jump to navigation

Balkan absurdist reporting by Reuters: Get Religion, February 19, 2014  April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

At Get Religion it is usually considered bad form to criticize wire service reports for lacking context. There is only so much information that a reporter can pack into a 300 word story. The absence of an explanatory sentence or two that gives the reader some clues as to the meaning of the story is seldom fatal to an article’s journalistic integrity — but it can at times lead to an article coming across as a Haiku.

This article from Reuters entitled “Bulgarian police detain 120 after mosque attack” I readily concede does not fit into the 5 – 7 – 5 sound (on) pattern of classical Japanese poetry nor the 17 syllables of contemporary English Haiku. Nevertheless the imagery created in this short piece does a great job of telling the story.

A problem with imagery, however, is that the reader must be aware of the symbolic meaning of the nouns being used. The story has a wonderful lede:

Bulgarian police detained more than 120 people on Friday after hundreds of nationalists and soccer fans attacked a mosque in the country’s second city Plovdiv, smashing its windows with stones.

Why is this wonderful you ask? On one level there is an absurdist quality to this sentence with overtones of Monty Python, Lemony Snicket and Eugene Ionescu. A mosque has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque in Bulgaria’s second city has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque in Bulgaria’s second city has been attacked by a mob of soccer fans and (Bulgarian?) nationalists casting stones.

Each iteration makes the story ever so slightly more ridiculous, but at the same time it conveys the absurdity of life through the incongruity of its elements and apparent absence of reason. But this is the Balkans.

The story continues:

 

Over 2,000 people had gathered outside a Plovdiv court as it heard an appeal case dealing with the return of an ancient mosque in the central city of Karlovo, taken over by the state more than 100 years ago, to Bulgaria’s Chief Mufti, the Muslim religious authority.

The soccer fans and nationalists then marched on a mosque in Plovdiv and pelted it with stones. Given the limitations of space Reuters did a great job in reporting this story. At its close the article offered two small bits of context:

Muslims make up about 13 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.3 million people. The Chief Mufti has launched some 26 court cases to try to restore Muslim ownership of 29 mosques and other property across the Balkan state, prompting some public opposition in the predominantly Orthodox Christian population.

These help the reader, but for those not au courant with the modern history of the Balkans, the incongruity of elements might make this story hard to follow. The mosque in Karlovo that served as the flashpoint for this controversy was confiscated by Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria after the Second Balkan War of 1913. That war saw an exodus of many Turks and Muslim Bulgarians — the Pomaks (Slav converts to Islam who speak Bulgarian but follow Turkish customs) from the region West of the River Maritsa or Evros. For Bulgarian nationalists the return of the mosque in Karlovo (which is in ruins but preserved as a historical site by the city government) is a political — ethnic — religious insult. Turkish nationalists might react in the same fashion if Hagia Sophia were returned to the Ecumenical Patriarch. An admittedly bad analogy might be if a Mexican-American group petitioned Texas for possession of the Alamo.

That might explain the nationalists in the mob. But soccer fans? In an American context that conveys images of mothers with mini-vans. In Europe it is code language of skin heads, or neo-nazis, or violent nationalists — whose energies are channeled into supporting a particular football (soccer) team and engaging in violent conflicts with the fans of other teams.

Tie all this into recent statements by the Turkish prime minister about his country’s role as a protector of Balkan Muslims, you have all the makings of a Balkan imbroglio.

How do you tell this story in less than 300 words? Reuters did a pretty good job. But it fleshing the story out with a word or two of “why” on the inter play of religion, politics and ethnicity would have made this piece even better.

IMAGE: courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Viva la Eurorévolution: Get Religion, December 3, 2013 December 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

Religion ghosts haunt the stories out of Kiev this week, but the Western press has yet to hear their shrieks.

The events unfolding across the Ukraine — protests against the government’s move away from Europe towards Russia — are not faith stories as defined by editorial desks in London and New York, but the clash of nationalism and politics in Eastern Europe cannot be understood without reference to religion.

