierarchy are gay. But the whispers were amplified this week when Pope Francis himself, in a private audience, appears to have acknowledged what he called a “gay lobby” operating inside the Vatican, vying for power and influence.

The Times news account lays out the story in detail, offering context and diverse opinion as to the importance of the remarks. Yet for all its thoroughness the Times misses the bigger picture of clergy cliques and divided loyalties.

But never fear — on the op-ed pages of the Times compounds its misinterpretation of the facts as Frank Bruni savages the church for not being gay enough.

What was clearer was his acknowledgment — rare for a pope, and thus remarkable — of the church’s worst-kept secret: a priesthood populous with gay men, even at the zenith. And that underscored anew the mystery and madness of the church’s attitude about homosexuality. If homosexuality is no bar to serving as one of God’s emissaries and interpreters, if it’s no obstacle to being promoted to the upper rungs of the church’s hierarchy, how can it be so wrong? It doesn’t add up. There’s an error in the holy arithmetic.

It also offers this snippet of information:

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and an editor at large at the Catholic magazine America, told me that he’s seen thoughtful though not scientifically rigorous estimates that anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of Catholic priests are gay. His own best guess is 30 percent. That’s thousands and thousands of gay priests, some of whom must indeed be in the “deep-seated” end of the tendency pool. Martin believes that the vast majority of gay priests aren’t sexually active. But some are, and Rome is certainly one of the many theaters where the conflict between the church’s ethereal ideals and the real world play out.

(more…)

RNS blames Catholics for Anglican ecumenical ills: Get Religion, June 14, 2013 June 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ordinariate, Archbishop of Canterbury, ARCIC, Church of England, Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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Opinion presented as fact dominates several stories in the run up to today’s meeting of Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Some of the stories are crafted as news analysis pieces. This BBC story begins with fact and then transitions into the analysis, using the phrase “our correspondent said” to demarcate the line between the two. The reader may choose to accept the reporter’s interpretation, or not.

Some stories like this report from the Religion News Service as printed by the Washington Post combine fact and opinion but do not disclose to the reader what they are reading is not news.

This is a problem of the contents of the package not matching the label. In this case the problem is compounded by false information and faulty analysis.

The lede in the RNS story reports this will be the first meeting between the new pope and the new archbishop before turning to a statement from the Vatican official overseeing that churches relations with Anglicans.

Welby’s visit to Rome will be “short but very significant,” said the Rev. Mark Langham, the Vatican’s point man on dialogue with Anglicans. While its primary purpose is to allow the two leaders to get to know each other, he noted that they share the same concerns about poverty and the global economic crisis.

I’m not familiar with all different stylebooks out there: Associated Press, Times of London, New York Times, etc., but I’m quite sure all would agree that on first reference a full title is provided. Mark Langham holds the rank or office of Monsignor. This difficulty with labeling extends to a description of the second person quoted in the story.

On the issue of an “economy for the people,” they have “many ideas in common,” said Archbishop David Moxon, the Anglican representative in Rome.

Archbishop Moxon, the former primate of the Anglican Church in Aoteroa, New Zealand and Polynesia, is not the Anglican representative in Rome. There is no such office. Archbishop Moxonn is the director of the Anglican Center in Rome and may have a quasi official/unofficial commission from the Archbishop of Canterbury to facilitate communication between the two churches, but he has no authority to speak on behalf of the Anglican Communion or does he hold a commission akin to a papal nuncio or ambassador.

The article then moves into opinion and gets into trouble. The question of labeling is merely a quibble and is excusable given the shorthand reporters must use to convey as much information into as small a space as they can. But the account of the troubles between Anglicans and Catholics offered by RNS places the blame on the Catholics.

With new leadership on both sides, the relationship between Anglicans and Catholics could be primed for a reset after several years of tension following Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial initiative to woo back disgruntled Anglicans. For years, the Catholic Church has been critical of the Anglicans’ decision to ordain women priests in the Church of England, and is unhappy over steps to allow women bishops. Relations between the two churches were strained in 2009 when the Vatican announced a special structure, called an “ordinariate,” to allow conservative Anglicans to convert to Catholicism while retaining bits of their Anglican tradition. When he was still in Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s Anglican counterpart recalled him saying that he thought the special structure for Anglicans was “unnecessary,” and that the Catholic Church “needs us as Anglicans.”

But both Moxon and Langham stress that the tensions are now past, pointing out that an official dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics that had been suspended in 2007 over the ordination of an openly gay bishop by U.S. Episcopalians had been recently restarted.

In principle, I would prefer the Anglican or Episcopalian side to be presented in the best light. But the argument that the Catholic response to Anglican innovations in doctrine and discipline is the problem, not the changes themselves, is extraordinary. And the facts presented in support of this contention are incorrect.

Since the project began in 1969 there have been three sessions of the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC): 1970-1981, 1983-2005, 2009 to present.  In the early days of ARCIC there was hope that a series of agreed statements would emerge which would uncover a common faith, on the basis of which corporate reunion might be possible. Statements on Ministry, Sacraments and other topics were produced but they were never officially accepted by the Vatican as being an adequate representation of Catholic belief.

Nor were other statements accepted by Anglicans. The second ARCIC commission studied the doctrine of salvation, communion, and the churches’ teaching authority and produced a paper on the role of Mary. I attended the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham in 2005  and recall the vociferous objections to the paper from evangelicals, who rejected the report out of hand.

The Anglican decision to ordain women further divided the churches, while the Anglican civil war over homosexuality has ended hopes for corporate reunion. A review of my notes and reporting from the 2008 Lambeth Conference — the every 10 year gathering of Anglican bishops —  recorded Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect for the Congregation of the Evangelisation of Peoples, speculating the Anglican Communion was suffering from “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and was in danger of forgetting its apostolic roots as it followed the spirit of the age in determining doctrine and discipline.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster said there was little point in pursuing theological dialogue when Anglicans failed to live up to their side of the agreements.  “If we are to make progress through dialogue we must be able to reach a solemn and binding agreement with our dialogue partners. And we want to see a deepening not a lessening of communion in their own ecclesial life.”

Anglicans must decide who they are and what they believe before any meaningful dialogue can take place, he argued as “these discussions are about the degree of unity in faith necessary for Christians to be in communion, not least so that they may be able to offer the Gospel confidently to the world. Our future dialogue will not be easy until such fundamental matters are resolved, with greater clarity,” I reported him as saying.

And Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity chastised the Anglican Communion for its disorder and lack of theological seriousness. He urged Anglicans to embark on a new “Oxford Movement” to revitalize the church, but he also warned that moves by the Church of England to introduce women bishops and its laxity over gay clergy had effectively ended the quest for Roman recognition of the validity of Anglican orders.

