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English Anti-Catholicism & Ethiopian Lutheranism: Get Religion, February 25, 2013 February 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of Sweden, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Get Religion, Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod.
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Anti-Catholic bias is alive and well in Britain — however the animus to the “Italian mission to the Irish” comes not from the Church of England. Nor does it stem from the 1701 Act of Settlement (barring Catholics from the Royal Family), Guy Fawkes Night, xenophobia or other collective memories of the Britain’s past. The anti-Catholic bias one sees in England today is that of the political and media elites — those members of the chattering classes who detest the church for what it believes (not what it is).

Now there is an equal opportunity disdain at work — the Church of England is held in low regard also by the elites. Yet despite the best efforts of the magic circle, the small group of liberal prelates who control the English church, to conform the institution to the demands of the right thinking members of the establishment — the chattering classes reject the Catholic moral worldview (and have no problem saying so).

This is the theme of my chat this week with Todd Wilken, the host of Issues, Etc.  In our conversation broadcast on 21 Feb 2013, Todd and I discussed my article “Guardian wins week one of 2013 All-England pope-bashing contest” posted at GetReligion and discussed the phenomena of shoddy reporting on the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI. Todd asked whether I believed that this was a failure of journalism or if there was something more involved.

I argued that this was more than a failure of adhering to the reporter’s art, but represented a virulent anti-Catholic, anti-religious prejudice in the stories we discussed. How could one explain assertions made by the Guardian‘s man in Rome that Africans were unable to conform to the church’s requirements of priestly celibacy due to their being Africans? The Guardian (and the BBC) are the temples of the p.c. priests. How could such a  slur be allowed to make its way into print? Well if it is in a story that damns the Catholic Church it can.

The restraints of time and my inherent good breeding prevented me from giving full voice to my views. I would have liked to add that I was also concerned by the Guardian‘s decision to run so many pope stories — many not worth the bother reading due to the the ignorance of the authors — when other issues of equal merit in the world of religion were taken place over the past few weeks — the story about the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) being but one example.

No, this is not a joke on my part. While I do not downplay the importance of the pope’s resignation announcement, the sheer volume of nonsense being published and the absence of news about the EECMY speaks to the media’s inability to evaluate religious events.

The EECMY story, in a nutshell, is that one of the largest members of the Lutheran World Federation — the 6.1 million member EECMY — has broken fellowship with the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The cause for this break is the normalization of homosexuality by the ELCA and the Church of Sweden. This story was all over the religion press in the US and Europe: Christianity Today, First Things, Dagen, and I covered this story for The Church of England Newspaper. I have seen only one secular news story on this item — a local Wisconsin news story in the La Crosse Tribune that ran comments from a Lutheran bishop lamenting the split.

Perhaps the Anglican wars have sucked all the air out of these sorts of stories. The splits in the Anglican world between the Episcopal Church in America and many of the Africans churches over the issue of homosexuality — the same issue that has divided the Ethiopians and the Swedes and the ELCA — has received lengthy and on-going coverage in the press. This may well be another example of the phenomena noted by TMatt here in the pages of GetReligion — the disproportionate coverage given to the Episcopal Church and the Church of England in the American press compared to other, larger faith groups.

There is so much in this story for a newspaper to develop, not least is how the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has stepped into the shoes once filled by the ELCA as far as Lutherans in the developing world are concerned. I am not saying the Ethiopian split should have pushed the pope off the front page, but some coverage of the seismic change underway in global Christianity might be nice.

First printed in GetReligion.

Mixed reaction to pope’s retirement announcement: The Church of England Newspaper, February 17, 2013 p 7. February 22, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church.
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The news of the announcement of the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI has drawn mixed reactions across the globe.  Ecumenical, Orthodox and Anglican leaders have praised released statements praising the pontiff. However, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church noted that while he understood the reasons for the retirement, it nonetheless left him uncomfortable.

The Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Rev. Canon David Richardson told The Church of England Newspaper he was “at first shocked by the news but, after a few moments reflection, it occurred to me that one should not really be totally surprised.”

“I had read last year the interview ‘Luce del Mondo’ and noted the Pope’s statement there that ‘when one has a clear awareness that one does not possess the physical, mental and spiritual strength to continue one has the right, and in some cases the duty, to step down.’ Therefore one might say that the highest authority, Pope Benedict himself, had already served notice of the possibility of today’s events,” he observed.

