A religion story in full

peacockSometimes reporters get religion completely. Their stories are not only interesting, important, and well executed, but also explain religion in full. Take this Washington Times story by reporter Julia Duin.

The article is about a federal scandal involving Catholic officials in Richmond. Duin began her story this way:

Federal authorities are investigating the actions of a Catholic charity in Richmond which helped a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl to receive an abortion in January, in possible violation of Virginia law.

Officials have called the matter to the attention of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters in Washington, urging it to prevent any repetition of the incident.

Four employees of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, Richmond, (CCR) have been fired and one supervisor with the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services agency has been suspended, according to federal sources and a secret April 29 letter written by three bishops to 350 bishops nationwide.

Did you get that? Representatives of a Catholic charity helped a 16-year-old kill her unborn child. Talk about an attention grabber. (Months before, the same officials had given the girl an unspecified contraceptive device.)

Then, Duin backed up her claims. She reported first, that three Catholic bishops on April 29 had written a letter to all 350 Catholic U.S. prelates confirming the incident. She reported second, the contents of an earlier letter from a federal official:

In a three-page letter dated April 23, David Siegel, acting director of the HHS Refugee Resettlement Office, criticized the Catholic bishops group.

“USCCB’s inability to direct the actions of its sub-grantee was a failure of management, oversight and monitoring,” he said in the letter to Johnny Young, executive director of the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) agency.

In addition, Mr. Siegel noted in the letter, CCR staff used the wrong medical authorization form to justify the abortion, adding that if his agency had received the correct form, “it would not have been approved.”

It might have been tempting for Duin to stick to the legal aspects of the case. Instead, she wrote about the religious ramifications of what Catholic officials allegedly did:

Roman Catholic doctrine condemns deliberate abortion as a mortal sin in all cases and imposes automatic excommunication upon anyone who obtains one or knowingly helps someone else do so. The excommunication usually can be lifted by ordinary confession and appropriate penance.

The church also teaches that knowingly using contraception is a mortal sin, although it does not incur automatic excommunication. Moreover, the church objects to some methods of contraception – those that prevent a fertilized embryo from implanting in the uterus – as forms of abortion.

A reader can’t ask a reporter to do much more. Duin summarized and explained Catholic teaching. Her description gave readers more than sufficient context.

My only question about the story is why federal authorities warned Catholic officials rather than punish them. Didn’t church officials break the law and don’t they deserve a day in court?

That said, Duin did more than report and explain her story well. She also hinted at problems afflicting the U.S. Catholic Church:

“Some members of the MRS staff were not sufficiently aware of church teaching and [USCCB] policy regarding these matters to take stronger and more appropriate actions,” Bishops DiLorenzo, Wester and Driscoll said in a letter to their peers. …

Officials for the diocese, the Catholic bishops and their agencies declined multiple requests for comment.

In other words, some bishops failed to explain church teaching and kept their actions hidden. Which is the opposite of what Julia Duin did.

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  • Brian Walden

    This whole situation is absolutely disgusting. The very people who were supposed to care for a girl committed multiple acts of violence against her and murdered her child.

    Four employees of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, Richmond, (CCR) have been fired and one supervisor with the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services agency has been suspended, according to federal sources and a secret April 29 letter written by three bishops to 350 bishops nationwide.

    So let me get this straight. Three bishops secretly dealt with the people involved and then secretly sent letters to the nations other bishops only after HHS notified them that they were being investigated. Have they learned nothing from the sex scandals? This should have been handled publicly in January when it happened with the Richmond Bishop taking the lead in making sure the proper agencies were notified and justice served.

    And how does this even happen in the first place? I realize that people sin, but how does someone working at a Catholic Charity coerce a girl into having an abortion without giving off warning signs well beforehand that this is something they’re capable of doing.

    I’m sorry, this isn’t really about the news coverage. Feel free to delete my venting if it’s inappropriate.

  • Jay

    In other words, some bishops failed to explain church teaching and kept their actions hidden.

    Uh, are there any Catholics that don’t know that the Holy Father and various bishops up and down the hierarchy believe that abortion is taking a human life and thus morally repugnant? How would you not know this? Even if you hadn’t stepped in a church for 30 years, it’s in the newspapers. You couldn’t read a diocesan or parish newsletter and not have the pro-life position reiterated time and time again.

    These are people who work for a Catholic charity, not Planned Parenthood. There’s no way that ignorance is a plausible defense. Where’s that part of the story?