The Guardian‘s reporter in Kiev has described the scene on Monday morning:

Throngs of anti-government protesters remained in control of parts of central Kiev on Monday morning, as police kept their distance and Viktor Yanukovych’s government pondered its next move. After huge protests on Sunday, during which several hundred thousand people took to the streets of Kiev to call for the president’s removal, protesters erected makeshift barricades around Independence Square – the hub of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Nearby, the main City Hall building was taken over by protesters without police resistance on Sunday evening.

Many of the windows were smashed and “Revolution HQ” was daubed in black paint on its stone Stalinist facade. Inside, hundreds of people milled around receiving refreshments; many who had travelled from the regions to Kiev were sleeping on the floor.

The independent Eastern European press has characterized the street protests as a revolution.  Lviv’s Vissoki Zamok, stated that nine years after the Orange Revolution, “the Eurorevolution” was underway.

It is symbolic that on December 1, the anniversary of the referendum in favor of independence that took place 22 years ago, Ukraine was once again the theater of mass demonstrations in support of its sovereignty, the rights of its citizens and its European future.

Why is this happening? Protestors have taken to the streets to denounce President Viktor Yanukovych for refusing to sign an association and free-trade agreement with the European Union at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 29.

In a front page above-the-fold editorial on Monday the Parisian daily Le Monde stated:

Demonstrations of love for the European Union are sufficiently rare these days for them to be rather arresting. Absorbed by the debt crisis, the struggle for more growth and lower unemployment, the rise of populism and the management of its enlargement, the union has forgotten that it retains a formidable power of attraction. For people who do not benefit from the rule of law, Europe symbolizes the hope for freedom, democracy, and modernity.

This is the message sent to us by tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have been gathering day after day to protest on the squares of Kiev and the other cities of the country.

Reading Le Monde‘s editorial and related news coverage one might think les citoyens of Kiev were linked arm in arm marching to the seats of power singing La Marseillaise. But an American might well ask why a trade treaty would spark such an uproar. What is going on here?

It is in the secondary stories that we see glimpses of the religion ghosts. Reuters reports that when attacked by riot police, some protestors took refuge in an Orthodox cathedral and barricaded themselves inside a monastery.

Around 100 Ukrainian pro-EU protesters took refuge from police batons and biting cold on Saturday inside the walls of a central Kiev monastery. With a barricade of benches pushed up against a gate to keep police out, protesters – who had rallied against President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to reject a pact with the European Union – checked their wounds in the pre-dawn light.

Some attended a 6 a.m. service in the lilac and gold St. Michael’s Cathedral on the monastery grounds after which a group of bearded, black-robed monks approached protesters to hear of their encounters with police and urge them not to seek revenge. “They gave us tea to warm us up, told us to keep our spirits strong and told us not to fight evil with evil,” said Roman Tsado, 25, a native of Kiev, who said police beat him on his legs as they cleared the pro-EU rally.

Further down in the story Reuters tells us what sort of church it was that gave shelter to the protestors.

The Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral, where the faithful light candles before gilded icons of saints, was destroyed during the religious purges of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and rebuilt after independence.

What Reuters neglects to mention is which Ukrainian Orthodox church belongs to. St Michael’s belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate — not the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate.

What of it you might well ask. There are three principal churches in the Ukraine. One under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, or Moscow Patriarchate; an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Kiev Patriarchate; and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

And the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last month Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) was reported to have said:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

Statements released by the three churches in the wake of the uprising illustrate these religio-political calculations. The Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholic Church have lent their support to the demonstrations — and as Reuters reports opened its churches to protestors as a safe haven from the police. The Moscow Patriarchate in Kiev has backed President Yanukovich — and its call for calm echoes the president’s public statements to date.

By raising these religion points, I am not stating the Eurorevolution is being driven by religion. I am arguing that a well rounded news report should touch upon the religion angles in this story — provide the context for a Western reader to understand. Not all of the protestors are motivated by religious fervor — but religion lies close below the surface of national politics east of the Oder and a good reporter should relate this information to his readers.

First printed in Get Religion

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.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
comments closed

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?

Or:

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.

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

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

The 98-year old leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has died.

I guess you weren’t prepared for that bit of excitement from GetReligion the morning after the election. As many of our readers are going through news withdrawal at this moment, I thought I would help ween them from their addiction with something nice, safe and far away: a drawing room media mystery to settle their minds and hearts.