Canon Richardson stated that “each time I have seen the Pope recently – and the last time was 25th January when I mentioned to him that I myself am to retire in April – I have been conscious of his increasing physical frailty.”

“It is however of course an unprecedented step that he is taking and for that one can only admire the strength and the courage of the Holy Father. I am sure that Pope Benedict will value the opportunity and the space to study, to write and to pray that this decision will afford him. His scholarship has arguably always been his greatest gift to the Church and after 28th February he, like that other great Christian leader and theologian, Rowan Williams, who laid down the office of the Archbishopric of Canterbury only five weeks ago, will have the opportunity in new ways to put that gift at the service of the Church.”

It remains to be seen what the announcement will mean for Anglican-Catholic relations, Canon Richardson added.   ARCIC III is “proceeding well” and Benedict’s support for the Anglican Ordinariate shows “how much common ground there is between us.”

“All that said, a great deal obviously will depend on Pope Benedict’s successor,” Canon Richardson said.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s head of the Department of External Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, told the ITAR-TASS news agency: “Really, there have been no precedents of this kind in the modern history of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II remained in office to the end despite his serious health problems.

However, Hilarion added that being pope is “not a ceremonial office. If one’s age and health prove to be an obstacle for effective work, the head of a Church may decide to retire. In recent years, the Catholic Church has come to face very serious challenges which require new incentives to come from the See of Rome. Perhaps, precisely this has made the pope to give way to a younger and more dynamic prelate to be elected by the conclave of cardinals. The Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to leave his office in the present situation may be seen as an act of personal courage and humbleness.”

Former Daily Mirror editor and television commentator, Piers Morgan, scoffed at the news of the retirement, writing: “As a Catholic, I’m not buying this. Popes don’t just quit because they’re tired. What’s going on here??”

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit released a statement saying “we have to respect fully the decision of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to resign.”

“With deep respect I have seen how he has carried the responsibility and burdens of his ministry in his advanced age, in a very demanding time for the church,” Dr. Tveit said in New York, asking for prayer that “God bless him in this moment and this phase of his life, and that God will guide and bless the Roman Catholic Church in a very important time of transition.”

Anglican Unscripted Episode 65: February 20, 2013 February 21, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican.TV, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Roman Catholic Church.
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This week Kevin and George tackle the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI — bantering about the fallout from the press and his decade of achievements. Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury had his first week at Lambeth Palace and your Hosts bring you insider perspectives and remark on his first three achievements. In response to your questions and prompting we tackle Gafcon II and the lack of intel available and AU65 finishes with a frank discussion about Ashes-2-Go. Comments to AnglicanUnscripted@gmail.com #AU65 http://www.anglican.tv

Guardian wins week one of the 2013 All-England Pope-Bashing Contest: Get Religion, February 19, 2013 February 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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The year’s at the spring, And day’s at the morn; Morning’s at seven; The hill-side’s dew-pearled; The lark’s on the wing; The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in His heaven—All’s right with the world!

Robert Browning, Pippa Passes (1841)

It’s a wonderful life. My heart has been singing songs of joy every morning as I take up my newspapers and survey the latest news on the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI. For a critic of religion reporting these are the good times — no slogging through continental newspapers to find a story to review for this blog. I am spoiled for choice just by reading the British press. Some of the stories have been so silly and wrong-headed as to be bizarre.

But there have been quite a few good stories from the religion reporters at the Times, Telegraph, Guardian, BBC and Independent in addition to the speciality church press (Catholic and Anglican) on this issue — but outside the specialist reporters the quality falls off sharply in the secular press. There is also an undercurrent of hostility towards the Catholic Church that few media outlets bother to hide — or appear to recognize.

A typical example came in BBC Radio 4?s Any Questions program. Members of the audience are asked to submit written questions on topical issues for discussion by a panel of speakers that ostensibly will provide a balance of views. The producers of the show pick the panel and the questions — and on Friday’s broadcast 23:45 minutes into the show (after questions on the food standards in the wake of the horse meat in hamburgers scandal) the question was put to the panel: “Is now the time for a  black, woman pope?”

