Doggie masses down under: Get Religion, August 6, 2012. August 6, 2012Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: animal souls, Eucharist, Inclusive Catholic Church, Laika, The Age
Can a dog be a good Catholic? Must a dog be baptized before it receives Holy Communion? For that matter, can a dog be saved? Will all dogs go to heaven, or does Laika’s 1957 launch mark the apogee of canine celestial progress?
Must a commitment to inclusivity by a liberal Catholic mandate the rejection of speciesism?
Religion reporter Barney Zwarts writing in The Age — one of Australia’s great national newspapers — has an article that brought these questions to my mind. But I am not sure whether he meant to do this. Is he playing it straight or writing with tongue in cheek in this article about inclusive Catholics in Australia?.
The 6 August article entitled “Dissidents preach a new breed of Catholicism” begins:
FATHER Greg Reynolds wants his church of dissident Catholics to welcome all – ”every man and his dog”, one might say, risking the non-inclusive language he deplores – but even he was taken aback when that was put to the test during Mass yesterday.
A first-time visitor arrived late at the Inclusive Catholics service in South Yarra with a large and well-trained German shepherd. When the consecrated bread and wine were passed around, the visitor took some bread and fed it to his dog.
Apart from one stifled gasp, those present showed admirable presence of mind – but the dog was not offered the cup!
Father Reynolds, a Melbourne priest for 32 years, launched Inclusive Catholics earlier this year. He now ministers to up to 40 people at fortnightly services alternating between two inner-suburban Protestant churches.
The congregation includes gay men, former priests, abuse victims and many women who feel disenfranchised, but it is optimistic rather than bitter.
A few details of the service are offered, with the article stressing that the lector and homilist were women as were the lay eucharistic ministers who distributed the elements consecrated by Fr. Reynolds. The shift from narrative to analysis comes with this paragraph:
Inclusive Catholics is part of a small but growing trend in the West of disaffiliated Catholics forming their own communities and offering ”illicit” Masses, yet are slightly uncertain of their identities. The question was posed during the service: ”Are we part of the church or are we a breakaway movement?”
The article does not seek to answer this question, but returns to narrative by providing biographical details of Fr. Reynolds, whom it describes as “still a priest, though now on the dole.” Some rather predictable, but still crisp quotes are offered by participants. To whit: “This is inclusive and welcoming.” and “Intelligent, educated, adult Catholics have had enough.”
The article closes with this encomium for the inclusive Catholic movement:
But if there’s one thing that unites Inclusive Catholics and the mainstream church, it’s their reliance on hard-working women behind the scenes. The volunteer who made the name tags given out yesterday turned 88 during the week.
I am undecided as to the author’s editorial voice. Is he playing it straight yet allowing the subjects of the story to make fools of themselves, or does the pro-inclusive church framing of the story represent the author’s editorial voice? Let’s lay out the evidence for either proposition.
In favor of the ridiculous theme, we have the juxtaposition of the articles beginning and ending with its pivot paragraph. At the head of the story is a photograph of the congregation, Fr. Reynolds and the dog. A quick scan indicates that save for the dog, no one appears to be under 65 years of age. The closing sentence mentions the industrious work of the volunteer who writes out the name tag — noting her 88th birthday. Against this we have the “small but growing trend” argument put forward in the middle of the story. Are the photo and birthday greetings for this aging crowd to be set against the claim of a new movement in the church meant to ridicule Fr. Reynolds and his congregation, or demonstrate its strength?
The selection of quotes is also telling. We have two cliched quotes in support of Fr. Reynolds’ work, but nothing from the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne about the activities of this unlicensed, yet still in good standing Catholic priest. Did the author choose to leave the story unbalanced to allow the comments made by the subject to impeach their cause? Or, were the comments so self-evidently true that there was no need to balance them with a contrary view?
The shaggy dog story at the start of the article might also lend support to the ridicule thesis. The article starts with a joke about “inclusive” language, relates the story of the dog receiving the host, and then makes a joke about Fido not receiving the wine — here we can tell this is a Roman Catholic not Anglo-Catholic mass as the Anglicans would doubtless have required the dog to receive the elements in both kinds.