Contrary to the assertions made in the RNS piece, Pope Benedict’s formation of an Anglican Ordinariate did nothing to harm Anglican-Catholic relations, apart from embarrassing the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. And this embarrassment was due to his not having been in the know, not because a group of Anglicans were convinced of the truth claims of the Catholic Church. This embarrassment was not enough to derail the third round of ARCIC talks that began under their watch in 2009.

Anglican clergy who have entered the Catholic Church and have sought to be re-ordained as Catholic priests may have been horrified by Anglican events of recent years, but they became Catholics because they believed the truth claims of the Catholic Church. Gay bishops and blessings, women clergy and inclusive language liturgies may well have sharpened the mind, but the Catholic Church is not a girl picked up on the rebound from a bad break up.

I do not know what talks were suspended in 2007 as reported in the RNS piece — perhaps a local dialogue? — but there were no ARCIC talks to be suspended in 2007.

When RNS advances an argument that the Catholic recalcitrance to accept changes made by some Anglicans to the faith and order of their church is the cause of friction between Canterbury and Rome, that is called an editorial.

First printed at Get Religion.

Tintin and the Catholic Charismatics: Get Religion, June 9, 2013 June 10, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The story so far … Intrepid reporter Tintin, accompanied by his faithful fox terrier Snowy, has travel to Brazil to report on the preparations for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day celebrations in July. Upon his arrival Tintin finds the natives have abandoned their base communities and liberation theology for Catholic Pentecostalism. Who is behind this tragedy? Soviets, American gangsters, Jews? Can our hero rescue the church from the clutches of charismatics in Brazil?

I write in jest — this disclaimer is for the perpetually offended — nevertheless a recent story from AFP, Agency France Preses, entitled “Brazil Charismatic priests try to stem Catholic flight” could easily be transformed into a comic.

There is a cartoonish, condescending quality to this article that perpetuates anti-Catholic, anti-Pentecostal stereotypes. It does not rise to the level of Hergé’s ”Tintin in the Congo“, but that was merely an 80-year old comic — this is a news story that does a second rate job in reporting on one of the major religion news stories of modern times — the rise of and reaction to Pentecostalism.

The article begins with a soft focus:

AFP – In a scene out of a pop music concert, mass at Sao Paulo’s huge Mae de Deus (Mother of God) church features spirited singing, dancing and shouting led by priests of Brazil’s rising Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. About 6,000 faithful are seated and thousands more are standing, all waiting for the master of ceremonies and face of the movement — 46-year-old rock star Catholic priest Marcelo Rossi. With his broad smile and movie-actor good looks, the 6’4″ (1m90) former gymnast and his musicians warm up the crowd.

The article moves on to a report on church statistics and then offers comments from those who like the “rock-star” priest and a description of a service:

“Father Marcelo is charismatic and humble. You come once and you keep on coming,” said 72-year-old Olga Ribeiro, who has been following him for the past six years. “It’s a modern, dynamic mass. I had stopped going to church because I was bored,” said 58-year-old Luis Fernando Camentori.

In the middle of the service, lights go off and candles are lit. Many of the faithful burst into tears. “God will turn your pain into joy,” Rossi tells the delirious crowd. The wildly popular Rossi has already sold millions of records and books. He has his own radio and television programs, has made movies and is very active on Twitter. He has just criss-crossed the country to promote his latest book “Kairos”. In less than a month, 500,000 copies were already sold.

At this stage we hear from the experts:

“The Church in Brazil has been in crisis since the 1990s with the decline of leftist liberation theology, and its churches are becoming empty,” said Magali Cunha, a theology professor at Sao Paulo Methodist University. … While it has so far failed to stop Brazil’s Catholic exodus, “without this type of spirituality, the Catholic Church would have lost even more members,” said Edin Abumansur, head of the religion sciences department at Sao Paulo Catholic University.

The AFP’s editorial voice emerges:

And Catholic Charismatic Renewal is resorting to an arsenal of gimmicks to lure followers, including raw emotionalism, masses for cures, blessings to secure jobs or corporal expressions of faith.

Followed by comments from Fr Rossi:

In frank language, Rossi conveys his message during mass, focusing on crime without mentioning the country’s social problems. “One should not mix religion and politics. The Church does not belong to any political party,” he said.

And we end with a damn with faint praise hook:

For years, the Catholic hierarchy kept the Charismatic movement at bay. Now it is lending support, although it has some concerns about its autonomy. “The Church tolerates rather than accepts these movements. They attract a lot of people, So what can it do?” said Abumansur. In 2007, Rossi was not allowed to sing for then pope Benedict XVI. Six years later, he will be able to do so for Pope Francis during World Youth Day in July.

What is the problem with this story? No balance — the article alleges the Catholic Church is in free fall but we do not hear from the church. Does it agree that the church is collapsing? Is it true that the Catholic Charismatic movement has stemmed its losses? What does the hierarchy say, or has it said? Where are the contrary voices? Is this a liturgical issue or a doctrinal challenge for the Catholic Church?

This is compounded by a lack of curiosity. Why has the Catholic Charismatic movement grown? Is it simply more entertaining than a regular mass — or are there theological, cultural, political or social reasons for the decline in church attendance or for the fall of liberation theology? What are the implications of Fr Rossi’s statement that the church should get out of politics? Is he saying man is a spiritual animal and not a political one?

And then there is the sneer — the opiate of the masses treatment of faith. “‘God will turn your pain into joy,’ Rossi tells the delirious crowd.” Or an “arsenal of gimmicks to lure followers, including raw emotionalism, masses for cures, blessings to secure jobs or corporal expressions of faith.”

Why are these called gimmicks? Is that fair or an honest appraisal of what is taking place? Calling petitionary prayer or healing prayer a gimmick connotes fraud on the part of Fr Rossi -”he doesn’t believe this stuff himself and is playing off of the credulity of his flock” or it is an editorial comment by AFP. If Fr Rossi is a Brazilian Elmer Gantry then AFP has a great story and should dig deeper. If this is merely an opinion voiced by the AFP’s reporter as he watches the weird rituals of Catholic Charismatics then it is libelous.

And — then there is the National Geographic approach to reporting on the simple natives who have abandoned political religion for a spiritual one. The anthropological approach can be seen in the “corporal expressions of faith” quip. I presume by this the author means dancing and other rituals that involve body movement. Or did he mean “corporeal expressions”? The author writes as if he was peering through the bushes watching the natives at worship. This is not merely detachment, but a distancing that seeks not to understand but to categorize — and condescend.