The first speaker, Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser for Greenpeace sidestepped the question, but said she did believe it was the duty of the next pope to “reconcile” the church with “the values most people hold” in Britain. Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey MP said to a roar of applause from the audience the Catholic Church “should be dragged into the 21st century,” and that it should update its teachings to “connect” with the values of the modern world. He and Labour MP Margaret Hodge urged the church to permit women clergy and and bring its moral ethic in conformance with those of the British establishment.

Mrs. Hodge — who was head of the Islington  Council when that London Borough was responsible for the oversight of local care homes where investigators uncovered evidence of sexual abuse (Hodge refused to investigate the charges at the time as it would have cost too much) raised the issue of child sexual abuse. She argued the Catholic Church had been lax in addressing the sexual abuse scandal and observed that child sexual abuse and pedophilia were “rampant in the Catholic Church”. Only Environment Minister John Hayes declined to attack the church noting that he was not black, not a woman and not Catholic so he felt disqualified in offering an opinion on the propriety of a black woman pope.

Let me say that Any Questions is a serious, highly respected news program. The discussions of the other topics were measured — and somewhat dry. It was when the topic turned to the Catholic Church common sense flew out the door.

However, it was the Guardian that took the prize for week one in the All-England pope-bashing contest. The news article entitled “A black pope could result in mixed message over priestly celibacy” informs British readers that Africans are cretinous sex-maniacs whose Catholicism is skin deep and that the priesthood is a haven for gay men seeking meaning for their pitiful lives. This strange piece begins with an unfavorable comparison between Benedict and John Paul to John XXIII.

When Pope Benedict addressed the clergy of Rome on Thursday, he chose to talk to them about the Second Vatican Council, perhaps the central event of his life. He is among the last people alive to have taken part in that momentous gathering and it is a privilege of the long-lived to rewrite history. The then Joseph Ratzinger played a leading role in the revolutionary changes brought about by what Catholics call Vatican Two, but then did a theological U-turn after witnessing with horror the more secular upheaval of 1968. He and his predecessor, John Paul II, have step-by-step reoriented the Catholic church to the point that it is nowadays an institution which might dismay the pope who convoked the Council, John XXIII, and reassure his austere predecessor Pius XII.

Get that — Benedict has sought to reverse the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. And the evidence for this assertion? Well there is none, but we do get another outlandish assertion.

The change of direction has created a smaller, but more homogenous, church. Millions of the laity in Europe may have drifted away in despair at the gap between their lives and the Catholicism preached by the Vatican; priestly vocations in Europe may have fallen off a cliff, but those who remain – worshipers and clerics alike – are proud to belong to a conservative institution at odds with the times.

The article states the decline in church attendance and the fall of priestly vocations in Europe is not a phenomena of liberalism and secularism but the ultramontane (reactionary) policies of the last two popes. Evidence for this extraordinary assertion? Again, there is none. But at this stage we do move into the meat of the story.

So the election to the papacy of a conservative African or Asian prelate would, in principle, be welcome to large sections of the church in Europe and the United States. Even for the dwindling minority of liberals, it would be a reminder to the world that, overall, Catholicism is growing, and at a faster rate than the global population. But traditionally-minded Catholics might see one major change resulting from an African pope; the tradition of priestly celibacy.

Because of that tradition, combined with the contemporary intolerance of the laity towards unmarried relationships between priests and their “housekeepers”, it would appear that the number of gay men in the Catholic priesthood has increased.

How’s that for a plot twist — bet you didn’t see that one coming. Because the church no longer lets priests fool around with their housekeepers the clergy are now gayer. In support of this assertion we have a comment by the chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church) that the Catholic priesthood is a haven for those who cannot answer the question “Why aren’t you married yet?”

It is unlikely an African or Asian cardinal would be elected pope because they would crack down on the gay subculture of the European Catholic Church, the article states, and because they would be more likely to end priestly celibacy. The article observes:

 … time and again, bishops on visits to Rome have stressed that, in many African cultures, a man without a woman beyond a certain age incites suspicion and lacks authority.  That puts a Catholic priest at a notable disadvantage to the local imam in many of the areas where Christianity is competing with Islam for ascendancy. And since that is one of the most important challenges facing the church, a black pope could put an end to priestly celibacy.