And without seeking to explain why someone in this congregation would gasp at the dog’s reception of the sacraments, we move into a litany of the sorts of persons who attend this service.
My vote is for satire. A crowd of aging hipsters celebrating a mass that is in bad taste and theologically and sacramentally scandalous with no comment, context or correction seems likely to be a way for the author to hold this group up to ridicule. Or, the author of this story is playing it straight and declines to offer context, contrary voices, or to develop the shaggy dog story at the start of his narrative because he does not believe it necessary.
Last month I reported on the discussion held by the bishops of the Episcopal Church on the appropriateness of prayers for animals. A proposed prayer put forward by the church’s liturgy committee was vetoed, the Bishop of Missouri, the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith reported and an alternate prayer provided by the Prayer Book committee “no longer express the desire for our animals to be part of the resurrection.”
The question of the place of animals in heaven is of real pastoral concern and the Christian tradition is divided on this point. I’ve touched on this issue at GetReligion in the past, noting that according to Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey there is “an ambiguous tradition” about animals in Christianity. Thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Fenelon, and Kant and have held that animals do not have rational, hence immortal souls. Descartes defended a distinction between humans and animals based on the belief that language is a necessary condition for mind and as such animals were soulless machines (Descartes, Discourse on the Method)
Others theologians, philosophers and writers as diverse as Goethe, St John of the Cross, C.S. Lewis, Bishop Butler, and John Wesley held the opposite view and believed that animals will find a place in heaven. Billy Graham is purported to have said:
I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness’ in heaven. If it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.
The Episcopal Bishop of North Dakota, Michael Smith made this same point when asked by the press at the General Convention if animals went to heaven.
These are “theological issues not many of us have thought through,” he said, “but if a little girl needs Fluffy the cat to see the beatific vision, then Fluffy will be in heaven,” Bishop Smith said.
But lets come back down to earth and return to Melbourne — is this Inclusive Catholic Church pressing the theological envelope on these issues? Or has the author structured his story to expose a group of wayward elderly Catholics doing silly things and playing at church? What say you GetReligion readers? Serious or satire?
First printed in GetReligion.
Can a feminist be pro-life?: Get Religion, February 17, 2012 February 17, 2012Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Popular Culture, Press criticism.
Tags: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, feminism, Herald Sun, Melinda Tankard Reist, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age
Can a feminist be pro-life? Can a feminist be a Christian?
Here’s another. Can an atheist be pro-life. Or, is the pro-life movement merely a stalking horse for the Christian right?
While some of this field has been plowed by Christopher Hitchens — a professed atheist, Hitchens answered the question of whether an atheist can be pro-life in an article he wrote for Vanity Fair (The answer is yes. He was an atheist and opposed abortion.) — it is new to Australia. And the debate over who is a feminist is a live one.
These questions were at the heart of a media furore in Australia last month following the publication in the Sydney Morning Herald of a profile of pro-life activist, Melinda Tankard Reist. MTR — as she has come to be called on twitter and other social media sites — is the author of Big Porn Inc, a study warning of the pernicious cultural and social effects of pornography.
The SMH’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist’ was a mostly positive appraisal of MTR, written in the breathy People magazine style seen in the early stories about Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
Melinda Tankard Reist is a woman of strong opinions. She is also a woman about whom people have strong feelings. If you’ve seen her proselytise on pornography on TV, read her opinions on the sexualisation of girls in the newspapers, or watched her go after do-badding companies on Twitter or through her activist group Collective Shout, chances are you have a few opinions about her of your own.
She’s a wowser. A no-nonsense political crusader beloved by both teenage girls and their mothers. A religious conservative in feminist clothing. A brazen careerist. A gifted networker and generous mentor.
The Canberra-based activist, mother of four and author of four books is difficult to pigeonhole and impossible to ignore. (and so on and so forth)
The article prompted a sharp response in an opinion piece entitled “There is no such thing as a pro-life feminist” published in the SMH by Anne Summers which challenged MTR’s right to call herself a feminist. The original story also prompted a torrent of abuse.
