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Are gay blinkers distorting the New York Times reporting on the Vatican?: Get Religion, June 16, 2013 June 17, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The New York Times is shocked, shocked to hear Pope Francis say there is a gay lobby at the Vatican.

The suggestion that a gay mafia exists within the Curia has been a major news item in Italy and has generated stories round the world. The reactions have been diverse — and have reinforced the stereotypes of the major news outlets.

The New York Times‘ report is thorough, earnest and a bit dry, but misses the real story. Some of the Italian newspapers are having fits of joy in reporting on shadowy cabals of gay monsignori  cavorting in the Vatican — I am waiting for Freemasons to enter the story any day now. However the Italian press, along with the religion press, appreciate this story is not about homosexuality but doctrine, discipline, and divided loyalties within the Vatican.

For those not in the know — the story so far:

In a 6 June 2013 meeting with members of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Pope Francis was purported to have said in a discussion of reforming the church’s administration: “In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true. … The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there … We need to see what we can do.”

Why “purported”? Because the remarks were recorded in a summary of the meeting posted on a Chilean Web site, Reflection and Liberation, and later translated into English by the blog Rorate Caeli. The Milan newspaper Il Giornale reported that after Rorate Caeli released the transcript, Vatican reporters John Thavis and Marco Tosatti reported the news as did AFP and the Madrid newspaper El Mundo — and the world followed.

The Times begins its report by stating the suggestion there is a gay lobby is not shocking. What is shocking is that the pope would admit it.

For years, perhaps even centuries, it has been an open secret in Rome: That some prelates in the Vatican hierarchy are gay. But the whispers were amplified this week when Pope Francis himself, in a private audience, appears to have acknowledged what he called a “gay lobby” operating inside the Vatican, vying for power and influence.

The Times news account lays out the story in detail, offering context and diverse opinion as to the importance of the remarks. Yet for all its thoroughness the Times misses the bigger picture of clergy cliques and divided loyalties.

But never fear — on the op-ed pages of the Times compounds its misinterpretation of the facts as Frank Bruni savages the church for not being gay enough.

What was clearer was his acknowledgment — rare for a pope, and thus remarkable — of the church’s worst-kept secret: a priesthood populous with gay men, even at the zenith. And that underscored anew the mystery and madness of the church’s attitude about homosexuality. If homosexuality is no bar to serving as one of God’s emissaries and interpreters, if it’s no obstacle to being promoted to the upper rungs of the church’s hierarchy, how can it be so wrong? It doesn’t add up. There’s an error in the holy arithmetic.

It also offers this snippet of information:

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and an editor at large at the Catholic magazine America, told me that he’s seen thoughtful though not scientifically rigorous estimates that anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of Catholic priests are gay. His own best guess is 30 percent. That’s thousands and thousands of gay priests, some of whom must indeed be in the “deep-seated” end of the tendency pool. Martin believes that the vast majority of gay priests aren’t sexually active. But some are, and Rome is certainly one of the many theaters where the conflict between the church’s ethereal ideals and the real world play out.


Benedict’s abdication “demystifies” the papacy: The Church of England Newspaper, February 24, 2013 p 6. March 23, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church.
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The abdication of Pope Benedict XVI will modernize the papacy, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams believes, and will invigorate the call to service to the church and the world for the occupant of the chair of St Peter.

In an interview broadcast on 12 Feb 2013 Lord Williams, the Master of Magdalene College Cambridge, stated Benedict’s resignation may “demystify the papacy,” challenging the view the “pope is not like a sort of God King who goes on to the very end.”

The “ministry of service that the Bishop of Rome exercises is just that, a ministry of service and it’s therefore reasonable to ask if there is a moment when somebody else should take that baton in hand,” he said.  Benedict’s decision serves to remind the Christian world of the “primitive position of the bishop of Rome as the servant of the unity of the Church, of the bishop who convenes, mediates between, manages the fellowship of the bishops, that slightly more functional, slightly less theologically top heavy picture, that may be one of the things that emerges from this.”

While the process to appoint a new Archbishop of Canterbury took almost six months, the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Constitution calls for a Conclave of Cardinals to begin within 20 days but not before 15 days, following the declaration the chair of St Peter was “sede vacante”. However, Vatican press spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said last week the Conclave could start within ten days of the date of the pope’s formal resignation – 28 Feb in light of the unusual circumstances of the pope’s abdication.