What do we learn from this article? Aside from the color commentary we have the who, some where, less when and no why.

First posted in Get Religion.

Archbishop of Canterbury to make a flying visit to Rome: Anglican Ink, June 6, 2013 June 6, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will hold his first meeting with Pope Francis on 14 June 2013 at the Vatican. The Archbishop’s official diary states he “will be travelling to Rome, accompanied by Mrs Welby, for a personal and fraternal visit to Pope Francis on 14 June. … A more extended visit, for Archbishop Justin to engage with various other Vatican officials, will happen later in the year.”

On Tuesday Msgr. Mark Langham told Vatican Radio this would be “important” but “informal, brief courtesy visit” to Pope Francis.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Original sin and anteaters in the Daily News: Get Religion, May 28, 2013 May 28, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Excitement is in the air in Gotham City this week following the introduction of a theology page in the Daily News. This is a welcome addition to the New York tabloid market, though I suspect the desire to inject high culture into the Daily News comes from the need for some gravitas to balance the reporting on the mayoral candidacy of Anthony Weiner — Oh the joy his election will bring to the scribes of New York!

The first installment in this new series began on 27 May 2013 and was entitled: “Mystery of anteater’s ‘Virgin birth’ solved.” It opened with a scientific riddle:

The mystery of how a female anteater fell pregnant despite being separated from her mate for more than 18 months is a step closer to being solved.

Speculation whether this was a unique example of mammalian asexual reproduction or parthenogenesis was set to one side however as the Daily News turned to answers from Catholic dogma.

Bosses at Connecticut’s LEO Zoological Conservation Center were left baffled after mom Armani gave birth to little Archie in April. The apparent “Virgin birth” stumped staff — as anteaters have a six-month gestation period and the critter had not been in contact with any males for more than triple that time. Workers wondered whether it was an immaculate anteater conception or if the male, Alf, had somehow sneaked into her pen sometime in October.

Deep questions here. The use of  an upper case V in Virgin and the lower case b in birth doubtless refers to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Did God become flesh in the form of Archie the Anteater? Think this is but a playful use of half-remembered catechisms? Perhaps, but the discussion continues in a theological light by reference to the “immaculate anteater conception”. However science, not the Holy Spirit seems to have been responsible for the miracle, the paper reports.

But center director Marcella Leone now believes the newcomer was actually conceived through “embryonic diapause” — when a mother puts a fertilized egg on hold in her uterus. It happens when environmental conditions aren’t right, so the mother can keep the egg safe until they are. Armadillos and sloths are known to do it, but anteaters have never been observed doing so, reports Greenwich Time.

The Daily News is not so dumb as to believe the virgin birth is the same thing as the immaculate conception. The virgin birth of Jesus is the belief that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and born while Mary remained a virgin. This is an article of faith among Christians (save for the odd Episcopal bishop here and there and among members of a few sects) and is stated in the Apostles Creed which begins:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary, …

The immaculate conception is a Catholic dogma that holds that Mary was born without the stain of original sin. This belief is not shared by all Christians. The catechism of the Catholic Church states on this point:

The Immaculate Conception

490 To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.”132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”.133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

The Daily News‘ use of the phrase ”immaculate anteater conception” I would argue is theologically correct in that no animal bears the stain of original sin — only mankind. All anteaters, aardvarks, elands and (heaven help us) even cats are immaculately conceived in that while they are affected by Adam’s fall, they do not share in his sin. Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey has noted, there is “an ambiguous tradition” about animals in Christianity. Aristotle, AugustineAquinasFenelon and Kant and have held that animals do not have rational, hence immortal souls while GoetheSt John of the CrossC.S. LewisBishop ButlerJohn Wesley and Rick Warren believe  animals will find a place in heaven.

In her book, Humanae Vitae: a generation later, Janet Smith writes that one of the differences between humans and animals is that while animals engage in reproductive sexual congress to create another member of the species, humans engage in procreative sexual intercourse “wherein they cooperate with God to bring into existence a new immortal being.”

The soul of man is immortal while the soul of an animal is mortal, she argues. Thomistic theology holds that animals possess sensate souls that can respond effectively to the environment around them. However, animals do not possess rational souls — in that they are not able to reason about reality. The sensate soul is mortal while the rational soul, created in the image of God, is immortal. And it is this distinction between mortal and immortal souls that prevents animals from going to heaven and incidentally prohibits contraception in Catholic moral teaching.

Smith notes:

sterlization, abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, and production of animals for “farming” of organs for transplantation are all permissible for animals. Yet the Church finds none 0f these actions permissible for Man. Again it is because of the nature of Man, not the nature of the  biological processes per se, that Man must not interfere with these processes.

I am not fully persuaded by this argument, but I am encouraged to see the Daily News has raised the question, “What is man?” in its reporting on Archie the Anteater.

First printed in Get Religion.

Paedophilia and the left redux: Get Religion, May 16, 2013 May 16, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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Absent a priestly predator is paedophilia a religion news story? In comments posted in response to my 24 April 2013 story “Paedophilia and the Radical Left of ’68″, Ira Rifkin questioned whether politics and paedophilia were properly within the ambit of GetReligion. Was I pushing too hard? Confusing the moral and ethical issues in the story I cited in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) — protests over public honors to a prominent politician who 30 years ago as one of the stars of the radical left wrote of his sexual encounters with children, which he now claims are fiction –with religion news?

Whatever his crimes and immoralities, Cohn-Bendit’s actions are in no way comparable to those of the Roman Catholic Church. The 60s are long over; history has moved on. The media’s faults, blind spots and assorted deficiencies are not always at their root worthy of GR’s attention. Agreed: ain’t no ghost here worth the commentary.

… The Cohn-Bendit story contains little if any grist for GR.  As for Cohn-Bendit and the RC Church, it seems clear that the magnitude of the crimes Church leaders committed are far greater quantitatively, as well as qualitatively because of the Church’s unique position as a global religious/moral authority. Cohn-Bendit has far less reach. Whatever his personal responsibility, it cannot be compared to that of the Church. Bash the 60s if you like, even it’s values. But molestation – real or imagined – was not one of its identifiable hallmarks.

Some took issue with Mr. Rifkin’s comments, seeing religious ghosts in the story exhumed by GetReligion. Others noted that Daniel Cohn-Bendit is a prominent politician – – a public figure whose stock in trade has been lecturing Europe on how it should adopt his moral worldview on the environment, economics, immigration, foreign affairs, and social issues such as gay marriage. My observations focused on the different treatment accorded Mr. Cohn-Bendit and the Catholic Church by the media on the issue of paedophilia. I argued:

The opprobrium held by right thinking people against paedophilia in Europe does not apply, however to revolutionaries and left wing politicians. A report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on the fracas over the award of a prize to Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggests a double standard is being applied to paedophiles in Europe. Those who molest children out of lust are criminals and beyond the pale — those who molest children out of revolutionary fervor to bring down the capitalist regime really aren’t so bad.