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Actually, Mark, the sense I’m left with after reading her piece is that there’s a hell of a lot more to this story than meets the eye. Something like this simply can’t be covered adequately in a mere 784 words. Here are questions I’d like answered:
    Who hired these people? Why aren’t they aware of Church teaching? Or are they aware of Church teaching and they chose to ignore it? Were they aware of Virginia’s law? Who sent her to get the contraceptive? Who’s watching over her foster care setting? If the foster parents know she is sexually promiscuous, why are they allowing her to go out with boys in the first place? How aware was the bishop of what was going on? This clearly shows that Catholic Charities in Richmond has misplaced Catholic values and thinks along Democratic party lines where the “quality of life” of the girl is more important than the life of her newly conceived child. How pervasive is this attitude in Catholic Charities across the country and at the USCCB? (I already know the answer to that question, but it would be good to see it get the coverage it should.)
    It’s going to take someone like Julia to cover this story adequately. Those at the NY Times, the Washington Post, etc., will all lament any change of direction at Catholic Charities’ and the USCCB as becoming “more doctrinaire.”

  • Daniel

    I’d be interested in hearing more about whether contraception is indeed considered a mortal sin.

    I know some bishops, such as Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., say that it is, but in my reporting on Humanae Vitae I found a lot of disagreement on that. HV itself does not say that it is mortal sin; neither does the catechism. You’d think that if contraception was a mortal sin, it would be explicit in one of those two documents.

    Maybe someone has access to Catholic doctrine that I haven’t seen?

  • emily

    What is missing from the story is one key piece of information: Are the Catholic Charities employees who helped this girl obtain the abortion actually Catholic? Nationwide, Catholic Charities does hire a number of professionals who are not Catholic, though I’m sure the number of non-Catholics varies by diocese. (A college friend of mine is not Catholic, never has been, and she’s a Catholic Charities social worker… I know there are more examples.)

    That’s not to excuse the social workers breaking Virginia law, of course. I just wanted to point out that, although there are some serious concerns here, whether the employees are excommunicated ex latae sentiae is perhaps not a concern — because they might not be Catholic to begin with.

    Still, it’s a good story because it covers all the bases and gives a good explanation of Catholic teaching.

  • Peggy

    Emily beat me to the big Q, the one point that Julia missed–not to criticize an otherwise good article. Were the employees involved Catholic? Even if they were not, are employees briefed on Catholic teaching in these or other areas and given some guidance as to limits of appropriate assistance they can provide?

    In any case, what American doesn’t know that the Catholic Church opposes abortion? I’d also suspect that most adults over a certain age know the Church’s view toward contraception.

  • Brian Walden

    Daniel, here’s two birds with one stone. The Catechism quoting HV (quotes footnoted 152 and 153 are from HV)

    2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is “on the side of life,”151 teaches that “it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.”152 “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”153

    Basically it says contraception within marriage is intrinsically evil – there’s never a reason that justifies it’s use. The Church also teaches sexual relations outside of marriage are intrinsically evil. Therefore even though contraception outside of marriage isn’t intrinsically evil, in all but exceptional cases if you’re using contraception you’re already committing the sin of fornication. Also just to note, until the 1930′s just about every Christian Church, denomination, sect, etc. declared contraception to be sinful.

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  • Martha

    Yes, this is good reporting.

    And indeed, there are a lot of questions to be answered and a lot more information needing to be dug out. This is going to be an interesting case, both legally and otherwise.

    Is the HHS Refugee Resettlement Office tryng to cover itself by laying the blame on the bishops? Probably an element of that there. If they had gotten the correct form, they say they would not have approved the abortion. But were there other abortions they did approve? Did those come from CCR? How about other agencies dealing with refugees/fostering?

    The bishops are going to have to buckle down and start ensuring that bodies under the aegis of the Catholic church start adhering to Catholic teaching. Of course, as Thomas says, there will be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about “crack-downs”, “doctrinaire”, “oppression”, “freedom of conscience” and the like, but it’s going to have to be done.

  • Daniel

    Thanks, Bruce, but I don’t see anything there about “mortal sin.”

    Is anything that’s “intrinsically evil,” a mortal sin?

    And by the way, if you read HV, it does not say that contraception within a marriage is “intrinsically evil.”

    It says it’s “intrinsically wrong,” a small, but perhaps significant difference.

    I don’t want to take the conversation too far off course. But I think this is an important discussion about how newspapers report on doctrine.

  • http://sccos.blogspot.com KKairos

    Isn’t there one medical condition under which an abortion is permitted in Canon Law? I can’t remember what it is but it involves the fetus implanting in the wrong place, or something like that. I could be wrong but if I recall correctly it’s been confirmed by my (Catholic!) campus’s Voice for Life group as well as basically the most hardcore Catholics I know. It might not qualify as an abortion in that case, though? That’s the only thing I noticed that seems off, but even if I’m right it’s such a small exception that maybe it shouldn’t be expected reporting.

  • Julia

    KKairos:

    You must mean the surgical removal of an ectopic pregnancy where the fertilized ovum implants in the fallopian tube and continues growing somewhat.

    I believe that is considered similar to removing a hydatiform mole, an inflamed appendix or an abnormal growth.

