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Pope Francis: “ecumenism of blood” the new face of inter-Christian relations: The Church of England Newspaper, December 20, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church.
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The old ways of managing ecumenical relations among Christian churches is passing away, Pope Francis told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, with bureaucratic initiatives making way for a “ecumenism of blood”.

Speaking to Andrea Tornielli in an interview published on 14 Dec 2013, the pope was asked whether he saw Christian unity as a priority.

Francis responded: “Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians.

The pope said that while Christians are “united in blood”, Christians have “have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for.”

Francis illustrated his convictions on the changing face of ecumenical relations with an anecdote of a “parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: ‘I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s’.”

“This is what ecumenism of blood is,” the pope said.

“It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptised in. We need to take these facts into consideration

Put not your trust in Huffington Post headlines: Get Religion, June 18, 2013 June 18, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ordinariate, Archbishop of Canterbury, ARCIC, Church of England, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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I know a maiden fair to see,
Take care!
She can both false and friendly be,
Beware! Beware!
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s advice about women — especially blondes …

And she has hair of a golden hue,
Take care!
And what she says, it is not true,
Beware! Beware!
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee!

… is also good advice in reading headlines. As your GetReligionistas have stressed many times, seldom does a reporter get to write his own title. Yet when a sub-editor makes a mess of a headline the blame is laid at the reporter’s feet when the claim made in the title is not substantiated in the text. There have been times when stories I have written appear under a title that implies the opposite of what I reported.

Sometime back I was commissioned to write an article on a lecture given by the literary critic and philosopher René Girard at Oxford. I gave the story my all and … when I opened the paper after it came off the truck from the printer I found my article nicely displayed on page 5 with a beautiful photo of Girard scoring a goal in a World Cup match.

Too bad René Girard the philosopher and René Girard the soccer player are two different people. Perhaps my readers thought I was being droll, commenting on the élan vital of Girard’s latest book on mimesis by reference to the 1982 France v Poland match. Or they thought I was an idiot.

These meditations on my less than glorious moments in journalism are prompted by a Reuters article on the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s visit to Rome to meet with Pope Francis. The Huffington Post headlined the story: “Pope And Archbishop Of Canterbury Meet, Note Differences On Women Ordination, Gay Rights”.

While I was not in Rome for the press conference at the Venerable English College where Archbishop Welby and Vincent Nichols the Archbishop of Westminster spoke at the end of their day at the Vatican, this headline indicated I missed a major event. Until now Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby held near identical views on gay rights, same-sex marriage, and civil liberties of persons with same-sex attractions. Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting! What had they said to each other?

I dove into the Reuters story looking for details. But there was nothing there. I could quibble here and there with some of the language and editorial asides made by the author:

It was the boldest step by the Vatican to welcome back Anglicans since King Henry VIII broke with Rome and set himself up at the head of the new Church of England in 1534.

An Anglican would say Henry made himself Supreme Governor not head — the head of the church is Christ (there is a difference) and there was nothing “new” in a Church of England in 1534 — “new” implying a discontinuity between the pre and post 1534 church. A frightful papistical canard. Or:

In January this year, the Church of England lifted a ban on gay male clergy who live with their partners from becoming bishops on condition they pledge to stay celibate, deepening a rift in the Anglican community over homosexuality.

A celibate person is an unmarried person. A chaste person is someone who refrains from illicit sexual behavior. I assume Reuters meant to say chaste, meaning conforming to the church’s teaching that “in view of the teaching of scripture, [the Anglican Communion] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”. The working assumption is that clergy in civil partnerships are celibate, because they are unmarried, and chaste as they are to abstain from sexual relations outside of (traditional) marriage.

And it is the Anglican Communion, not community. Community implies an ashram in the woods somewhere, or a collection of sensibly dressed nuns in their cloister. (True there are such Anglican communities — religious with pearls and twin sets) but this is not what Reuters is likely to have in mind — but perhaps this is the “women” link to the headline?


The Church, struggling to remain relevant in modern Britain despite falling numbers of believers, published a plan in May to approve the ordination of women bishops by 2015, after the reform narrowly failed to pass last November.

It was the bishops — not the church — who published the plan. It still must be approved by the General Synod, which if the plan goes forward as currently written will likely be turned aside once more.

Anything about gays in the Reuters story? Nothing at all.

I looked about the web and found The Chicago Tribune had run the same item, but with a different title: “Pope Francis and new Anglican leader meet, note differences.” Rather a where’s Waldo headline — written for a bored seven year old. One is in purple, one in white. One has his wife with him (in the background) one has cardinals, etc.

I looked on the Reuters web page to see if the Huffington Post had shortened the article for space reasons, but found they had lengthened the title instead. The suggested title read: Pope Francis and new Anglican leader meet, note differences.” The gays and women bits came from the Huffington Post’s scribes — not Reuters.

