From our ‘requesting comments’ department

As GetReligion readers keep reminding us in the comments pages, it is getting harder and harder to know how to do news critiques of essays, commentaries, editorials and the occasional news reports that appear in the once towering weekly news magazines — by which I mean Time and nonNewsweek.

Consider the new “commentary” in by Time correspondent Jeff Israely in Rome, which appears under the headline, “Sex Abuse: The Vatican’s Struggle for Damage Control.” The goal of the piece, I assume, is to offer a sympathetic mini-profile of Father Federico Lombardi, the Italian Jesuit who has a hard job. The lede is more blunt than that.

For centuries, the papacy has operated with the conviction that it answers to no earthly power. Many in Rome still believe that to be the case, but nowadays the church’s faithful also believe in the sanctity of a free and vigorous press, with its unrelenting questions and nose for controversy. This all makes running modern media relations for the Vatican, in polite terms, a job from hell.

This raises an obvious question: What is a Jesuit doing acting as press secretary for Pope Benedict XVI? I realize that there are traditional Jesuits left today and this man may be one of them, but it still would be interesting to read a sentence or two about how he reached this post, in this papacy.

The mini-profile part of this commentary is fine, as far as it goes. However, I think that most Catholic readers — at least those pro-Catechism Catholics who do things like go to confession — will not make it that far into this particular piece. No, they will probably smash their keyboards into pointy shards of brittle plastic and aluminum after reading this intro paragraph:

The current pedophile-priest scandal — what the Catholic writer and papal critic Andrew Sullivan pointedly refers to as “child rape” by clergy — has transfixed Catholics around the world, particularly with the allegations out of Germany that Benedict XVI, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich, may have allowed a transferred priest accused of sexual abuse to work again with children. The scandal has had a telling effect on the tradition-bound Holy See. High-ranking clerics have complained of media bias and a conspiracy against the Pope.

And so forth and so on, world without end. Amen.

Now, this raises a question. Of all the essential adjectives that one could use to describe Andrew Sullivan — even if that talented force of nature was describing himself — would you pick “Catholic writer”? I realize that the words “papal critic” are pinned on, but that combo seems rather mild as well.

In addition to making that point, I would like to note that there are all kinds of people who would use even stronger language than “child rape” to describe the activities at the heart of this multi-decade scandal. Sullivan is by no means alone among “Catholic” writers in using that kind of brutal, but justified, public language. Many of these angry “Catholic” writers even embrace and defend the doctrines of the Catholic faith and see the scandal as a betrayal of those doctrines.

If you have a very strong stomach, click here and get yourself a copy of the scathing “Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church” by conservative scholar Leon J. Podles, a book so detailed that it contains passages that made me — literally — want to throw up. Click here for clips from a National Press Club event in which the author tees off on Catholic leaders — on the right and the left — who are in denial about the details and the scope of the crisis.

So here is my journalistic question for the reporters and editors who read this blog: In this context, how would you describe Sullivan? What do readers need to know to understand his point of view, when doing his work as a “papal critic”? Is the word “Catholic” — alone — enough in this case?

Be kind. Be journalistic. How would you identify Sullivan in this context?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.commonwealmagazine.org Grant Gallicho

    Terry, you write, “I realize that there are traditional Jesuits left today.” Do you also realize what you’re implying in that sentence? Do you think there was a purge of less traditional Jesuits? If so, what is your evidence and how did it work? And “traditional” in what sense? I don’t think your question about Lombardi is obvious at all, unless you presuppose that Jesuits are by definition too liberal to work in a high-profile Vatican job.

    What is a pro-Catechism Catholic? Isn’t the point of calling Sullivan a Catholic writer and papal critic simply to let the reader know that this particular critic of the pope is himself Catholic? Or would you prefer seeing scare quotes around the word Catholic?

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    Let me make a related point that is linked to the first part of your post.

    There seems to be a lot of “experts” in the AMerican Press lately about the Vatican. One would get the indication that there is just the American press and that is it. There are a few sites where one can watch the coverage of the Italian and Rome Press. Needless to say aggressive coverage of the Vatican is not new.