Remember this article did not appear in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian or as an editorial or op-ed piece. It was printed in the news section — and did not even have the cover of being called “news analysis”. Where does one begin? There are several statements offered as fact that need substantiation — the cause of the decline of the Catholic Church in Europe, the priesthood as a refuge for gay men, the disinclination of Africans to honor clerical celibacy, and cultural pressures from Africa that identify unmarried men as being “suspicious” characters. These are opinions, not facts and this is certainly not news. The lack of professionalism in this story is compounded by an extraordinary cluelessness — the Guardian‘s Rome correspondent does not seem to get out very much.

My favorite Guardian article of the week though was published on 15 Feb in the World News section. It stated the pope had resigned because he had lost his faith.

When the resignation of the Pope was announced earlier in the week, the news seemed bizarre, almost unbelievable. I find, as I get my head around the idea, that the whole thing just becomes more bizarre, not less. If you strongly believe in God, I suppose you can tell yourself that He moves in mysterious ways, as per. But if you don’t, then this all seems rather like the moment when the curtain moves back to reveal the Wizard of Oz as a wee man pulling levers. Exposing the Papacy as a job, not a sacrosanct heavenly ambassadorship, is a quite risky thing to do, precisely because it’s so human, so humdrum, so non-spiritual. The only logical conclusion is that Joseph Ratzinger no longer believes that he is God’s representative on earth. Awkward. The Pope has surely lost his faith.

While I was surprised by the news of the pope’s resignation, I did not find it bizarre. The suggestion that he was stepping down because he no longer believed — that is bizarre.

I must say these stories made me laugh. While the first few roused my professional ire, the great number of silly stories (these three are but a skim of the surface) soon brightened my day. There is a Monty Pythonesque sense of the absurd in these stories.  They are so terrible that they cease to upset me and leave me smiling. What say you GetReligion readers? Am I so jaded that I am unable to be offended anymore?

First printed in GetReligion.

Papal meeting for conservative Anglican leaders: Anglican Ink, December 11, 2012 December 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Anglican Ink, Anglican Ordinariate, Roman Catholic Church.
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At the close of the General Audience of 28 Nov 2012, the leader of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Robert Duncan met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya, leader of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, was to have also attended the General Audience, but was delayed. Joined by the chairman of the ACNA’s ecumenical relations commission, Bishop Ray Sutton of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Archbishop Duncan spoke with the pope.  The three later met with Vatican officials.  Details of the conversations have not been released.  Claims of the significance of the meeting or of its symbolism are also premature, one Vatican watcher said, until the substance of the conversation is known.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

The Pope hates Christmas: Get Religion, November 22, 2012 November 22, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Biblical Interpretation, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Breaking news from the Telegraph… the newspaper’s Rome reporter reports that one Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. the Bishop of Rome, Pontiff of the Catholic Church alias  Benedictus PP. XVI, claims Jesus was not born December 25, in the year 1.

As I read this story, “Jesus was born years earlier than thought, claims Pope” I could envision the clatter of the teletype in the background with three bells ringing to tell the news room a major story had come across the wires. In a story datelined from Rome, we learn:

“The calculation of the beginning of our calendar – based on the birth of Jesus – was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years,” the Pope writes in [Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives], which went on sale around the world with an initial print run of a million copies.  “The actual date of Jesus’s birth was several years before.”

The assertion that the Christian calendar is based on a false premise is not new – many historians believe that Christ was born sometime between 7BC and 2BC. But the fact that doubts over one of the keystones of Christian tradition have been raised by the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics is striking.

“Many historians believe” that Jesus was not born in the year 1, or 0? How about all historians for the past few hundred years — I’m not aware of any school of church scholarship that holds to the  contrary view. The Telegraph reports that in addition to challenging the notion that Jesus was not born in the first year of the Gregorian calendar, the pope claims the traditional church creche is all wrong:

Christ’s birth date is not the only controversy raised by the Pope in his new book – he also said that contrary to the traditional Nativity scene, there were no oxen, donkeys or other animals at Jesus’s birth. He also weighs in on the debate over Christ’s birthplace, rejecting arguments by some scholars that he was born in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem.

Well, there goes the Christmas pageant. But why is this news? Anyone with even the remotest knowledge of the issue would not be surprised by this revelation.

It could well be ignorance on the part of the reporter, who upon reading the third volume in the pope’s Jesus of Nazareth trilogy was dumbstruck by this information and had to rush to print to tell England the news. Or, it could be that the Telegraph, aware of the abysmal level of religious knowledge and practice in England, believed that this would be news to the millions of cultural Christians in England whose only relationship to the faith were hoary memories of youthful school and church pageants. Or, this could be just another story in the series of articles from the British press that paints Benedict XVI in unflattering colors.