Checking further I found I had not missed a major ecumenical story by staying home as La Stampa and the Guardian reported these comments by Archbishop Welby at the press briefing. La Stampa wrote:

Questioned whether he and Pope Francis had discussed the question of marriage and the debate over gay marriage, Archbishop Welby said “we are absolutely at one on the issues” by which he meant on the question of marriage (understood in the traditional Christian sense as between a man and a woman). He revealed that the Pope told him that he had read the speech he given recently to the House of Lords in which he opposed the British Government’s bill to introduce marriage between persons of the same sex.

Archbishop Welby added that he and Pope Francis are “equally at one in the condemnation of homophobic behavior” and “our sense that the essential dignity of the human being is where you start, and that is one of the absolute root foundations of all behavior, and the moment you start treating people as a category rather than as human beings with this essential dignity you have begun to lose the plot”.

What is the moral of the story?

Read the article, not just the headline. Though I will admit the Huffington Post editor who wrote this headline succeeded in his job, which is getting me to read the article. That is a different task than the reporter’s job of fairly presenting the news. Beware! You’ve been warned.

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.

Knife and Faith in Italy: Get Religion, August 1, 2012. August 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Sikhism.
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The Obama administration is not the only government to have come under fire from its critics for abusing the religious liberty of its citizens. Italy has refused to recognize Sikhism as a religion and denied Sikhs the right to practice their faith reports La Stampa, the Turin-based Italian daily newspaper.

A great religious liberty story, but is it true? The framing of the 23 July 2012 article entitled “Il pugnale sacro che fa litigare Italia e sikh” by La Stampa might well cause the reader to assume that the Minister of the Interior ‘s decision not to carve out a religious exemption from the country’s weapons laws to allow Sikhs to carry in public a Kirpan — a ceremonial dagger — served as a ban to the public profession of faith for its adherents. Yet, the story neglects to say what non-recognition by the state means. Nor are we told how this took place.

There is much cry and no wool in this article. No context and only one side of the dispute is offered. Let me walk you through the story and show you what I mean.

Worldcrunch, an invaluable website that has translations and paraphrases of non-English language news stories, has recast the lede for the La Stampa story from:

E’ un pericolo andare in giro con un coltellino da boyscout o con una delle piccole lame multiuso svizzere? Per il ministero dell’Interno in caso di questioni di culto si tratta di armi improprie e per questo ha negato ai sikh in Italia il riconoscimento della loro religione.


Should a boy scout walking around with a Swiss-army knife be considered dangerous? Should Swiss-army knives be banned altogether? Well, for the Italian interior minister, if the small knife is carried for religious reasons, then the answer is yes.

Last May, after years of court cases and appeals, the interior minister announced that it was refusing to recognize Sikhism as a religion, on the grounds that the kirpan, the small ceremonial dagger that Sikhs must carry at all times, is dangerous.

That is not quite what the lede says in Italian — but the gist is correct, and for consistencies sake I will work from the Worldcrunch translation. The article is laid out in traditional style, with comments from a leader of the Sikh community followed by a those of an Italian politician who has tried to intercede on behalf of the Sikhs. The politician’s encomium for his Sikh constituents is priceless:

” … They are the pillars of the production of the Parmesan cheese, just to give an example,” says Andrea Sarubbi, a member of parliament with the center-left Democratic Party …

However, the Sikh contribution to the Italian semi-hard cheese industry appears not to have persuaded the government to overlook the problem of the kirpan. La Stampa states:

Sikhs have to follow many rules. Men cannot cut their hair and must cover their heads with turbans. They also have to carry a comb, which is a sign of cleanness, traditional pants, a steel bracelet — and the much disputed kirpan dagger.

The turban has also been an issue in the past. The Italian Interior Ministry only authorized its use in official ID photos in 1995. Even if, once in a while, there are some problems at airport security checks, the issue of the turban is considered settled.

But this is not the case for the ceremonial dagger. After a first refusal from the interior ministry, Italy’s main administrative and judiciary body, the state council, confirmed that the kirpan was illegal in June 2010. In August 2011, Sikhs appealed, pointing out that the dagger was only carried under the belt, and could not be drawn. Moreover their religion does not require a specific length and so the knife can be shorter than 4 centimetres – so as not to be considered a weapon. Last May, the ministry rejected these objections.

The article closes with comments from the Italian Sikh leader asking for respect and further words of wisdom from the Italian politician.

“A multicultural society has to face the dimension of the different faiths. They are difficult challenges but they cannot be avoided. They exist and need solutions,” says Sarubbi.

As it has been crafted, this article gives but one side of the story. No explanation is offered as to why the state acted as it did. Nor is there an explanation of what non-recognition means. The story is also context free. Islam, for example, is not a recognized religion in Italy. In 2010 the AKI news service reported the government had declined to add Islam to the list of faiths eligible to receive state financial support from income tax revenue.

