Catholic yes to yoga?: Get Religion, February 21, 2013 February 21, 2013Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: Albert Mohler, Associated Press, La Stampa, New York Times, Raffaello Martinelli, seperation of church and state, yoga
I have been waiting for the American press to pick up an article found in Saturday’s edition of La Stampa, the Turin-based Italian daily, on the Catholic Church and yoga. But as five days have passed with no mention of Bishop Raffaello Martinelli I expect we will not be seeing anything for the moment.
This is shame really as the the intersection of yoga and state, as GR’s editor TMatt has described it, is a live issue. My colleague, Mollie Hemingway, has written about the intersection of yoga and American culture — noting the consternation Hindus feel when its non-Hindu devotees reject claims they are appropriating a spiritual exercise of their faith.
Last December the New York Times ran a detailed article on a dispute in a California school system that had introduced yoga classes for students. On 20 Feb 2013 the Associated Press reported the dispute had now become a law suit with parents suing the school district saying their children are being taught religious doctrine by public school teachers. The school district’s response to the lawsuit is to deny that yoga is religious and that the ends justify the means.
Superintendent Timothy B. Baird said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not directly comment on it, but he defended the district’s decision to integrate yoga into its curriculum this year. The district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools. The lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Asthanga yoga. Since the district started the classes at its nine schools in January, Baird said teachers and parents have noticed students are calmer, using the breathing practices to release stress before tests.
“We’re not teaching religion,” he said. “We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it.”
The kids are calmer after practicing yoga and therefore it is a good thing. Would the superintendent have been willing to accept money from a Catholic charity to hire someone for each school to teach kids Christian meditation? Or if the issue is movement of the body, would it have engaged a Falung Gong instructor to teach Dharma Wheel Practice if the group had put up the cash?
Into this mix comes Saturday’s La Stampa article entitled “Vescovo Italiano apre a Yoga” ["Italian bishop open to Yoga"]
The lede states:
Un vescovo italiano, Mons. Raffaello Martinelli (consacrato vescovo il 2 luglio 2009), che è stato per un lungo periodo collaboratore di Joseph Ratzinger quando era Prefetto della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede, “apre” a forme di meditazione orientale, da utilizzare in un quadro di spiritualità cristiana.
Which I translate as:
An Italian Catholic bishop states he is “open” to the use of Eastern meditation by Catholics in their prayer life. However, Msgr. Raffaello Martinelli, the Bishop of Frascati, (consecrated 2 July 2009), who served as an aide to Pope Benedict XVI when the pope was the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said these practices must be used in the framework of Christian spirituality.
The article goes on to say that Msgr. Martinelli in December 2010 published a catechesis that is being sold in Catholic book stores in Italy that says meditation practices from non-Christian religions such as Zen and yoga “can be a suitable means for the faithful to stand before God.”
The explanation the bishop offers is that:
Since the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions [Nostra Aetate, 2], a Catholic should not be prejudiced against controlled breathing, mantras and other Eastern practices as being non-Christian. The Catholic can, however, take from them what is useful, provided he does not lose sight of the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and its needs since it is within the Christian spiritual sphere these practices must be employed.
Quite a strong statement from the bishop — and if it finds a way into the yoga and state debate in the U.S. will likely need to be clarified by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Newspaper articles about Catholic parishes refusing to rent space to yoga classes appear from time to time, but the question has not been definitely addressed for Catholics by the Magisterium.
When he was an aide to the then Cardinal Ratzinger, Msgr. Martinelli was involved in the preparation for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation which warned against syncretism. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life also argues that there must be a complete separation of a yoga exercises from their Hindu religious or philosophical roots — and Southern Baptist commentator Albert Mohler has argued Christians should not practice yoga at all due to the dangers of syncretism.
I do hope we will see some quality reporting in this area — there is an abundance of material for the journalist covering the story to find.
Spies of the Balkans: Get Religion, November 7, 2012 November 7, 2012Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Associated Press, collaborators, Communism, Darzhavna sigurnost, Patriarch Maxim, Reuters
The 98-year old leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has died.
I guess you weren’t prepared for that bit of excitement from GetReligion the morning after the election. As many of our readers are going through news withdrawal at this moment, I thought I would help ween them from their addiction with something nice, safe and far away: a drawing room media mystery to settle their minds and hearts.
Patriarch Maxim did have the good sense to die on 6 Nov 2012 when the world was watching the American presidential election. And to be fair, I suppose that if he had passed during the dog days of August — the silly season when news is so short on the ground that just about anything can become a major story (remember Chik-fil-A?) — his story still would not have set the hearts of journalists a flutter.
De mortius nil nisi bonum is the line being taken by the Bulgarian press. Reuters and the Associated Press have also decided that it is more fitting to say of the dead nothing but good. The Reuters man in Sophia (sounds like that is from a spy novel doesn’t it) begins his report with:
Patriarch Maxim, a conservative who led Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church for 41 years in times of Communist rule and democracy, died, the church said yesterday.
Followed by the text of the official announcement, the story gives a very brief biography and offers this as context:
Patriarch Maxim has kept a low public profile but was an influential figure with a controversial past. He oversaw a major religious revival in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communist rule. Dozens of new churches were built across the country and monasteries reopened.
And what was this controversial past? Reuters does not say. Maybe the AP can help. It reports the same basic facts but offers a bit more background:
After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria’s new democratic government sought to replace Communist-appointed figureheads, including the patriarch. The church split between supporters of Patriarch Maxim and breakaway clergymen, who tried to oust him and then formed their own synod. The division plunged the church into turmoil, with church buildings being occupied, priests breaking into fistfights on church steps, and water cannons and tear gas being turned on rebel bishops to clear the main St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia. For more than a decade the two synods existed side by side. The schism ended in 2010, when the head of the alternative synod called for healing and the synod was dissolved.
So Maxim was “a Communist-appointed figurehead”, the AP reports. Yes, Maxim’s appointment was engineered by the Communist regime and following the fall of the “Evil Empire” anti-Communists sought to get rid of him. And even though Bulgarians are not Episcopalians, the ensuing battle led to a schism and lawsuits over church property.
The AP is mistaken when it reports the schism has been healed, though in 2010 Metropolitan Innokenty, the head of the rival synod which held the allegiance of a third of the country’s clergy was received by Maxim back into the “official” church. However the submission of Innokenty did not end the split. Here is a reference to a post-2010 article on the accidental death of one of the leading clergy of the Alternative Synod. If there are still rebel clergy in control of church property that is a clue the rupture has not been healed.
I am confident that at this point in our tale I have hooked the Bulgarian aficionados in our audience — the good people at Patheos have not yet told us how large a demographic this is for Get Religion though. Others might ask, “So what?” But bear with me, all of this does play its part in solving the mystery.
The clue that has been left out — though broadly hinted at in the AP story — is the allegation that not only was Maxim a Communist-appointed figurehead, he was also considered by some of having been a spy. Twenty-two years after the fall of the Communist regime, the Bulgarian government opened the books from the Committee for State Security — the Darzhavna sigurnost or the DS. What it found was that 11 of the 15 bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church currently in office were informers or agents of the 6th Directorate of the DS, which was tasked with combating political dissent.