The article closes out with an Oxford professor’s calming assurance the pope may be right as “most academics agreed with the Pope that the Christian calendar was wrong and that Jesus was born several years earlier than commonly thought, probably between 6BC and 4BC.”

Again we have the “most academics” — I would be interested to know who are the dissenters that believe in the 25 Dec 00 date.

The signs the story was rushed in to print also comes from the selection of the expert. The Professor of the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture from Oxford is quoted on the absence of any dating in the text of the Bible as to exact time of Jesus’ birth. But the professor is allowed to move out of his area of expertise — Biblical interpretation — into Patristics or Patrology (the study of the writings of the Church Fathers and the history of the early Christian Church) and in doing so, the good professor makes a mistake.

The idea that Christ was born on Dec 25 also has no basis in historical fact. “We don’t even know which season he was born in. The whole idea of celebrating his birth during the darkest part of the year is probably linked to pagan traditions and the winter solstice.”

This claim by the Old Testament scholar about the origin of the Christmas holiday is false. While the village atheist may delight in repeating this legend, it is nonetheless untrue. A non-academic rejoinder to this “pagan traditions” claim can be found in a 2003 article “Calculating Christmas” by Prof. William Tighe in Touchstone magazine.

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.

From this piece, should you be interested in the details you can access the academic literature. But returning to the Telegraph piece, there are some fascinating things raised in the pope’s new book — and smart fellow that he is it came out just in time for Black Friday. There is an interesting historical and religious debate mentioned by the Telegraph story, the location of Jesus’ birth: Nazareth v. Bethlehem, but that is passed over in favor of the “striking” news about the calendar question. Given the excitement over the women bishops’ vote in the Church of England the reporter may have needed to “sex-up” his story to find space in the newspaper for another religion news item. Whatever the reason, the story is a disappointment. The Telegraph is supposed to be a “quality” newspaper, but this story is worthy of the tabloids.

First printed in GetReligion.

A Roman Easter Rashomon: Get Religion, April 7, 2012 April 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Marge: “You liked Rashomon!”

Homer: “That’s not how I remember it.”

The Simpsons, Thirty Minutes over Tokyo, (16 May 1999).

The title of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film, Rashomon, has entered the English-language as a term to describe the conundrum where eyewitness accounts to an event are true but contradictory.

Set in 12th-century Japan, Rashomon  describes a chance meeting in a forest between a bandit, a samurai and his wife. A sexual encounter takes place followed by a death — but the plot revolves around whether this was a rape and if the death was murder or suicide. The film shows four conflicting accounts of the incident: from the perspective of the bandit, the samurai’s wife, the dead samurai speaking through a spirit medium, and a passing woodcutter.  As each narrates their version of the event, the film shows images of the incident that demonstrate truthfulness of the four characters’ accounts. But unlike a traditional mystery where falsehood is unmasked, and truth revealed, Rashomon presents each account as being true. What is truth?

I share this nugget of Japanese film lore as one explanation of the reporting of Pope Benedict XVI’s Holy Thursday chrismal mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The pope took a verbal stick to a dissident priests’ movement and gave them a mighty whack, or the pope held out an olive branch to a dissident priests’ movement and invited them to enter into dialogue. Are one, both, neither accounts true?

The English-language press reports Pope Benedict XVI denounced in harsh terms the Pfarrer Initiative (pastor initiative), a reform movement founded in 2006 by Austrian Roman Catholic clergy that has called for abolishing priestly celibacy and permitting the ordination of women priests.

Some of the stories are quite strong. The Daily Mail‘s article was entitled “Pope denounces rebel clergy who question church teaching on celibacy and ordaining woman.”

A number of newspaper ran the story from the Associated Press. Most newspapers along with the television networks ABC and CBS used the headline supplied by the AP: “Pope denounces dissident priests on celibacy”.  The New York Daily News picked up the tempo with “Pope Benedict XVI slams priests who question church on celibacy.” The Washington Post chose “Pope denounces dissident priests who question church teaching on celibacy, ordaining women” for its title, while across town the Washington Times ran with “Pope rips into dissident priests on celibacy”.