Mosques in Italy will not receive a share of income tax revenue the Italian government allocates to religious faiths each year. Hindu and Buddhist temples, Greek Orthodox churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses will be eligible for the funds, according to a bill approved by the Italian cabinet in May and still must be approved by parliament.

Until now, the government had earmarked 8 percent of income tax revenue for Italy’s established churches. The great majority of these funds go to the Catholic Church, although if they wish, individual tax payers may elect to give the money to charities and cultural projects instead.

Islam is not an established religion in Italy and there is only one official mosque in the country, Rome’s Grand Mosque (photo). Politicians from the ruling coalition cite radical imams, polygamy and failure to uphold women’s rights by Muslims immigrants as obstacles to recognising Islam as an official religion in Italy.

Until now, only the Catholic Church, Judaism and other established churches including Lutherans, Evangelists, Waldensians and 7th-day Adventists have received the income tax revenue from the Italian government.

Did the Sikhs seek a share of income tax revenue and were turned down? Was this solely an issue having to do with the kirpan? It is difficult to say what happened with precision because so much is missing from the story.

The collision of Sikhs and the state in the West over the kirpan and the turban has been an on-going topic for years. But the bottom line with this story is that sufficient information is not provided for a reader to understand the dispute. While the religious explanation for wearing the kirpan is provided, the secular argument against possession of weapons in public is not. And is it fair to say that Italian government’s refusal to give an exemption to Sikhs to allow them to wear a kirpan amounts to a prohibition of their faith?

What say you Get Religion readers? Doth this article protest too much? Is this a case of the violation of religious liberty? Is it a fair report on the controversy?

First printed in Get Religion.

“Poisonous” Catholic reporting from La Stampa: Get Religion, April 14, 2012 April 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Sometimes a story is too good to be true. A story with sympathetic victims, righteous heroes, dastardly villains and an issue that all agree is important, but yet is remote to the reader — something that doesn’t touch me — makes a reporter’s day.

One of these stories appeared in the Italian sky last week and burst, producing a torrent of outraged news stories. A Catholic priest denied Communion to a mentally disabled child because the boy was “Non è capace di intendere e volere” — not capable of consent, of understanding the holy mysteries of the sacraments, reported the Italian daily La Republicca.

The Italian press had a field day with the story of Fr.  Piergiorgio Zaghi of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Porto Garibaldi, a village near Ferrara in Northern Italy. And it was picked up by all of the major newspapers and news sites in Italy.

It also topped the now famous Washington Post story about Fr. Marcel Guarnizo who declined to give Communion to Buddhist-Catholic-artist-gay-activist Barbara Johnson. The gay angle muddied the Fr. Guarnizo story, pushing it into the U.S.’s battle over the normalization of homosexuality. The Fr. Zaghi story, however, was clean and clear of political mines. There was no downside in expressing shock, horror, and outrage over the news that a 70-year old rural priest had refused to allow a mentally handicapped boy to receive his first Communion.

Here is Worldcrunch’s translation of La Stampa’s report.

Controversy has erupted both inside and outside the Catholic Church after a parish priest in northern Italy refused to offer communion to a disabled child. Father Piergiorgio Zaghi of the Immaculate Conception church in Porto Garibaldi, a village near Ferrara, denied the sacrament at Easter mass, saying that the mentally-disabled boy was unable to “understand the mystery of the Eucharist.”

The parents of the boy in the Emilia-Romagna region have taken their case both to the European Court of Human Rights and to the higher authorities at the Holy See in Rome.

La Stampa followed its lede with a comment from a children’s rights activist who denounced the 70-year old priests actions as “cultural obscurantism from the Middle Ages.”

The newspaper picked up the intensity by saying “parishioners are divided” between those who support the priest and the boy, 10-year old Luca. It then followed with this quote:

A boy who attends catechism classes with the disabled child wrote a letter to the priest: “If he was with us, it would be a great joy for him, and we would see the actual value of Communion.”

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis offered his opinion of the controversy, denouncing Fr. Zaghi.

“As long as the disabled person does not desecrate the host, if they receive it calmly, it is normal practice to offer it to them,” De Paolis said. “Never have I denied host”, and above all, “the strength of the sacrament also touches the ill and the dying.”

The child’s mother was quoted as saying she hopes the priest will reconsider his actions, but they have engaged attorneys to press their case. La Stampa reported the Bishop of Ferrara is backing Fr. Zaghi, but the article closed with the mother’s hope the church will reconsider.

“I hope that my son will be able to have the communion with all his friends,” Claudia said. “They want to celebrate the ceremony with us. They stand in solidarity.”

This story appears to have covered all the bases. Sympathetic victim. Couragous mother fighting for her disabled child. Catholic cardinal siding with the embattled family. Unnamed bishop backing cranky old priest. Crisp, clean, clear. It doesn’t get any better.