Patriarch Maxim did have the good sense to die on 6 Nov 2012 when the world was watching the American presidential election. And to be fair, I suppose that if he had passed during the dog days of August — the silly season when news is so short on the ground that just about anything can become a major story (remember Chik-fil-A?) — his story still would not have set the hearts of journalists a flutter.

De mortius nil nisi bonum is the line being taken by the Bulgarian press. Reuters and the Associated Press have also decided that it is more fitting to say of the dead nothing but good. The Reuters man in Sophia (sounds like that is from a spy novel doesn’t it) begins his report with:

Patriarch Maxim, a conservative who led Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church for 41 years in times of Communist rule and democracy, died, the church said yesterday.

Followed by the text of the official announcement, the story gives a very brief biography and offers this as context:

Patriarch Maxim has kept a low public profile but was an influential figure with a controversial past. He oversaw a major religious revival in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communist rule. Dozens of new churches were built across the country and monasteries reopened.

And what was this controversial past? Reuters does not say. Maybe the AP can help. It reports the same basic facts but offers a bit more background:

After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria’s new democratic government sought to replace Communist-appointed figureheads, including the patriarch. The church split between supporters of Patriarch Maxim and breakaway clergymen, who tried to oust him and then formed their own synod. The division plunged the church into turmoil, with church buildings being occupied, priests breaking into fistfights on church steps, and water cannons and tear gas being turned on rebel bishops to clear the main St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia. For more than a decade the two synods existed side by side. The schism ended in 2010, when the head of the alternative synod called for healing and the synod was dissolved.

So Maxim was “a Communist-appointed figurehead”, the AP reports. Yes, Maxim’s appointment was engineered by the Communist regime and following the fall of the “Evil Empire” anti-Communists sought to get rid of him. And even though Bulgarians are not Episcopalians, the ensuing battle led to a schism and lawsuits over church property.

The AP is mistaken when it reports the schism has been healed, though in 2010 Metropolitan Innokenty, the head of the rival synod which held the allegiance of a third of the country’s clergy was received by Maxim back into the “official” church. However the submission of Innokenty did not end the split. Here is a reference to a post-2010 article on the accidental death of one of the leading clergy of the Alternative Synod. If there are still rebel clergy in control of church property that is a clue the rupture has not been healed.

I am confident that at this point in our tale I have hooked the Bulgarian aficionados in our audience — the good people at Patheos have not yet told us how large a demographic this is for Get Religion though. Others might ask, “So what?”  But bear with me, all of this does play its part in solving the mystery.

The clue that has been left out — though broadly hinted at in the AP story — is the allegation that not only was Maxim a Communist-appointed figurehead, he was also considered by some of having been a spy. Twenty-two years after the fall of the Communist regime, the Bulgarian government opened the books from the Committee for State Security — the Darzhavna sigurnost or the DS. What it found was that 11 of the 15 bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church currently in office were informers or agents of the 6th Directorate of the DS, which was tasked with combating political dissent.

The English-language Sofia Echo has written extensively about this scandal: the initial report, what the bishops did for the secret police, popular reaction, calls for the bishops to resign, actions to be taken by the church’s synod. It is also reported that not just the Orthodox bishops betrayed their people, the current Roman Catholic Bishop of Sophia and the present and former chief Mufti of Bulgaria were named as collaborators. Maxim was cleared by the committee investigation collaboration — to the surprise of the Alternative Synod — but suspicions remained of his guilt as his parts of his file appeared to have been mislaid.

While the canard that Pius XII was a pro-Nazi stooge continues to excite journalists — a real story of church leaders collaborating with evil was overlooked by Reuters and the AP in their report on the death of Maxim. Reuters even managed to lead with the descriptor that Maxim was a “conservative”. What can that mean in these circumstances.

After the news broke in January of the bishops’ ties to the secret police, Metropolitan Gavril of Lovech – one of the bishops not named as a collaborator — told the Sofia Echo the church was torn over how to respond to the revelations. “We cannot now think about asking for the resignations of 11 people. That is impossible. If it had been one, or two or three, that is another matter.  The Synod must remain united and these problems should be resolved in some way so as to benefit, but also on the other side, not to destroy, the church,” he said.