The pope “rips”, “slams”, “denounces” rebel clergy — strong stuff. All that is needed to complete the picture are Batman art cards — “Sock, Bam, Pow, Biff, Boom.”

The BBC and the New York Times followed this general line but used the less harsh but still strong verb “rebuke.” “Pope Benedict XVI rebukes Austrian dissident priests” and “Pope Rebukes Priests Who Advocate Ordaining Women and Ending Celibacy.”

However, the Irish Times did not follow the herd on this one. The story submitted by its Rome correspondent was entitled “Pope chides Catholics who query key beliefs.” The Italian newspaper La Stampa also broke ranks with its story “Disobedience is not a way to renew the Church, Pope tells dissident priests.”

The report in the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on the pope’s homily entitled “Pope to priests: Be configured to Christ” is even further from the AP’s perspective.

The lede in the AP story is that the pope

issued a blistering denunciation Thursday of priests who have questioned church teaching on celibacy and ordaining women, saying they were being selfish in disobeying his authority.

The article offers a quick summary of the Pfarrer Initiative and then pulls quotes from the pope’s homily.

… Benedict said the dissidents claim to be motivated by concern for the church. But he suggested that in reality they were just making “a desperate push to do something to change the church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas.”

“We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date,” he said. “But is disobedience really a way to do this?”

He said Jesus always followed true obedience to God’s will, not “human caprice.”

And he rejected the dissidents’ idea that the church had been “fossilized” since the Second Vatican Council, saying that on the contrary, the growth of new religious movements in recent decades showed the vitality and true renewal of the church called for by the 1962-65 Vatican II.

These are accurate quotes from the pope’s homily, but the truth of this report conflicts with the truth of the Italian reports. L’Osservatore Romano states the pope accepts the

“possibility as well that the signers of this summons were motivated ‘by concern for the Church’, and … invites us to reflect on how it is possible to realize this configuration to Christ  “in the often dramatic situation of the Church today”. The temptation to disobedience, the Pope explained, seems to be merely “a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas”.  Maybe because Christ “seems too lofty and too great for us to dare to measure ourselves by him”.

The Austrian press  reports the leaders of the Pfarrer initiative did not take the pope’s words to be a harsh rebuke but an invitation to discussion. Mgr. Helmut Schueller said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the homily according to an account printed in the Weiner Zeitung. “It is important to note the Pope has threatened no consequences. We are part of the church for him,” the Kurier quoted Mgr. Schueller as saying in response to the homily.

So which is it?

Singling out the Pfarrer initiative for criticism in the context of a holy week homily is unusual. The notice given to this is warranted, however, the “rips”, “slams”, “denounces” rebel clergy line taken by the AP and other papers misses the point of the pontiff’s homily.

The pope accepts the dissident clergy are acting according to the lights of their own conscience, but he rejects the notion that disobedience is the way to achieve a moral good. “A priest never belongs to himself,” the pope said, but must conform his life to Christ and in service to the church. “We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are.”

Are Mgr. Schueller and his compatriots in Austria being disingenuous then by saying they are pleased by the pope’s comments. I think not. What they hear is the pope’s disagreement with their views, but not a call for their silence. While the AP reports the pope rejects criticism the church has become fossilized, the Pfarrer Initiative clergy hear him to be saying their concerns have merit. The reasons for their concern are being heard. It is the way they are seeking to address these concerns that is being criticized.

Is this an example of the Rashomon effect — with the Austrian clergy, the Italian newspapers and the English-language newspapers hearing the same words but hearing a different truth? Or has the press blown it by focusing on one portion of a homily to the exclusion of the full message?

What say you GetReligion readers? Read the pope’s homily for yourself and tell me what you think.

First printed in GetReligion.

Last temptation of Castro: Get Religion, February 4, 2012 February 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Fidel Castro will be received back into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island in March, the Italian press is reporting. If true, this is a remarkable story — and one that has yet to catch the attention of editors this side of the Atlantic.

On 1 Feb 2012, La Republicca — [Italy’s second largest circulation daily newspaper, La Republicca follows a center-left political line and is strongly anti-clerical; not anti-Catholic per se but a critic of the institutional church] — reported that as death approaches, the octogenarian communist has turned to God for solace.

ABC’s Global Note news blog is the only U.S. general interest publication I have found that has reported this story.  It referenced the La Republicca story and said that Castro’s

daughter Alina is quoted as saying “During this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion: he has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesn’t surprise me because dad was raised by Jesuits.” The article quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope’s Cuba trip: “Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God.”