  • Julia

    Should have said that typically the ectopic condition involves the fallopian tube, but it could also be attached in some other place other than the inside of the uterus.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Kairos, the only acceptable “abortion” is in the matter of a tubal pregnancy or some other situation where the placement of the child does, in fact, endanger the mother’s life. But it’s not the child doing it, but the fact that the child implanted in the wrong place. It is the threat of a burst fallopian tube that could be fatal which leads to the removal of the tube. This is what is known as the principle of double effect. The intention here is to remove the diseased body part, not to kill the child. The fact that the child dies is an unintended consequence of removing the diseased body part.

    The letter the three bishops wrote to their 350 brother bishops states that the girl did not want to give birth to the child. So this is not at all an acceptable situation.

    Daniel, the question you ask needs some nuance to answer. For a sin to be mortal you need three things: an action which is intrinsically wrong or evil; knowledge that the action is intrinsically wrong or evil; and full consent of the will to that intrinsically wrong or evil action. As you can see, there’s wiggle room in there, which is deliberate, and that’s why you don’t see lists of mortal sins but you do see lists of things which are intrinsically evil.

    Contraception, in the Church’s understanding, is intrinsically evil because it separates the marital act from its natural end, which is conception. I hope that helps.

  • Fr John R Blaker

    An act that is an intrinsic moral evil is not necessarily a mortal sin. A mortal sin requires:
    1. A grave matter (intrinsic moral evil would be grave).
    2. Full knowledge of the gravity of the matter.
    3. Free choice (consent of the will) to commit the act.

    If any one of the three is missing, then it is at most a venial sin.

    Catholic Charities has many non-Catholic employees. It is possible that some of these may oppose Church teaching on the subject of abortion.

    Finally, abortion is allowed in situations like ectopic pregnancy on the principle of double effect: the person performing the abortion is doing so to achieve the effect of saving the mother (moral good) even though the act also has the effect of killing the child (a moral evil).

  • http://www.therevealer.org jeff sharlet

    No issue with the story, one way or another (seems competent, but hardly brilliant). Rather, I’m startled by Mark’s paraphrase: “Representatives of a Catholic charity helped a 16-year-old kill her unborn child.” Ok, so I get Mark is opposed to abortion and thinks it’s murder. That’s fine. But he seems to be praising the story for making THAT view clear. Which, to Duin’s credit, it doesn’t. Would anyone call a newspaper article that used such language good journalism?

    In a magazine, it’d be fine — but not in a paper.

  • Brian Walden

    Daniel:

    The Catholic Church differentiates between situations which are objectively sinful (killing someone) and subjective sin (intentionally killing someone, as opposed to an accident). The term mortal sin is subjective – it’s only mortal if it’s a grave (serious) matter and committed with intent (which means the person knows it’s a sin and freely chooses to do it). I think that’s why you won’t find the exact words “mortal sin” in the documents because it would have to refer to a specific act committed by a specific person. Grave sin is commonly used to refer to an act that is objectively a serious sin and would be mortal if committed with intent.

    I admire your skepticism, you’re right to not take my word for it. I think for the purposes of reading Humanae Vitae you can take the words “wrong”, “unlawful”, “sinful”, “evil”, etc. to by synonymous – unfortunately I don’t think I can provide documentation to back that up.

    KKairos:

    To the best of my knowledge I think the teaching is that we can never perform a direct abortion. In cases where the mother’s life is at stake we may remove the baby from the mother’s body even if we know we don’t have the ability to keep it alive for very long. But we may never, for example, kill a baby in the womb in order to make it easier to remove even though the chances of the baby living may seem hopeless. This ties into intent mentioned above. So in example of an ectopic pregnancy our intent is to save the mother by removing the damaged fallopian tube, unfortunately the baby stuck inside the tube cannot live for long after that happens – it’s an unpreventable side effect (at least given our current medical technology) in a very difficult situation.

  • Daniel

    Thank you Thomas, and Father Blaker, I appreciate your thoughtful and nuanced responses.

    I’m wondering if we can take them a step further.

    Recognizing that there is “wiggle room,” as you say, do you have recommendations for journalists who might write about “mortal sin”? Should we avoid saying that the church teaches that this or that is a mortal sin?

    Finally, do you agree with the author’s assertion that the Catholic “church teaches that knowingly using contraception is a mortal sin”?

    Again, thanks for your help.

  • Brian Walden

    I’m startled by Mark’s paraphrase: “Representatives of a Catholic charity helped a 16-year-old kill her unborn child.”

    Was the thing that was aborted alive before the procedure and dead after it? If it was, I think “kill” is an acceptable and precise use to word. If Mark had used “murder” he may have been pushing it, but in some states killing an unborn child without the mother’s consent is homicide (which would be the case if the forms were fraudulently signed). I don’t know what the laws are in Virginia are.

    Was the thing that was aborted a young organism of the homosapiens species? We usually refer to those as children or babies.

    Would anyone call a newspaper article that used such language good journalism?