What Reuters and the AP seemed to have missed — apart from the disagreeable bits about Maxim’s past — is the fact that the death of the man who caused the schism may well end the schism.

The Bulgarians are not alone in avoiding scrutiny of church and state in the Communist era. Russia has yet to examine the Stalinist era. The Moscow Patriarchate — the official name for the Russian Orthodox Church — was set up on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1943 as a front organization for the NKVD and all of its senior positions were vetted by the Ideological Department of the Communist Party, according to reports published in the U.K. following the defection of KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin  in 1991.

In two books written with intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, The KGB in Europe and the West and The KGB in the World, Mitrokhin claimed that Russian Orthodox priests were used as agents of influence on behalf of the KGB in organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the World Peace Council.  Patriarch Alexius II was also named as KGB agent with the codename DROZDOV, whose services earned him a citation from the regime.

TMatt has discussed this question in a number of posts. In his 2007 story “Mere candlestick holders in Moscow?” he wrote that in 1991 an anonymous priest in Moscow told him the post-Soviet Russian church had four kinds of leaders:

A few Soviet-era bishops are not even Christian believers. Some are flawed believers who were lured into compromise by the KGB, but have never publicly confessed this. Some are believers who cooperated with the KGB, but have repented to groups of priests or believers. Finally, some never had to compromise.

“We have all four kinds,” this priest said. “That is our reality. We must live with it until God heals our church.”

While the setting is Bulgaria and the characters are Orthodox clergy and secret policemen, the issues are of collaboration with evil and the battle for truth. Change the characters and the same story could be told of Vichy France, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche and the Confessing Church in Germany, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the House Church movement in China.

In French there is an expression très balkan: meaning hopelessly confused with the connotation of labyrinthine or byzantine machinations. It would be easy to dismiss this story as being a très balkan intrigue more worthy of an Eric Ambler novel than hard news. However the death of Maxim and the saga of the Orthodox Church raises profound questions of morality.

What is the journalist’s task in all of this? Is it too much to expect a discourse of the ethical and moral ghosts that lay behind a story on collaboration with evil — or is it enough to just report the events. How should society judge those who collaborated with evil or who were agents of evil?

First printed in GetReligion.

La France Catholique Renaissante: Get Religion, August 14, 2012 August 14, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

Everything is at root dependent on politics

Jean Jacques Rousseau

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary — August 15 — will be marked by the Catholic Church in France by the revival of prayers for the eldest daughter of the Church (France).

Reuter’s report on the prayers characterizes them as:

opposing the same-sex marriage and euthanasia reforms planned by the new Socialist government.

The prayer, to be read in all churches on Aug 15, echoes the defense of traditional marriage by Pope Benedict and Catholic leaders around the world as gay nuptials gain acceptance, especially in Europe and North America.

King Louis XIII decreed in 1638 that all churches would pray on Aug 15, the day Catholics believe the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven, for the good of the country. The annual practice fell into disuse after World War Two.

While there may be more to the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary than its being of benefit to France, overall this article is nicely done — tight, balanced and precise. Yet I cannot help but wonder if an American political lens is the one through which this prayer is being viewed. The Reuter’s article demonstrates there are political ramifications to the prayers — but should these be the focus of the story?

The article states the prayer that children “cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother” is a rejection of gay adoption, while the prayer that Catholics pray for government leaders “so that their sense of the common good will overcome special demands” is a rejection of the Socialist government’s plans to authorize gay marriage and euthanasia.

The article notes:

The prayer is unusual for French bishops, who usually keep a low political profile. Church spokesman Monsignor Bernard Podvin said they wanted to “raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices.”

The article also ties the story into a wider global political context citing Pope Benedict XVI’s January statement that gay marriage threatened the “future of humanity itself” along with the political push to legalize gay marriage in the U.S. and the U.K.