As of 28 Jan, 118 cardinals were eligible to vote for the next pope – 62 Europeans, 19 South Americans, 14 North Americans, 11 Africans, 11 Asians and 1 from the Pacific. The largest national group of cardinals is Italy with 28, followed by the US with 11, Germany with 6 and Spain and Brazil with 5.

Lord Williams said the announcement “wasn’t a total surprise, I think because in our last conversation I was very conscious that he was recognising his own frailty and it did cross my mind to wonder whether this was a step he might think about.”

In retirement he hoped Benedict would return to writing. “We look for some more profound and reflective theology from him, of the kind that’s made his encyclicals so wonderfully fruitful as a resource for the whole Christian family.”

He added that he had shared with Benedict his plans to retire before the news was shared with the Anglican Communion. “I’d spoken to him before I’d announced my resignation earlier in the year, so we shared some reflections on the pressures of office and, yes, we spoke about the promise of being able to do a bit more thinking, and praying…because by the grace of God we’ve enjoyed a warm relationship, so it was possible for me to share that with him earlier in the year.”

Lord Williams agreed Benedict’s resignation might well further the call made by John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint to rethink the papacy in the service of unity for all Christians. “It will be very interesting to see,” he told Vatican Radio, adding “I think we have yet to work through all the implications of Ut Unum Sint and if this is a stimulus to do some more work on that, I’d say well and good.”

Papal meeting for Anglican conservatives: The Church of England Newspaper, January 6, 2013 p 3. January 4, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church.
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Archbishop Robert Duncan (centre) and Bishop Ray Sutton (right) of the ACNA at the 28 Nov 2012 General Audience with Pope Benedict XVI

The leader of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya, held a private meeting last month at the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI.

On 28 Nov 2012, Archbishop Wabukala, Archbishop Robert Duncan and Bishop Ray Sutton of the Anglican Church in North America, along with a retired bishop from the Church of England met with Benedict and officials from the curia in private after the Wednesday General Audience.

Details of the conversation have not been released however, Benedict has long held an interest in the internal workings of the Anglican Communion.  In October 2003, as President of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter of encouragement on behalf of Pope John Paul II to those attending the “Plano Conference” of conservative Episcopalians in Dallas, Texas, who had gathered to voice their opposition to the impending consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.

Pope Benedict has also focused much of his energies on Africa. A recent issue of the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica stated the pope has referred to Africa as to the “lung” of the Catholic Church and the church in Africa was “currently the most dynamic continent from the point of view of the expansion of the Church and of Christianity in general, and where vocations are the most numerous in terms of percentage.”

Travel delays prevented Archbishop Wabukala from attending the General Audience with Archbishop Duncan and Bishop Sutton, though the archbishop and other leaders of the global reform movement within the Anglican Communion were present at the afternoon’s private session.

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

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Where is Dan Brown when you need him?

The story of Archbishop Róbert Bezák is ready made for the Da Vinci Code treatment. Yet the press has bungled a Catholic story — the Associated Press piece that ran in most U.S. newspapers devoted more space to a rehash of the clergy pedophile scandal than the church conflict in the Slovak Republic.

This story has gays, Nazi sympathizers, Communist secret police agents, liberal Catholics, Vatican intrigue, and the “Rottweiler” — Pope Benedict XVI — playing the heavy. And what we are offered is the tired (and irrelevant) clergy abuse saga.

Our tale begins — in press terms — with the announcement from the Vatican that Archbishop Róbert Bezák of Trnava had been sacked. The AP story opens with:

The pope fired a 52-year-old Slovak bishop on Monday for apparently mismanaging his diocese in a rare show of papal power over his bishops.

Usually when bishops run into trouble – either for alleged moral lapses or management problems – they are persuaded by the Vatican to resign. But Pope Benedict XVI has become increasingly willing to forcibly remove bishops who refuse to step down, sacking three others in the last year alone.

His willingness to do so raises questions about whether he would take the same measures against bishops who covered up for sexually abusive priests. So far he has not.

As you can see, while the story ostensibly is about Archbishop Bezák, it really is another opportunity to club the pope and the Catholic Church.  We do learn a bit about the unemployed archbishop. The AP story states:

On Monday, the Vatican said Benedict had “relieved from pastoral care” Bishop Robert Bezak of Trnava, Slovakia. No reason was given, but Italian news reports suggested administrative problems were to blame and Slovak news reports quoted Bezak as saying he thought his criticism of his predecessor may have had a role.