The English-language Sofia Echo has written extensively about this scandal: the initial report, what the bishops did for the secret police, popular reaction, calls for the bishops to resign, actions to be taken by the church’s synod. It is also reported that not just the Orthodox bishops betrayed their people, the current Roman Catholic Bishop of Sophia and the present and former chief Mufti of Bulgaria were named as collaborators. Maxim was cleared by the committee investigation collaboration — to the surprise of the Alternative Synod — but suspicions remained of his guilt as his parts of his file appeared to have been mislaid.
While the canard that Pius XII was a pro-Nazi stooge continues to excite journalists — a real story of church leaders collaborating with evil was overlooked by Reuters and the AP in their report on the death of Maxim. Reuters even managed to lead with the descriptor that Maxim was a “conservative”. What can that mean in these circumstances.
After the news broke in January of the bishops’ ties to the secret police, Metropolitan Gavril of Lovech – one of the bishops not named as a collaborator — told the Sofia Echo the church was torn over how to respond to the revelations. “We cannot now think about asking for the resignations of 11 people. That is impossible. If it had been one, or two or three, that is another matter. The Synod must remain united and these problems should be resolved in some way so as to benefit, but also on the other side, not to destroy, the church,” he said.
What Reuters and the AP seemed to have missed — apart from the disagreeable bits about Maxim’s past — is the fact that the death of the man who caused the schism may well end the schism.
The Bulgarians are not alone in avoiding scrutiny of church and state in the Communist era. Russia has yet to examine the Stalinist era. The Moscow Patriarchate — the official name for the Russian Orthodox Church — was set up on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1943 as a front organization for the NKVD and all of its senior positions were vetted by the Ideological Department of the Communist Party, according to reports published in the U.K. following the defection of KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin in 1991.
In two books written with intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, The KGB in Europe and the West and The KGB in the World, Mitrokhin claimed that Russian Orthodox priests were used as agents of influence on behalf of the KGB in organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the World Peace Council. Patriarch Alexius II was also named as KGB agent with the codename DROZDOV, whose services earned him a citation from the regime.
TMatt has discussed this question in a number of posts. In his 2007 story “Mere candlestick holders in Moscow?” he wrote that in 1991 an anonymous priest in Moscow told him the post-Soviet Russian church had four kinds of leaders:
A few Soviet-era bishops are not even Christian believers. Some are flawed believers who were lured into compromise by the KGB, but have never publicly confessed this. Some are believers who cooperated with the KGB, but have repented to groups of priests or believers. Finally, some never had to compromise.
“We have all four kinds,” this priest said. “That is our reality. We must live with it until God heals our church.”
While the setting is Bulgaria and the characters are Orthodox clergy and secret policemen, the issues are of collaboration with evil and the battle for truth. Change the characters and the same story could be told of Vichy France, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche and the Confessing Church in Germany, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the House Church movement in China.
In French there is an expression très balkan: meaning hopelessly confused with the connotation of labyrinthine or byzantine machinations. It would be easy to dismiss this story as being a très balkan intrigue more worthy of an Eric Ambler novel than hard news. However the death of Maxim and the saga of the Orthodox Church raises profound questions of morality.
What is the journalist’s task in all of this? Is it too much to expect a discourse of the ethical and moral ghosts that lay behind a story on collaboration with evil — or is it enough to just report the events. How should society judge those who collaborated with evil or who were agents of evil?
First printed in GetReligion.
The Hot Dog theory of history: Get Religion, November 5, 2012 November 6, 2012Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Multiculturalism.
Tags: Associated Press, gender violence, honor killings, Islam
It is touching to see that in spite of everything that has happened over the course of the Twentieth century, there is still a belief in the Whig theory of history — of the inevitable march of progress. One can see this philosophical framework of man’s “move forward into broad, sunlit uplands” in this story on gender violence from the AP’s New Hampshire reporter.
The article entitled “8 Pakistanis tour NH domestic violence programs” recounts the visit to the Granite State of “women’s rights advocates from Pakistan” underwritten by the U.S. State Department to “learn how to combat domestic violence.” It seems the money expended by the government was not well spent as the situation in New Hampshire is as bad as that in Peshawar. The eight were “stunned by the magnitude of the problem here,” the AP reports.
Opening with the observation:
‘‘All the violence we are facing, you have here,’’ said Ishrat Jabeen Aashi, a gender specialist based in Islamabad.
And closing with:
Aashi said she now feels domestic violence is more of a problem in the United States than it is Pakistan. ‘‘People know how to highlight issues here in the media,’’ she said. ‘‘We cannot give any negative impression of the country.’’
Aashi said Pakistan’s domestic violence issues are more prevalent among the poor and uneducated. ‘‘If we can address the poverty issues and people have enough money to survive, domestic violence will decline,’’ she said.
This article adopts the moral equivalence model of reporting. It accepts without question or verification statements that reflect badly on Western culture but asks nothing about those making the criticisms. If the statements put forward in this article were true, the AP would have a great story on hits hands. Who knew of the rash of honor killings taking place in New Hampshire?
The article also lacks any sense of context and intellectual maturity. Is gender violence in Pakistan the same thing as gender violence in the U.S.? This is not to minimize the problem of domestic abuse in the U.S., but rather to say this story lacks the necessary sophistication to be treated seriously. The terms need to be defined.
In the bad old days, one of Pravda‘s stock stories was to speak of the terrible conditions facing the American working class. Pictures of hard hat construction workers consuming hot dogs for lunch at a job site were proof positive of the superior living standards of homo sovieticus. Are the Russians particularly credulous? Are hot dogs so ne-kulturny as to be evidence of the superiority of the socialist workers’ paradise? No. Lunch is the main meal in Russia and the casual hot dog consumed from a cart in Manhattan seemed to the ordinary Russian to be a demonstration of his country’s material prowess.
The AP story is written from the hot dog fallacy point of view. Like the characters from a modern day Ninotchka, the Pakistani visitors in this article praise their home country and culture when on a visit to a foreign land. Might I say, good for them. Always nice to see loyalty to the home side. But the AP might have done a bit better.
This story is framed by the belief that if only the problem of poverty and an inadequate education were resolved, the ills of this world will fade away. I do not dispute that poverty is bad and education a good thing — but morality and ethics play their part as well.
The “I”-word is also not mentioned in the story — Islam. Nor is the question of honor killings, the position of women in Pakistani society, or the treatment of Pakistani women from minority religious groups addressed.
Gender violence is a problem across the world — but it is foolish to think that its causes are limited to the material. This story from the Daily Dispatch from South Africa caught me eye on this point.
Butterworth police spokesman Captain Jackson Manatha said a suspect had been arrested over the murder of the Centane granny in the belief she was a witch. “A 37-year-old suspect has been arrested in connection with her murder.”
“The elderly woman was allegedly attacked and stabbed several times at her home by the suspect, who was accusing her of bewitching his family.”