A front page interview in Le Figaro printed on 14 August with the Archbishop of Lyon, Mgr. Phillipe Barbarin entitled: «Il ne faut pas dénaturer le mariage» may strengthen a political interpretation of these prayers. In response to questions from Le Figaro about their political nature, Mgr. Barbarin stated:

Politics is not a “dirty word”! Prayer has a political dimension, but it is primarily a spiritual act. We turn to God with confidence, asking his help for our loved ones, especially those living in hard times. Nothing is more natural than to pray for our family or our country. [Catholic] prayer has never ignored the issues of social life, let alone human suffering. We can say that our prayer is marked by the living conditions of the society in which we find ourselves.

Nicely said — I would almost characterize this as an American response that defends the place of religion in the public square. American in that, as Reuters notes, the French hierarchy has a reputation of being politically supine.

Le Figaro responds by asking whether the church’s intervention crosses a line, violating the secular nature of the state. And Mgr. Barbarin again pushes back:

Secularism prohibits prayer? Is that what you are asking? Do we live in tyranny? Must  we submit our rituals and our formularies to the dictates of group think? … The situation is serious. … But the primary mission of the church is prayer, and I hope she will be faithful to that calling and speak regardless of public opinion.

But when we get to the text of the prayer, through a question from Le Figaro asking why the church would use the occasion of the Assumption Day prayers to express its opposition to “gay marriage and the adoption of children by such couples”, Mgr. Barbarin changes tack.

Have you read this prayer? None of the phrases you use is there. We can pray for the commitment of spouses, children and youth so that they “fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother” without being accused of homophobia I hope! These are the intentions that rise spontaneously in the heart of believers.

Perhaps the archbishop is being coy in decrying any specific reference to gay marriage/adoption, but he has no problem in a forthright rejection of euthanasia. “A law which would justify euthanasia supports the idea that some lives are not worth living,” the archbishop said, adding that speaking out against Euthanasia on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary was a duty for the church.

The archbishop also appeared to be pleased by the harsh reaction from secular quarters, saying the Catholic Church will no longer be

the doormat on which [French intellectuals] wipe their feet. This suggests that, in these reactions — paradoxically and happily — some seem to be afraid of prayer. Prayer is powerful, indeed!

Let me say I am not criticizing the Reuter’s story not developing the context and providing an analysis of what these prayers mean for France. In the space allotted and in the format of a wire service story, it does a great job.

Yet, I would argue that taken in conjunction with the Le Figaro interview, we are seeing new things — a politically resurgent Catholic Church in France (as Reuter’s points out), but also an intellectually and theologically confident Catholic Church in France.

Do others see this confidence in these reports? And if so, how should a reporter tell this story? Should this story even be touched by a secular reporter? Is this primarily a political story or a religious one? Must everything be reduced to politics and the political, or is it possible for journalists to address a changing intellectual and moral world?

First printed in Get Religion.

Is Reuters denying Holocaust denial? — Get Religion August 4, 2012 August 4, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , , , ,
comments closed

Finding the line between sensation and responsible reporting can be a difficult task. There are times when the subject of a news story will say something outrageous that causes a reporter to lay down his pen and ask, “Did you really mean that?” Over the top quotes can make a story pop — providing better placement in a newspaper and a brief “buzz” for the story. It can also distort the narrative, changing the story from the issues under discussion to comments about the issues.

I’ve played this game. When writing for the Jerusalem Post a few years back I submitted a story about a call for divestment from Israel made by the General Synod of the Church of England. The article moved from the back of the newspaper to the front page after the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey told me the vote made him “ashamed to be an Anglican” — this comment ensured the story was a three-day wonder.

On another occasions I have omitted comments from a story that were equally strong — but would have distorted the story by changing the focus from the issue to offensive or dumb comments made by one of the subjects of the story.

A recent Reuters story on comments made by a Hamas spokesman following the visit to Auschwitz by an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas brought this issue to mind. Should Reuters have given the complete quote? Should Reuters have mentioned the religious angle lying beneath the story? Let me show you what I mean. “Hamas slams Palestinian visit to ‘alleged’ Holocaust site” begins:

The Hamas Islamist group in charge of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday denounced a Palestinian official’s visit to the site of a Nazi death camp in Poland, and called the Holocaust in which 6 million European Jews perished an “alleged tragedy.”