Writing in the Herald Sun in an article entitled “Pro-lifer sparks charge of the spite brigade”, Mirando Devine stated:
The cyber bullies who piled on to anti-porn activist Melinda Tankard Reist last week are behaving like 17th-century witch hunters, not the enlightened tolerance queens they claim to be.
Tankard Reist’s crime was to be profiled not unfavourably in a Sunday magazine, which described her as one of Australia’s best-known feminist voices.
This infuriated the miserable Orcs who lurk in the dark recesses of Twitter and the blogosphere.
Up they sprang to pour calumny on Tankard Reist, a pro-life feminist and 48-year-old mother of four from Mildura.
She was nothing but a fundamentalist Christian trying to hide her religious beliefs. Therefore, her views on the sexualisation of children, the objectification of women, the corrosive effect of internet pornography, were suspect.
Oh, and she should be abused with a coffee cup.
One blogger attacked MTR for speaking out on abortion and offered this put down.
She’s a Baptist and attends Belconnen Baptist Church. … She is anti-abortion. She is deceptive and duplicitous about her religious beliefs. … What does does she have to hide?
Well that’s another one to add to my list: Freemasons, the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Illuminati, Bilderburgers, Bonesmen and now Baptists — agents of Satan all. But I digress.
Writing in The Age in an article entitled “Another day, another fresh wave of e.hate”, MTR objected to the the standards of debate being exhibited in the social media culture, where physical and verbal threats had crowded out rational discourse in battle of ideas. Other feminists soon entered the fray.
The directors of a feminist publishing house defended MTR in a story entitled “The Authentic Feminism of Melinda Tankard Reist”, posted the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site which argued that being a feminist did not mean checking one’s mind at the door or conforming to a single party line on any issue. Other opinion pieces soon appeared in the Age, “Feminism’s clique does not help the cause”, in the SMH, “Plenty of room under the feminism umbrella” and “Tankard Reist explain yourself”, and on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site, “Media must do better on porn debate” that adopted differing views on the controversy.
The story took a further twist when MTR engaged an attorney to ask the blogger who said she was a Christian fundamentalist to retract her statement. MTR is not a Baptist and does not attend Belconnen Baptist Church. She is a Christian, however, and has not hidden her faith.
The Herald Sun reported that this attempt to set the record straight prompted a new attack.
The Twitter hate exploded. Leslie Cannold, a so-called “ethicist”, was among the more energetic defenders of Wilson, averaging two tweets every hour every day, indicating a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Tankard Reist.
“She wouldn’t be considered newsworthy if correctly described as fundie Christian. They’re all anti-porn raunch & choice.”
There is more than a little envy among Christophobes at Tankard Reist’s growing influence and good standing with young women.
In a summary of the debate printed in the opinion section of The Drum on the ABC entitled “Tankard Reist furore: feminists on the attack”, Claire Bongiorno questioned the anti-Christian sentiments of some of MTR’s critics.
Eva Cox has suggested that Tankard Reist’s views may be incompatible with “basic feminist criteria” because of her ‘religious’ views.
… Cox argues that people claiming to be feminists should declare their ‘religious’ beliefs. Such declarations would allow those assessing their feminist views to identify any presuppositions with which a feminist writer may be working. Cox stated in a recent article in The New Matilda that, if we knew Ms Tankard Reist’s “religious” views, then it may be that her feminist views “fail to meet what I would see as basic feminist criteria”. However, knowing the “religious” views of a feminist writer may not be useful and it may result in misunderstandings and incorrect inferences being drawn.
The suggestion that one needs to scrutinise Tankard Reist further because of what she has identified as a “struggling spirituality”, also suggests a suspicion and intolerance for faith.
Women who ascribe to some kind of faith can and do still have agency to think and form views about feminism. There is also no reason to assume that women can’t critique aspects of their particular faith with which they disagree. For example, some Catholic women may criticise the patriarchal structures that limit female participation and leadership in their church. It is patronising to women of faith that they should be treated differently in intellectual debates.
This is all great stuff. A wonderfully spirited debate is taking place in the op-ed pages of Australia’s leading newspapers that is seeking to flesh out a pressing social and ethical issue — can a women be a feminist and a religious believer? Can she be pro-life and and feminist?