It would have been nice to have the other side of the story. A comment from the diocese, the bishop or the priest. Fr. Zaghi appears to have done himself no favors. The Corriera Della Sera got hold of the priest to ask him why he did it and was told:

«Non ho nulla da dire, voglio essere rispettato» (“I have nothing to say. I want to be respected.”)

A perfect answer — one that allows commentators to wax eloquent on the priest’s pastoral failings, and ignorance of canon law and doctrine. The Archbishop of Ferrara defending backing Fr. Zaghi makes it all the better — old boys network, cover up — what fun!

But, all good things must come to an end. And after 100+ Italian newspapers, websites and blogs reported on the controversy, the Archbishop of Ferrara spoke to Vatican Radio to explain what happened.

Archbishop Paolo Rabitti of Ferrara-Camacchio stated Fr. Zaghi had declined to allow the disabled boy to receive Communion because he had not attended the requisite number of First Communion classes. The boy was not banned from receiving Communion because he could not understand the mysteries of the sacraments due to mental defect, but because he had skipped class.

In its summary of the broadcast, EWTN wrote that two years of preparation were required before First Communion.

“The path of preparation intensified starting last October,” Archbishop Rabitti said. “First Communion took place on a very significant day – Holy Thursday – and a couple not belonging to the parish came to the pastor on February 29 to request that their mentally handicapped son also make his First Communion.”

Due to the lack of preparation, Father Zaghi explained to the parents that they should be sure to attend Mass with their son during the final month before Holy Thursday, “but they only came a few times: the child had participated in Mass and catechism classes only a few times.”

At some of the classes the boy did attend, he spit out the unconsecrated host from his mouth when catechists were helping the children to familiarize themselves with how to receive the Eucharist.

Father Zaghi informed the parents that their son had not received enough preparation and he suggested that he make his First Communion next year, but they reacted by calling the decision “discrimination,” Archbishop Rabitti explained.

As Miss Emily Litella used to say, “Never mind.”

Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference responded to the press furore in an editorial entitled “Le lenti offuscate” (“The clouded lens”).

In focusing a spotlight on an episode that was divorced from its ecclesial setting, the press acted trivially, forgetting to check the news (and perhaps to manipulate it to raise the dust of anti-clerical propaganda.) …  In this runt of a narrative —  Communion “denied,” the priest “bad”, the child “excluded” — all was false. This was poisonous reporting whose flow, drop by drop, undermines religious freedom and public faith and trust in the Church.

The story was too good to be true. Avvenire’s editorial implied that the fault lay with lawyers for the family who enlisted a credulous media, quick to believe the worst of the Catholic Church.

Perhaps. But the church did itself no favors by not moving more swiftly to put out its version of events. It may have been safer to wait for the archbishop to appear on Vatican Radio to explain what happened, but by then two days had passed — and the narrative was set.

Does that excuse the reporting or the herd mentality of the press on this story? It is easy to beat up the media on this one. One side exaggerated and the other side was slow to respond. Should the press have waited until the church decided to speak? Did it have a duty to run with a story that showed a callous disregard of the church’s teachings about the sacraments for the disabled (remember they had the cardinal weighing in against the priest).

Given a conflict  between unequal forces — a disabled boy and the Catholic Church — sympathy for the boy is the natural response. How do you respond to this GetReligion readers? What should the press have done?

First printed in GetReligion.

How many women priests?: Get Religion, February 20, 2012 February 20, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Get Religion, Press criticism, Women Priests.
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The Vatican Insider section of La Stampa reports that there are now more women priests than men priests in the Church of England. This report in Italy’s largest circulation newspaper has been picked up by Catholic newspapers and blogs round the world. It has morphed into reports like that in CathNews New Zealand which states: “A first: Anglican women priests outnumber men in UK.”

The trouble is — the underlying claim is false.

However this surface error aside, the La Stampa article offers a very fine summary of the theological and historical issues at play — and reports that in the view of one Italian church historian, there were women priests and bishops in the early Catholic Church.

The La Stampa story entitled “Women outnumber men in the Anglican Church for the first time” begins:

There is a female majority for the first time in the Church of England, with more women priests joining than men. This certainly bodes well for a final “yes” vote in next July’s Synod that would allow women into the Episcopate. “Official figures show that 290 women were ordained in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available,” says British newspaper The Telegraph. “By contrast, just 273 men entered the priesthood.”

Yes, I would say that there is a female majority among those in the pews in the Church of England — but I expect that this has been the case for several hundred years.

And yes, La Stampa accurately quotes news from the Telegraph that in 2009, 290 women were ordained as against 273 men. But the ordination of 17 more women than men in 2009 does not mean that a majority of priests are now women. The headline of the Telegraph article from 4 February 2012 could be misconstrued by someone for whom English is not their first language: “More new women priests than men for first time.”

But in the body of the article there is the statement that should remove any ambiguity:

Overall there were still more than twice as many ordained men (8,087) as women (3,535) in 2010.