Viewing the world through a materialist lens does not capture reality. In Africa, gender violence sometimes has a pronounced religious element to it — be it the murder of witches in South Africa or the rape of Christian women by Muslim militias in the Sudan. In Pakistan gender violence is closely tied to the country’s social and religious culture. Can the same be said of gender violence in America? A staple of the anti-Islamist websites is the story of some Muslim sheik somewhere issuing a fatwa approving the beating of women or of a group of men beating a Muslim woman for having offended their religious sensibilities. While it is fun to pick on Pat Robertson, I don’t remember his having gone that far as to having commended spousal violence.
The AP’s gender violence story has a religion ghost, but appears deaf to its shrieks. It is written from the Hot Dog theory of history — assuming words and actions in one culture have an identical meaning in another. They don’t.
First printed in GetReligion.
Who determines who is a Jew?: Get Religion, August 17, 2012 August 17, 2012Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism.
Tags: Alan Furst, Associated Press, Christopher Hitchens, Csanad Szegedi, Der Sturmer, Gregor von Rezzori, Hungary, Jewish identity, Mischling
Two elderly Jews [are] sitting in a Berlin park, with one of them reading a Yiddish paper and the other one scanning the pages of Der Stürmer. The latter Jew is laughing. This proves too much for the former Jew, who says: “It’s not enough you read that Nazi rag, but you find it funny?”
“Look,” replies the other. “If I read your paper, what do I see? Jews deported, Jews assaulted, Jews insulted, Jewish property confiscated. But I read Der Stürmer, and there’s finally some good news. It seems that we Jews own and control the whole world!”
Change the setting, transform Der Stürmer to any one of a number of Arab-language newspapers or television broadcasts, move the date to 2012 and the same joke would be fresh and relevant today. While the Muslim world today may be the most vocal source of Jew hatred, European anti-Semitism is alive and well too. And it takes a surprising number of forms: from the Church of England to 68′ers, in the salons of the chattering classes and amongst pro-Palestinian activists. Anti-Semites can be found from left and right.
Anti-Semites have also risen to prominence in some political parties including Hungary’s Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom). Jobbik leaders have accused Jews of buying up the country’s lands, taking over the banks and newspapers, and exercising a fell hand over the affairs of state.Into this mix comes an Associated Press story about one of Jobbik’s leaders, Csanad Szegedi. The lede begins:
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY — As a rising star in Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of “buying up” the country, railed about the “Jewishness” of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.
Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.
Following weeks of Internet rumours, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother’s side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn’t practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labour camps.
Since then, the 30-year-old has become a pariah in Jobbik and his political career is on the brink of collapse. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
Szegedi is reported as being shocked by these revelations. However, his fierce xenophobic politics and his Presbyterian faith appear not to be enough to prevent his Jobbik allies from cutting him dead. A Jew is a Jew by blood — not by faith or self-identification it appears for the fascists in Hungary, who seem perturbed at having a Jew in their midst.
The odious Mr. Szeged has sought the counsel of Rabbi Slomo Koves of Hungary’s Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch community to help him through this trauma of learning he is Jewish.
“As a rabbi … it is my duty to receive every person who is in a situation of crisis and especially a Jew who has just now faced his heritage,” Koves said.
…”Csanad Szegedi is in the middle of a difficult process of reparation, self-knowledge, re-evaluation and learning, which according to our hopes and interests, should conclude in a positive manner,” Koves said. “Whether this will occur or not is first and foremost up to him.”
The Szegedi controversy reminds me of a passage from Alan Furst’s 2001 book Kingdom of Shadows: “Morath didn’t mention Bethlen’s well-known definition of the anti-Semite as ‘one who detests the Jews more than necessary’.”
Though this wonderful novel may be the non-specialist’s introduction to the aphorism, it is none the less a true statement made by Hungary’s pre-war Prime Minister Count István Bethlen.
The article goes into further detail as to why Szegedi is considered to be a Jew.
Judaism is traced from mother to child, meaning that under Jewish law Szegedi is Jewish. Szegedi said he defines himself as someone with “ancestry of Jewish origin — because I declare myself 100 per cent Hungarian.”
Under the traditional definition of “who is a Jew”, this definition is correct and is the criteria used by Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. Yet Reform Judaism in 1983 recognized patrilineal Jews—those born of a Jewish father and a Gentile mother—as full Jews, provided they followed the Jewish faith.
A further twist in this debate is Israel. Reform Judaism’s position is not accepted by the Israeli rabbinate, which takes matrilinealism as the criterion for Jewish descent. Most Conservative rabbis and almost all Orthodox rabbis would also decline to recognize conversions performed by Reform rabbis for converts to Judaism on halachic grounds.
How should journalists decide who is a Jew? In this story the conservative/orthodox matrilineal definition is used. This may be appropriate as the Jewish community in Hungary follows this line. Yet the AP’s readers are found in the Angl0sphere, where the majority of Jews follow the Reform view of Jewish identity. Should it not interpret events according to the lights of its readers?
Nazi race ideology would classify Szegedi as a mischling — a half Jew. A German mischling was subject to severe restrictions under the Nazi race laws, but mischlinge in the Eastern territories occupied by the Nazis were classified as full Jews and exterminated. Szegedi appears not to want to accept his Jewish ancestry — and protests that he is a Christian and 100 per cent Hungarian.
Distasteful as this topic may be, has Szegedi the right to construct himself? Is he a Jew? Should he be a Jew? Who gets to say?
What say you GetReligion readers? Who has the right to decide — and how should the press approach such situations?
First printed at Get Religion.
Tags: Associated Press, Pope Benedict XVI, Robert Brezak, Slovak Republic
Where is Dan Brown when you need him?
The story of Archbishop Róbert Bezák is ready made for the Da Vinci Code treatment. Yet the press has bungled a Catholic story — the Associated Press piece that ran in most U.S. newspapers devoted more space to a rehash of the clergy pedophile scandal than the church conflict in the Slovak Republic.
This story has gays, Nazi sympathizers, Communist secret police agents, liberal Catholics, Vatican intrigue, and the “Rottweiler” — Pope Benedict XVI — playing the heavy. And what we are offered is the tired (and irrelevant) clergy abuse saga.
Our tale begins — in press terms — with the announcement from the Vatican that Archbishop Róbert Bezák of Trnava had been sacked. The AP story opens with:
The pope fired a 52-year-old Slovak bishop on Monday for apparently mismanaging his diocese in a rare show of papal power over his bishops.
Usually when bishops run into trouble – either for alleged moral lapses or management problems – they are persuaded by the Vatican to resign. But Pope Benedict XVI has become increasingly willing to forcibly remove bishops who refuse to step down, sacking three others in the last year alone.
His willingness to do so raises questions about whether he would take the same measures against bishops who covered up for sexually abusive priests. So far he has not.
As you can see, while the story ostensibly is about Archbishop Bezák, it really is another opportunity to club the pope and the Catholic Church. We do learn a bit about the unemployed archbishop. The AP story states:
On Monday, the Vatican said Benedict had “relieved from pastoral care” Bishop Robert Bezak of Trnava, Slovakia. No reason was given, but Italian news reports suggested administrative problems were to blame and Slovak news reports quoted Bezak as saying he thought his criticism of his predecessor may have had a role.
But this detour into news soon ends and we go back to assumptions and assertions.
The exercise of the pope’s ability to fire a bishop has important implications, particularly concerning bishops who mishandle pedophile priests.