The place you will not see this issue mentioned is in the other parts of the Australian press. Apart from a few articles in the technology section about the perils of abuse on social media sites and the legal liability of libeling someone via twitter or Facebook, I’ve seen nothing.
I hold up this debate in Australia’s op-ed pages for the approbation of GetReligion readers because of its high quality — and because I do not believe we will ever see this sort of thing in the American press. On blogs yes. In newspapers or on the website of television networks, no.
This is my way of making a plea for American newspapers to make space for feuilletons. What in the world is that, you may ask. In the U.S., the most read feuilleton is the “Talk of the Town” section of the New Yorker — a collection of light news, art and literary observations. The German press takes the concept somewhat more seriously and its fueilleton section is the field of battle in the war of ideas and provides solid reporting on intellectual, literary, philosophical and religious news.
There are specialty websites that meet this high culture niche, but in the race to be the most mediocre, the most vanilla newspaper in the land — offensive to none, advertisers for all — the press is abandoning one of its key duties. The duty to educate and inform the life of the mind.
So GetReligion readers, can a feminist be pro-life? Can a feminist be a Christian?
What say you?
First published in GetReligion.
Tags: The Age, William Morris
Anti-catholic bias in the press is not new. But I do wonder if fifteen years of abuse scandals has shifted the framework for reporting on the Roman Catholic Church.The default position in the press is that the Catholic Church is guilty as charged — no matter the charge.
I see this in the reporting on the controversy in Australia over the dismissal of a progressive bishop. In May Bishop Bill Morris of Toowoomba left office five years ahead of schedule. He had been subject to an extended investigation by the Vatican and had been criticized for his progressive views — including allowing women to be ordained to the priesthood. The assumptions and inferences that lie behind the reporting appear to be driven by forces outside the story.
Newspaper writing is a craft. Good journalists bring to their work specialized knowledge of a subject and a command of prose styling. Writers improve with time and a few become masters in the art, while most achieve a workmanlike competence. Some should pack it in and explore new career options where leaden prose is a virtue. Politics? Insurance?
Religion reporting in the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, is just about the best there is in Australia and its chief religion reporter is among the masters of the craft. I’ve been reading the work of Barney Zwartz for many years and like what I see. He has a combines a lightness of touch with a wide knowledge of the subject.
However, there are times when narrative skill and professional knowledge are not enough to produce a good story. I want to look at a recent article entitled “Pope ‘wrong’ in sacking Queensland bishop” on the controversy surrounding Bishop Morris — and ask if you see the problem I see.
The story has a great opening:
The Pope acted against natural justice and the Catholic Church’s own canon law when he sacked Bill Morris as Bishop of Toowoomba last May, two expert independent reports have found.
Queensland Supreme Court judge W.J. Carter found that Bishop Morris was denied procedural fairness and natural justice, and that his treatment was ”offensive” to the requirements of both civil and canon (church) law. He wrote about one unsigned Vatican letter to the bishop that ”one could not imagine a more striking case of a denial of natural justice”.
His conclusion was endorsed by a leading Australian canon lawyer, Melbourne’s Father Ian Waters, whose report was made public last week.
He found that Pope Benedict breached canon law and exceeded his authority in removing Bishop Morris without finding him guilty of apostasy, heresy or schism and without following the judicial procedures canon law requires.
This is good stuff. Crisply written — it grabs the reader’s attention and pulls him into the story. The article summarizes the findings of these experts and recounts the dismissal by the pope of Bishop Morris last May. The story closes with the information that the diocese backed its bishop and was distressed by the Vatican’s actions.
So what’s the problem with the article? Balance.
Let me say up front that I am not saying the article should have given equal time or space to the Catholic church to defend its decision to remove Bishop Morris. The article is not about his removal, but about an independent report that criticizes his removal. Given the limitations of space in most broadsheets there is often little room for an extended treatment of the issues or background. And, if my experience is a guide, churches are slow to respond to questions.