In 2009 I ran a story in The Church of England Newspaper that reported that as of 2007 the number of women clergy who were incumbents — e.g., who actually were in charge of a congregation — was 15 per cent of the total number of clergy. And, in 2007 the Associated Press ran a story that reported in 2006 the Church of England added 213 women and 210 men to the priesthood. So, the claim of more women than men in total is untrue, as is the claim that 2010 was the first year that the number of female ordinands exceeded the number of male ordinands.

Putting to one side this confusion of language, the article does offer a look at this issue from a Catholic perspective. The official church position, as summarized by Giorgio Otranto, Professor of Ancient Christian History in the University of Bari is:

Thus the Magisterium returned to the traditional theories that lie behind their opposition to the ordination of women: Christ did not choose any women to join the group of 12 apostles and the entire Church tradition has remained faithful to this fact, interpreting it as the Saviour’s explicit wish for men only to receive the priestly powers of governance, teaching and sanctifying. Only man, through his natural resemblance to Christ, can embody, sacramentally, the role of Christ himself in the Eucharist.

However, Prof. Otranto noted that the historical record shows that women had been ordained in the Catholic Church.

In a letter sent in 494 to bishops of certain regions of Southern Italy … Pope Gelasius I (492-496) stated he was highly displeased to hear that the contempt towards religion was such that women were being allowed to “sacris altaribus ministrare” and that they were carrying out tasks reserved for males, which did not fall under their competence.”

In Southern Italy, women had received the Sacrament of the Order of bishops, a decision which Gelasius I had firmly condemned. … “Even outside heretical contexts, ancient Christianity seems to have sometimes elevated women to the rank of priest solely and exclusively due to certain prerogatives within the Holy Order, Otranto pointed out.

I find this fascinating. What I also find fascinating is how an unclear lede about the sexes of new Church of England priests morphed into reports about the entire Church of England priesthood. And then was used as a symbol of Church of England’s incipient collapse by some caustic commentators.

What is the moral of the story? Read past the headline? What say you?

First published in Get Religion.

Idealism and Italian Taxes: Get Religion, February 16, 2012 February 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in EU, Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
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Plans to end property tax exemptions for the Catholic Church are one of the top stories in the Italian press this morning. On 15 Feb 2012 Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti released a statement saying he will introduce legislation requiring the Catholic Church to pay taxes on all its commercial properties.

Reporting on church – state issues is hard enough for American newspapers, covering overseas disputes is near impossible for most. The amount of information needed to bring a reader up to speed before he can appreciate the issues often serves to prevent a story from every being written.

The only English-language story I’ve seen on this breaking news item comes from Bloomberg BusinessWeek. It does a fair job of summarizing the facts, but is unable to give the story any context. Which will likely mean that this story will be given a pass by U.S. editors. That would be a shame.

Some GetReligion comments have argued that the effort in reporting overseas religion stories is not worth expending. They follow the Neville Chamberlain line.  Speaking of the need to appease Hitler in the face of his demands for the Sudetenland the prime minister told the House of Commons:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.

No trenches here, but how much time should the U.S. press devote to a religion story from a far-away country and about a conflict of which we know nothing?

But lets put a stopper in the philosophical bottle and turn to the story … The key points from Bloomberg are:

The church currently pays property tax only on buildings designated as “purely commercial,” based on an Italian law originating 20 years ago and extended in 2006. The wording is ambiguous when it comes to clinics that have a chapel or monasteries that offer bed and breakfast accommodation.

The Catholic Church owns about 100,000 properties in Italy, a third of which are commercial, according to the Italian Radical Party, which historically has challenged the church.

Bloomberg offered this background detail explaining the prime minister’s announcement.

Following a complaint by the Radical Party, European Union regulators opened a probe in 2010 into Italian tax breaks on real estate granted to the Catholic Church, saying they may distort competition.

The outcome of the investigation will be made public by next month and if the decision goes against Italy, the EU could order the country to pay a fine and to demand that the church reimburse the government for unpaid taxes of the last five years, the secretary of the Radical Party, Mario Staderini, said in an interview in Rome on Dec. 21.

Does this tell the full story? Reading the Bloomberg report by itself one would miss some key issues and perhaps draw some false conclusions. The Radical Party’s request for EU intervention arose from its belief that the state’s policy of not taxing church property was anti-competitive. It gave the church an unfair advantage by reducing its costs and allowing it to undercut its commercial competitors — or serves as a form of state subsidy to the church.

The Italian press agrees the church should pay property taxes on commercial real estate — which is somewhat extraordinary. The great fun of the Italian press is that it offers a Rorschach test of the Italian psyche. All of the newspapers are working from the same inkblot, but they see different things emerging from the darkness.