Ziad al-Bandak, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who governs in the occupied West Bank, had made a rare visit by a Palestinian official to the site of the Auschwitz death camp late last month.

“It was an unjustified and unhelpful visit that served only the Zionist occupation,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas. Hamas rejects Israel’s existence and interim peace accords reached by Abbas’ more moderate Fatah group with Israel.

Barhoum further called Bandak’s visit to Auschwitz, a camp where the Nazis killed 1.5 million people, most of them Jews but also other Polish citizens, during World War Two, as “a marketing of a false Zionist alleged tragedy.”

He said he saw this as coming “at the expense of a real Palestinian tragedy,” alluding to Israel’s control over territory where Palestinians live and seek to establish a state.

The article continues with mention of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and the political split within the PA between the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah controlled West Bank. The story closes by saying:

Bandak’s visit to Auschwitz, where he laid a wreath at the invitation of a group working for tolerance in Poland, was a rare one by a Palestinian to the death camp site. Muslim officials from other countries have also paid respects there.

Last week the AP reported on plans for the trip and included the detail that Bandak was a Christian.

Ziad al-Bandak, a Christian who advises Abbas on Christian affairs, visited prisoner blocs, gas chambers and a crematorium in the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, which the Germans built and operated in southern Poland during their World War II occupation of the country.

Does this nugget advance the story, or does it polarize it by adding a faith dimension to Holocaust denial and Anti-Semitism?

And, the invaluable MEMRI news service provided the full quote from the Hamas spokesman, which was much stronger than the version printed by Reuters. The report entitled “PA Official’s Auschwitz Visit Evokes Enraged Responses from Hamas” said:

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “The visit helped Israel to spread the lie of the Holocaust, and does not serve the Palestinian cause. It has been clearly proven that the Israeli narrative [of the Holocaust] is fraudulent. [The Israelis] exaggerate what happened in order to garner international sympathy, which for years has come at the expense of the Palestinians.”

The “lie of the Holocaust” quote is extraordinary. Its omission lowers the temperature of the story. But does the omission change the story?

The traditional school of Anglo-American journalism seeks to present the world as it is, seeking to separate the reporter’s worldview from the narrative. But is that possible? In the example I offered from my own work, I demonstrated how I sought to exercise editorial judgment in preparing a story. I led with the ashamed quote in the  JPost story because I did not believe it was dumb — but others might say that it was a foolish statement that distracted from the underlying story.

Omitting mention of the Christian faith of the Palestinian statesman and downplaying the severity of the Hamas quotes, Reuters chose to exercise its editorial judgment — letting us know what it believed was important. I disagree with this judgment. To my mind the faith of Ziad al-Bandak and his position as an adviser on Christian Affairs is significant to the story as it sets up the underlying split between Hamas and Fatah — Christians are under the gun in Gaza and reports place the blame on Hamas.

I would also argue that Reuters sanitized Barhoum’s words. A story about reactions to the visit would not have been distorted by Barhoum’s extraordinary, delusional — some would say evil — comments. What say you Get Religion readers? Did Reuters let down its readers? Should it have led with the “lie of the Holocaust” or was it right to downplay these sentiments? Is Reuters denying Hamas Holocaust denial?

First printed in Get Religion.

Orthodox lay presidency at the Eucharist?: Get Religion, April 21, 2012 April 21, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

Reuters has a dispatch from Athens on the difficulties the Greek financial collapse is causing the Orthodox Church. The article entitled “Crisis proves a curse for Greece’s Orthodox Church” will appear in various forms in newspapers and websites this weekend and I encourage you to read it, as it provides a strong account of the hardships facing the Church.

However, a GetReligion reader, Dominic Foo, was struck by one section of the article. He wrote:

I find it incredibly hard to believe that an Eastern Orthodox Church would permit lay celebration of the Eucharist, unless of course, this is merely sloppy journalistic reporting and what is permitted is not “mass” but a prayer service.

He was questioning this section of the story:

To cover the shortage of priests, some bishops are permitting laymen to take services. These volunteers receive no state wages and don’t wear the characteristic vestments.

