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Is Christopher Senyonjo a gay martyr or gay icon?: GetReligion, March 30, 2014 April 25, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of the Province of Uganda, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The Associated Press has a story out today on a former bishop of the Church of Uganda who has broken ranks over the issue of homosexuality.

For those who follow Anglican affairs the story of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (also spelled Ssenyonjo) will not be new. The bishop is a frequent visitor to the United States and has spoken many times in public forums about his views on homosexuality.The AP story entitled “Despite new law, Ugandan cleric ministers to gays” breaks no new ground, but offers an updated profile of the bishop in light of the country’s new laws on homosexuality. Given the low state of knowledge about religion in Africa held by the general public and the controversy the Ugandan gay law has created I can understand the editorial thinking that went into commissioning and publishing this article.

“African church leaders are anti-gay. Several African countries, including Uganda, have adopted laws toughening sanctions against homosexual activities. Here is a bishop who is bucking the trend,” says editor A. “Go for it.”

The article does a nice job in quoting the bishop and gay activists in Uganda. It  fits into the wider Western media narrative about homosexuality also.

However, the article is not balanced in that it does not offer the voice or views of those who hold the contrary position. And it does not test the claims made by the bishop and his supporters.

Yes, the article cites a past statement on homosexuality by the head of the Anglican Church in Uganda, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, but we hear nothing from the church about this issue or about Bishop Senyonjo.

Which is a shame really as a little digging would reveal that the narrative given about Bishop Senyonjo is a false one. The story states:

For ministering to homosexuals, Senyonjo has become estranged from Uganda’s Anglican church. He was barred from presiding over church events in 2006 when he wouldn’t stop urging his leaders to accept gays. The parish that he once led doesn’t even acknowledge his presence when he attends Sunday services there, underscoring how his career has suffered because of his tolerance for gays in a country where homosexuals —and those who accept them — face discrimination.

The bishop was not kicked out of the Anglican Church over his views on homosexuality. I concede that this is not the conventional wisdom. In December 2013Religion News Service ran a piece about Senyonjo that stated:


Ssenyonjo was defrocked 2002 for his ministry to gay men.

Gay specialty publications and a few mainstream news outlets have also repeated the claim that the bishop was defrocked over homosexualoity, but there are several dates floating about as to when this actually happened. The AP says 2006, RNS says 2002. As far as I can tell no one has ever looked at the documents or asked the Church of Uganda what it thinks happened.

I have.

Yes, Bishop Senyonjo is a vocal supporter of the normalization of homosexuality. I do not doubt he has said what has been reported and there is no evidence that he does not hold the views he propounds. This post is not about the bishop or his views. It is about reporting, and the reporting from RNS and the AP has been pretty poor.

The choice of topic and subject is not poor, I hasten to add. Rather an incurious Western media has not done the basic research expected in a news story — or they have egged the pudding a bit, and “sexed up” the story to make it even better.

In The Church of England Newspaper I have reported:

However, reports on the bishop’s background provided by his partisans have misstated his status, the Church of Uganda tells The Church of England Newspaper.  Claims the bishop was deposed in 2007 for his support for the gay community or his association with gay pressure groups are false, the church notes.

Bishop Ssenyonjo was deposed on Jan 17, 2007 by the Church of Uganda after he took part in the consecration as bishop of a former Anglican priest for the independent Charismatic Church of Uganda, the Ugandan provincial secretary told CEN.

“One of the co-consecrators was another deposed Uganda Bishop, the former bishop of North Mbale. He had been deposed because he took a second wife. So, Ssenyonjo was not deposed because of his association” with gay advocacy groups, the spokesman said, but for having conferred episcopal orders upon a priest in a church not in communion with the Church of Uganda.

It is true the bishop has sharply different views on the issue of homosexuality than his peers in the Church of Uganda. But the man portrayed in the West is not the man known in Uganda. My post does not attempt to resolve who the true Bishop Senyonjo is. A martyr to homophobic bigots or as his compatriots in Uganda believe, a retired bishop who once out of office found a group of wealthy Americans to bankroll him.