    American publications are giving the very false impression at times that the Vatican does not have to deal with a very aggressive European Press. I mean just look at the wild headlines we seein the English papers.

    Now why I think this is important is that it shows that despite the constant atttacks the Vatican find the NYT piece to be so worthy of comment that it has taken the action it did .

    In fact just look at the uproar dealing with the Sec of State of the Vatican , the Italian Govt, and dealing with the removal of newspaper editors. Needless to say the Church was in the thick of it in recent political elections. I would have to think that people with any knowledge of the volitle nature of Italian poltics would perhaps be keyed in on this.

  • Kyle

    Be kind. Be journalistic. How would you identify Sullivan in this context?

    a) I wouldn’t. It’s a textbook example of how selection bias (inherent in the journalistic process) plays out. There is no reason for his inclusion here whatsoever that is more compelling than the inclusion of thousands of other Catholic writers, as you point out. His presence, as best I can tell, exists here to further the piece’s false narrative that it’s Catholics-who-believe-Catholicism who are soft on child abuse vs. those “thinking” Catholics and others who are trying to make the Church accountable.

    b) If I had to describe him in such a piece against my will, I would do so this way: “Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic writer known for his outspoken opposition to church teaching on a variety of moral issues, ….”

  • Padraic

    That is a problem. I am trying to be fair and charitable here, but how do you describe a man who rejects many of the teachings of his religion?

    Disgruntled? Reform-minded? “Progressive”?

    I am not sure of the adjective, but there has to be an adjective in front of Catholic in this context. Otherwise, an uninformed individual may believe that Sullivan’s views are those of the Church. Self-identifying as Catholic is one thing, accepting its teachings is another. I don’t think he could even present himself for communion.

  • ICW

    I don’t understand why no one challenges hacks like Sullivan, who refer to “child rape” when in fact, in the U.S. scandals, the overwhelming majority of victims were sexually mature males. The John Jay study showed in fact that 81% of incidents were between clergy and sexually mature males. The Wiki entry I saw reports that the actual rate of pedophilia using the actual definition of the crime was 5-6%.

    I suspect that when a comprehensive number crunching exercise is done in Europe, a similar pattern of hebephilia will emerge.

    As a homosexual activist, Sullivan is deliberately distorting the problem of recent scandals: homosexual attraction of older males for younger males. A natural parallel among heterosexuals is the venerable “barely legal” motif of porn.

    This really goes to Sullivan’s credentials as a “Catholic.” It’s not really apparent that he is one since his disordered desires lead him to ignore empirical data in favor of slamming the Church. Lust darkens the mind. Unnatural lust darkens the mind and puts chains around the ability to do basic reasoning. Homosexuals in general come to eventually identify themselves with their behavior rather than their faith. I stopped reading Sullivan years ago, but I seem to recall that he had at one time formally renounced his Catholicity on the grounds that it was just too painful to be affiliated with a homophobic organization like the Church.

    Of course, in the aftermath of the Jay report, Pope Benedict got behind a directive ordering seminaries to question candidates regarding their homosexual inclinations and experiences.

    This was denounced by Sullivan, but it was a natural response given the preponderance of homosexual behavior forming the nucleus of the abuse cases. In other words, when the rubber met the road and the Church finally intervened to defend youths, Sullivan, whose loyalty is to his sexual behavior and identity, could only vent at the reasonable measures taken, pillorying the Church in the process.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    GRANT:

    Yes, I know what I am implying. I am implying the standard image of Jesuits used in mainstream press all the time. So the presupposition is not mine, but simply based on media coverage (and working in DC near Georgetown).

    A pro-Catechism Catholic is a Catholic who enthusiastically embraces the catechism and its contents. That’s pretty clear.

  • Dave

    ICM @5, this is the second time I’ve seen the Jay report cited on this board (and this topic), both without a link to it. Could you please provide one?