But this detour into news soon ends and we go back to assumptions and assertions.

The exercise of the pope’s ability to fire a bishop has important implications, particularly concerning bishops who mishandle pedophile priests.

In the face of U.S. lawsuits seeking to hold the pope ultimately responsible for abusive priests, the Holy See has argued that bishops are largely masters of their dioceses and that the pope doesn’t really control them. The Vatican has thus sought to limit its own liability, arguing that the pope doesn’t exercise sufficient control over the bishops to be held responsible for their bungled response to priests who rape children.

The ability of the pope to actively fire bishops, and not just passively accept their resignations, would seem to undercut the Vatican’s argument of a hands-off pope.

And so on and so forth. I’ve read this sort of thing dozens of times before and repetition does not make it any more newsworthy.

The front page of the 23 July issue of Pravda — not that Pravda, but the other one, the Bratislava daily newspaper — is devoted to a discussion of Church/State relations in the Slovak Republic and the fallout from the Bezák affair. The Pravda lede begins:

[Slovak] churches will receive more than 37 million euros in state support this year, and from this amount 21 million euros will be given to the Catholic Church.  The state is facing a financial shortfall and church support is a huge burden, but so far the government has been reluctant even to begin discussing the separation of church and state.

… The debate on the separation of church and state is once again in the public eye due to the events surrounding the appeal [of the dismissal] of Trnava Archbishop Robert Bezák …

The focus of the Pravda story is on the return or restitution to the Catholic Church of properties confiscated by the Communist regime. The neighboring Czech Republic has been debating the issue in Parliament and the Slovak government is about to follow suit.  However, the no-compensation group has a strong political base, Pravda notes.

One expert is cited in the article saying that during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the Czechoslovak Republic of 1919 to 1938 and the Nazi-puppet Slovak Republic of 1938 to 1945 the state owned church properties, which were entrusted to the Catholic Church for the use and benefit of the people.  ”Each year [the Catholic Church] had to account to the state for the management of the property it used.”

The article then returns to Archbishop Bezák, with one expert saying the dismissal of the Archbishop of  Trnava for his progressive social views was grounds not to compensate the church as it could not be trusted to put the interests of the people first.  The bottom line — the Bezák story is not another episode in the clergy abuse saga but falls into another popular press theme — good liberal Catholics, bad conservative Catholics.

A 14 July story in TASR, the state news agency, reports that one of the letters of complaint lodged against Archbishop Bezák found its way to the TA3 television network.

Among the accusations listed by the Vatican in the documents are Bezak’s selection of homosexual priests and those having illegitimate children as his close associates, and alleged mockery of the cassock as a piece of clothing worn by sorcerers, while he himself wears jeans or sweatpants. The Vatican also asked whether it’s true that Bezak speaks of the pope merely as “Mr. Pope” in the public, and describes other Slovak bishops as “old and fogy”, while he is a “modern bishop and enlightened liberal”.

Bezak in a response said that his predecessor Jan Sokol didn’t alert him to any priests in the diocese that would have “dubious reputation”, while he isn’t interested in any ill-based accusations and observes the principle of benefit of the doubt instead. Similarly, Bezak rejected the accusation that he would have ever mocked the cassock and have worn indecent dress. He also said that he has never described himself as a “modern bishop and enlightened liberal”, as he had been in office less than three years, which was too little to define himself in any way. He further said that he describes the pope with due reverence, using terms such as “pope, pope Benedict XVI, Holy Father, Holy Father Benedict XVI and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI”.

If the TASR story is true, one faction of the Slovak Church complained to the Vatican about the new archbishop’s liberal social views and progressive lifestyle. The story continues to build:

Drawing upon reports published by the Slovak newspaper SME, the English-language Slovak Spectator stated local protests by some Catholics followed the bishops removal. It offered further comments from political leaders perturbed by the Vatican’s removal of the young archbishop. Part of the dispute, the Slovak press reports, arises from the sharply different styles and personalities of the former archbishop and the new archbishop.

Bezák, aged 52, replaced controversial former archbishop Ján Sokol three years ago. The step was widely welcomed given Sokol’s repeated praise of President Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest who led the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state during which, among other atrocities, tens of thousands of Slovakia’s Jews were deported to Nazi death camps. Bezák won popular respect when he announced that Tiso should have resigned as soon as the first train transporting Jews left the country.