Some Italian websites have even speculated as to when Fidel will make his confession and credo — setting the date as 27 March 2012 at 17:30 when the two ottantacinquenni, Pope Benedict XVI and Castro, will meet at the Palacio de la Revolución when the pope makes his official visit to the head of state, Raul Castro.

During Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba, Castro attended mass, but did not receive the Eucharist or give voice to Christian beliefs. If his daughter’s story is true and Castro returns to the church it will be very interesting to see how it plays out across the media.

One issue that might be raised is Castro’s excommunication. One of the recurring errors of religion reporting GetReligion has addressed is the misconceptions about excommunication. The overwhelming majority of those who are excommunicated have not been formally and individually censured by the church, but have followed a course of action that led to their self-excommunication. Castro’s excommunication is the same, but over time the lack of clarity in the 1963 press reports have hardened into conventional wisdom.

The Miami Herald has a well written and thorough report on the state of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba that states as fact that John XXIII excommunicated Castro, while the La Republicca article quotes an unnamed Vatican official as saying:

True in 1963 [Castro]was excommunicated by the Pope, but then that measure was a measure almost automatic for those who professed Communism.

However, Friday’s Vatican Insider column in La Stampa reports there is no evidence that Castro was excommunicated by Pope John XXIII.

There is also much talk about the excommunication bestowed on him by John XXIII, who is now a Blessed pope. What has sparked these rumours, is the excommunication decree for communists, published by Pius XII in 1949 and renewed in 1959 by Pope Roncalli.

Indeed, the news regarding the excommunication decreed by the “good Pope” against Fidel and dated 3 January 1962, can be found practically all over the web. What happened that day? The first man to mention excommunication was Dino Staffa who was working as Secretary of the Congregation for Seminaries at the time, a renowned scholar of canonical law. Paul VI allegedly promoted him to the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and then made him a cardinal in 1967. Newspapers presented him as a “high-ranking prelate” of the Secretariat of State, even though he did not in fact hold any position in said office. What is more, Mgr. Staffa’s reasons were not related to communism, but to violence against bishops. The prelate, an expert in canonical law, essentially said that Castro should consider himself excommunicated by virtue of the Code of Canonical Law, which automatically prescribes this very serious punishment to those who are violent against bishops or who collaborate to carry out such acts. The excommunication therefore boiled down to the opinion of a scholar of canonical law, not to an excommunication decreed at that moment.

In other words, Castro’s was an excommunication latae sententiae, “by the very commission of the offense.” No action was taken by the church to excommunicate Castro. He did it himself.

The La Republicca article closes its report on Castro’s return to the church by stating:

In Havana there waiting for the arrival of Benedict XVI. The Church in Cuba is loved and respected. So is the government for its broad social interventions.

The church can thus serve as a “mediator” between the people and the government in the post-Castro era, La Republicca argues. I think it is a bit of a stretch to say the government is loved and respected for its “social interventions”, but La Republicca is a left-wing European paper and its default position is that Cuba’s experiment with socialism is a moral good.

Which ever way it goes, the Castro/repentance story will be fascinating to watch. What does it mean for a dictator to seek  repentance? What does forgiveness mean? Is moral redemption possible in this day and age? How will those who have been harmed by the regime respond? What about the prisoners of conscience who remain in Cuban jails — a Cuban political prisoner, Wilmar Villar, died on 21 January 2012 after a 50 day hunger strike — what does an old man’s repentance have to say about that?

What say you GetReligion readers?

First published in GetReligion.

Pope’s season cut short by knee injury: Get Religion, November 12, 2011 November 12, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Daily Mail has a story out that speculates the pope may resign due to ill health.

One can read this article in two ways. Either it is the silly season in the British press for articles on Pope Benedict XVI. His appearance on a rolling platform and use of a cane may have led to some recent heavy-breathing from Fleet Street. Or, this may be a continuation of the meme that began with a 25 Sept 2011 story in the Italian newspaper Libero which said the pope was thinking about retiring on his 85th birthday next April. While the Vatican press office denied the Libero story, could a painful degenerative joint condition precipitate an early exodus by Josef Ratzinger?