  • http://www.commonwealmagazine.org Grant Gallicho

    Terry: I work in New York near Fordham (where I did my B.A.). I find laughable the notion that one should be naturally perplexed by the pope’s appointment of Lombardi. Are there a lot of liberal Jesuits? Yes, but it depends on the issue–and the generation. In this case I think what you’re relying on for your point is not so much a “standard image” as it is a stereotype.

    How would a Catholic enthusiastically embrace the Catechism? Do you think Andrew Sullivan is better described as a “Catholic” writer rather than a Catholic writer? In other words, he calls himself Catholic. Do you think he’s mistaken?

  • Julia

    Sean Hannity is supposedly Catholic and every once in a while opines on Catholic matters, but I wouldn’t call him a Catholic commentator. I’d call him a cable commentator who is Catholic. Same for Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly, Steve Doocy, Neil Cavuto, Laura Ingram and Pat Buchanon.

    On the other hand, Amy Welborn is a blogger and writer who has been opining and writing on almost exclusively Catholic matters for many years. I’d call her a Catholic writer and blogger.

    Fr. Thomas Reese would be a Catholic writer and commentator, not just because he’s a Jesuit. I had a Jesuit cousin whose field was physics. Others have fields as varied as astronomy and Egyptology.

    William F. Buckley wrote a book about being Catholic, but he would be better known as a writer who is Catholic.

    Andrew Sullivan could be described as a columnist who, as a self-identified Catholic, frequently addresses Catholic matters. However, I recall him publicly announcing a year or so ago that he was so angry that he was no longer a Catholic. He must have changed his mind, but I don’t think he began practicing again. His status is so nebulous – that’s why the “self-identified” qualifier.

  • Kyle

    How would a Catholic enthusiastically embrace the Catechism?

    By believing and attempting to live all of its contents.

  • Peter

    Until we get notice from Andrew or his Bishop that he is no longer Catholic, he is Catholic. I know it’s a favorite parlor game in certain circles to play excommunicator of the bad Catholics, it doesn’t work that way. If we used Terry’s definition, the US Catholic church would be 75 percent smaller.

    I concede that Andrew may not have been the ideal reference point here, but he is a major public intellectual and writes one of the most visited political blogs in America.

  • Kyle

    Until we get notice from Andrew or his Bishop that he is no longer Catholic, he is Catholic. I know it’s a favorite parlor game in certain circles to play excommunicator of the bad Catholics, it doesn’t work that way. If we used Terry’s definition, the US Catholic church would be 75 percent smaller.

    You have it exactly wrong here. Ironically, T-Matt’s distinctions, if you go back to the blog post where he discussed them, are precisely to recognize the fact that a great many Catholics (likely a majority) are not orthodox Catholics as defined by the teaching of the Church.

    Can it possibly be your contention that it should not be noted in any way whatsoever in a mainstream journalism piece discussing Catholic doctrine that the person you are quoting is a notorious, vociferous opponent of authoritative Catholic teachings? So quote Andrew Sullivan and, say, Anthony Esolen in the same piece, and they’re both described as Catholic writers, with no distinction at all in what the term “Catholic” means in reference to them?

    Of course, when the Catholic writers quoted predominantly share the ecclesiology of Andrew Sullivan, I can see why those who share the ecclesiology of Andrew Sullivan don’t mind seeing him treated as somehow just a normal, run-of-the-mill Catholic.

  • http://www.commonwealmagazine.org Grant Gallicho

    Kyle: What do you mean by “orthodox”? Do you distinguish between dogma and doctrine? You know, the Catholic Church does.

  • Kyle

    Grant: I know what the U.S. bishops have taught about worthy reception of Communion and the role of dissenting from authoritative moral teachings in determining that. I know what Lumen Gentium 25 says about authoritative moral teachings of the Church even when not expressed infallibly, and the assent the faithful owe to those teachings. It seems you don’t like any shorthand phrases, so please, enlighten us with your own. How would you distinguish, for a general reader, Andrew Sullivan’s Catholicism from Anthony Esolen’s, or for that matter your own? Or should readers not be informed at all that one of those Catholics has spent many years and probably hundreds of thousands of words read by hundreds of thousands of people at various times saying “Catholicism is wrong on X, Y, and Z”?