…  [archbishop] Ján Sokol is known by Slovaks as one of the more controversial personalities in the local Roman Catholic Church, especially because his name appeared on the payroll of the communist-era secret police, the ŠtB.

Now I’ve not found an Opus Dei angle to the story so far, but a Gay-Nazi-Commie-Catholic-Conspiracy story is the sort of thing that religion reporters lie awake at night dreaming about.

It is not a crime for a journalist to run a short item. I am not criticizing the AP for being unaware of the back story of Archbishop Bezák. What troubles me is the padding of this story by the AP.

Yes, I get it. You don’t like Benedict and you are suspicious of the institution. But that sort of heavy breathing and speculation is inappropriate in a news story. The AP should have reported the fact of the archbishop’s dismissal and the Vatican’s decision to decline to comment. Droning on and on about bad Benedict and the clergy abuse scandal served no purpose. Simply put, by playing to its prejudices, the AP blinded itself and its readers to the real, much more interesting, story.

First printed in GetReligion.

The masterpiece of Satan: Get Religion, March 1, 2012 March 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Ad fontes — to the sources — is a helpful phrase to keep in mind when reading press reports about church leaders. It is always useful to set what is reported to have been said by the pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leading clerics against the text of their address. Sometimes the two do not agree.

The Daily Mail this week had a story about a speech given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, that was sort of true. The reporter’s interpretation of what the archbishop said missed the nuances of Dr. Williams’ objections to gay marriage. As British commentator Peter Ould noted, the “over my dead body” tone ascribed to Dr. Williams by the Daily Mail didn’t quite match the archbishop’s argument that gay marriage was not an “intrinsic human right.”

This is nuance, (and I should say that understanding Rowan Williams is like learning Hungarian — a very difficult skill that few people have mastered and one that doesn’t reward the student for his labors).

And then there is error. By error I mean the sort of report produced last Friday by the Independent on Pope Benedict XVI. (The same story by the same author also appeared in the Belfast Telegraph and the print edition of the Irish Independent.)

Blogger Amy Welborn drew my attention to this 24 February 2012 story datelined Milan entitled “Pope warns Church to resist temptations of power after moves to canonise Don Luigi Giussani.”

It begins:

Pope Benedict XVI has warned the Catholic Church to resist temptations of power, even as it emerged that ecclesiastical figures in Milan had moved to canonise Don Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Vatican’s controversial political campaigning wing.

It then moves into a one paragraph summary of the pope’s Ash Wednesday audience.

The Pontiff told his weekly audience on Ash Wednesday this week that the Church was faced with temptations of power just as Jesus was in the desert. “Jesus found himself exposed to danger and faced with the temptation of the evil one who offered him a Messianism far afield from God’s plan, through success and power and dominion,” he said, adding that the same was faced “by the Church and us believers”.

The article drops the pope in paragraph three and moves the scene north to Milan. It reports that unnamed critics are concerned about moves “to make a saint of Don Giussani,” a priest and scholar whose “teachings gave rise to Communion and Liberation”, which the article describes as an “ultra-conservative, lay organisation” that has pursued a “right-wing social agenda on topics including stem cell research and assisted dying.”

It would have helped had the Independent mentioned Mgr. Guissani’s first name was Luigi. Don is an honorific that is almost always followed by the first name, not the surname, but I digress. More commentary and a quote follow:

Moderate catholic groups have opposed its aims and methods. But Pope John Paul II backed the organisation’s political campaigning. And its current, central position in Italian society was underlined last year when a key Communion and Liberation figure, Cardinal Angelo Scola, became the Archbishop of Milan.

As archbishop, Cardinal Scola, who had been a close friend of Don Giussani until his death in 2005 aged 82, received the official Communion and Liberation request to begin the beatification and canonisation processes.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise: the Vatican has always been about power,” said James Walston, a politics professor at the American University in Rome. “But if Don Giussani’s the sort of person they’re going to be canonising, then Heaven help us.”

The article then goes off on a different tangent, dropping the Communion and Liberation angle but moving farther away from the Ash Wednesday homily.