There is little doubt the bishop has become an icon for some in the West. But it is far from clear that he is a martyr. The truth is out there but it is not likely to be found when stories not checked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the lede:

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

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

The AP doubles down in the second paragraph …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Popery please, we’re British: GetReligion, March 10, 2014  April 24, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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From way down under, the North Island of New Zealand to be precise, comes a charming example of how to botch a story on the Anglican Communion.

Reporters please note … while they may dress alike and their liturgy may sound alike, and they even have similar job titles … the Anglican Communion is not an English speaking version of the Catholic Church.

Sure there are Anglicans who prattle on about being Catholic and take umbrage at the suggestion they are Protestants — the three branches theory is usually trotted out at this time (which in a nutshell means there are three historic churches Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox and the rest are sects of recent origin.) Nonsense on stilts in my opinion, but I don’t want to be too cranky this early in the week, so I will stick to journalism.

The Fairfax newspaper chain in New Zealand published a story about the visit of the Archbishop of York to New Plymouth. The lede ran:

The second most powerful ranked person in the Anglican Church is supporting the move to have female bishops consecrated in the Church of England. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, spoke in New Plymouth of his long-term support for the law change yesterday.

It was time for the controversy to be over so the Church of England could concentrate on its most pressing issue, that of poverty, he said. “I’m hoping we can get [the legislation] through and then move on to what we have committed ourselves to be doing. That must be the area that we must concentrate on most, dealing with the poor.”

Well, at least the reporter had her Times of London style book out and had the man’s name right. In the church press the first mention of the archbishop’s name would be “the Most Rev. John Sentamu”. Subsequent mentions would be “Dr. Sentamu”. The “Dr.” appelation is standard practice save for when an Anglican bishop prefers to be called bishop or archbishop instead. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, prefers “Bishop Jefferts Schori” over “Dr. Jefferts Schori.”

The Times and other British publications would use the “Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu” style. Note the “the” is not capitalized. That is reserved for “The Queen” and other top royals. The “American style books also differ from their English cousins in the non-capitalization of “archbishop”. The New York Times or the AP would have styled him “archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu.”

A recent style error that has crept into the press in recent years is the combination of academic and clerical titles. One sees this sort of things even in diocesan press statements; “Canon Dr.” or “Bishop Dr.”. Whether this is done through ignorance (my guess), vanity (common enough amongst clergy) or an attempt to follow the German styling (Herr Prof. Dr. Dr. Schmidt) is hard to tell.

While I’m at it, the other modern affectations that drive me batty are adding a cross after the name of a cleric and referring to someone with their clergy title and first name. Fr Ted may work for television but it is an Irish diminutive that has taken root in recent years  amongst clergy across the English speaking world. Whenever I see references to “Bishop Tim” I think not of the man’s attempt to be as one with the people, but of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Tim the Enchanter.

What was meant to be silly in the 1970s is now taken as a sign of street credibility.

Yes, I know that the Orthodox have long called their clerics by title and first name — but that tradition is quite distinct from the current fad in the Anglosphere. These prelates do not drop their last names, but trot out the first only when they want to be seen as being authentic.

But let’s head back down under and look at this lede. It has the name correct, but messes up the rest. Dr. Sentamu is not the “second most powerful ranked person in the Anglican Church.”

There are quite a few bishops in my experience who are bigger, stronger and faster than John Sentamu. Is there a Gladiators spin off for bishops I have missed on cable television? Perhaps on EWTN?

If the reporter is not referring to Dr. Sentamu’s physical prowess but to his authority within the Anglican Communion, this too is incorrect.

There is no pope in the Anglican world. The Archbishop of Canterbury (archbishop of Canterbury for you NYT purists) is first among equals. But who are his equals? Answer: the other 37 prelates who lead the independent provinces of the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of York leads the Province of York within the Church of England, one of two internal provinces (the other is Canterbury led by, you guessed it, the Archbishop of Canterbury.) The Archbishop of Canterbury is Primate of All England and one of 38 primates in the Anglican world.