  • http://www.commonwealmagazine.org Grant Gallicho

    Church teaching has been wrong, Kyle. That’s why it’s changed. How I would distinguish between Esolen and Sullivan would depend on the issue. It’s not necessarily the place of a secular journalist to judge the quality of a source’s religious commitment. In this case, I think calling Sullivan a Catholic writer and papal critic is perfectly acceptable.

  • Dave S

    What Kyle said.

  • Kyle

    Grant: If you don’t accept the indefectibility of the Church on its authoritative teaching, and object to Vatican II’s call to give assent to those teachings, I can see why you object to any qualifying of what kind of Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan is, and I think you have made your agenda absolutely crystal clear to any who have eyes to see. And by the way, it’s a typical example of intellectual dishonesty to claim this is about a journalist judging a source’s “religious commitment.” No, it’s about describing the source’s actual repeatedly and harshly and voluminously stated position.

  • michael

    Writing one of the ‘most visited political blogs’ in America does not make one a ‘major public intellectual’.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    FOLKS:

    How about saying that Sullivan is a Catholic who has publicly rejected his church’s doctrines on marriage, family and sex? He has said that he receives Communion, but does not believe that homosexual acts are sinful, etc.

    I am trying to refrain from calling him a liberal Catholic. I am not sure that this would be fair to liberal Catholics, especially those who have not been has candid as Sullivan about the degree to which they reject centuries of Christian doctrine.

  • michael

    You ask, “how would you identify Sullivan in this context?”

    How bout this for a compromise: Andrew Sullivan

  • http://bendingthetwigs.blogspot.com Crimson Wife

    How about “Andrew Sullivan, political commentator and outspoken Church critic”? I might also add “homosexual activist” depending on the context but probably not in a Time magazine article.

  • Passing By

    Fr. Andrew Greeley has an interesting discussion of this subject in his interesting book The Catholic Imagination. The bottom line is that Catholics tend to self-identify as Catholics long after they cease to believe or practice at a higher rate than protestants self-identify as protestants. Basically, you are a Catholic unless you join another religion. Granted, you may be a bad Catholic.

    A friend in hospice told be once she was a “lapsed” Catholic; she didn’t say “ex-” Catholic, although she’d not been to Mass in 30 years. And when the time came, she called for a priest. As did another friend who actually went to a “Bible Church” when she went at all. As it turns out, she was raised Catholic. And died one.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon that reporters should understand when they write about Catholic matters, either citing “Catholic” sources or interpreting survey data.

  • dalea

    I would describe Andrew Sullivan as a Gay man who writes about politics from a rather odd perspective. He self identifies with the leather/levi bear/otter crowd; but has had major problems with them based on his behavior. Among Gay writers he is probably the only one who does not have much of a Gay following; it seems he has alienated large swathes of Gay people. But he is probably the most widely read Gay commentator on politics, most of his audience being Straight people. He is also the only Gay political commentator I can think of who identifies as a conventional Christian. This may surprize people here, but AFAICT AS has the most conservative Christian views of any widely read Gay author. His views and opinions have been subject to wide swings over the years. AS has admitted that his background as an Irish Catholic working class gay kid who grew up in England causes him difficulties in commenting on US politics. From what I have read, AS grounds his Catholicism in his direct experience of community and liturgy not doctrine. His presentations tend to elevate the experience of Catholocism over any intellectual presentation of it. I tend to agree with him on this; religion is something people do not some sort of abstract plan.

  • Kyle

    Fr. Andrew Greeley has an interesting discussion of this subject in his interesting book The Catholic Imagination. The bottom line is that Catholics tend to self-identify as Catholics long after they cease to believe or practice at a higher rate than protestants self-identify as protestants. Basically, you are a Catholic unless you join another religion. Granted, you may be a bad Catholic.