    The article didn’t use such language. Such language was used on a blog where I think the rules are little more flexible.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Jeff Sharlet writes,

    I’m startled by Mark’s paraphrase: “Representatives of a Catholic charity helped a 16-year-old kill her unborn child.” Ok, so I get Mark is opposed to abortion and thinks it’s murder. That’s fine. Which, to Duin’s credit, it doesn’t. Would anyone call a newspaper article that used such language good journalism?

    In a magazine, it’d be fine — but not in a paper.

    I understand Jeff’s point: Aren’t I using words in a political rather than journalistic context? His position is the establishment view. But I think it’s misguided.

    Orwell in “Politics and the English Language” said that all political writing has three qualities — “euphemism, question begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.” I submit that my language suffers from none of those faults, while the use of the term “abortion” would have:

    – “abortion” is a euphemism for killing.

    – “abortion” begs the question of what is being aborted. Airplane flights are aborted, after all. So why not refer to the unborn infant or child who is aborted or killed?

    – “abortion” is a vague term that creates no mental picture in a person’s mind.

    I don’t expect reporters to embrace my position … at least not for the next few decades.

  • Brian Walden

    Daniel, if you want to be exactly precise use the term grave sin instead of mortal sin. But in everyday language most people use the two terms interchangeably. I think as long as you’re not writing a theological article, it’s acceptable to say “X is a mortal sin” and people will know what you mean – maybe even more so than if you use the term grave sin which isn’t used as much in common speech.

  • Daniel

    Brian,

    If the church doesn’t say “x is a mortal sin,” why should I report that it does?

  • ArchdukeFranz

    As to whether artificial contraception is a grave sin – look at Casti Connubii – the encyclical of Pius XI

    “56. Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin. ”

    From the Catechism of the catholic Church

    “2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:

    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.”

    “2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).”

    Intrinsic evil — can never be justified under any circumstances. That certainly sounds like a mortal sin to me.

  • Brian Walden

    If the church doesn’t say “x is a mortal sin,” why should I report that it does?

    For the same reason that newspapers often say that “the Vatican teaches X” rather than “the Magisterium teaches X” – Magisterium is more correct but more people understand what you mean when you say Vatican. If you’re teaching a catechism class you should explain the difference between the terms grave and mortal sin. If you’re covering a story which requires a quick explanation of Catholic teaching and you use the term grave sin you’ll probably have to use another sentence to explain what it means – many reporters don’t have the words to use for that.

  • FW Ken

    Well, you could say “serious sin”, which is the way I learned it, avoiding the technical connotations of “mortal” and the somewhat obscure “grave”.

    But to the article, Ms. Duin took some criticism here on another piece, so praise should be given where it’s due.

    But what’s with all this bishop bashing?

    … and kept their actions hidden

    In what ways? The diocesan bishop and two others wrote a detailed letter and sent it out to all the bishops. Apparently it’s been made public. The legal aspects are on the up and open, per the Feds. So the bishops didn’t make any extra comments? Might one have said:

    kept their actions private…

    Except they didn’t really even do that, did they? Do they owe reporters comments, as though they were public employees (or public property?). What precisely will it take to get past the preset presumption of secrecy. That’s a well-earned presumption, but is it applicable here?

    As it happens, I worked for our local Catholic Charities franchise for some months about 10 years ago. It was an ok social work agency (although they had hired a worker I’d fired from a public agency for falsifying contacts), but hardly Catholic. I was the only practicing Catholic in my area (refugee resettlement). Some of the Asian caseworkers were Buddhists, we had a Muslim, and most who weren’t really religious. Our boss said that were she to join a church, it would be Unitarian. Basically, the agency was Catholic enough to get time fund-raising in various parishes. So, I’m not surprised at this particular situation – appalled, yes; surprised, no.

    But really, couldn’t the article have made a bit more of all the blame shifting? The Feds blamed the agency for filling out the wrong form (gee, we wouldn’t have let them murder a baby if they done the right paperwork); the agency managers blame the bishop (hey, he’s on the board!), but I’ll bet if the bishop actually tried to exercise oversight, the noise would be noticeable. In fact, the bishops seem the ones who actually are doing something about the fact that their personnel broke the law and spit in the face of Catholic belief.

    And, again, my experience with Catholic Charities suggests that this is no surprise.

  • Daniel

    Brian, I missed your previous post explaining the difference between “mortal” and “grave” sin, which I appreciate.

    However, if, as you say, “mortal sin” refers to a specific act committed by a specific person, and a journalist is writing broadly about birth control in general, it seems inaccurate to refer to it as a “mortal sin.”

    I also appreciate your acknowledgment of the limitations of journalism, especially when compared to a theology seminar.

    However, shouldn’t journalists be cautious about using terms like “mortal sin”? When we’re talking about something so heavy, is it too much to ask for a bit of circumspection and heightened sensitivity to moral language?

  • http://vjmorton.wordpress.com Victor Morton

    do you have recommendations for journalists who might write about “mortal sin”

    As long as you stick in the word “knowingly” or “deliberately” (those words more-or-less cover both the “consent-to-the-act” requirement and the “knowledge-of-wrong” requirement) before a description of an act, I think you’ve done what you need for an article in a general-interest newspaper or magazine.