In the face of U.S. lawsuits seeking to hold the pope ultimately responsible for abusive priests, the Holy See has argued that bishops are largely masters of their dioceses and that the pope doesn’t really control them. The Vatican has thus sought to limit its own liability, arguing that the pope doesn’t exercise sufficient control over the bishops to be held responsible for their bungled response to priests who rape children.
The ability of the pope to actively fire bishops, and not just passively accept their resignations, would seem to undercut the Vatican’s argument of a hands-off pope.
And so on and so forth. I’ve read this sort of thing dozens of times before and repetition does not make it any more newsworthy.
The front page of the 23 July issue of Pravda — not that Pravda, but the other one, the Bratislava daily newspaper — is devoted to a discussion of Church/State relations in the Slovak Republic and the fallout from the Bezák affair. The Pravda lede begins:
[Slovak] churches will receive more than 37 million euros in state support this year, and from this amount 21 million euros will be given to the Catholic Church. The state is facing a financial shortfall and church support is a huge burden, but so far the government has been reluctant even to begin discussing the separation of church and state.
… The debate on the separation of church and state is once again in the public eye due to the events surrounding the appeal [of the dismissal] of Trnava Archbishop Robert Bezák …
The focus of the Pravda story is on the return or restitution to the Catholic Church of properties confiscated by the Communist regime. The neighboring Czech Republic has been debating the issue in Parliament and the Slovak government is about to follow suit. However, the no-compensation group has a strong political base, Pravda notes.
One expert is cited in the article saying that during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the Czechoslovak Republic of 1919 to 1938 and the Nazi-puppet Slovak Republic of 1938 to 1945 the state owned church properties, which were entrusted to the Catholic Church for the use and benefit of the people. ”Each year [the Catholic Church] had to account to the state for the management of the property it used.”
The article then returns to Archbishop Bezák, with one expert saying the dismissal of the Archbishop of Trnava for his progressive social views was grounds not to compensate the church as it could not be trusted to put the interests of the people first. The bottom line — the Bezák story is not another episode in the clergy abuse saga but falls into another popular press theme — good liberal Catholics, bad conservative Catholics.
A 14 July story in TASR, the state news agency, reports that one of the letters of complaint lodged against Archbishop Bezák found its way to the TA3 television network.
Among the accusations listed by the Vatican in the documents are Bezak’s selection of homosexual priests and those having illegitimate children as his close associates, and alleged mockery of the cassock as a piece of clothing worn by sorcerers, while he himself wears jeans or sweatpants. The Vatican also asked whether it’s true that Bezak speaks of the pope merely as “Mr. Pope” in the public, and describes other Slovak bishops as “old and fogy”, while he is a “modern bishop and enlightened liberal”.
Bezak in a response said that his predecessor Jan Sokol didn’t alert him to any priests in the diocese that would have “dubious reputation”, while he isn’t interested in any ill-based accusations and observes the principle of benefit of the doubt instead. Similarly, Bezak rejected the accusation that he would have ever mocked the cassock and have worn indecent dress. He also said that he has never described himself as a “modern bishop and enlightened liberal”, as he had been in office less than three years, which was too little to define himself in any way. He further said that he describes the pope with due reverence, using terms such as “pope, pope Benedict XVI, Holy Father, Holy Father Benedict XVI and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI”.
If the TASR story is true, one faction of the Slovak Church complained to the Vatican about the new archbishop’s liberal social views and progressive lifestyle. The story continues to build:
Drawing upon reports published by the Slovak newspaper SME, the English-language Slovak Spectator stated local protests by some Catholics followed the bishops removal. It offered further comments from political leaders perturbed by the Vatican’s removal of the young archbishop. Part of the dispute, the Slovak press reports, arises from the sharply different styles and personalities of the former archbishop and the new archbishop.
Bezák, aged 52, replaced controversial former archbishop Ján Sokol three years ago. The step was widely welcomed given Sokol’s repeated praise of President Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest who led the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state during which, among other atrocities, tens of thousands of Slovakia’s Jews were deported to Nazi death camps. Bezák won popular respect when he announced that Tiso should have resigned as soon as the first train transporting Jews left the country.
… [archbishop] Ján Sokol is known by Slovaks as one of the more controversial personalities in the local Roman Catholic Church, especially because his name appeared on the payroll of the communist-era secret police, the ŠtB.
Now I’ve not found an Opus Dei angle to the story so far, but a Gay-Nazi-Commie-Catholic-Conspiracy story is the sort of thing that religion reporters lie awake at night dreaming about.
It is not a crime for a journalist to run a short item. I am not criticizing the AP for being unaware of the back story of Archbishop Bezák. What troubles me is the padding of this story by the AP.
Yes, I get it. You don’t like Benedict and you are suspicious of the institution. But that sort of heavy breathing and speculation is inappropriate in a news story. The AP should have reported the fact of the archbishop’s dismissal and the Vatican’s decision to decline to comment. Droning on and on about bad Benedict and the clergy abuse scandal served no purpose. Simply put, by playing to its prejudices, the AP blinded itself and its readers to the real, much more interesting, story.
First printed in GetReligion.
Tags: Associated Press, Avery Dulles, Church Mutual
There is something missing — not quite right about this Associated Press story from Medford, Oregon. If true as written, the facts set forth in “Church protests insurance rules for sex offenders” presents an extraordinary development of insurance guidelines dictating church doctrine and discipline. The concept of proportionality in punishment and forgiveness of the sinner appear to have been overwhelmed by fear.
Here is the lede:
Medford, USA — An Oregon church is challenging a requirement by its insurance company that it disclose the identity of sex offenders to other congregants, allow offenders to attend only one predetermined service and assign them an escort.
Pastor Chad McComas of Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford said his church disclosed that known sex offenders were among the 100 members. Church Mutual insurance company on May 1 responded with a letter outlining requirements to continue an insurance policy.
Besides announcing disclosing the names of sex offenders, limiting them to one service and providing escorts, the church is required to keep sex offenders out of child or youth programs.
The structure of the article follows the usual pattern. It begins with a statement of the issues, followed by comments from a protagonist and then an antagonist. After the lede we have the source for the AP story:
McComas told the Mail Tribune that the rules will have a chilling effect on disclosure.
Church Mutual insures more than 100,000 religious organizations and has covered nearly 5,000 sex-related claims since 1984, said Patrick Moreland, vice president of marketing for Church Mutual.
The rules were developed by attorneys and are designed to protect the organization from the “legal hot water” of sexual misconduct and molestation claims, he said. They also protect potential victims, Moreland said.
“Our No. 1 goal is to protect our churches and our children,” Moreland said.
McComas gives his response to the insurance rules and this is followed by comments from a pastor from a second church. And the article closes with comments from a member of the congregation who is a registered sex offender.
Convicted sex offender Dave Schmidt, 66, said he attends Set Free services to worship, not to seek out additional victims. If he’s driven out of Set Free by insurance company policies, he said, he will simply go to new churches, one week at time if necessary.
Structurally, this is well written and contains all of the necessary elements for a good story. My problem is the lede and the claims made that Church Mutual is requiring the church to “disclose the identity of sex offenders to other congregants, allow offenders to attend only one predetermined service and assign them an escort.”
