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Fox Tries Its Hand at Vatican Watching: The Media Project, November 25, 2014 November 25, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church, The Media Project.
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15628942159_e5e178ae8f_kFox News has waded into the murky waters of Catholic news analysis, seeking to explain to its viewers (and readers on its website) the church’s battles over liberalizing its moral teachings.

It is encouraging to see a secular news outfit address these issues. Fox understands that these issues are of interest to its viewers. The conservative demographic that is the core of its viewership is also likely to find favor with the opinions proffered. Yet, the fulcrum of the argument in this piece is based upon an erroneous supposition.

The story entitled “Cardinal’s demotion helps Pope Francis quell ‘conservative backlash’ — for now” is founded on the notion that Cardinal Raymond Burke was dismissed from his post as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura as a consequence of his vocal opposition to calls for a change in church teaching backed by Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family. Fox posits a cause and effect, but its theory is not supported by the facts.

Burke was on the way out before the Synod met. His demotion was not a consequence of his activism at the gathering.

The lede sets the story’s parameters:

Pope Francis is drawing rock star raves for softening the Vatican’s image on such issues as homosexuality, capitalism and divorce, but his celebrated tolerance doesn’t seem to extend to dissenters within the church, whose conservative revolt came to a halt when the pontiff exiled their de facto leader to obscurity.

The first half of this opening sentence is not that controversial — and has been the topic of numerous postings at the Media Project and its sister site, GetReligion. The second half of the sentence sets forth the author’s argument — that conservative opposition to the liberalizing moves of Francis’ curia has been stifled.

The article continues:

A recent meeting of bishops unleashed what one Vatican watcher called “a tsunami of conservative backlash” against the pope when it followed an agenda that sought to revisit long-held doctrine on controversial social issues. The most vocal critic was American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who described the Church under Francis as like “a ship without a rudder.”

But as conservative bishops and lower-level clergy in the U.S. began to signal their agreement, Burke quickly found himself demoted from his powerful Vatican post to a purely ceremonial role.

The move sent a chill through the ranks of American conservative bishops, nearly two dozen of whom declined comment when contacted by FoxNews.com, despite many having previously expressed strong doubts about the church’s leftward swerve under Francis, who assumed the papacy in 2013.

The article offers comments and observations offered by respected Catholic commentators such as John Allen of the Boston Globe and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. But these comments speak not to the cause and effect argument — that Burke’s demotion silenced conservatives — but to the general state of unrest within the hierarchy.

The article takes these opinions and uses them as a foundation for its discussion of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October, noting the conservatives led by Burke were in “near mutiny”.

It then slides in comments American bishops made shortly after the synod that were critical of Francis.

“Pope Francis is fond of creating a mess,” Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, wrote in a blog post. “Mission accomplished.” Said Archbishop Charles Chaput, a leading conservative bishop: “Confusion is of the devil.”

But the demotion of Burke silenced these critics, Fox argues:

But both Tobin and Chaput declined comment, following the stunning demotion of Burke, who blasted Francis for allowing Kasper to exercise such powerful influence over the Church’s direction. … Cardinal Raymond Burke’s stunning demotion seems to have stopped a conservative revolt against Pope Francis, at least for the time being.

The announcement of Burke’s demotion may have been made public around the time of the synod, but reports of his departure proceeded the synod by over a month — and it was no secret that Burke was a “lame duck” in the curia when he spoke at the synod.

The article also appears unaware of last week’s Colloquium on the Complementarity of Men and Women — an event of equal significance to the Extraordinary Synod, I would argue. At that meeting Francis reinforced the church’s unequivocal opposition to gay marriage, while in a speech to Italian doctors last week the pope also denounced in no uncertain terms abortion and euthanasia.

The point of my critique is not to take issue with, or support, the argument offered by Fox News. Rather my aim is to address the reporting upon which the article bases its arguments. The analysis Fox offered may well be true, but the particular facts they cite do not advance their argument.

First printed at The Media Project.