The paedophilia and the left story has now moved back into the public eye in Europe  with articles in Stern, Deutsche Wella, Der Tagesspiegel and other news outlets on protestations by Green Party leaders that their movement had not provided political respectability for pedophile activists.

Der Spiegel reported:

 He is a boy, roughly 10 years old, with a pretty face, full lips, a straight nose and shoulder-length hair. The wings of an angel protrude from his narrow back, and a penis is drawn with thin lines on the front of his body. The 1986 image was printed in the newsletter of the Green Party’s national working group on “Gays, Pederasts and Transsexuals,” abbreviated as “BAG SchwuP.” It wasn’t just sent to a few scattered party members, but was addressed to Green Party members of the German parliament, as well as the party’s headquarters in Bonn.

Documents like this have become a problem for the Greens today. Some 33 years after the party was founded, it is now being haunted by a chapter in its history that many would have preferred to forget. No political group in Germany promoted the interests of men with pedophile tendencies as staunchly as the environmental party. For a period of time in the mid-1980s, it practically served as the parliamentary arm of the pedophile movement. A look at its archives reveals numerous traces of the pedophiles’ flirtation with the Green Party. They appear in motions, party resolutions, memos and even reports by the party treasurer. That is because at times the party not only supported its now forgotten fellow campaigners politically, but also more tangibly, in the form of financial support.

The protests over Cohn-Bendit have led to an internal party investigation. the Guardian reported:

Germany’s Green party is to launch an investigation into its active promotion in the 80s of paedophile groups who lobbied for the legalisation of sex with children. The party’s leadership has said it will commission an independent researcher to investigate “for how long and to what extent” such groups had an influence. The party’s chief whip, Jürgen Trittin, said the initiative aimed to take a close look at the “totally unacceptable demand” in the 80s that sex with children should be made legal. He admitted that the party had made wrong decisions about paedophilia.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, the Guardian wrote  Mr. Cohn-Bendit conceded his confessions were lies, prompted by a desire to shock.

“It was a type of manifesto against the bourgeois society,” he said. … He said he had written the descriptions of his time in the kindergarten in an attempt to “appear to be more dangerous than I was”, and admitted they had been “irresponsible”.

Germany’s tabloids and conservative political parties are not likely to let this story die. But is Ira Rifkin correct in saying this is the a political story, not a religion story.

Like Lord Copper, he is right up to a point. All social interaction, all life is based upon choices. Making a choice implies using moral judgment. It could be argued that the political pedophile scandal is a story about the moral failings of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the Green party.

Here I agree with Mr. Rifkin. This is a political story that has moral and ethical overtones. But what makes this a Get Religion story is a comparison to the reporting by the Guardian, Der Spiegel and other European newspapers on the Catholic clergy abuse scandal. The perspective these newspapers have brought to the Catholic scandal is that the institution is tarnished by the actions of pedophiles within the clergy ranks. The perspective in these articles is that the institution is to be applauded for examining its historical support for pedophiles within the party’s ranks.

What makes this a Get Religion story is the context of the European press environment. I am not defending or excusing the Catholic Church. I am however pointing out inconsistencies and double standards in media coverage.

First printed in Get Religion.

Surprised by sin – African clerical celibacy: Get Religion, May 9, 2013 May 9, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Church of the Province of Uganda, Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”

Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”

“True Humility” by George du Maurier, in Punch, 1895.

There is much to praise in the Los Angeles Times article “Uganda priest ostracized for publicizing sexual abuse”. The May 4 article addresses the question of sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic clergy in Africa – – child abuse and violations of the vow of celibacy. And it does so through the voice of Fr Anthony Musaala, an Ugandan priest suspended in March by his Archbishop for having brought the church into disrepute for exposing these problems.

I also like the article because it “gets Africa”. It understands the culture of shame that often manifests itself as cover up and denial, and makes reporting about the African scene so difficult. But there is also curate’s egg quality to the piece. Parts of it are quite good yet there is a bit that is off.

It is a mistake to conflate the sexual abuse of children scandal with the question of clerical celibacy. In this case while the African church is loathe to talk about child abuse it is not correct to say that they are silent on the question of celibacy. The article would also have been helped by addressing the question “why” — Why the homosexual abuse of young boys prompts such a visceral reaction by the church in Uganda.

The article begins:

He is a celebrity across eastern and central Africa, a gospel music star known to many as the “Dancing Priest.” But for years he also was a keeper of painful secrets — his own and many others’. In going public, Anthony Musaala has forced the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda to confront a problem it had insisted didn’t exist. And he may stir a debate far beyond Africa’s most Catholic of countries.

The Ugandan priest has been suspended indefinitely by the archbishop of Kampala for exposing what he calls an open secret: Sex abuse in the Catholic Church is a problem in Africa as well as in Western Europe and North America. The African Catholic Church is fast-growing, pious and traditional. As the church elsewhere forks out billions of dollars to compensate the child sex abuse victims of priests, few African Catholics have questioned the assumption, voiced recently by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson that the African church is purer than its counterpart in the West, which is regarded as secular and permissive.

It’s not more pure, says Musaala. He says he has the evidence to prove it. “The Vatican turns a blind eye because it doesn’t want to be embarrassed about this blooming church. But I think it’s time we had the truth,” Musaala says.

The article reports that in March Fr Musaala wrote Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga “about priests who fathered children, kept secret wives or abused girls or boys, and called for a debate on marriage for priests” and stated that as a young boy he too had been abused. It said:

The letter was leaked to the news media. And in response, Lwanga suspended Musaala, saying his statements stirred up contempt for the Catholic Church and damaged the morale of believers. Later in the month, Lwanga acknowledged that abuses had taken place, apologized to victims and set up an internal inquiry. But he did not backtrack on Musaala’s unpaid suspension.

This account conflicts with other press reports. All agree that Fr Musaala was suspended, but the Ugandan press reported this was an open letter given to them and to the Archbishop. It would also have helped this story if the LA Times had unpacked the religious context. The Catholic and Anglican churches in Uganda, who account for 80% of the population, celebrate the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. As an aside if you should ever want evidence as to why you should not trust Wikipedia compare the politically correct and false version on Wikipedia with the story told on the website of the shrine to the martyrs.