To be frank, I don’t believe it. The response given by the insurance company does not address the extraordinary additional steps that Set Free is required to take — public identification of abusers, limiting them to one service and assigning them an escort. The response offered by the insurance company is one that applies to a generic child abuse safety and prevention program — e.g., not allowing abusers to work with children and so forth.
What is really going on at this church? Do they have a history or a pattern of behavior that would require these extra preventative measures? Do they have a notorious pedophile just out of prison on probation amongst their members? What explains these extraordinary measures?
And how is it the AP does not appear to be aware that these measures are extraordinary? It lumps normal good practices (not allowing abusers to work with children) with something I have never heard of (assigning escorts to abusers attending church.)
The bottom line is that this is half a story. We have an extraordinary claim made by a pastor of a small congregation, but no evidence of the claim is presented that would corroborate it. And the story is written from a perspective of ignorance about how child safety rules work in congregations.
There is also a moral question that is left unaddressed. Are the steps taken to protect children from abuse, as presented in this story, abusive in turn to those who have committed bad acts in the past? By stigmatizing the one-time abuser with an escort in church, disclosure of his sins to the congregation and restricting him to a special service — is the church violating its mandate to reach out to the lost?
Writing in America Magazine in 2004 Cardinal Avery Dulles criticized a similar situation in the Catholic Church.
Since World War II, the Catholic Church has become a leading champion of the inviolable rights of individual human persons. Applying this principle, the bishops of the United States in November 2000 published Responsibility and Rehabilitation, a critique of the American criminal justice system, in which they upheld the dignity of the accused and rejected slogans such as “three strikes and you’re out.” Among other things, the bishops stated: “One-size-fits-all solutions are often inadequate…. We must renew our efforts to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Therefore, we do not support mandatory sentencing that replaces judges’ assessments with rigid formulations.”
“Finally,” they said, “we must welcome ex-offenders back into society as full participating members, to the extent feasible.”
Cardinal Dulles stated the church’s response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal failed to live up to these standards. Its “zero tolerance” program and its treatment of suspected and proven abusers was inadequate:
The church must protect the community from harm, but it must also protect the human rights of each individual who may face an accusation. The supposed good of the totality must not override the rights of individual persons. Some of the measures adopted went far beyond the protection of children from abuse. The bishops adopted the very principles that they themselves had condemned in their critique of the secular judicial system.
If the claims in the AP story are true, then Church Mutual has created a policy that in pursuit of the good of the totality, the rights of individual persons have been denied. What say you GetReligion readers? Does this story hold together? Does it pass the smell test — and if so, should the article have pushed Church Mutual to defend its actions?
First printed in GetReligion
Tags: Associated Press
When I makes tea I makes tea, as old mother Grogan said. And when I makes water I makes water … Begob, ma’am, says Mrs. Cahill, God send you don’t make them in the one pot.
Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
The clergy abuse scandal is the gift that keeps on giving as dry and dusty Catholic news stories can always be sexed up by reference to this evil. A recent story from the Associated Press on the opening ceremonies of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin is an example.
The words “Eucharistic Congress” are likely to induce palpitations in the heart of a reporter who seeks to make a name for himself. A week-long confab of fervent Catholics meeting to discuss the mysteries of the sacrament is not a setting that produces great copy. Write six or seven hundred words about what Cardinal X said about this, or Archbishop Y said about that, and a reporter would be lucky to see 250 words survive the editorial pencil.
Find a way to work in the sex scandal changes the equation. Take a look at this article entitled “Catholic faith on line as church rallies in Dublin” and you can see the transformation of a dull story by focusing on one aspect at the expense of all others.
The problem for a subscriber to the AP’s wire service however is that they are not getting what they paid for. What they bought was a news story. What they received was an opinion piece that speaks more to the psyche of the AP reporter than to the mind of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.
In reading this free form fantasia, my mind too was loosened from the bounds of straight news and it floated off to a Dublin I knew in misty days of yore when
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
Reagan is in the White House;
All’s right with the world!
My Dublin was not a place but an ordeal — a sixth former’s struggles with James Joyce’s Ulysses. This was a right of passage for English students who were introduced to One Day in the Life of Leopold Bloom — 16 June 1904 to be exact. Stylistically varied, full of puns, allusions and jokes, Ulysses introduced the stream-of-consciousness style which allowed the reader not only to follow the events of Bloom’s day hour by hour, but also to follow his thoughts and hear the inner rhythm of his needs and desires, joy and despair.
Ulysses was a very hard book for me to read, so saturated was it with the life of Dublin and the mental perambulations of its characters. At times I found it incoherent. I took comfort that others did not enjoy this style — Hemingway (the other one, not M.Z.) referred to it as ‘steam of consciousness’ writing. Yet Ulysses marked the end of the dominance of realism— telling life as it is — in the novel. Which takes me back to this AP story, which does not tell life as it is, but gives free flow to the mental perambulations of its author.
Let’s start with the lede.
An international conference celebrating Roman Catholicism opened Sunday in Ireland against a backdrop of anger over child abuse cover-ups and evidence of declining faith in core church beliefs.
That’s the way to frame the story, misstate the agenda of the conference and go on the attack. It continues:
About 12,000 Catholics, many from overseas, gathered for an open-air Mass in a half-full Dublin stadium at the start of the Eucharistic Congress, a weeklong event organized by the Vatican every four years in a different part of the world. The global gathering, begun in the 19th century and last held in Quebec in 2008, highlights the Catholic Church’s belief in transubstantiation, the idea that bread and wine transforms during Mass into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Wait, I thought this was about “celebrating Roman Catholicism” — some sort of quasi-tribal rally of the faithful. Instead we have a half-full week long congress on transubstantiation? Bait and switch reader, bait and switch. I’ve seen other reports that list 20,000 present — funny how stories about the Pope’s trip to Germany, England and Mexico all seem to start out with low ball estimates that have to be revised dramatically upwards. But I digress …
An opinion poll of Irish Catholics found that two-thirds of Irish Catholics don’t believe this, nor do they attend Mass weekly. The survey, published in The Irish Times with an error margin of 3 points, also found that just 38 percent believe Ireland today would be in worse shape without its dominant church. And just three-fifths even knew the Eucharistic Congress was coming to Ireland.
Such views reflect rapid secularization and alienation with the church in Ireland, where church and state once were tightly intertwined. The last time Ireland hosted the Eucharistic Congress in 1932, more than 1 million — a quarter of Ireland’s population — packed Dublin’s Phoenix Park for Mass with nary a dissenting voice.
How do we know that these views “reflect rapid secularization and alienation”? It may be reasonable to assume this based upon the increasing secularization of society and the scandals of recent years, but what evidence is there in the article that takes us from A to B?
And how does the rate of belief in the real presence as found in the survey relate to past levels of belief — or to rates of belief in other countries? Surveys conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) would indicate that Ireland is doing better than the U.S. on this point. There is no context provided to judge the numbers — only the assertion that this is a bad thing.