There may well be something in the later thesis, but the tone and style of the 11 Nov 2011 story in the Daily Mail entitled “Pope crippled by arthrosis leg pains which makes walking difficult” suggests it may be the former.

Now it isn’t quite the thing to criticize a story based on its headline as the power of naming a story is withheld from reporters. Those slack-jawed troglodytes of the newspaper industry known as sub-editors often come up with headlines that bear no relation to the story. So its not on to beat up the Daily Mail over the verb in the headline — “crippled”. But I’m afraid the rest of the story is weak. Reading this story, one would assume the pope was a professional athlete with a knee injury that threatens to end his career in mid-stride. Is this silly reporting? Take a look and tell me what you think:

The Pope is suffering from a degenerative condition in the joints of his legs which makes it painful for him to walk, according to Vatican insiders.

The onset of arthrosis means 84-year-old Benedict XVI can move only short distances before it becomes agonising to carry on.

His condition, which is related to his age, last month prompted him to request the use of a wheeled platform devised for predecessor Pope John Paul II.dence of Castel Gandolfo

Pilgrims were surprised to see the current pontiff clinging to the bar of the platform while ushers rolled it slowly down the main aisle, making it impossible for him to stop and greet well-wishers as he usually does.

At the time, the Vatican played down concerns about the Pope’s health, saying the platform was ‘solely to lighten the burden’ of processions.

The article then turns to a discussion of arthrosis before it enters the twilight zone.

The fact that it was the Pope – and not his doctors – who requested the mobile platform sparked renewed fears about the health of a man who has suffered two mild strokes and is also known to have a weak heart.

It also prompted speculation that the Bavarian-born Pope, who was elected in April 2005, might eventually resign rather than die in office.

The Daily Mail covers its bets with a closing quote from an Oxford don who says it is highly unlikely the pope would resign due to the aches and pains of age.

However, it is the bit just above the close that is problematic. Someone (we know not who) has fears about the pope using a platform — it being a sign the end is near. And someone else thinks joint pains may force the “crippled” pope to resign.

Using unnamed sources is always tricky. There are times when one must not reveal a source. When I write about the church in Zimbabwe I don’t identify some sources due to fears of retribution. At other times I withhold a name because the source is not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization or doesn’t want to lose his job. And then there is making it up as you go along.

In this case, we don’t have enough information to decide how much credence to give to these assertions. A reporter who covers the Vatican is named earlier in the story as a source for the news the pope uses a cane when moving about his private apartments, but there is no link between this insider and the allegations pushed at the close.

Yet this insider, La Stampa’s Andrea Torneilli who writes the “Vatican Insider” column, has made some cogent arguments about the pope stepping down. In his 25 Sept 2011 column, Torneilli commented with approval on the Libero article.

[T]he assumption he will resign, without any hitches, was the same thing Ratzinger talked about in an interview in the book “Luce del mondo” (Light of the World), when, in response to a question by interviewer Peter Seewald, he said: “When a Pope arrives at a clear awareness that he no longer has the physical, mental, or psychological capacity to carry out the task that has been entrusted to him, then he has the right, and in some cases, even the duty to resign.” Furthermore, in another passage, Benedict XVI wondered if he would be able to “withstand it all, just from the physical point of view.”

Torneilli also reported the Libero story  said the pope was not willing to run away from a fight. In response to a question about the pedophile priests’ scandal Benedict said:

When there is a great menace, one cannot simply run away from it. That is why, right now, it is definitely not the time to resign …  It is actually at moments like these that one needs to resist and overcome difficult situations. One can only resign at a time when things are calm, or simply, when nothing more can be done about it. But one cannot run away right when the threat is alive and say, “Let somebody else take care of it.”

Torneilli concluded “nothing of what Benedict XVI himself said in answer  to his alleged plans to resign, seems to be materialising.”

The bottom line: There is informed speculation that the pope may step down when he believes his physical or mental capabilities have deteriorated to the point that he is not able to carry out his duties. Or, the sands of time have run out for that plucky Bavarian, Josef Ratzinger. Nobbled by a knee injury that will end his career.

My take is the Daily Mail’s focus on the illness rather than upon the pope’s published comments about the relationship between illness and his duties as Bishop of Rome means the story falls short.

Silly season … or a foundational story that will see its completion in the coming year? I’ve had my say .. what about you GetReligion readers.

Images courtesy of Natursports / Shutterstock.com

First printed in GetReligion.