If you want to rank Dr. Sentamu, who is Primate of England (note the missing “All”) he would then be number 39 — yet there are also archbishops who like Dr. Sentamu who are not primates but lead provinces within the 38 national churches. There are archbishops in West Africa, Australia and Nigeria who lead larger provinces (in terms of numbers of adherents) than the Archbishop of York — and in New Zealand there are three archbishops (who confusingly are co-primates of that church, but only one shows up to the meetings of all 38).

Dr. Sentamu is not a member of an Anglican curia–there is not one–and has no jurisdiction outside the North of England. It is incorrect to style him as the number two man in the church.

Further down the story, we see some more problems of substance.

The archbishop was visiting New Plymouth again this weekend to attend the official welcome to the 7th Bishop of Waikato and Taranaki, the Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley.

Bishop Hartley, consecrated two weeks ago, is the first woman ordained in the Church of England before moving to New Zealand. She becomes the third woman in this country to become a bishop.

Not quite. Bishop Hartley (or Dr. Hartley) is not the “first woman ordained in the Church of England”. What I think the newspaper meant to say is that she is first Englishwoman to be consecrated as a bishop. The Church of England at present does not ordain women to the episcopate while New Zealand does. Dr. Hartley was ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England but moved to New Zealand where she was elected a bishop.

Now all of this is not of life changing importance, but when you use Catholic constructs of hierarchy to describe the workings of the Anglican Churches you are making a category mistake that misconstrues at its deepest level the ecclesiology of the two churches.

Don’t do it. Please, just don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First printed at GetReligion.

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

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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“Can a bad person be a good theologian,” asked Mark Oppenheimer in the lede of an October column on the scandals surrounding John Howard Yoder. Should private failings overshadow public achievement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published in Get Religion

Missing Catholic voices in Belgium’s euthanasia debate: Get Religion, November 5, 2013 November 5, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Let me commend to you an excellent article on a horrible subject.

The Associated Press story “Belgium considering unprecedented law to grant euthanasia for children, dementia patients” reports on moves by the ruling Socialist Party to permit doctors to euthanize children as well as adults with dementia. This report — long at 1000 words from a wire service — offers a balanced account on the move to extend the right to die to children.

It is thorough, balanced, provides context and expert analysis to allow a reader to make up his own mind. Yet, are some voices missing? The article opens with a question:

Should children have the right to ask for their own deaths?

It lays out the issue:

In Belgium, where euthanasia is now legal for people over the age of 18, the government is considering extending it to children — something that no other country has done. The same bill would offer the right to die to adults with early dementia.

Advocates argue that euthanasia for children, with the consent of their parents, is necessary to give families an option in a desperately painful situation. But opponents have questioned whether children can reasonably decide to end their own lives. …

Provides context:

Belgium is already a euthanasia pioneer; it legalized the practice for adults in 2002. In the last decade, the number of reported cases per year has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available. Doctors typically give patients a powerful sedative before injecting another drug to stop their heart. …

And offers opinion from a Catholic archbishop and medical ethicists.

“It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die,” Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard testified. Charles Foster, who teaches medical law and ethics at Oxford University, believes children couldn’t possibly have the capacity to make an informed decision about euthanasia since even adults struggle with the concept.

“It often happens that when people get into the circumstances they had so feared earlier, they manage to cling on all the more,” he said. “Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed.”

There are others, though, who argue that because Belgium has already approved euthanasia for adults, it is unjust to deny it to children. “The principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, but it’s motivated by compassion and protection,” said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester. “It’s unfair to provide euthanasia differentially to some citizens and not to others (children) if the need is equal.” …

The AP’s sentiments are with those opposed to euthanizing children — closing with comments by an anti-euthanasia voice that lands a solid hit on those who call for death-choice. But it nevertheless offers both sides to the story and refrains from demonizing those with whom it disagrees. For a template on how to write a story about a contested moral issue, I would offer this piece.

Yet an American reader might question the use of the expert quotes. The commentary begins with a soft quote from the Catholic archbishop and then moves into a more rigorous back and forth on the topic between medical ethicists and physicians. Why do we not hear moral arguments from religious leaders? Where are the Catholic voices? (This is Belgium. after all.)