And … Is it fair to compare the 1932 Phoenix Park mass to the 2012 Dublin opening ceremony? The 26 June 1932 open air mass in Phoenix Park drew almost 1 million people. But discussions of transubstantiation at the 1932 Eucharist Congress did not bring in the crowds — it was Pope Pius XI and the Irish government.
The pope addressed the crowd from his library in the Vatican and was the first time a pope directly spoke to the Irish people. A better comparison might be Pope John Paul II’s 1979 mass in Phoenix Park, which also drew almost a million people. Juxtaposing 12,000 (or was it 20,000) people with a million people appears to be an attempt to advance the rather tired “Ireland is losing its faith mantra”.
The 1932 Eucharistic Congress was a political, cultural and religious event. It was a celebration of Irish Nationalism and Roman Catholicism and showcased the success of the Irish Free State. Éamon de Valera heavily promoted the congress as a symbol of republican Ireland being a Catholic state for a Catholic people. It also cemented the relationship between Fianna Fáil and the church which culminated in the 1937 Constitution which recognized the “special place of the Catholic Church” in Irish life. We get a hint of this in the article, but the author ignores this and compares attendance between the two congresses in an attempt to denigrate the 2012 gathering.
The quip about “nary a dissenting voice” is unsubstantiated as Protestants and Unionists (what few that remained south of the border) objected to the rally in 1932 as a sectarian political show.
Fast forward to 2012. The AP reports:
And as Catholic pilgrims entered the opening Mass, they passed protesters from Survivors of Child Abuse, an Irish pressure group that has spent more than a decade demanding that church leaders in Ireland and Rome admit their full culpability for the protection of pedophile priests. Other protest groups highlighted the church’s opposition to homosexuality and its role in running most Irish elementary schools and many hospitals today.
Today we have gay rights activists protesting (where the friendly folks from Westboro Baptist Church there?) as well as abuse victims advocates. How many protestors is not stated. Different issues separate 1932 and 2012, but protests there were.
Yet one of the major angles in this story that the AP managed to miss was the inclusion of Protestants in the Congress. The Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Dublin, (the other archbishop) was among the speakers at the opening service. Two Archbishops of Dublin were present, Protestant and Catholic, Dr. Michael Jackson and Dr. Diarmuid Martin. Nor was Dr. Jackson’s presence window dressing as Presbyterian, Methodist and other Protestant leaders took part in the ceremony. For goodness sakes even a contingent from the Church of Ireland’s Boys Brigade took part in the march.
Remember a time when Irish news was dominated by the “troubles” — that Protestant/Catholic thing that went on for a few decades? In its fixation with the abuse scandal the AP has managed to miss one of the significant changes in Irish life made manifest by this congress — the virtual end of Protestant/Catholic discord.
The article continues with its focus on the abuse scandal, highlighting those moments from the opening day where congress organizers addressed the abuse issue. Readers were also treated to this assertion.
… Four state-ordered investigations over the past decade have documented how tens of thousands of children from the 1940s to 1990s suffered sexual, physical and mental abuse from priests, nuns and church staff in three Irish dioceses and in a network of workhouse-style residential schools. More investigations of other dioceses beckon.
Tens of thousands of children suffered abuse? Where does that number come from?
In 1999 the Irish government began a ten year investigation into incidents of abuse in Church-run reform schools and educational institutions: the places where the bulk of the abuse took place. In its 2010 report, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse found that between the period 1914 to 1999, 253 claims of sexual abuse were made by males and 128 by females.
Were these all the possible claims? No. But “tens of thousands”? Does the AP have information on at least 19,619 other cases it says took place?
Let me stop at this point and address the question why this matters. One or one thousand children abused are too many abused children. It is a shame, a horror, a crime that tarnishes the church and society.
However, when the abuse is inflated to hyperbole, when imaginary victims are created to make an argument that the church is corrupt, the abuse suffered by real people is cheapened. Their suffering is diminished and is expropriated by those advancing a political agenda. In a situation of suffering it is reprehensible to exaggerate for effect.
And it is bad journalism. The reporting in this story shows no understanding of the issues, no sense of the story, no sense of the people. It tells us nothing of consequence about the Eucharistic Congress, but a great deal about what the author thinks of the Catholic Church. It is an anti-Catholic editorial masquerading as news.
When you are going to make tea, make tea. When you are going to make water, make water. Don’t try to make them in the same pot. When you are going to write an editorial, write an editorial. When you are going to write news, write news — don’t try to do both in the same story. Stream of consciousness reporting didn’t work here. The AP would have done a better job of sticking to realism.
First printed in GetReligion.
Tags: Associated Press, Lady Gaga, MTV News, Philippines
Ohohohoh, I’m in love with Judas
Ohohohoh, I’m in love with Judas
Judas! Judaas Judas! Judaas
Judas! Judaas Judas! GAGA
When he comes to me I am ready
I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times he betrays me
I’ll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
So goes the first stanza of the pop song “Judas” performed by Lady Gaga, the stage name of New York-born singer/song writer Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Lady Gaga’s work has won her fans round the world, but news reports from her tour of South East Asia indicates she has garnered a few enemies as well.
MTV News (I think this is a first for GetReligion — linking to an MTV News story) reports:
Lady Gaga has had a rough couple of weeks. What should have been a celebratory kick-off to her “Born This Way Ball” has been marred in controversy, as the pop superstar has encountered protests from religious groups at nearly every turn.
The tour’s first show in Seoul, South Korea, was marred by protests from Christian groups saying Mother Monster was “obscene” and could “taint” young people with her performance. The protestors even managed to get the Korea Media Rating Board to elevate the age rating for the concert from 12 to 18, prohibiting minors from seeing the show.
The second leg of the tour, MTV reports, was equally difficult.
She encountered similar troubles in the Philippines, where her May 21 and 22 concerts in Manila were met with similar derision from Christian groups claiming her lyrics are blasphemous and that the sentiment behind songs like “Born this Way” promotes “promiscuity” and homosexuality. A few days before the first concert, anti-riot police were forced to stop hundreds of protestors from descending on the venue. Gaga responded to the hubbub today on Twitter, saying, “And don’t worry, if I get thrown in jail in Manila, Beyonce will just bail me out. Sold out night 2 in the Philippines. I love it here!”
A June show in Jakarta may be cancelled in the face of threats from militant Muslims.
”The Jakarta situation is 2-fold: Indonesian authorities demand I censor the show & religious extremist separately, are threatening violence,” Gaga tweeted earlier today.
A 17 May 2012 AP story gives further details of the protest in the Philippines. The version printed by the Washington Post began:
Scores of Christian youths in the Philippines chanted “Stop the Lady Gaga concerts” at a rally Friday calling for the pop diva’s shows here to be canceled despite assurances from authorities that they won’t allow nudity and lewd acts.
Christian youths — and they are exactly what? Paragraph three tells us more about these three score and 10 youths.
About 70 members of a group called Biblemode Youth Philippines rallied in front of the Pasay City Hall in metropolitan Manila. They said they were offended by Lady Gaga’s music and videos, in particular her song “Judas,” which they say mocks Jesus Christ.
And what is Biblemode Youth Philippines? The article does not say. But it later states:
Former Manila Mayor Jose Atienza said the singer and organizers can be punished for offending race or religion. Under the penal code in the conservative, majority Roman Catholic country, the penalty can range from six months to six years in prison, although no one has been convicted recently.