Another prominent Church figure – the Milan priest, tycoon and hospital director Don Luigi Verzè, who died last year – was accused of being too close to the rich and powerful as result of close friendships with Silvio Berlusconi and disgraced former Italian prime minister Bettino Craxi.

He left a €1.5 billion black hole in the accounts of Milan’s San Raffaele teaching hospital and faced allegations of fraud.

In her note to GetReligion, Ms Welborn stated that the author appeared to have a “lot of time on his hands” to be able to connect the Pope’s Ash Wednesday Homily to the “first steps in the movement in the canonization cause” of Mgr. Giussani.

She also observed that “power is used to connect these first two stories with “some random rich guy priest in Milan who seems to have no connection to any of this.”

Is Ms. Welborn being fair? I think she is being too kind. This article is, as she notes, “bizarre”. But it is also tendentious, sloppy, one-sided, and logically challenged.

What we have are three stories that concern Italy and Roman Catholics that have been cobbled together by the Independent under the theme of power (or the abuse thereof). Now a talented writer possesses the stylistic legerdemain to tie just about any story together — this reporter does not have this skill.

Looking at the official English language text of the pope’s Ash Wednesday weekly audience, I did not find the quotes cited in the Independent article. The power passage does appears in the Italian version. A partial English language translation came in a 22 February 2012 bulletin from the ANSI news agency. As the Independent story was written from Milan the day after the English-language ANSI story was published, I assume ANSI was the source.

Remember — ad fontes. The ANSI summary does not do justice to what the pope said. His homily was not about power but conversion of life.

In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism.

The Independent assumes the audience for the pope’s warning against the pursuit of power was the Vatican. However, if you read the homily you find the intended audience are Christians believers — the “pilgrim church” (Chiesa in cammino), not the institutional church. The issue of power was one of a number of minor chords played by the pope. Nor did I find the English equivalent of the phrase quoted by ANSI, faced “by the church and us believers.”

I was also struck by the reporter’s apparent unfamiliarity with the pope’s book “Jesus of Nazareth“. The best seller (2.5 million copies as of 2008) discusses the temptation narrative in detail and the Ash Wednesday homily is thematically tied to the book.

Moving to the second story within this story, the comments about Communion and Liberation (CL) are a bit much. The Independent states Pope John Paul II backed CL’s political campaigning. When did he do this? And when did CL engage in political campaigning. Facts that support these allegations are needed to justify the story’s claims.

Pushing Cardinal Scola into this story is also questionable. While the cardinal was involved in CL some 20 years ago, his membership ended when he became a bishop. Was CL responsible for his appointment as Archbishop of Milan? If so, say so and show how.

What is the Independent alleging when it mentions that Scola received the request to being the process of canonization of Mgr. Guissani? Is this a hint of an old boys network at work? Why did the Independent omit the statement that as a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan Mgr. Guissani’s case for canonization must first go to the Archbishop of Milan — Cardinal Scola?

The third story within this story is even more bizarre. How does the flamboyant Fr. Verzè relate to CL or the pope? The Independent‘s story about his death makes no mention of any these links but focuses on the priest’s ties to disgraced former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. A further aside — the Independent should widen its expert list, the same professor who offered caustic comments about Mgr. Giuissani in this article is the go to guy in the Independent‘s Verzè story.

So what do we have here. Distorted quotes. No voice appearing in support of Mgr. Giussani or CL. No explanation of the homily. No links between Fr. Verzè and the first two items. Plenty of opinion, but little reporting.

Why did this happen? Did a sub-editor cram three stories into one and slice out the balancing voices and background? Did no one not know any better. Is the Independent‘s reporter a knave or a fool? Or is there more to it?

Anti-Catholicism has a long and respectable history in Britain. Theology, great power rivalries, nationalism, anti-Irish animus have all played their part in its first five hundred years. The last half of the Twentieth century saw the rise of a new variety — an English anti-clericalism expressed by the chattering classes in disdain for the established church and a loathing for the Church of Rome.

Now this is a very broad statement that I concede is simplistic. But placing the question of the fell hand of a poor editor to one side, I am hard pressed to find an explanation for this story. Knave, fool, something more? Does this meet the test of good reporting?

What say you GetReligion readers?

N.b. The title … Charles Spurgeon said “The masterpiece of Satan is popery;” while Cardinal Manning said “The Catholic Church is either the masterpiece of Satan or the Kingdom of the Son of God.”

First published at GetReligion.