Selecting experts to respond to an issue is one way of shading a story — setting a dope against an expert, or a zealot against a rational voice is one way a newspaper can push the story in the direction it fancies. Should we then say the AP is unconcerned with the religious element to this story? Getting the soundbite out of the way from the archbishop before bringing in the important voices? Or, was there no faith voice comparable in stature to the ethicists and physicians available to speak?

There may be some of that present, but my sense is that the use of ethicists to discuss the issue rather than moral theologians reflects the state of the debate in a post-Christian society like Belgium. European anti-clericalism, the growing power of secularism coupled with the abuse scandals has driven the Catholic Church out of the public square in some parts of Europe.

A well-rounded Anglo-American or even French newspaper account of the debate on this issue would include faith voices. Not so in Belgium, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries or Germany where faith voices are heard less and less in the public square.The intellectual and political culture of those countries holds to the privatization of religion that does not welcome its insights into debates on public morality.

By including faith voices in moral debates in the Anglo-American press, are we privileging religion? Or are we giving it is fair place in the debate? Is the expected faith voice a political or intellectual choice? By that I mean do we hear from the Catholic churchman, Rabbi, or Protestant theologian because of the position accorded them by society — or because of the strength of their arguments?

As a journalistic issue, should we expect to hear religious voices opine on moral topics in irreligious societies?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. First published at Get Religion.

Scotland the confused: Did the Presbyterians endorse gay clergy?: Get Religion, May 23, 2013. May 23, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland, Press criticism.
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Something happened on Monday at the General Assembly the Church of Scotland — they appear to have become Anglicans. No — they didn’t change from a Presbyterian to Episcopal form of church government. They did something more Anglican than combining bishops with Calvinism.  They’ve accepted the sacred “yes/but”  Anglican doctrine of deliberate confusion,  and have adopted a policy on gay clergy that no one quite seems to understand.

Let’s compare headlines and ledes from the Guardian, the Press Association and the Associated Press to see what they think happened.

The Guardian saw Monday’s vote as a victory for the liberal faction in the church that is seeking to change church teaching on homosexuality. Under the headline “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers” it reported: (seems I’ve heard that before — but don’t let me distract you.)

The Church of Scotland, the country’s largest Protestant church, has narrowly voted to admit gay and lesbian ministers after traditionalists agreed to compromise after four years of division.  The church’s ruling general assembly voted to allow congregations to admit gay ministers but only if they specifically elect to do so, in a radical departure from more than 450 years of orthodoxy set in train by the protestant reformer John Knox.

The Press Association was less sanguine. It took a “two steps forward one step back” approach to the story. The headline used by the Huffington Post with the PA story gave the liberals the win —  ”Church of Scotland votes for openly gay ministers” – but the lede did not back it up:

The Church of Scotland has voted in favour of allowing openly gay men and women to become ministers – whilst maintaining a traditionalist standpoint. The General Assembly backed a motion affirming the Church’s “current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality”, but permitting liberal congregations to depart from that approach if they wish to do so.

The Associated Press report was even more cautious than the PA and filed a “yes, but” story implying the decision was a draw. The headline that topped the AP story as printed on the FOXNews website stated: “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers, but only if congregations choose to do so”.

Senior members of the Church of Scotland have voted to let some congregations have openly gay ministers, a compromise first step that could lead to the church allowing gay clergy. The church’s General Assembly backed a motion affirming a traditional conservative view on homosexuality, but permitted liberal congregations to “opt out” if they wish to ordain gay men or women. The assembly vote would require the approval of next year’s General Assembly as well as votes by the church’s regional presbyteries to become law. The process is expected to take at least two years.

You can see this diversity of interpretation in the British press as well as and blogs that follow church issues. So what did happen on Monday?