  • Dave

    Mark,

    “Abortion” is not a euphemism. It is a morally freighted term for a specific action. Its virtue is that everyone agrees what it means in terms of what goes on inside an abortion clinic. (There is disagreement over whether some new technologies constitute abortion or contraception, but that is not germane to the present post.)

    When you use a different term you are, whether it is your intent or not, perceived to be ranting, if only for the duration of one sentence. If that’s how you wish to be seen, be my guest.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Dave writes,

    “Abortion” is not a euphemism. It is a morally freighted term for a specific action.

    I disagree. Here is how the Free Dictionary defines “euphemism.”

    The act or an example of substituting a mild, indirect, or vague term for one considered harsh, blunt, or offensive.

    That sounds about right. Abortion is a euphemism for the intentional killing of an unborn infant.

    Whether I am seen to be ranting or not, the truth is still the truth.

  • http://vjmorton.wordpress.com Victor Morton

    However, if, as you say, “mortal sin” refers to a specific act committed by a specific person, and a journalist is writing broadly about birth control in general, it seems inaccurate to refer to it as a “mortal sin.”

    Given your stated appreciation for the difference between a theology seminar and a daily paper, this is weak. Yes, technically speaking, contraception is merely “grave matter” and only person X’s particular act of contraception can be a mortal sin.

    But, as has already been explained, the three elements of a mortal sin are grave matter, consent and knowledge.

    In almost all cases of contraception, including the one in this story, consent is uncontroversially present (the only realistically common and non-casuistic exception I can think of is the husband not knowing his wife is secretly on the pill or an IUD. And as has also already been pointed it, “the Catholic Church opposes contraception” is common social knowledge. Whatever different things people make of it, it’s a fact that the-loose-usage-”everybody” knows.

    IMHO, the other two elements of mortal sin are insignificant enough in practice (plus the term “grave matter” sufficiently obscure), that “contraception is a mortal sin” is true enough for a space-limited secular news outlet.

  • Brian Walden

    “Abortion” is not a euphemism.

    What? Abortion is a classic example of a euphemism. Look up euphemism on Wikipedia and abortion is one of the examples used.

    When you complain about calling killing an unborn child “killing an unborn child” instead of “abortion” you are, whether it is your intent or not, perceived to be ranting.

  • George

    Can I ask a question?

    This story was originally broken by The Wanderer, a very conservative Catholic paper. What in this article was Duin’s original reporting and what was simply repeating (and perhaps fact-checking) what the Wanderer originally reported?

    Why does the Wanderer get no props?

    Which brings up the bigger issue – perhaps not one for this blog, which focuses on MSM, not religion reporting – what stories in religious papers/blogsites are ignored by the MSM and why?

    For example, a few weeks ago, Richard Sipe published some stunning accusations against Cardinal McCarrick on his website, saying he could name names and provide sources. Not one DC paper or ..any other paper has picked up on this. Richard Sipe, who is liberally quoted in story after story on the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis in MSM papers, gets completely ignored on this score. I’ve been wondering why.

  • FW Ken

    A Catholic Source has that story. I would also note that my own diocese’s first sex scandal was broken by the diocesan paper.

  • Harris

    Many of the questions raised above are on the first page of the article, including a citation to The Wanderer, and why this is a federal case.

    Reading between the lines, there does seem to more happening here. The young woman in question is an unaccompanied minor who already has a child. She’s a ward of the government and she’s sexually active (who’s the father? from school?) — these aspects taken together form the backdrop to another story, at least as important: why does abortion (pace Mark’s appeal to Orwell) look like the best alternative for the woman? I would submit the question is not that of the employment status of the social workers, but their moral choice.

    It doesn’t sound as if this were done lightly at all.

  • Daniel

    Yes, technically speaking, contraception is merely “grave matter” and only person X’s particular act of contraception can be a mortal sin….IMHO, the other two elements of mortal sin are insignificant enough in practice (plus the term “grave matter” sufficiently obscure), that “contraception is a mortal sin” is true enough for a space-limited secular news outlet

    I totally disagree, Victor. “True enough,” is not a standard I’m willing to follow. And I can’t believe that readers of this blog, who usually parse language with the intensity of Talmudic scholars, would willingly ask journalists to fudge moral language.

  • Brian Walden

    However, shouldn’t journalists be cautious about using terms like “mortal sin”? When we’re talking about something so heavy, is it too much to ask for a bit of circumspection and heightened sensitivity to moral language?

    Daniel, I appreciate your attention to detail and getting the terms right, many journalists don’t even think of questioning the terms people use to make sure they’re correct.

