As always, the tragedy in Aurora led to quite a bit of writing — whether reporters knew it or not — focusing on issues linked to “theodicy,” a theological term that has frequently been discussed here at GetReligion. At the heart of all discussions of “theodicy,” by definition, are questions about the nature and origins of evil, seen in light of the existence of a good and loving God.
In journalism terms, what we are talking about is the search for the “why?” in the familiar news equation “who, what, when, where, why and how?”
When faced with giant, tragic events, police have to look for a motive at one level, while theologians look for motives at another. Journalists usually end up quoting both.
So no one should be surprised to see the following lede in The Washington Post, after Sunday services in Colorado:
AURORA, Colo. – Sunday was a day to mourn here — and ask, fruitlessly, why.
The bulk of the story, naturally enough, focuses on the search for logical, human motives in the life, background and recent history of the alleged gunman, James Holmes. However, the story eventually tuned in some of the faith-based messages spoken (and sung) in memorial services and religious rites in the stricken region. This is the end of the report:
At the memorial service, an array of speakers struggled to explain what had caused the attack. A Catholic bishop used the word “evil” six times.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) did not even want to try. “I refuse to say his name,” he said, to the loudest applause of the night. He sought to turn the attention to victims instead, reading their names and asking the crowd to remember them. At some names, family members cheered. Others brought cries of grief.
The scope of the tragedy was brought home at the end of the night The crowd was supposed to sing “Amazing Grace” as families of the dead filed out. But the song ended, and the families were still walking.
“Let’s do the first verse again, ‘Amazing Grace,’?” an emcee said. The crowd sang it again, then again. Then another time, just humming and repeating “praise God” until the last of the family members had left the plaza.
On it’s face, there is nothing unusual about this material. However, did anyone else find this reference a bit strange? The one that said: “A Catholic bishop used the word ‘evil’ six times.”
First of all, one would expect the topic of “evil” to come up early and often in remarks following a massacre of innocent people, including at least one young child. What amazed me is that generic reference to “a Catholic bishop.” I mean, how many Catholic bishops are there in the Archdiocese of Denver? Assuming that no one with a red hat drove in from the Southern half of the state, the answer is “two.” Also, if this is a “bishop,” instead of the “archbishop,” that means that these remarks were made by Bishop James D. Conley, the auxiliary bishop of Denver.
Sure enough, the bishop’s text (.pdf here) is up on the archdiocesan website. This memorial service prayer must be the source of the Post quote from the anonymous bishop — since it contains six “evil” references. Surely there isn’t another preaching and praying Catholic bishop on the loose out there? Gentle readers, how hard is it to learn the name of one of the city’s two Catholic bishops?
Here’s a key piece of that Conley prayer, with some of the “theodicy” language intact:
And now, let us pray:
Loving and merciful God, we praise you and we adore you for your great mercy. You are truth, goodness, and beauty. You are the source of all that is good and all that is holy. You hate what is evil.
You respond to evil, O Lord, with love. In your boundless love, you have conquered sin and death. Your victory over death is our hope — for we know that we do not live in a lasting city.
We entrust our beloved deceased to your love and mercy. We entrust our community to your comfort and peace. We entrust our fear, our doubt, our uncertainty, to your providential care, O Lord. Be present to us. Help us to love as you love and help us to build a community of peace.
I guess we can assume Conley is the strange, generic, anonymous bishop linked to this news mystery.
PHOTO: Catholic News Agency photo of Bishop James Conley speaking at the Aurora memorial rite.