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The Independent vs. Complementarity: The Media Project, November 21, 2014 November 21, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church, The Media Project.
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Nicholas Okoh with Pope FrancisPope Francis’ luster has begun to fade outside the Catholic Church. While the papal honeymoon with the secular media has not quite ended, some newspapers have discovered the pope remains Catholic.

An example of this shift comes in an article in this week’s Independent from London. It is written in a tone of suffused anger, disappointed that Francis is not the man they thought him to be.

Entitled “Pope Francis declares union between man and woman ‘at root of marriage’ in blow to gay rights,” the story is written in an advocacy style. The author presents an argument, and then the facts are marshalled in support. The lede opens with this proposition:

Pope Francis has apparently spoken out in defence of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, hurting the hopes of those who see him as a liberal driving force in the Catholic Church.

Note the “apparently” offered in a “can you believe this” tone. The following sentence indicates what the Independent thought the pope was doing.

Last month the Pope warned Catholics not to fear change following an angry synod backlash against a softening of the Church’s stance towards homosexuality.

But the Independent admits it may have been wrong as the pope appears to have changed course (in its view).

But in his address at the opening of a three-day conference on traditional marriage hosted at the Vatican yesterday, Francis called family “an anthropological fact… that cannot be qualified based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history”.

The Humanum Colloquium on the Complementarity of Men and Women appears to be the best kept secret in religion reporting. The media hype (really hysteria) that surrounding the Synod on the Family is all but absent this time round. While not a gathering of specially invited bishops, this gathering has equal significance in that it, too, will advise the pope on the contentious issues of divorce, remarriage, same-sex marriage, civil unions and the like.

The Synod on the Family saw a push by some to bring the church’s moral teachings in line with the liberal or secular worldview on marriage and the family. The Humanum conference saw the traditionalists — supported by non-Catholic scholars from a variety of denominations and faiths — reaffirm existing moral teaching.

The Independent notes that at this conference, Pope Francis made his views on gay marriage clear.

And though he did not refer to gay unions directly, the Pope said: “It is fitting that you have gathered here to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is at the root of marriage and family.”

Francis said: “Children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. Today marriage and the family are in crisis,” he continued. “We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. The revolution in mores and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

In the pope’s emphasis on the necessity of a mother and father and in his rejection of the “revolution in mores and morals,” the Independent saw a “declaration in support of traditional marriage”. And the Independent found this to be utterly appalling.

The balance of the article consisted of comments from outraged gay activists, and it closes with the Independent’s view of what happened in Rome.

Francis’ comments seem to represent a shift towards placating conservatives in the Church from a Pope who once asked “who am I to judge gay people” and whom Elton John described as “my hero”. In March, Cardinal Timothy Dolan reportedly claimed that the pontiff had paved the way for support of civil partnerships at some point in the future, saying it was time the Church studied same-sex unions “rather than condemning them”. But in October the Vatican was forced to backtrack on liberal new guidelines of openness toward gay people by the intransigence of a majority of bishops.

Judging by the standards of traditional journalism, this story comes up short. Only one side of the story is presented. No supporters of traditional marriage appear in the article, apart from Pope Francis. There is no balance of views. Instead we get shallow slogans from the supporters of change, but no intelligent arguments in support of or opposition to these moves. Emotion and narcissism are offered as reason enough.

Nor does the article tell us anything about the Humanum Colloquium. Why does the colloquium matter? What is its relevance to the debate? From a theological or sociological perspective the Independent appears confused over the term “complementarity”. It may think it understands what the word means, but from what little it has written on this point, it appears to be speaking in ignorance.

In short, as a traditional news story this piece is unbalanced, lacks context, makes unverified assumptions as to the meaning of words, and is short on facts. An editor could rescue this piece however, by altering it to a story about the reaction of gay activists to the pope’s words.

Rearranging the story’s paragraphs by placing the comments and responses at the top might make this piece work. It would also allow the Independent to discuss openly the issue at the heart of this piece: “Who is Pope Francis and what does he believe?”

However, if you are seeking actual information on what happened at the Nov 17-19 Humanum Colloquium in Rome – what was said, who said it, and why it matters – then you are better off looking elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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