    I think it’s an issue of using Catholic theological jargon vs. colloquial language. For example, do you write an article about a Canis familiaris or a dog? The precise biological term is to use the genus and species, but everyone calls it a dog. Mortal sin is what everyone calls grave sin in everyday language – you’ll even hear it used in homilies (if you can find a homily that calls anything a sin these days). I think, as you’ve asked and others have confirmed, the best solution would be to use a phrase like, “to knowingly/deliberately/intentionally/etc. commit X is a mortal sin.” Another solution would be to leave mortal out altogether and just say X is a sin or X is sinful. But I’m not a journalist.

  • Brian Walden

    Daniel, I just though of something. Another way to say it could be, “The Catholic Church teaches X is morally wrong.” As far as I can tell that’s precise without using words with theological meanings that aren’t commonly used today.

  • Julia

    Speaking of the word “abortion”.

    Back when I was working in a hospital lab in the 60s, “abortion” was normally used for what is colloquially known as a “miscarriage”. It was a “spontaneous abortion”, not an expulsion of the fetus from the uterus caused by some direct action of human(s).

    What you folks are talking about is a “procured abortion” where the expulsion of the fetus from the uterus is the intended consequences of human action(s).

    The surgical removal of an ectopic pregnancy is technically not an “abortion” because nothing is expelled or removed from the uterus. Instead, something growing in the wrong place is removed surgically. The interior of the uterus is not involved at all.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    George writes,

    Can I ask a question?

    This story was originally broken by The Wanderer, a very conservative Catholic paper. What in this article was Duin’s original reporting and what was simply repeating (and perhaps fact-checking) what the Wanderer originally reported?

    Why does the Wanderer get no props?

    Which brings up the bigger issue – perhaps not one for this blog, which focuses on MSM, not religion reporting – what stories in religious papers/blogsites are ignored by the MSM and why?

    He makes a good point. The Wanderer deserves praise for breaking this story.

    Here was my problem: I looked in vain for this story on The Wanderer’s website. If any reader can find the story, I would be happy to post an update.

  • emily

    The young woman in question is an unaccompanied minor who already has a child. She’s a ward of the government and she’s sexually active (who’s the father? from school?) — these aspects taken together form the backdrop to another story, at least as important: why does abortion (pace Mark’s appeal to Orwell) look like the best alternative for the woman? I would submit the question is not that of the employment status of the social workers, but their moral choice.

    It doesn’t sound as if this were done lightly at all.

    Indeed, there are some bigger legal questions lurking in this case, aside from the religious questions… And I hope Ms. Duin and others cover them. This first story was pretty detailed, so I hope that she will write follow-up stories that are similarly good and complete.

  • Confused

    Martha — “Is the HHS Refugee Resettlement Office tryng to cover itself by laying the blame on the bishops? Probably an element of that there.”

    How?

    http://www.inrich.com/cva/ric/entertainment.apx.-content-articles-RTD-2008-06-19-0174.html

    http://www.washtimes.com/news/2008/jun/18/virginia-law-eyed-in-girls-abortion/

  • http://vjmorton.wordpress.com Victor Morton

    Daniel:

    Then you completely misunderstand daily journalism and have gone back on your noting that newspapers are not theological seminars above.

    Newspapers are not and cannot be perfectly satisfactory to experts on a topic. They are written for a general reader and have unyielding space limitations. The task of a daily journalist is not to explain perfectly every jot and tittle but to make sure that what you can use is true **at the level of generality the daily-newspapering format permits** and not in any way misleading or opaque. (The reader above mentioned dog-vs.-canis familiaris — a perfect analogy.)

    So in this sense, “true enough for a daily paper” =/= “fudge moral language.” In this case anyway, the points that are being fudged (consent and knowledge) aren’t exactly “moral” points as most people understand the word “moral.”

  • Brian Walden

    I just realized that the Catholic Charities workers took the teenager to have a contraceptive device installed two months before her abortion. I hadn’t read closely enough the first time and assumed that contraceptive device happened after the abortion to prevent future pregnancies.

    Why wasn’t this stopped and the people involved fired when the contraceptive device was installed? At least then a child never would have been killed. Something stinks at Catholic Charities – there’s no way this could have been a one time slip up where the teenager pulled at the someone’s heart strings and in a moment of extremely bad judgement they took her to an abortion mill. This was a planned thing that had been going on for months. Contraception was the main plan and abortion was the backup. How many other girls did Catholic Charities put on this sick plan? Was the corruption limited only to the Richmond office? Did the head of Catholic Charities know about it? Did the Bishop know about it? Did the USCCB know about it?

    I hope reporters can get to the bottom of it, I have a feeling the only other way to get the information out will be if this goes to court.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Daniel,

    Speaking as a journalist, if you want to be precise, I would not use the term “mortal sin,” since it is something which is entirely subjective and can only be judged by God and by the person committing the act. Hence, I would speak of serious sin or serious wrongdoing or grave matter or intrinsic evil or some other such language that shows that the action itself is objectively serious without necessarily implicating the state of anyone’s soul. Thanks for being diligent on this and pushing for something better.