The narrative arc of the MTV story is sympathetic to Lady Gaga — as one would expect. The AP story adopts a neutral tone, but gives more space in the story to those offended by Lady Gaga’s musical act. Again, this is what one would expect as the story from the AP is focused on the protests.
However, I would have hoped the AP story would have gone a bit deeper in its reporting as this appeared to the be the source for MTV‘s report — and was the principle vehicle for this story in the American press. The AP story identifies the protestors in Manila as Christians and then as members of Biblemode Youth Philippines. But it stops there — save for noting the Philippines are a “conservative, majority Roman Catholic country.”
It would be natural to assume that these Christian youths are Catholic youths. Catholic youth movements are politically active in the Philippines — protesting the government’s recent contraception bill. But Biblemode Youth Philippines is not on the Catholic Church’s Federation of National Youth Organizations’ membership list.
A quick check of the group’s Facebook page shows that it is not a parish organization that would be below the level of groups in the national Catholic youth federation, but shows the members of Biblemode Youth Philippines are Baptists.
Where members of the “majority” Roman Catholic church among the protestors? Or was this a Protestant affair — or even a Baptist protest against Lady Gaga?
When saying “Christians are protesting”, is it responsible journalism to say what sort of Christians are protesting? I believe so.
There is the issue of precision. But there is also the underlying religious question. What is the significance of a minority Christian group leading the Manila protests against Lady Gaga? Is there silence from the Catholic Church on this issue? If so, why?
Which groups were leading the protests against Lady Gaga in Korea? Is there any link between the protestors in Korea and the Philippines? Does Lady Gaga offend against decency or good taste in an equal degree in the Philippines and Korea?
Are the protestors Westboro Baptist wannabees? Is there a link to the anti-American movement in the Philippines?
What exactly is going on here?
I ask you, GetReligion readers, am I making a mountain out of a molehill, or should we expect precision on this point?
Croppies lie down (no more): Get Religion, February 23, 2012 February 23, 2012Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Associated Press, Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, Ian Paisley, News Letter, Northern Ireland
An iron constitution, a phlegmatic personality and a clean conscience means that it is rather hard to wind me up over a news story. When I start on my morning newspapers my strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.
Yet some stories do set me going. An Associated Press story from Northern Ireland today elicited a sharp laugh, which brought on tears, a coughing fit and and produced a purplish hue in my normally rose colored countenance. I am now quite recovered, thank you, but I ask if you see what I see in this story about the Rev. Ian Paisley (0r the Lord Bannside as he is now called.)
DUBLIN (AP) — Northern Ireland politician Ian Paisley is recovering from his recent near-death experience and remains a “hearty and strong man,” one of his sons said Tuesday in the family’s first comment on the Protestant evangelist’s 16-day hospitalization.
Is Ian Paisley an “evangelist”? He is an “evangelical.” Calling him an evangelist would be pointed political statement. Or again, it might be a confusion of language. I’m not quite sure what the author intended.
An example of an evangelist would be Dr. Billy Graham, Luis Pilau, Charles Stanley — an apologist for the Christian faith — who seeks to win souls for Christ. The word is also used in a secular sense to describe someone keen to convert or present their cause. Joseph Stalin and W.H. Auden have been described as Marxist evangelists, the Los Angeles Times ran a profile recently on a climate change evangelist, while Matthew Arnold is described as an evangelist of culture.
My colleague TMatt has covered this confusion of words in GetReligion before, but I found this error particularly interesting given Dr. Paisley’s history.
An ordained minister, Dr. Paisley founded and served as moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. While he may have been an active minister throughout his adult life, he is better known for his political work — founder and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), member of Parliament from 1970 to 2010, member of the European Parliament from 1979 to 2004, member of the Northern Ireland Assembly from 1998 to 2011, and First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2007-2008.
For forty years he was the public political face of Protestantism and Unionism in Northern Ireland. And has also been a trenchant critic of Irish Nationalists and the Roman Catholic Church. One notable moment (among many in his colorful career) occurred in 1988. Pope John Paul II was addressing the European Parliament when Dr. Paisley rose from his seat and shouted “I renounce you as the Antichrist” and held up a placard stating “Pope John Paul II ANTICHRIST.”
Dr. Paisley continued to heckle the pope throughout the speech, until he was removed from the chamber by a number of irate MEPs including Otto von Habsburg.
As the long time leader of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which identifies itself as being …
- Fundamental in Doctrine
- Evangelical in Outreach
- Sanctified in Behaviour
- Presbyterian in Government
- Protestant in Conviction
- Separatist in Practice
… it is fair to call Dr. Paisley an evangelical. To describe him as a Protestant evangelist, however, is a mistake — unless the intent was to make a point about the Ulsterman’s mixing of religion and politics.
The AP article noted:
Paisley spent four decades blocking political compromise in Northern Ireland as founder of the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party and his stridently anti-Catholic denomination, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He refused any contact with Sinn Fein, the public face of the outlawed Irish Republican Army.
But after the IRA disarmed and renounced violence, Paisley stunned the world by forming a power-sharing government alongside Sinn Fein in 2007, a surprise triumph for peacemaking in the British territory.
Perhaps the use of the word was deliberate. Was Dr. Paisley’s volte face a result of his Protestant Christian faith, or was it a political calculation? As an aside, I believe the image many Americans have of Northern Ireland misses the changes that have taken place over the past twenty years. While you can still buy bumper stickers in South Boston that read 26+6=1, you will find only a few takers in Belfast.
The News Letter, a Belfast newspaper, ran a fascinating interview with a young Roman Catholic priest entitled “Border debate is irrelevant — Priest” on the same day as the AP story.
No Roman Catholic priests under the age of 45 are interested in removing the border and many Catholics are re-thinking their nationalism, a Catholic priest has said.
Fr Eugene O’Neill said that many Catholics were questioning whether as Catholics they necessarily had to be nationalist and look to Dublin when the United Kingdom was more respectful of Christian churches.
Fr O’Neill was speaking to the News Letter following a broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster’s Thought For The Day earlier yesterday morning.
In comments backing up polls which suggest that many Catholics would now vote to retain the border, Fr O’Neill said that as an Irish passport-holder he saw the Queen and senior British government figures as defenders of faith in the UK.
And, in a blistering attack on the Dublin government which shows how far the church and the state have moved apart in the Republic, Fr O’Neill claimed that there were similarities between how the Irish government is making life difficult for churches and how repressive communist regimes have persecuted Christians.
The Republic is now “a cold house for Catholicism”, he told the News Letter, singling out the atheistic Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore for particular rebuke.
By contrast, he said that the UK Government had demonstrated a respect and appreciation for the role of Christian churches which Catholics could support.
Time (and a secular Irish government) may have healed the wounds of Ulster. But Dr. Paisley may have done his part as well. Perhaps I responded too quickly to the AP story. It could be that the writer intended to say that Ulster’s “Dr. No”‘s change from rejection to accommodation with Sinn Fein was the act of an evangelist.
Then again, it may have been sloppy writing. What say you GetReligion readers?
First published on GetReligion.