The always excellent Law & Religion UK blog summarized the day as follows:

Yesterday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted in principle to allow men and women in civil partnerships to be ordained to the ministry and/or inducted as parish ministers. There were various options before the Assembly:

  • the Revisionist option, which would allow ministers in civil partnerships to be appointed to churches and gay couples in civil partnerships to be allowed to have their partnerships blessed – but would allow individual kirk sessions to opt out of the arrangement;
  • the Traditionalist option, under which no new minister in a civil partnership could be ordained or inducted; and
  • a countermotion to section 2 of the proposed Deliverance by the immediate past Moderator of the Assembly, The Very Revd Albert Bogle, which reaffirmed the Kirk’s traditional view  on the issue but would allow an individual Kirk Session to choose to call a minister in a civil partnership if it so wished.

In short, the Kirk voted for the compromise resolution which affirmed the church’s traditional theological stance against  gay clergy, but nevertheless allowed  individual congregations to opt out and engage gay clergy — an outcome the British delight in calling a “fudge”.

Each of the newspapers reported that there will be no immediate change as the bill must now go to a legal committee to be submitted to the 2014 General Assembly.  If adopted, it  will be sent to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act 1697 because the issue touches upon “doctrine or worship or discipline”. Only if a majority of presbyteries approved the bill and the General Assembly confirms it in 2015, will it become law.

None of the articles I’ve cited above are incorrect. But they are lacking in historical context and failed to tell the full story. This is actually a defeat for the liberals. The 2011 General Assembly was presented with two options: affirm the traditionalist position and keep the ban in place on gay clergy, or endorse the progressive position which asked the assembly to consider lifting the ban on clergy in same-sex relationships and to instruct the church’s theological commission to prepare a report for the 2013 General Assembly on the relevant issues.

The 2011 assembly backed the progressive option and the theological commission released its report last month that summarized the revisionist and traditionalist arguments for and against same-sex relationships. But the commission was unable to reach an agreement over which one it should recommend to the General Assembly for adoption. This week’s vote represented a setback for the left in that the trajectory of the Church of Scotland had been that conservatives would be allowed to “opt out” on gay clergy. The bill passed on Monday instead offered an “opt in” for liberals on gay clergy.

In its 2011 report on the General Assembly the Guardian used the same headline as it did on Monday. “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers” its article of 23 May 2011. The lede that day was:

Scotland’s largest protestant church has voted to allow gay men and lesbians to become ministers.

It is a bit awkward for the Guardian to publish the same story on the same issue two years apart.

The second bit of context that would’ve helped was the report in the theological commissions paper that stated that only 35% of members of presbyteries supported the ordination of persons in a same-sex relationships. For the the bill to pass in 2015 the liberals must move support for gay clergy from 35% to 51%.

These press reports would give the casual reader the impression the Church of Scotland is shifting its stance on gay clergy. A shift has taken place but it occurred not on Monday but over the past quarter-century. The problem with these Church of Scotland articles is that the reporters assigned to these stories bring only a limited amount of knowledge to their reporting on the topics they are assigned to cover.  Would a reporter who knew this topic make the mistake the Guardian did, proclaiming in 2011 and again in 2013 the Church of Scotland has voted to allow gay clergy?

The market is responding by supporting specialty websites and publications. There are a number of fine Presbyterian publications and websites where you can find these issues debated and discussed in full. You just won’t find it in the newspaper on your front doorstep any more.

First printed in Get Religion.

Catholic yes to yoga?: Get Religion, February 21, 2013 February 21, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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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.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. First published in GetReligion.

Spies of the Balkans: Get Religion, November 7, 2012 November 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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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, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Multiculturalism.
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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 nekulturny 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, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism.
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In his 2008 Atlantic review of  Gregor von Rezzori’s Memoirs of an Anti-Semite Christopher Hitchens retells a “sour old joke” from the Nazi era.

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.

Catholics, Commies and Gays … Oh my!: Get Religion July 27, 2012 July 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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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.

A proportional response towards abusers: Get Religion, June 29, 2012 June 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion.
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Cardinal Avery Dulles

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.

Followed by:

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

The AP’s Ireland: Force, hatred, history, all that: Get Religion, June 16, 2012. June 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Rorschach inkblot test

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.

Lady (Gaga) sings the blues: Get Religion, May 22, 2012 May 23, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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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, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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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, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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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.