The first martyr to die was King’s major domo and leader of all Christians, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, on 15th November 1885. He was killed because he had pleaded to King Mwanga to abandon the vice of homosexuality and not to kill Bishop Hannington, an Anglican missionary who had entered Buganda from Busoga (the backdoor of Buganda kingdom). From that time he became angry with all Christians as they all refused to give in to his sinful demands and were persuading all other pages to do the same. On 25th May, 1886, King Mwanga ordered for a number of Christians to be brought before him and he passed on them the death penalty. 20 of the 22 martyrs were killed between 26th May 1886 and 3rd June 1886.

The Ugandan martyrs died because they refused to countenance the king’s homosexual advances because their Christian faith taught them that sodomy was a sin. Omitting this historical context — one of the defining sagas of the Catholic Church in Uganda leave the story untold.

Would the story have been helped by mention of the Ugandan Martyrs? Or by mention of Fr Musaala’s on-going fight with the archbishop in the press? Does it make a difference to the denouement of the piece if the letter was leaked to the press or given to the press by Fr Musaala?

The linkage between abuse and clerical celibacy was also unfortunate, as the Church has been far from silent on this point.  The 2009 Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of Africa convened by Pope Benedict discussed the question and problems of priestly celibacy for the African church. In the neighboring Central African Republic an archbishop was suspended for having families, while a number of clergy in Kenya have quit the church over mandatory celibacy. Silence over celibacy and its challenges for the clergy is not a problem — silence over abuse is.

First printed in Get Religion.

Paedophilia and the radical left of ’68: Get Religion, April 24, 2013 April 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come”

– Matt: 12:31-32

Is there an unforgivable sin in politics?

American voters, and not just those of Louisiana, have returned to office politicians of dubious moral and legal character. Wilbur Mills, Alcee Hastings, Buddy Cianci and Marion Barry were not punished at the polls (and I won’t open the door to discussing Bill Clinton). We will soon see if South Carolina’s First Congressional District has it in its heart to forgive Mark Sanford.

Bribery, adultery, perjury, corruption, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence have not barred a return to office for some politicians or for some church leaders and prominent pastors. My own denomination (The Episcopal Church) has even ordained a convicted murderer to the priesthood. But the unpardonable sin — in churches, politics and in just about every walk of life — has been paedophilia.

The Catholic Church has suffered its handling of the scandal, but is not alone in having experienced incidents of abuse by clergy and church workers committed against children. On Monday the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne told a Parliamentary committee that his church at one time had a culture of denial and cover-up concerning allegations of abuse. The Catholic Church in Europe has been particularly hard hit and has been excoriated by the press and rights activists for its handling of the scandal.

The opprobrium held by right thinking people against paedophilia in Europe does not apply, however to revolutionaries and left wing politicians. A report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on the fracas over the award of a prize to Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggests a double standard is being applied to paedophiles in Europe. Those who molest children out of lust are criminals and beyond the pale — those who molest children out of revolutionary fervor to bring down the capitalist regime really aren’t so bad.

But first, who is Daniel Cohn-Bendit? A leader of the ’68 student uprising in Paris, Dany le Rouge has been a prominent left-wing politician and cultural warrior in France and Germany for the past forty years and presently leads the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. The Turtle Bay and Beyond blog notes:

Cohn-Bendit has for many years aspired to a role similar to that played by Maximilien de Robespierre during the French Revolution, holding everyone accountable for everything – including Czech President Vaclav Klaus for his Euroscepticism, or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for having given to his country a new Constitution that protects the family, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and (the worst of all imaginable actions against “European values”) mentions God!

The FAZ reports that the 68-year old Cohn-Bendit was given a award this week by the Theodor-Heuss-Foundation for his political achievements. However the awards ceremony was picketed by protesters and boycotted by the President of the German Constitutional Court Andreas Vosskuhle who declined to add his voice to those honoring the Green Party leader.

The report from Stuttgart from the FAZ  opened with some local color.

Es spielen sich ziemlich unschöne Szenen auf dem Stuttgarter Schlossplatz ab, der guten Stube der baden-württembergischen Landeshauptstadt. Die Theodor-Heuss-Stiftung hat ins Neue Schloss geladen. Daniel Cohn-Bendit soll im Weißen Saal mit dem nach dem ersten Bundespräsidenten benannten Preis ausgezeichnet werden. Als er aus dem Taxi steigt, rufen einige der etwa siebzig Demonstranten: „Schämt euch!“ Die Junge Union und Missbrauchsorganisationen haben zu dieser Demonstration aufgerufen.

Roughly translated as:

An ugly scene unfolded on the Schlossplatz in Stuttgart, the Baden-Württemberg state capital, when Daniel Cohn-Bendit arrived at the Neue Schloss. The Theodor Heuss Foundation had invited him to receive an award in the White Hall named for the former German president.  As he got out of the taxi he was greeted by approximately 70 demonstrators from the Youth Union and anti-abuse organizations. “Shame on you!”

The reason for the outcry? According to the FAZ it was Cohn-Bendit’s accounts of his adventures in paedophilia while working in a pre-school.

In his 1975 book “Le Grand Bazar,” Cohn-Bendit justified pedophilia as a form of sexual liberation. “It’s happened to me several times that some children have opened my fly [Hosenlatz] and started to caress me.”

According to the FAZ, in a 1978 magazine article Cohn-Bendit stated:

„Letztes Jahr hat mich ein 6jähriges Genossenmädchen verführt. Es war eines der schönsten und sprachlosesten Erlebnisse, die ich je hatte. Vielleicht war es so schön, weil es so sprachlos war. Es war das einzige Mal, wo es mir nicht zu früh kam. Aber das war nicht wichtig in dem Moment, und es ist auch jetzt nicht wichtig, ein Traktat über das Für und Wider von Päderastie zu schreiben“, heißt es in der Zeitschrift.

“Last year I seduced a willing 6-year girl. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had and left me speechless. Maybe it was so wonderful because it was so speechless. … But that was not important at the moment, and it’s not important right now to write a treatise on the pros and cons of pederasty.”

The FAZ reports that Cohn-Bendit has since claimed these confessions were fictional and asks that he be judged not on what he said but what he did. The article states that in 2001 the Green Party cleared Cohn-Bendit of misconduct after a parent wrote a letter clearing the radical leader. However, the FAZ reported that its investigation found the parent exculpating Cohn-Bendit who wrote the letter did so out of political solidarity with “poor Dany” and did not have  a child in his class.

The judge said he would not attend the ceremony saying that he did not want to create the impression that the Constitutional Court approved of Mr. Cohn-Bendit’s utterances regarding paedophilia. However other political and cultural leaders who honored Cohn-Bendit sad they would not judge him.