    George,

    The Wanderer does not enjoy a very good reputation in Catholic journalistic circles. In fact, I called the editor yesterday to get hold of the letter that the three bishops wrote to their brethren. He complained to me, “We write about this kind of stuff all the time and nobody pays attention. Then when the secular media gets the story, suddenly everyone’s paying attention.” Well maybe it has something to do with that ‘writing about it all the time.’

    However, this is one story that they got right and it deserves to have wider coverage, especially in the Catholic media. My guess, however, is that it’s going to be largely ignored there, and maybe even in the secular press. After all, what’s an abortion to them?

    As to the corruption in Catholic Charities, that is well-known, though not discussed. It came out a bit, though, a few years ago when Catholic Charities sued the State of California for passing the law requiring that all employers must provide insurance coverage for contraception. I think it was the Contra Costa Times that carried a piece on this and there was a revealing quote there. The director of Catholic Charities in San Jose wondered what the big deal was. She had been providing that coverage for years, she said. She “had to” in order to attract employees. That says all you need to know.

  • Brian Walden

    Thomas, I know I get second collection envelopes for Catholic Charities from time to time (not to mention lots of letters in the mail). If Catholic Charities has been deceiving us as to their true identity for a long time, why don’t the bishops protect the faithful from them? I give a significant portion of my income in church envelopes under the (apparently mistaken) belief that I can trust it’s going good use.

  • FW Ken

    Thirty years ago, Catholic Charities determined they would re-focus their efforts from relief of the poor to impacting social structures that create poverty. Government money became a major funding stream and it was off to the races.

    In other news: Catholic hospitals in Texas all provide contraceptive and sterilization services, and, apparently, some do abortions.

  • Daniel

    Victor:

    I work in daily journalism; in fact, I’m a religion reporter. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t “completely misunderstand it,” as you say, but I hope that’s not true.

    I agree with your assertion that “newspapers are not and cannot be perfectly satisfactory to experts on a topic.” But we can, and must, be accurate, especially with as serious a topic as mortal sin. I don’t understand why you would dispute this.

  • Daniel

    The reader above mentioned dog-vs.-canis familiaris — a perfect analogy.

    By the way, Victor, this analogy is false, if what’s been explained to me about mortal sin is true.

    The words “dog,” and “canis familiaris” describe the same thing.

    The words “grave” and “mortal” sin do not.

  • Brian Walden

    Daniel, it’s a very nuanced situation caused by the way we use language.

    When you say “X is a mortal sin.” People who know the difference between grave and mortal hear “X is a mortal sin (if committed with knowledge and consent).” Everyone else just recognizes the term and gets what you mean.

    When you say “X is a grave sin.” Many non-Catholics (not to mention many Catholics) may be unsure of what you mean. In fact if you really want to get picky, most denominations have no concept of mortal sin and venial sin – just sin without distinction (yet they will know what you mean when you say mortal sin).

    So yes, grave and mortal have different definitions in a dictionary, but when someone uses them in the context of a sentence we use the other clues (like the fact that we’re describing an objective situation) to fill in the rest of the meaning. It’s the kind of thing we do all the time without even thinking about it.

    I believe Mark Stricherz is Catholic, he might be able to give you good advice from both a Catholic and journalistic perspective.

  • http://vjmorton.wordpress.com Victor Morton

    Daniel:

    Actually the distinction is over the word “sin,” not over “grave”-vs.-”mortal.” Knowledge and consent are elements of action in general and thus whether something IS a sin; it’s not related to the “weight.”

    And no, “dog” doesn’t necessarily mean “canis familiaris,” so there is not an identical referent. “Dog” also is used to refer to other canines and specifically the males of the species (of the first four definitions here, only one is canis familiaris). “Dog” is simply the common-usage term for “canis familiaris.” “Mortal sin” is analogously the common-usage term for “grave matter.”

    Why I dispute this is that saying “Contraception is always grave matter,” while more precise, is also more confusing to non-theologians and non-studied Catholics than “Contraception is always a mortal sin” (though keep in mind the clause in this case was “… knowingly using contraception is a mortal sin,” which is far less problematic, as I explained above in Comment #27 and was not alone in so doing).

    Specific detailed accuracy **that also confuses the non-technical reader** is not valuable in a daily paper. I take your word that you’re a daily-paper religion reporter, but this is exactly why I cannot understand your quibbling over a matter that would take more than it is worth of one’s precious 15 or 20 or whatever inches. “Space constraints” is something every journalists understands instinctively. I repeat: “The task of a daily journalist is not to explain perfectly every jot and tittle but to make sure that what you can use is true **at the level of generality the daily-newspapering format permits** and not in any way misleading or opaque.”

    And I still maintain that this distinction is irrelevant to **this** story. (Can anyone today reasonably claim not to know what the Church teaches about contraception?; do many people, possible including any of these parties, use contraception involuntarily?)

  • Daniel

    We’ll have to agree to disagree, Victor.