The moderate middle is pleased the Catholic Church is paying its fair share. It also hopes this announcement will silence the perpetually aggrieved anti-Catholic left. A front page article entitled “Ici, svolta sui benne della Chiesa” in La Stampa, (the Turin-based newspaper has the largest circulation in Italy and is center-right in its politics) stated the Church:

is responding cautiously in courtly style .. while the antiecclesiastica (anti-clericalists) are satisfied even though the measure will not be complete as many had hoped.

However La Stampa notes that some of the criticisms and claims from the left are simplistic as there is no one entity known as the church that owns property.

Arriving at a revenue figure from church owned properties is a very complex task. The properties are owned by a galaxy of legal entities different, ranging from dioceses to congregations, religious orders to the Italian property of the Vatican itself.

Writing about this controversy in January before the prime minister’s announcement, the Guardian took a different line, likening the tax exemption to tax avoidance. What do you think of this opening?

It has long been regarded as more of a national sport than a misdemeanour. And it has long benefited from the seemingly boundless indulgence of the Italian Roman Catholic church.

But now the head of the Italian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, has unambiguously declared that “evading taxes is a sin”. He called for “serious, effective and relentless” action against tax dodgers.

The cardinal’s remarks are a boost to the technocratic government of Mario Monti, which is running a high-profile drive to root out evasion as it struggles to eliminate Italy’s budget deficit and start paying back the country’s €1.9tn (£1.6tn) public debt.

Among those often accused of avoidance, if not evasion, is the church itself. Its premises are exempt from property tax.

This is comically bad and plays into national stereotypes. Those eye-ties are all crooks at heart, the Guardian tells us.

Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference (CEI), notes that many newspapers seem to have missed the point that this new law applies to all non-profits — not just the Catholic Church.

… it should be remembered for the umpteenth time, this category [tax exempt institutions] is not identical with the Catholic Church, it includes properties of faiths who have registered with the the state and extends to all non-profit entities. Without this necessary clarification (that often the media tends to “forget” as happened yesterday), they will want to read the full official statement …

With regard to exemption from local property reserved for all non-commercial entities the Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance, Mario Monti, told the European Commission Vice President, Joaquin Almunia, that it intends to present to Parliament an amendment to further clarify and define the question.

Avvenire argued the “real news” from the prime minister’s announcement was that the government was going to introduce a:

mechanism tied to strict guidelines established by the Minister of Economy and Finance to the identify the proportional relationship between commercial and noncommercial activities performed within the same building.

The official line was offered by Msgr. Domenico Pompili.

We look for the exact wording of the text so that they can express a detailed opinion. … As has been stated several times, and most recently by the President of the CEI, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, any intervention aimed to introduce clarifications to the existing formulas will be received with the utmost care and responsibility.

One must also look to the reason for the exemptions, Msgr. Pomili said, adding we “hope the state takes into account the social value of the vast world of nonprofits.

So where is the problem? The Bloomberg story is correct, but the Catholic newspaper would say that it missed the point that not-for-profits in Italy are not the same thing as the Catholic Church — and that they are willing to pay their fair share. The Catholic argument that the church provides social services — and that was one of the reasons the tax exempt law was introduced twenty years ago — is also missing.

But these surface issues don’t speak to the question of the relationship between church and state. The European Union is intervening in Italy (at the request of one Italian political party) to re-order the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church. EU values and EU law trumps Italian values and Italian law.

What does this intervention mean for established churches — like the Church of England, the Church of Greece, the Church of Sweden et al? What does this mean for the individual believer when transnational entities have supremacy over the political aspects of his life in issues ranging from abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, or immigration. How far can the EU go to press its agenda on individual states?

And then there is the question of idealism in reporting. Should newspapers concern themselves with the happenings of people very far away debating issues of which we know nothing? Is knowledge of the wider world a form of Orientalism — as defined by Edward Said — where we safe at home can view the doings of the other with detached amusement? Or are there universal themes or norms played out in the world which are relevant to us — even if they take place in the back of the beyond? Or, as the Guardian might put it, what more could we expect from Italians and Catholics?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Basilica of St. Peter photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Guardian news flash – Michele Bachmann is not insane: Get Religion, January 5, 2012 January 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
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The European press has provided extensive coverage of the American presidential campaign. Much of it is of high quality — other stories are just awful (see the Guardianbelow.) The results of the Republican caucuses in Iowa could be found on the inside pages of most newspapers, with many publications offering editorials as to what the vote means for the U.S. and for Europe.

Some of the analyses however, tells us more about the European mind than the Iowa voter. While the U.S. press has seen a great deal of speculation about the role religion played in the voting and provided strong pieces about the faith of individual candidates, with a few notable exceptions this angle received less coverage overseas.

The best of these I have seen comes from La Stampa, Italy’s largest circulation newspaper. In an article entitled “Santorum: fede, libertà e lavoro ecco la mia ricetta per la vittoria” (Santorum: faith, freedom and work – here is my recipe for victory) reporter Paulo Mastrolilli speaks with the former senator following a stump speech in Des Moines.