    Tmatt can clarify, but I did not take his question as an invitation for a reporter to say Andrew Sullivan (or any other dissident Catholic) is not Catholic. By virtue of his baptism, whatever Sullivan says and does in life he will always, in the eyes of Catholic doctrine, be Catholic in a very important (perhaps the most important) sense. And please God when his days come to an end, he, too, will call for a priest even if he hasn’t darkened the door of a church for 30 years.

    I think Tmatt’s point was to say that an individual who has made it a major part of his life’s work to try to overturn and condemn some Catholic teachings maybe deserves some more specific description than “Catholic writer and papal critic.”

  • http://www.commonwealmagazine.org Grant Gallicho

    … Terry: Why would calling Sullivan a liberal Catholic be unfair to those liberal Catholics you judge to have been less than candid about their dissent–or, as you put it, “the degree to which they reject centuries of Christian doctrine”? I can see why you would think it unfair to liberal Catholics, but why the ones who are hiding the full extent of their heterodoxy? ….

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    OK folks, back to journalism. Cut the name calling.

    Grant you seem to have trouble reading what I write. You think that liberal Catholics with collars and/or tenure would welcome being grouped with Andrew Sullivan?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    What Kyle said:

    I think Tmatt’s point was to say that an individual who has made it a major part of his life’s work to try to overturn and condemn some Catholic teachings maybe deserves some more specific description than “Catholic writer and papal critic.”

  • Peter

    If every Catholic now gets a qualifier, as Terry suggests, then does Judge Scalia become a Ctathilc who rejects the church’s teaching on capital punishment and human rights? Who gets to be reponsible for the Catholic clarifiers?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    PETER:

    Before I answer, please provide the catechism reference number for the Catholic doctrine on that issue (as opposed to a US Catholic Bishops policy statement or JPII’s discussion of why he believes that capital punishment can be justified, but is probably impossible to practice without economic and racial injustice).

    Contrast, please, with the catechism reference on abortion.

    BTW, I am totally opposed to capital punishment. Totally.

    The standard MSM reference to Scalia seems to be “ultraconservative” Catholic. That issue has already been settled.

  • Peter

    I can’t imagine anything more unseemly than newsrooms labeling the Catholic bona fixes of newsmakers. I’m surprised you find it accepatble and are encouraging it, given your usual problems with labels.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    PETER:

    You totally misunderstood. I don’t think that we need a mere label. We need some way of shortly stating HIS OWN STATEMENTS and actions. The idea is info, not labels.

  • Julia

    his background as an Irish Catholic working class gay kid who grew up in England

    Growing up Irish Catholic in England might be a real factor in his identifying so closely with a religion which he criticizes so strongly. All you have to do is read the comboxes in the UK papers to see the viciousness – truly makes a Catholic feel defensive. Completely turning his back on CAtholicism might feel more like betrayal to Andrew than it would to somebody growing up Catholic in the US.

    dalea:

    Camille Paglia is another gay Catholic who has emotional ties to a Catholic youth. Every once in awhile she waxes rhapsodic about the liturgy, candles, incense and the Catholic imagination as Greeley calls it.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Killed a comment by mistake in browser land:

    Grant at commonwealmagazine

    Terry: I’m not having trouble reading you. Just not sure what you’re trying to say. That’s why I asked whom you were swiping at when you mentioned Catholics who are hiding the full extent of their dissent. But you deleted that, along with my response to Kyle, who is allowed to pronounce on my “agenda” and call me intellectually dishonest. Good to know.

    Incidentally: How many good copy editors would let pass your clunky attempt to describe Sullivan’s Catholicism?

    Sometimes it’s hard to jump in an stop a flow when you have a full-time job that takes you away from your keyboard for a few hours.

    However, you seem to have had little contact with Catholic academia, so we’ll just head elsewhere. I don’t know what I can say. I start naming names and you’ll attack me for that (with good cause).

    What precisely was my clunky attempt to describe Sullivan’s Catholicism?

    I was not aware that I proposed language for use in mainstream media. Where did I do that?