For instance, a retired army officer recently started holding mass at Avantas, a village close to the eastern border with Turkey, said Father Irinaios. “Priests in small villages retire or pass away and there is nobody to replace them,” he said. “We are going to have a huge problem.”

If Reuters is correct in its reporting, this is highly significant development. In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions it is inconceivable that a lay person would be permitted by a bishop to celebrate the Eucharist as the administration and celebration of the sacraments is the essence of the priesthood. For Roman Catholics this teaching is set down in a number of formal statements and encyclicals: Lumen Gentium 28; De ordinatione episcopi, presbyterorum et diaconorum 2; 6; 12.

For the Orthodox lay presidency is a non-starter. The doctrinal confessions most accepted in the Orthodox world, The Confession written by Dosietheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1672) and The Orthodox Confession written by Peter Mogilas, Metropolitan of Kiev (1643) state the Eucharist may be celebrated only by a “lawful” priest.

In my corner of the church world, the issue of lay celebration of the Eucharist has the potential to supplant the fights over homosexuality. The Diocese of Sydney — the most influential evangelical diocese in the Anglican Communion — supports  allowing lay people licensed by the bishop to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The diocese has debated this issue for almost a generation and prepared a number of theological papers in support of its views.

One clue to the debate is the use of the phrase “Lord’s Supper” rather than Mass by Sydney Anglicans. Their understanding of what takes place in Holy Communion is very different than that of High Church Anglicans, not to mention the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. However, the Archbishop of Sydney Dr. Peter Jensen, has so far declined to implement the diocesan synod’s request as the wider Australian church — and Anglican Communion does not agree with this innovation.

If the Greek Orthodox Church is allowing lay celebration of the Eucharist this would be a break with tradition. For a religion reporter this would be great news — I have visions of a pan-Orthodox council being called (allowing me a trip to Greece on my editor’s dime.)

Perhaps something less dramatic, but still highly significant is taking place. Has some form of Liberation theology arisen in Greece? That would be news! In marginalized or deprived communities where a priest is not present to preside at the Eucharist, such as in Latin American base communities, Leonardo Boff and other radical theologians have proposed holding a eucharist-like fellowship meal as an admittedly less than adequate substitute for the Eucharist.

Or, as is most likely, the Reuters reporter was confused or his article was mistranslated. I’m afraid I won’t be jetting off to Greece this summer as I suspect the liturgy being used at services where no priest is present is the Typica or Reader’s Service.

While the Typica may not be common in areas where there is a settled Orthodox presence, it can be found in places like the American South or Africa where there are new Orthodox congregations but no resident clergy. Here is a link to a Greenville, NC Orthodox Church that explains the value of Lay-led Services.

While this Reuters story focuses on the effects of Greece’s economic implosion on the Orthodox Church, the statement about lay led masses should be addressed. If wrong, I would hope it would be corrected. If right, then there is a major story here that has so far gone unreported.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Women bishops and the Church of England: Get Religion, November 16, 2011 November 17, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Get Religion, Women Priests.
Tags:
comments closed

How knowledgeable is your audience? What can a writer assume and what must be explained. One of the arts of journalism is the ability to gauge readers’ interests and abilities — to write not too much nor too little in setting the background of a story. When I write a story for the Church of England Newspaper, the Jerusalem Post or an American newspaper, I have an idea of what needs to be said and left unsaid for that particular audience.

A wire service reporter does not have that luxury. A recent Reuters story on the controversy over women bishops in the Church of England illustrates this question. In less than 400 words Reuters had to  summarize the issues and arguments and offer insights into what lies ahead. And it must do so using non-theological language that is accessible to their readers.  Sometimes it works, but in the article entitled “Church regions back women bishops,” it fell short.

The opening sentences show the problem of vocabulary:

The Church of England’s dioceses, or regions, have voted in favour of consecrating female bishops, campaigners said on Sunday, clearing one hurdle in a long legislative battle to let women break through the “stained glass ceiling.”

Only two of the Church’s 44 dioceses voted against the draft legislation, easily securing the 50 percent required for it to go back to the General Synod, or parliament, for another vote, said WATCH, a group campaigning for women bishops.