    It’s relevant to the story because the reporter was stepping back from the specific case in question to describe Catholic teaching more broadly.

    And yes, many people can reasonably claim to not know what the church teaches about contraception. That’s why the USCCB troubled themselves to publish a detailed teaching on natural family planning two years ago.

    When the document was released, Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City said: “In issuing “Married Love and the Gift of Life,” the bishops acknowledged that part of the reason so many of our people do not understand and accept this moral doctrine has been our own failure to be effective teachers.”

    And by the way, the words “mortal” and “grave” appear no where in it.

  • Brian Walden

    Victor, many people honestly don’t know what the Catholic Church teaches about contraception. My godson’s mother, a cradle Catholic, just about fell out of her seat when I told her that contraception is a sin – she had never even heard anyone make such a silly proposal before and couldn’t imagine why. If you were born in 1980 or later the public debate over contraception was already over and the pill was as common (if not more) as multivitamins. It was so entrenched in everyday life that it wasn’t even talked about. We didn’t learn about it in our watered-down, feeling-drenched CCD classes. I’ve still never in my life heard contraception addressed in a homily. There are honestly lots of people who have never heard that it’s sinful, and I doubt that even most Catholics could explain why it is.

  • Brian Walden

    Daniel, if you’d like, this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia has an in-depth explanation of sin: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14004b.htm

  • http://vjmorton.wordpress.com Victor Morton

    And how many MORE people know that “contraception is always grave matter.”

    I can’t believe that on the one hand that people are citing widespread ignorance of Church teaching on contraception in fact (not in detail or in belief), while at the same time wanting reporters to say “grave matter” rather than “mortal sin.”

    How well-catechized DO y’all think the public is?

  • Dave

    Mark (#29), does the word “abortion” confuse you, leave you emotionally unmoved, or bring something unconnected to your mind? If not, it fails your definition of “euphemism.”

    Brian (#31), Wikipedia is a consensus, not an authority.

    Julia (#38), I agree with your summary of the evolution of this term. “Procured” has been shaved off and “spontaneous” has been retired except possibly when doctors write for one another.

  • Brian Walden

    Dave, there is no authority on the definition of what is a euphemism and what isn’t. Who would you have me appeal to? Better yet, find me one linguist (or some other expert) who says it’s not and I’ll believe you.

    You can argue that it’s a good an necessary euphemism and you may even be right, but that still doesn’t make it not a euphemism.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Dave writes,

    Mark (#29), does the word “abortion” confuse you, leave you emotionally unmoved, or bring something unconnected to your mind? If not, it fails your definition of “euphemism.”

    Yes, the word “abortion” begs the question: What or who is aborted?

  • Dave

    Mark (#57), begging the question as you describe it does not make the word a euphemism, nor does the fact that it does not carry the visceral freight that you want it to carry. I may prefer the phrase “state-sponsored homicide” to “execution” but that does not make “execution” a euphemism. Both describe what they refer to directly, clearly and starkly — perhaps not as starkly as you would like.

    Brian (#56), I’m not interested in appealing to authority. You, Mark and I are all adult users of the English language and capable of discussing this without recourse to authority.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Dave writes,

    Mark (#57), begging the question as you describe it does not make the word a euphemism, nor does the fact that it does not carry the visceral freight that you want it to carry. I may prefer the phrase “state-sponsored homicide” to “execution” but that does not make “execution” a euphemism. Both describe what they refer to directly, clearly and starkly — perhaps not as starkly as you would like.

    I disagree. Both “abortion” and “execution” are euphemisms. Recall the definition of euphemism: a mild, indirect, or vague word. “Abortion” and “execution” are passive terms (nouns) that refer indirectly to the object (i.e. unborn infant or adult.)

  • Brian Walden

    Dave you said:
    “Brian (#31), Wikipedia is a consensus, not an authority.”

    Then you said:
    “Brian (#56), I’m not interested in appealing to authority.”

    Huh?

    I politely think that you may not understand what a euphemism is – abortion and execution are both euphemisms when used to describe killing a person.

    Maybe if you called an abortion an execution that wouldn’t be a euphemism. It would be figurative language used to compare the killing of a baby with the killing of a criminal.

  • Dave

    Mark and Brian, I think we’ve begun to repeat ourselves. That’s the time to draw a line under it.

  • Brian Walden

    Dude, what, you can’t admit when you’re wrong over a stupid, inconsequential issue such as what is a euphemism and what isn’t. In the name of public school English teachers everywhere I say no we can’t agree to disagree. That’s just stupid. According to the normal definition of euphemism, abortion is a euphemism. It’s just a fact. We don’t have to place any value judgments on that fact. If you’d like, I have no problem with you making the claim that it exemplifies the best qualities of euphemisms without any of the bad – even that it’s the greatest euphemism of all time. But I can’t let you redefine what words like euphemism mean just because you don’t like what they mean.

  • Dave

    Brian:

    Thanks for making my point.


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