  • http://www.commonwealmagazine.org Grant Gallicho

    This is what I meant, Terry: “Sullivan is a Catholic who has publicly rejected his church’s doctrines on marriage, family and sex.” Too wordy. I think Crimson Wife comes closer to the mark.

    So, you were talking about “Catholic academia.” As you may know, the vast majority of writers we publish are Catholic scholars. You’re painting with a broad brush today–first Jesuits, now Catholic academia. I recommend talking to some members of the Catholic Theological Society of America. Changes are afoot.

  • Kyle

    … Kyle, who is allowed to pronounce on my “agenda” and call me intellectually dishonest ….

    What I actually wrote is that if Grant held position X, he had made his agenda clear. Likewise, I did not call Grant himself “intellectually dishonest” but rather called one of the characterizations he had used for an opposing argument intellectually dishonest. I’m happy to let readers evaluate those claims in the context of the discussion.

  • Passing By

    Kyle –

    My #22 was, in essence, an agreement with your earlier comments, to the effect that labeling Sullivan at all is fruitless. Perhaps I misunderstood you, of course. In any case, it seems to me that to label him at all is to make an ideological statement, one way or another, likely to elicit the sort of responses found on this comment thread.

    The Sullivan quote seems, to me, gratuitous and unnecessarily inflammatory. Against that, I’m not sure it matters how the man gets labelled. He is 1.) Catholic, 2.) a writer, and 3.) a papal critic. The pertinent question is whether he should have been mentioned at all.

  • Dan

    “Click here for clips from a National Press Club event in which the author tees off on Catholic leaders — on the right and the left — who are in denial about the details and the scope of the crisis.” I clicked, and watched the video. (I have not read Mr. Podles’ book however.)

    What is the basis for the assertion that Catholic leaders – on the right and the left — are in denial about the details and scope of the crisis? Who specifically (names, please) is in denial, and with regard to what aspect of the scandal are they in denial? Is Pope Benedict’s letter to the Catholics of Ireland evidence of denial, or of “getting it”?

  • Dan

    One of Mr. Podles’ points is that people in the Church have not listened to the victims of abuse. In this regard, Pope Benedict had this to say in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland:

    “5. On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them. Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, ‘to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes’ (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).

    With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal. I now turn to you with words that come from my heart, and I wish to speak to each of you individually and to all of you as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

    6. To the victims of abuse and their families
    You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ’s own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning.

    Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said. I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church – a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you will come to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you. I am confident that in this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace.”

    This does not strike me as denial.

  • Dan

    If I recall the video correctly, Mr. Podles also states that Pope Benedict may not be informed about the complicity of Bishops. In this regard, Pope Benedict’s letter states:

    “11. To my brother bishops

    It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness. I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again. Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence. Clearly, religious superiors should do likewise. They too have taken part in recent discussions here in Rome with a view to establishing a clear and consistent approach to these matters. It is imperative that the child safety norms of the Church in Ireland be continually revised and updated and that they be applied fully and impartially in conformity with canon law.”

  • Ben

    This is sort of exciting for me because GetReligion and Andrew Sullivan are the only two blogs I visit daily. I would have no qualms labeling Andrew Catholic. He does so himself, and his entire life’s story is about struggling to reconcile his conscience with Church teachings. It would be hard to argue, even if you disagree with his positions, that his disagreements with some Church teachings — hashed out by writing books and researching as an academic — are not the result of a thorough intellectual wrestling and soul searching. Watch his recent Princeton lectures.

    Anyway, to michael I would say your notion of public intellectual is perhaps getting a bit outdated, but if you are looking for traditional credentials you could note he has a PhD from Harvard, has written best-selling political books, and can get CSPAN to cover his lectures at places like Princeton. I dunno, seems like a public intellectual to me.

    Julia, the comparison to Sean Hannity doesn’t make much sense to me because Hannity doesn’t intertwine commentary of Catholic news with his own experience or with nearly the frequency that Sullivan does.