Recounting the senator’s personal tragedies including a child born with a debilitating disease La Stampa writes:

“Sono cattolici praticanti e questo è il loro modo di trattare la vita.” (They are practicing Catholics, and this is their way of dealing with life.)

Asked if he was ashamed of his Italian heritage because his grandfather fled the fascists, Santorum says (in English translated into Italian and back into English so it is not a word perfect quote):

Absolutely not. I am proud of my origins, because they made me the man that I am today. I always tell the story of my grandfather because he is a source of great inspiration. The core values I believe in, ones that are based on my life and my politics come from there.

Asked if this core value is life (a word with strong religio-political symbolism in Italian as well as U.S. politics), Santorum responds:

The value and dignity of every life, of course. It is the thing that motivates me more to get up every morning to fight, along with the help of God.

Asked how Italy should respond to its economic crisis, the senator says:

You must return to being like my grandfather, who worked hard, without complaint and without excuses. [and America must learn] the same lesson and [emulate those] who built this country through effort and hard work.

La Stampa resists the impulse of categorizing Santurum in Italian terms — where his language and lifestyle would make him recognizable as a Catholic politician and allows him to define himself using American categories and religious and ethical standards.

Not all of the reporting has this lightness of touch. Although the vote count shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney running first, former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum placing second, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul showing third — the real winners were Fox News and Barak Obama some argued.

Fox News had emerged out of Iowa as the king maker of the Republican Party argued the German news magazine Der Spiegel, while the leader [the British term for an editorial] in The Independent was entitled “And the winner in Iowa was … Barak Obama”.

The Independent’s editorial board argued the Republican’s window of opportunity to defeat President Obama may have closed due to their sharp partisan divisions. The Financial Times followed this line too in its opinion piece “Poor Night for the GOP” while the Belgian business newspaper De Tijd in “Die lessen van Iowa” (The Lesson of Iowa) in Belgium interpreted the results as showing the Republicans being hopelessly divided.

The winner by a hair, Mitt Romney, represents the classical policy of the establishment that made the Republican Party great. The unexpected runner-up, the ultra-conservative Rick Santorum, focuses on the traditional values that play a role above all in rural America. The third, Ron Paul, appeals above all to younger, dissatisfied voters who’ve had enough of the political system. … None of the three seems capable of winning over the other currents. … For voters not allied to any one party, the Republican circus is hardly impressive. That puts the current president in a comfortable position for the time being. His chances are on the rise.”

The left-liberal Viennese newspaper Der Standard concurred, writing the Republican caucus result “will work to the Democrats’ advantage.” However:

…the Democrats shouldn’t start celebrating yet. Once the Republican candidate has been nominated the cards will be reshuffled. Then the election will be decided by what the Republican consider more important: the self-castigation of their own party or their hatred of the Democrats in the White House.

In its news analysis of the election the Prague business newspaper Hospodárské noviny also argued that Barak Obama was not yet home free.

Considering the high unemployment rate Obama shouldn’t stand a chance of being re-elected. Although he has the opportunity now to defend his office, one thing he can’t base his campaign on is hope. … [The election] will be a bitter confrontation between two very different ideologies, two different notions of the role of the state and ultimately two different visions of America.

Religion, values-voting or other faith related issues did not figure highly among most accounts. While the Guardian did not do religion in its account, its reporter in Iowa does do psychoanalysis. In his live blog report on Michele Bachmann’s speech suspending her campaign, the Guardian’s reporter wrote:

… According to Bachmann, a painting of Ben Franklin told her to run for the presidency.

OK, so another recitation of the evils of “Obamacare” and how awful it is, which according to Bachmann is the greatest threat to America in history. I am not making this up.

Is she also resigning from congress as well? Oh and now it’s back to the painting: “I worried what a future painting … might depict” if Obamacare isn’t repealed. Really.

Now she’s talking about her campaign for the presidency in the past tense, but there’s a lot of stuff about “the president’s agenda of socialism,” which is hilarious.

Now Bachmann is stumbling over reading her written text. But otherwise, it’s all about fighting, how she will fight for everything. Fight, fight, fight … President Obama socialist policies … party of Reagan … America is the greatest force for good … constitution.

And after all that fighting: “Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside.”

So she’s not entirely insane, even if a painting of Ben Franklin speaks to her and watches her.

I find it reassuring that the Guardian employs a psychiatrist on the U.S. political beat who can tell us Mrs. Bachmann is not insane. What can one say about this last item, other than it is shoddy juvenile work that should not have made it past the editor’s pencil. Comparing La Stampa’s coverage of Santorum to the Guardian’s coverage of Bachmann is an object lesson in the difference between good and bad reporting.

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.

A pedophilia gene – “The Devil made me do it”: Get Religion Nov 4, 2011 November 4, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The Turin-based newspaper, La Stampa, has a fascinating report on the latest developments in neuroscience. Researchers have isolated a gene whose mutation they believe provides the biological basis for pedophilia.