Kretschmann, de Weck und Heuss begründen, warum sie Cohn-Bendit trotz allem für preiswürdig halten. Der Ministerpräsident sagt, es habe während der Achtundsechziger-Zeit Tabubrüche gegeben, die richtig gewesen seien. „Früher war Homosexualität strafbar“, heute seien bekennende Schwule Bundesminister und Ministerpräsidenten. Doch: „Bei Sex mit Kindern hört der Tabubruch auf.“ Es sei ein „elementarer Unterschied“, ob Cohn-Bendits Irrtümer verbaler Natur seien oder tatsächlich stattgefunden hätten.

In spite of everything, Kretschmann, de Weck and Heuss continue to justify their support for the award to Cohn-Bendit. The Prime Minister said that in 1968 many taboos were being challenged. “In the past, homosexuality was punishable,” but today there were gay political leaders. But: “sex with children, that taboo has not changed.” But there was, he said. a “fundamental difference” between Cohn-Bendit”s committing the acts and his writing about them.

Is there a distinction between bragging about having molested children and not having done so — and actually having done the deed? Is breaking the taboos of bourgeois society an excuse for molesting a child? Given the torrent of invective heaped on the church by the press and political leaders over its child abuse crimes — does not the tolerance, nay the celebration of Daniel Cohn-Bendit speak to a bigotry and hypocrisy among the European elite?

This is simply extraordinary. Yet, the rules of civil society do not seem to apply to the 68ers and their moral and political enablers. Hypocrisy — the war on terror — is rife in America too. Kathy Boudin can take part in a act of terrorism where a bank guard is killed and today teaches at Columbia. How is Cohn-Bendit’s conduct worse?

First printed in GetReligion.

Master of my Domain: Get Religion, April 23, 2013 April 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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… (T)he best persuaded of himself, so cramm’d, as he thinks, with excellencies that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him.

Twelfth Night, 2.3.150-152 (1623)

The counterrevolution has begun.

The press is pushing back against its critics over the Kermit Gosnell affair. Stung by the criticisms and the hypocrisies detailed by Mollie Hemingway on this website, Kirsten Powers at USA Today and other outlets, some have begun reporting on the murder trial of the Philadelphia abortionist. Other outlets in their op-ed sections havedefended their non-coverage or sought to deflect criticisms – – the New York Times‘ Tiller editorial is classic sleight-of-hand, substituting one story for another. “Nothing here to see folks. Move along.”

A few have embarked upon the high road. Writing in Religion Dispatches Diane Winston argues in “The Myth of News Media as Secularist Conspiracy” there has never been a golden era when reporters

provided smart, in-depth, contextualized coverage of religious leaders, issues, ideas, and communities.

In support of this contention, the article offers historical examples purporting to show the press has always done a poor job — missing stories, printing pablum in place of news or voicing prejudice such as H.L. Menken’s critique of Fundamentalism in his account of the Scope’s “monkey” trial or the “anti-Hindu coverage that ran through Western newspapers in the 1910s and 1920s.” The crux of her argument is that the problem is not a lack of:

trained religion reporters, but rather Americans’ widespread ignorance about religion. Religion is absent from many high school curricula and university classrooms, and many of us barely know the religious history of our own country much less the role of religion worldwide.

But her argument then pivots, stating:

Yet, I’m not convinced that improving the American educational system is really at the heart of Cannon’s plaint about religion coverage and his subsequent post on Kermit Gosnell.

Making more Americans aware of religion and historical incidents like an anti-Hindu press — a history of which I was not aware — would not have mattered in the Gosnell story as:

The Gosnell story is not a religion story, it’s a crime story. People with religious convictions may read their passions into it, but Gosnell did not seem to be motivated one way or the other by a faith commitment. Yet cultural religionists imply that the absence of religious commitment in the nation’s newsrooms—and consequent acceptance of baby-killing, oops abortion, is among the reasons that the Gosnell story was overlooked.

The notion that the news media is a secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths is wrongheaded.

I do not agree. There is just a hint of Coriolanus going before the plebs here. That large sections of the media believe an abortionist charged with multiple counts of murder is a crime story without significant religious or moral overtones speaks to the failings and biases of the press, not readers. (One need only look to the loss of market share and trust the mainstream media have experienced to know that all is not well — or the studies and monographs on the triumph of ideology over reporting in major American newspapers.)Nor does she show a logical connection between her observations about ignorance of the audience and the silence about Gosnell.

Criticisms voiced by GetReligion have nothing to do with the private conscience of reporters who write about religion but about their ignorance of the topics they are covering coupled with a self-satisfied, complacent, high opinion of their own importance and disdain for views that conflict with their own. Large sections of the American press are like Mr. Podsnap who “stood very high in Mr. Podsnap’s opinion,” — they see religion reporting through the lens of anthropology and institutions, not through the culture and belief of people.

And it is this failure of intelligence, relevance and imagination that lies behind the Gosnell fracas. The personal views of reporters are irrelevant — it is their professional competence at issue.

Let me offer an example of good religion journalism to illustrate my argument of ideology free competent reporting. In a front page story Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborczalast week reported on a paper released by the Polish Bishops’ Conference (Konferencja Episkopatu Polski) objecting to in vitro fertilization, abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, arguing they were a threat to humanity.

In vitro fertilization should be “banned” because it:

begins with masturbation… All doubts in the field of human existence should be resolved in favor of life. We must also stand firmly against all kinds of action that are a threat to humans. Even the loftiest purpose does not justify actions that put human life in danger,” reads the document written by the Bishops’ Bioethics Expert Team

“A Christian must care about the truth. This is why he or she should uncover lies, one of which is the particularly harmful suggestion that in vitro fertilization is a treatment for infertility. It does not treat anything. Infertile people stay infertile. They entrust the production of children to strangers,” the bishops write.

According to the authors of the document, in vitro is the poorly-fulfilled desire of infertile couples, who wish to be parents. The church authorities believe that it gives permission “to sacrifice a few human beings” in order to have a child. This refers to the embryos that are destroyed during in vitro trials. “The sperm is obtained from a father through masturbation, the mother’s body is repeatedly manipulated, meaning that the child becomes a product,” the document reads.

These quotes are a gift. When reporters dream, unlike other men (and women), they dream dreams of bishops condemning masturbation. The possibilities for displaying smutty lowbrow humor are endless. Yet given this set up, the Gazeta Wyborcza plays it straight giving the bishops space to explain their views — to paraphrase my colleague TMatt, they allow people not just paper to speak.