Do we really need to have explained what a diocese is? And if so, does “region” explain anything? If the audience is that ignorant should not the article explain what a “bishop” is and what connection a bishop has to a diocese? Explaining that the General Synod is the Church of England’s parliament is fine — but I feel the heavy hand of an editor at work — inserting explanations that break the flow of the story. It is so much smoother to say the “church’s parliament, the General Synod” than the circumlocution offered above.

The news reported in this article is that 42 of the Church of England’s 44 dioceses have endorsed the consecration of women priests to the episcopate. But the flow of the narrative and the informational value of the story deteriorates when Reuters attempts to summarize the arguments and predict the future.

Dioceses have been balloting their members since March this year and Sunday’s result confirmed what had largely been a foregone conclusion following the Synod’s earlier backing of the motion.

Here we have a “yes, but” problem. No, the dioceses have not been balloting  their members. No one has asked the people in the pews for their opinion. The members of the diocesan synods, who are not directly elected by the church’s members either, have been the ones voting.

The article reports that “traditionalist Anglo Catholics and conservative evangelicals have threatened to continue to oppose the draft legislation,” and notes that:

Other Anglican churches, including in the United States, Australia and Canada, already have women bishops.

But traditionalists and evangelicals continue to argue against it on biblical grounds.

The consecration of women bishops is one of the most divisive issues facing the church, alongside same sex marriages and the consecration of homosexuals.

The Church of England has been criticised for being obsessed with such issues at a time when families are struggling with economic hardship amid rising unemployment, higher prices and frozen wages as part of the British government’s attempts to rein in a record peacetime budget deficit.

The Church was seen as weak and confused when demonstrators protesting against the excesses of capitalism last month parked 200 tents outside one of the its most famous places of worship, St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Liberals in the Church, who say it is insulting not to admit women to positions of power, argue concessions have already been made to appease opponents.

About 50 disaffected traditionalist bishops and priests in the Church of England have decided to leave the Anglican Church and take up Pope Benedict’s offer to switch to Rome.

Others have decided to stay and fight from within. They say Jesus Christ’s apostles were all men and that there is nothing in the Bible or church history to support women bishops.

They pointed to the number of dioceses who backed a following motion, or secondary motion, calling for improved provision for opponents to support their case.

This is not evenhanded. The author’s sympathies are on display by the use of “continue”: “continue to oppose”, “continue to argue” in light of the diocesan votes and the example of the U.S., Canada and Australia. (As we have to explain what a diocese is, should we not explain that by the U.S. Anglican Church Reuters means the Episcopal Church? There are a number of churches in the U.S. who use the word Anglican in their names and none have women bishops.)

Writing a story from a press release has its perils also. This appears to have been drawn from an announcement from a group that lobbies for the approval of women bishops. The article notes that women bishops may appear as early as 2014. While this may be the goal of campaigners, it is far from being a “foregone conclusion.”

For the Church of England’s General Synod to approve women bishops, each of its three houses — bishops, clergy and lay members — must approve the measure by two-thirds super majority.  The last statement in the quote above — that protections are being sought for opponents of women bishops — should be fleshed out in order for the reader to understand that this is a live political battle and that the women bishops’ measure may fail. (For those interested in a detailed discussion on this point, I would refer them to English blogger and Huffington Post contributor Peter Ould.)

The digression about the Church of England’s debates over women bishops while the poor remain with us is preaching not reporting. It confuses politics and theology. This tone deafness is sounded quiet clearly in the explanation of the positions of the two opposing camps.  Setting calls for justice and access to power against the Bible is a gross caricature of the arguments.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams — himself a supporter of women bishops — has said, the language of human rights should not be a “show stopper”.  Those in favor of women bishops make their argument out of a particular understanding of Christian Scripture and theology — as do the opponents of women bishops. To paint traditionalists as hide bound misogynists is as a mistake as calling supporters of women bishops the loonie left. Explaining the dispute in political terms misstates the issues. One might as well write that because women can’t be masons, ipso facto, they can’t become bishops of the Church of England.

Does Reuters explain too much and yet say too little? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,309 other followers