However, I would have liked to have seen some response from the institutional church — either a spokesman or an expert voice — about the claims of unfair treatment made in the report. Barring that perhaps a line or two from a canon lawyer who could speak to the general issue of due process in ecclesiastical proceedings. A response to the firing from the church was not necessary in this story, a response to the report was.
As an aside, in the specialist press that rule does not always hold true because they will devote several articles to a story. Story A is the event. Story B the reaction. Story C the response … and so forth.
The arc of the story, its tone and trajectory, suggests an anti-Vatican bias in this story. While we are told in the first paragraph the report was prepared by two independent investigators, it is not until paragraph 5, out of 8, that we learn these independent investigators were commissioned by the dismissed bishop’s friends.
An independent investigator could have been commissioned by the church to review its procedures. We have seen this in some of the abuse cases in the U.S. for example. However, an independent investigator commissioned by the former bishop’s supporters casts a different light on the story. It does not nullify or lessen the importance of their findings — but it does call for the reader to place these findings in perspective.
By waiting until after the beating the church is given by the experts is over, the statement “Both reports were commissioned by Bishop Morris’ supporters in Toowoomba” comes too late in the narrative. It is unfair.
In sum, my concerns are not over the story under consideration — whether Bishop Morris was unfairly sacked is beside point. My concern is with how this was packaged by The Age. The clever language coupled with the manipulation of the plot line fails the reader who is seeking the truth.
Is this deliberate Catholic bashing? Could the sub-editor have cut out a few paragraphs giving the church’s side of the story so as to fit the article into the page? Might the church not have returned phone calls or ignored the reporter—making it culpable in the way the story was reported? Are we hearing echoes of the Catholic Church’s handling of its abuse cases in the shaping of this narrative about unfair dismissal? What’s going on here?
What say you GetReligion readers?
First printed in GetReligion.
Tags: Patricia Fresen, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, The Age
First published in Get Religion.
A story this week in The Age, Melbourne’s major daily newspaper, leaves me puzzled. I am not sure what the paper’s religion editor, Barney Zwartz is doing in his article “Ex-nun a cardinal sinner in the mind of the church”. Read at one level, it c0uld be a silly puff piece. Yet there are hints the story could have a deeper meaning—wheels within wheels—where The Age’s editorial voice is heard by its allowing the subject to impeach herself.
It also raises the philosophical question for journalists: to what extent may a person identify themselves? What shapes reality? The social construction given by the subject of a story, or an outside arbiter—an eternal truth, natural law, the AP style book?
Take a look at The Age story. Is it a puff piece, or absurdist fable? “We report, you decide” as Fox likes to say.
The subject is the visit to Australia of one of the leaders of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a group that defines itself as an:
international movement .. [whose purpose is] .. to primarily spiritually prepare, ordain, and support women from all states of life, who are theologically qualified, who are committed to an inclusive model of Church, and who are called by the Holy Spirit and their communities to minister within the Roman Catholic Church.
The gist of the article is that one of its leaders, Bishop Patricia Fresen, is visiting Australia to build support for the organization in hopes of expansion down under.
The article begins with a flourish:
Patricia Fresen prefers being quietly subversive to openly confrontational, but the 70-year-old former Dominican nun is like a purple rag to a bull to the Vatican.
She says she is a Catholic woman bishop, properly ordained by a male bishop in the sacrament passed down by laying on hands from the first apostles. The official church says that by that act she ceased to be a Catholic and it has excommunicated her (banned her from the church).
Bishop Fresen – now a bishop in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests church – rejects the excommunication.
Cute. I confess I had to think for a moment before I got the color joke, (e.g., substituting purple, the color associated with a bishop, for red), but the meaning is clear, Bishop Fresen is an irritant to the Roman Catholic Church.
The language in the second sentence however begins to cloud the issues. Bishop Fresen says she is a “Catholic woman bishop”—the word “Roman” being conspicuous by its absence—while the “official church”, which one presumes is the Roman Catholic Church due to the reference to the “Vatican” in the first sentence, says ‘no she’s not’ and has excommunicated her. The bishop responds by saying she rejects this rejection and the author’s voice identifies the former Dominican nun as “now” being a bishop in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests church—note here we have the first use of the “Roman” descriptor.