This started my mind down a certain journalistic path, and I began to think — about television. There are times when I miss the ’70s variety shows. American Idol, the X Factor, Dancing with the Stars are good in their own way, but they don’t have the breadth of entertainment that the Carol Burnett Showthe Smothers Brothers, Sonny and Cher, Captain and Tennille and, yes, even Donny and Marie had.

But of these, my favorite was The Flip Wilson Show. I can recall quite clearly sitting with my parents watching Flip play Reverend Leroy backed by his four deacons with a ready “Amen” on their lips. (I never imagined that I would grow up to become a priest in the Church of What’s Happening Now, a.k.a. The Episcopal Church, but that is a different story.)

While I gravitated towards the Rev. Leroy, the most popular skit on the show centered around Geraldine Jones. Flip would done wig and padded dress and with a falsetto cry utter one of the catch phrases of that era: “The Devil made me do it!”

Flip’s audience would respond with laughter. And why not? He was funny and Geraldine Jones’ cry was a wonderful excuse. It’s not my fault. I had to do it. The devil made me do it.

In an article entitled “Un gene alterato scatena la pedofilia” (An altered gene triggers pedophilia), Marco Accossato reports:

Italian researchers have discovered a possible genetic origin for pedophilia, making sexually deviant behavior a potentially treatable condition. But is it an alibi for convicted pedophiles?

The article reports that a study conducted by neuroscientists at the Universities of Turin and Milan and published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that pedophilia was caused by a defective growth factor in the brain called Progranulin (PGRN).  A 50-year-old man who had begun to exhibit pedophile behavior underwent a neurological analysis and was found to have a a mutation of PGRN in his brain. Treatment of the condition led to a cessation of his pedophilia.

La Stampa wrote:

Un annuncio clamoroso … A dramatic announcement: a possible biological basis for socially unacceptable behavior can be found according to a study of patients with rare neurodegenerative disorders. The discovery, which will be presented [at a conference] in Turin, opens new research possibilities but for the first time presents a medical treatment approach to the disease. There are obvious potential ethical and legal implications to this discovery.

“Having shown that pedophilia is largely tied to a biological condition” has “extraordinary medical and social implications,”said Prof. Pinessi … [Further research is required to show however that] all pedophiles have the same genetic mutation … but having identified the cause of pedophilia as a neurobiological condition there is “a possibility of a cure” as shown in the Turin case.

“After several weeks of treatment with atypical anti-psychotic neuroleptic drugs along with antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors the patient ceased his pedophile behavior,” the researchers reported.

The La Stampa reporter also conducted a video interview with lead researcher Prof. Lorenzo Pinessi that touched upon the “ethical and legal implications” of the discovery. I was pleased to see that the moral issues were mentioned in the article and the accompanying video. But I wish the story had developed the medical ethics side a bit more. The lede suggests we will look into this: “Is it an alibi for convicted pedophiles?”, but we don’t get more.

Which is a shame in an otherwise great story for the author introduces the concept of free will and biology, but doesn’t do anything with it.

After I finished reading this story, I pulled from my bookshelf The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and turned to Book V, Chapter IV — The Rebellion.

Ivan Karamazov is going mad. He is unable to reconcile his knowledge of evil with his philosophical belief that the universe is governed by science.

[A]ll I know is that there is suffering and that there are none guilty; that cause follows effect, simply and directly; that everything flows and finds its level—but that’s only Euclidian nonsense, I know that, and I can’t consent to live by it! What comfort is it to me that there are none guilty and that cause follows effect simply and directly, and that I know it?—I must have justice, or I will destroy myself.

The conventional wisdom of our modern age is rigidly deterministic. If the devil doesn’t make you do it, it is your genes, your upbringing, sociological forces or cultural pressures. While Geraldine Jones’ excuse for buying a new dress and the discovery of a gene responsible for pedophile behavior sound very different, both presume that what we do is wholly predetermined by outside causes.

We can will what we want but we cannot will what we will. Philosophers call this argument reconciliationism, which holds that free will and determinism do not conflict. People do choose as they wish, it’s just that those choices are themselves determined. We are free to will what we are certain to do.

What then can we say about evil? Can evil, right or wrong, or justice exist in a universe that is determined? In the post-Auschwitz world, how can we not believe in evil? If history, biology or sociology determine behavior moral indignation is senseless. However, I cannot escape the conviction that some actions are just evil — pedophilia being one.

What is the journalism angle in that?

La Stampa begins to address the God question — or the ethical/meaning of life question. That’s in the story. But is seeking an answer to this question possible in a newspaper? What is the role of the journalist in this case? Is he simply a chronicler, a reporter or does the craft of journalism have a moral purpose that rises above the repetition of disparate facts? What say you GetReligion readers?

First published in GetReligion.