Archbishop [Henryk] Hoser is the main author of the paper. Trained as a physician, he is one of the Episcopal Commission on Bioethics’ experts.  Yesterday he said: “The prenatal human is viewed more as a thing, not as a human being [by those who support IVF]. Many lives are lost in a procedure intended to produce a sole survivor. 

[The Church] opposes the creation of extra embryos produced to be frozen and considers this tantamount to killing them. “Most frozen and thawed embryos die in the process or are otherwise unable to continue healthy growth. Yet the embryo is a person and each embryo turns out to be a helpless member of the human family,whose dignity and rights are ruthlessly trampled.”

Against these comments Gazeta Wyborcza sets contradictory medical opinion.

“Not true. Medicine is moving forward. Maybe 20-25 years ago you could propound this thesis, but not today. … [If properly stored the rate of success of frozen embryos] in implantation in the uterus is the same, or even greater than in the case of embryos transferred without freezing,” argues Prof. Waldemar Kuczynski, Chairman of the Section of Fertility and Infertility of the Polish Gynecological Society and consultant to the government program … The bishops’ arguments are “biased and unfair”.

The article also points to what it believes to be an inconsistency in the bishops’ argument.

The hierarchy also criticized contraception and abortion … “Claiming the right to abortion is an expression of a highly unworthy conduct …”. Anti-abortion rhetoric is heard more often in the church, but in the 90s the bishops approved the so-called Compromise Law that allowed abortion in three cases: rape, danger to life or health of the mother, and severe irreversible damage to the fetus.

Why is this a good article? It is a straight forward summary of the report with comments from critics. First off, the article pulled quotes from the report that would excite its readers, while also providing quotes that placed the controversial statements in context. Both sides can hear their points of view expressed clearly, the article provides the key quotes from the report, places them in context and allows the church to explain why it said what it said. It also wrote this story with its audience — not against it. There is no mockery (that I could see) as it takes its audience’s faith seriously — it understands these are moral questions not merely “health news”.

But this is not a pro-church puff piece. The criticisms are given a full airing and the newspaper’s skepticism of the absolutist position on abortion is made clear by reference to the church’s tolerance for some abortions.

Ask yourself if you believe the New York Times would have printed this story? Which takes me back to the defense of the non-reporting on the Gosnell trial. Perhaps it is old news, a local crime story that would upset readers with the testimony of savagery and barbarity worthy of Auschwitz? Or then again could there be a “secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths”?

Whatever you may decide, what the press has done (returning once more to Maria’s description of Malvolio in Twelfth Night) is that it has shown itself to be an “affection’d ass”.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Interview: Issues, Etc.: March 21, 2013 March 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Issues Etc, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Here is a link to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 21 March 2013

3. Media Coverage of Pope Francis, the Dirty War and the Clergy Abuse Scandal – George Conger, 3/21/13

Benedict’s abdication “demystifies” the papacy: The Church of England Newspaper, February 24, 2013 p 6. March 23, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church.
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The abdication of Pope Benedict XVI will modernize the papacy, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams believes, and will invigorate the call to service to the church and the world for the occupant of the chair of St Peter.

In an interview broadcast on 12 Feb 2013 Lord Williams, the Master of Magdalene College Cambridge, stated Benedict’s resignation may “demystify the papacy,” challenging the view the “pope is not like a sort of God King who goes on to the very end.”

The “ministry of service that the Bishop of Rome exercises is just that, a ministry of service and it’s therefore reasonable to ask if there is a moment when somebody else should take that baton in hand,” he said.  Benedict’s decision serves to remind the Christian world of the “primitive position of the bishop of Rome as the servant of the unity of the Church, of the bishop who convenes, mediates between, manages the fellowship of the bishops, that slightly more functional, slightly less theologically top heavy picture, that may be one of the things that emerges from this.”

While the process to appoint a new Archbishop of Canterbury took almost six months, the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Constitution calls for a Conclave of Cardinals to begin within 20 days but not before 15 days, following the declaration the chair of St Peter was “sede vacante”. However, Vatican press spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said last week the Conclave could start within ten days of the date of the pope’s formal resignation – 28 Feb in light of the unusual circumstances of the pope’s abdication.

As of 28 Jan, 118 cardinals were eligible to vote for the next pope – 62 Europeans, 19 South Americans, 14 North Americans, 11 Africans, 11 Asians and 1 from the Pacific. The largest national group of cardinals is Italy with 28, followed by the US with 11, Germany with 6 and Spain and Brazil with 5.

Lord Williams said the announcement “wasn’t a total surprise, I think because in our last conversation I was very conscious that he was recognising his own frailty and it did cross my mind to wonder whether this was a step he might think about.”

In retirement he hoped Benedict would return to writing. “We look for some more profound and reflective theology from him, of the kind that’s made his encyclicals so wonderfully fruitful as a resource for the whole Christian family.”

He added that he had shared with Benedict his plans to retire before the news was shared with the Anglican Communion. “I’d spoken to him before I’d announced my resignation earlier in the year, so we shared some reflections on the pressures of office and, yes, we spoke about the promise of being able to do a bit more thinking, and praying…because by the grace of God we’ve enjoyed a warm relationship, so it was possible for me to share that with him earlier in the year.”

Lord Williams agreed Benedict’s resignation might well further the call made by John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint to rethink the papacy in the service of unity for all Christians. “It will be very interesting to see,” he told Vatican Radio, adding “I think we have yet to work through all the implications of Ut Unum Sint and if this is a stimulus to do some more work on that, I’d say well and good.”

Francis coverage unfair to atheists?: Get Religion, March 23, 2013. March 23, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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And now for something completely different in the coverage of the election of Pope Francis — complaints from Viennese newspaper Der Standard that some coverage was unfair to atheists.

In an editorial discussing the press coverage of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the 226th Bishop of Rome the left liberal daily took the state TV broadcaster ORF to task for its one-sided and uncritical reporting.

Im ORF wurden in den verschiedensten Nachrichten-Formaten die Bilder gezeigt, wie sich der Papst bei Argentiniens Staatspräsidentin Cristina Kirchner für ein Präsent mit einem Wangenküsschen bedankt, was angesichts des gespannten Verhältnisses zwischen den beiden zwar eine Nachricht wert ist. Die Nachrichtenzeit wurde aber lieber für das tapsige Auspacken von Kirchners Mitbringsel verwendet, anstatt auf die Hintergründe der Anspannungen zwischen den beiden hinzuweisen, die unter anderem in der Gegnerschaft Bergoglios für Rechte von Lesben und Schwulen liegen. Mag sein, dass ein Verhütungsverbot, die Dämonisierung von gleichgeschlechtlicher Liebe oder die Kontrolle über den Körper von Frauen für Päpste, Kardinäle, Bischöfe und auch für viele gläubige KatholikInnen normal sind. Für sehr viele BürgerInnen ist es das aber nicht. Das Ereignis Papst-Wahl verleitete viele Medien dazu, zu vergessen, dass nicht nur religiöse Gefühle verletzt werden können, sondern auch atheistische.