    Also, I forget who said the bit about people might mistake his views as the Church’s position — Sullivan is always making clear that some of his views are dissents from the Church.

    Anyway, I would call him a Catholic and mention he dissents from Church on whatever is the relevant issue at hand in the article. In this case, “papal critic” works well.

  • Lymis

    I wonder how many of the commenters here read Sullivan regularly. It appears that they are often defining him solely on the basis of his homosexuality and the publicity that often involves.

    But he has, as well, as consistently identified himself in his writings as a Catholic as he has as a gay man. Much of his writing includes in-depth analysis of both the joys and challenges that his faith brings him.

    If he were claiming to speak as a representative of the Catholic orthodoxy or to speak with authority of what Catholicism is for everyone, or claiming to make orthodox interpretations of the catechism that were at odds with official Catholic teaching, then people would have every right to question those claims, and point to his disagreements with Catholic orthodox belief as justification.

    However, he isn’t doing that. He is speaking from his personal experience as a gay Catholic. And other than his clearly articulated dissent regarding homosexuality, the vast majority of his views ARE in line with more traditional Catholic teaching.

    And yes, in Conservative circles, most of the objection to him is because of his sexuality. But he gets as much flak from liberal and progressive readers and from gay people because of his conservative and religious views.

    So yes, it is appropriate, in an article about what Catholics are saying about the whole sex scandal issue to identify Andrew Sullivan as a Catholic writer.

  • str

    As for the complaint that journalists should not label anyone – well they usually do and have an obsession with sticking brief terms unto names (which is stylistically bad and gives little information) instead of explaining how things are.

    And they do label Sullivan – they just mis-label him becaus if anything “Catholic writer” is misleading, while “papal critic” is asinine (with that moniker, I would imagine a Pope doing some criticizing, e.g. Elizabeth I VIII and her papal critic).

    So I would suggest explaining matters in a sub-clause, e.g.

    “Sullivan, who identifies as a Catholic and has criticized the Pope’s/the Church’s (item)”

  • str

    “This is what I meant, Terry: “Sullivan is a Catholic who has publicly rejected his church’s doctrines on marriage, family and sex.” Too wordy. I think Crimson Wife comes closer to the mark.”

    Totally NOT too wordy – rather a step in the right direction regarding length, if anything.

  • str

    Grant Gallicho,

    “Do you distinguish between dogma and doctrine? You know, the Catholic Church does.”

    Doctrine is the entirety of what the Church teaches, while a dogma is one item. So, there you have your distinction. How exactly does it pertain to Sullivan?

    “Church teaching has been wrong, Kyle. That’s why it’s changed.”

    So it’s so easy for you? Consider that very many would consider Church teaching wrong without any regard to whether it was changed.

    Also, as long as the Church teaches what she teaches it is binding upon the faithful, Sullivan included. Once again, you are raising large points that have absolutely no relevance to the question here.

    “It’s not necessarily the place of a secular journalist to judge the quality of a source’s religious commitment.”

    So why then is it the place of a journalist (no such thing as a “secular journalist” exists, BTW) to label him at all. Any label transports a judgement (not of good or bad but of what someone is) so your refusal to specify the labelling enough to make it accurate and meaningful is indeed dishonest.

  • str

    Ben,

    if simply responding to the question what religion he belongs to, the answer would indeed be “Catholic”. But that is not the entire story.

    Lymis,

    the article was not a census questionaire but introduced A.S. as a “Catholic writer”. You mention being both a “Catholic” and “homosexual” as the two main elements of his identity – why then did the article not introduce him with both but gave a slanted impression? (That was rhetorical, we know why they did it.)

    “And yes, in Conservative circles, most of the objection to him is because of his sexuality.”

    I beg to differ. He is objected to because of his writings (including his incompatible identifications), not because of his sexual activities. But of course, declaring himself the hapless victim of malign forces is much better to both his ego and his agenda.

  • Joe

    Come on. How could you mention AS and not mention his gay advocacy? To fail to do so speaks volumes of where we are.


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