The problem of miracles: Get Religion Oct 8, 2011 October 8, 2011Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: Associated Press, miracles, Poland
Writing about the miraculous — apart from baseball — is a tricky task. The key to a good miracle story is its tone. If a writer is too deferential to his subject he becomes an apologist. Too harsh and he becomes an antagonist. Adopting the voice of the village atheist or a credulous devotee fails the test of sound journalism.
There are some wonderful contemporary apologetic essays on miracles, Frederica Mathewes-Green’s piece “Why C.S. Lewis is So Irritating!” springs to mind, while Christopher Hitchens and some other members of the new atheists fraternity have equally well written critiques of the miraculous.
But the reporter’s task is to let the facts drive the story and to allow the principles of the drama to speak. The writer’s craft is then displayed by having “A sense of the fitness of things, my dear” as Waldo Lydeker observed in Otto Preminger’s Laura. It courses through all his work by imparting faithfully the facts, the setting and the worldview of those involved — and allows a reader to draw his own conclusions.
This imperative is made difficult for a wire service reporter, however, who must cram as much as possible into 400 words or less. A wire service religion story can hit the right chord, but brevity sometimes robs the story of accuracy.
The balance between pitch and context is illustrated in a miracle story from the Associated Press. On Oct 2 newspapers around the globe ran a brief — 330 word — story whose title took some form of: “Catholics in Poland celebrate what they see as miraculous communion wafer.”
The AP has done a great job in finding the proper editorial voice, but the absence of context does not give the general reader enough information to know what is happening. The article begins by going through the “what,” “where” and “who” says so.
Roman Catholics in Poland gathered Sunday for a special Mass celebrating what they see as a miracle: the appearance on a communion wafer of a dark spot that they are convinced is part of the heart of Jesus.
The communion wafer in question developed a brown spot in 2008 after falling on the floor during a Mass in the eastern Polish town of Sokolka. Two medical doctors determined that the spot was heart muscle tissue, church officials have said.
The local archbishop offers his endorsement, a brief history is offered and an explanation of Catholic doctrine is presented.
Bialystok Archbishop Edward Ozorowski said during the Mass that in history, the “substance of Christ’s body or blood has become available to the human senses, and this also happened in Sokolka.”
“For God, nothing is impossible,” Ozorowski said.
The dark-spotted wafer was carried aloft in a reliquary by a golden-robed priest in a procession and was put on display in the town’s church of St. Anthony as about 1,000 faithful looked on, according to a report and footage carried by the TV station TVN.
Catholics believe that the bread and wine that priests use during the sacrament of communion — or the Eucharist — are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
The wafer was dropped by a priest celebrating communion in 2008. In accordance with church practice, the priest placed the wafer in water to dissolve it. Several days later a nun found that the wafer had not dissolved completely, and found a red mark on it.
It winds toward a close by stating the miracle has not been confirmed by the Vatican, and ends with the wry twist of local skeptics asking the police to investigate.
… the Vatican is still examining the matter and has not yet officially decided whether to declare it a miracle, church spokesman Andrzej Debski said.
A group of rationalists complained about the matter in 2008, and called on authorities to investigate if a murder or other crime was involved if human flesh was indeed found on the wafer. Police say they have no evidence of any crime.
Now I like how this story has been framed. It is respectful to the Catholic principals while also giving skeptics the opportunity to scoff. However, a surface reading of the story presents a quibble: “local” should have been inserted before “church” in the second sentence, as we are not told until the end of the article that the Vatican has not yet ruled on this matter.
It the deeper issues of context and accuracy that troubles me. The statement about what Roman Catholics believe happens in the Eucharist is true as far it goes, but it is incomplete in explaining the theological importance of this story — the “so what” factor. Catholics believe that in the celebration of the Eucharist the the bread and wine are substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ by means of the consecratory Eucharistic Prayer. The accidents — the outward appearance of the bread and wine — remain the same. This change in substance is called transubstantiation.
What is claimed by the Catholic Church in Sokolka is a second, extraordinary Eucharistic miracle where the accidents have been changed also. In his Summa Theologica III, 76.8 ad 2, Thomas Aquinas explains this second miracle by stating:
… (W)hile the dimensions remain the same as before, there is a miraculous change wrought in the other accidents, such as shape, color, and the rest, so that flesh, or blood, or a child, is seen. And, as was said already, this is not deception, because it is done “to represent the truth,” namely, to show by this miraculous apparition that Christ’s body and blood are truly in this sacrament. And thus it is clear that as the dimensions remain, which are the foundation of the other accidents, as we shall see later on (77, 2), the body of Christ truly remains in this sacrament.
Eucharistic miracles have been recorded in the past. A 2005 story in Zenit (one of the best Roman Catholic news services) describes a conference that offered the results of an investigation into the 8th century miracle at the Church of St. Legontian in Lanciano, Italy.
A Basilian monk, who had doubts about the real presence of Christ in consecrated elements, was offering a Mass in the church. When he pronounced the words of the consecration, the host was miraculously changed into physical flesh and the wine into physical blood. The blood and flesh were preserved and these relics were examined by anatomists in 1971 who pronounced the flesh as being cardiac tissue, and the blood as human blood of type AB.
An informed reader would have been aware of the significance of the second extraordinary Eucharistic miracle repoted in Sokolka, and may have heard of the Lanciano miracle, a general reader is not likely to have been aware of this background.
Which leads me back to Sokolka. In recounting the archbishop’s remarks and summarizing the story, the AP has either made a mistake or the local church has shifted its position. In 2009 the Archdiocese of Bialystock released a report under the signature of its chancellor that was much more circumspect in its claims. A scientific investigation commissioned by Archbishop Ozorowski stated:
On 7 January 2009 the sample from the Host has been taken and examined independently by two professionals in pathomorphology of Medical University in Bialystok. They have issued a common statement as follows: “the sample sent to assess (…) in our opinion (prof. Maria Sobaniec-Lotowska and prof. Stanislaw Sulkowski) looks like the myocardial tissue, at least of all the tissues of living organisms it most resembles.”
The miraculous host “looks like” heart tissue is not the same thing as saying it “is” heart tissue.
The Bialystock metropolitan curial report states the files had been passed to Warsaw for review, but in the opinion of the local church:
The Case of Sokolka does not oppose to the faith of the Church, rather confirms it. Church believes that the words of consecration, by the power of the Holy Spirit, transform a bread into the Body of Christ and wine into His Blood. It also provides a call to ministers of the Holy Communion to distribute the Body of Christ with faith and attention and to faithful – to receive It with reverence.
In other words the report found that it could be true and belief that it is true is not contrary to the Catholic faith, but the Vatican must make the final decision. The AP story gives the impression that this is a new miracle (it isn’t), that the scientific evidence says it is true (no it does not), and that the Catholic Church has an official view of the miracle (it does not).
Am I asking too much? I do not expect a wire service story to offer Catholic catechesis nor to smack the story down as the ignorant vaporings of the Polish peasantry. Would the story have been improved by the addition of a few words of historical and theological context and a dash of nuance? Or is it impossible in this post-modernist age to be balanced? What say ye, GetReligion readers?
First printed at GetReligion.