[Austrian state TV broadcaster] ORF showed the pope thanking the Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner for a gift with a kiss on the cheek, which considering the tense relations between the two was certainly newsworthy. But instead of going into the background of the tensions between the two, which arise among other things from Bergoglio’s opposition to rights for gays and lesbians, the report followed the clumsy unwrapping of Kirchner’s present. It may be that a ban on contraception, the demonization of homosexual love and exercising control over women’s bodies are normal things for cardinals, bishops and many faithful Catholics. But for many citizens they aren’t. The papal election’s status as a major event has led many media to forget that not just religious feelings can be hurt, but atheistic ones too.

I’ve taken to task on the pages of GetReligion some American newspapers and broadcasters for their hypercritical reporting on Pope Francis. The argument put forward by Der Standard, however, can be distinguished from my criticisms of CNN, et al.

Raising the issue of Pope Francis’ conduct during the “dirty war”, when he served a superior of the Argentine Society of Jesus province, is a proper journalistic endeavor. I contrasted the French reporting on this issue which laid out the facts and noted the denials and strength of evidence to CNN’s coverage which framed the issue against Francis. CNN took as gospel the accusations but was skeptical of the defense.

That is a different argument from automatically rejecting out of hand any harsh words about the new Pope. Der Standard has a point. The exchange between both Francis and Pres. Kirchner, hitherto fierce political rivals in Argentina’s culture wars, should have been put in context. I am not persuaded by the editorial’s argument that this was a disservice to atheists. But I agree this fell short as journalism.

First printed in GetReligion.

Invincible ignorance on the Anglican Ordinariate: Get Religion, March 22, 2013 March 22, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ordinariate, Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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In this age of citizen journalism, blogger news, free content and PR driven stories there still remains a place for professional religion writers — reporters who know the topic they are covering and understand the rules of the journalistic craft.

This story from the Huffington Post highlights the journalistic shortcomings of the new media. Entitled: “Catholic Church, Facing U.S. Priest Shortage, Now Using Anglican Converts To Serve Parishes” begins with a false assumption that distorts the story, while missing the real news taking place.

The article begins:

Facing a priest shortage, the Catholic Church in the United States has started turning to former Anglican leaders to fill empty parishes.

The number of Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. has dropped by about 20,000 since 1975, while the number of Catholics has increased by 17 million, CBS reports.

The shortage was stretching thin the abilities of Catholic priests, and the Catholic Church was “supersizing” as it tried to accommodate more Catholics at a dwindling number of parishes, according to a 2011 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate for the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project.

Allowing converted Anglican priests to join the church was seen as a way to solve this shortage problem.

If the first and fourth sentences of this story are true, this is a major scoop for the Huffington Post as the assertion the Anglican Ordinariate is a scheme to replenish the ranks of the clergy has been hotly denied by the Vatican. The reasons given by Pope Benedict for creating the Ordinariate, to create a home for former Anglicans within the Roman Catholic Church while preserving liturgical patrimony, have never included clergy recruitment. If this were the true reason, it would paint Pope Benedict as being disingenuous — what the British press would call being “not entirely straightforward”—e.g., a flaming liar.

And the evidence of this presented by the Huffington Post– the killer quote that blows this tory wide open — there is none.  The Huffington Post makes an assumption and treats it as fact. The remainder of the article collects an assortment of quotes and statements from other newspapers but offers nothing else.

Coincidentally, the Ordinariate has been in the news following comments published in the church press and the Telegraph reporting that Pope Francis is not a friend of the Ordinariate. In the Church of England Newspaper and on Anglican Ink I reported the Anglican Bishop of Argentina, Gregory Venables said Cardinal Bergoglio “called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans.”

The report from Bishop Venables sparked some controversy in the British press and speculation Francis might adopt a different tone than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. A spokesman for the English Ordinariate denied any change was in the offing telling the Telegraph the comments were Bishop Venables’ not the Pope’s. Whether it meant to or not the Huffington Post story paints Pope Benedict as an opportunist and a bit of a fraud. The years of dialogue and the theological work that led to the reunion of some Anglicans with the Catholic Church is reduced to a form of clergy sheep-stealing. The article does not get religion doesn’t even seem to want to try to understand religion.

The bottom line is that this is a cut-and-paste job topped off with an unsubstantiated assertion (that happens to be untrue). And if you are going to do a cut and paste job at least try to be up to speed on the story. It may well be a consequence of the 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus is that former Anglican clergy re-ordained as Catholic clergy may help alleviate the shortage of priests in the US and UK – but a consequence is not a cause.

First published in GetReligion.

Francis and the “Hand of God”: Get Religion, March 15, 2013 March 15, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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Europe’s tabloid press has added its bit to the wall-to-wall press coverage of Pope Francis. Crowding out the semi-nude girls, horse racing results, horoscopes and celebrity tattle the details of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires to the chair of St. Peter have received page 1 treatment across the continent.

Two newspapers have been especially clever. The Mirror in London and Germany’s Bild used the same photo of Francis on the balcony at St. Peter’s and the same caption “The new hand of God” (Die neue Hand Gottes).

For American audience this title is fairly benign. But for soccer crazy Europeans and Argentinians the phrase is a clever play on one of the most famous incidents in World Cup play.

Before a crowd of 120,000 in Mexico City on 22 June 1986 (and only four years after the Falklands War) Argentina played England in the quarter finals of the 1986 FIFA World Cup. Beating England 2-1, Argentine captain Diego Maradona scored two of the most famous goals in soccer history.  Fifty-one minutes into the match Maradona used his hand to knock the ball into the goal out of the sight of the referee.

His second, after fifty-four minutes, saw him dribble past five England players to score. In 2002 this was voted Goal of the Century by FIFA.com voters. The first became known as the “hand of God goal” after Maradona told reporters the ball had been helped with

“a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.

To help the dimmer members amongst its readers (and foreigners like me) The Mirror inserted a photo next to the new pope’s hand showing the “Hand of God goal”. It is possible to read a little too much into this. While The Mirror and Bild are generally  unsympathetic to the Catholic Church, I believe this is just an example of a copy editor’s cleverness. Nothing more. This is the view of the LA Times also.

What say you GetReligion readers, is this fun or is there something more?

First printed in GetReligion.

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