Follow me so far? Former nun c0nsecrated a bishop for a dissident group/sect rejects her excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church for having participated in the consecration service.
The article continues with the information that Bishop Fresen is South African by birth, and thus may cloak herself in the mantle of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Stirring justice quotes inserted here: “An unjust law must not be obeyed but broken.”
The bishop also adds that she is not alone in being a rebel, gathering those who use birth control, the divorced and remarried, and sexually active gays into her camp as fellow excommunicates from the Roman Catholic family.
A historical note is offered, as is a word about the church’s present size and the sort of people it has attracted:
[History] Roman Catholic WomenPriests was launched in 2002 when an anonymous Catholic bishop ordained seven women secretly on a boat on the Danube. Bishop Fresen was ordained a priest in 2003, a bishop in 2005 and excommunicated in 2007. .. [Numbers] Now the group has nearly 200 women priests in North America and Europe, .. [Members] “Nearly all are people on the fringes of the church, who want to be Catholic but are very critical of some aspects. They are forming churches with much more communitarian structures, much more accountability on the part of the leaders.”
The article closes with Bishop Fresen’s belief the Petrine system is on its last legs.
“Benedict, a German Pope, is very unpopular in Germany. He’s become a figure of fun. I think he’s bringing the papacy to a quick end, and I don’t think there will be many more popes elected this way,” she says.
The authoritarian structure based on the Pope and Vatican bureaucracy is collapsing, she says, and soon the Bishop of Rome will be just another Italian bishop. But the church will survive, and she will be a part. ”I am still a Roman Catholic, very much on the edges. They don’t want me, but I’m not going. As [theologian] Hans Kung says, ‘Less Pope, more Jesus.’ “
That’s the story. Read on one level, it comes across a being more of a press release on behalf of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement than a news story. Bishop Fresen speaks, but no voice from the “official” Roman Catholic Church is heard to give these claims context.
Why can women not be priests in the Roman Catholic Church? What does it mean to be excommunicated? Is the bishop an irritant to the Roman Catholic Church, or is she even on its radar? No answers here to these questions.
The statement that a Catholic bishop consecrated the first Womenpriests needs to be expanded. Yes, a Catholic bishop did consecrate seven women priests on Aug 5, 2002 at a ceremony held on a Danube steamer. The catholic bishop in question, Rómulo Antonio Braschi, is a bishop of the Charismatic Catholic Church of Christ the King in Argentina.
All Roman Catholics are Catholics but not all Catholics are Roman Catholics. Old Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and host of other groups lay claim to the moniker ‘catholic’. You can even listen to Dr. J. Vernon McGee, the noted Presbyterian preacher and popular radio Bible teacher, preach on this point in his sermon: “You are a Catholic priest”.
A superficial reading shows it to be an incomplete, rather one-sided mess. But could there not be more to it than this? Perhaps The Age is giving the bishop a pulpit and thereby allowing her to impeach herself. No contradictory voice is needed because the subject’s views are so extraordinary.
Support for this view could be derived from the structure of the article. In the closing paragraphs Bishop Fresen makes her strongest statement about Benedict being a “figure of fun” and the imminent collapse of the Petrine system that will leave the pope as “just another Italian bishop.”
This is great stuff for a reporter, yet it is buried in the closing paragraphs. The Age starts out with who she is and ends with what she believes, when what she believes is more newsworthy. Could it be the story is setting is subject up for a fall by closing in this manner? Or is The Age content to let Bishop Fresen craft her own identity?
As thinkers from John Locke to Margaret Mead and today’s many “social constructionists” like to say, people are simply whatever they are conditioned to be. Bishop Fresen believes the church’s construct of gender being determinative as to ordination violates the deeper meaning of Scripture.
The Roman Catholic Church takes the opposite view, believing it is not possible for women to be priests because Christ himself chose no women to serve among the Apostles. It lacks the authority to contravene Christ’s example. Its precise position is that articulated by John Paul II in 1992: “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”
How then should a journalist approach these competing claims? “I am what I say I am” vs. “You are what you are.”