NPR: true tolerance=open marriages

I’m just catching up on some email but last week a former reporter submitted a story for review with the note “You must do a GR post about the unbelievable NPR story today by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro on an excommunicated Catholic priest. It’s insane.” He wasn’t the only one. Other reporters and readers also noticed it as particularly deserving of a GetReligion glance.

It’s kind of like if The Onion did a parody of all of those bad Roman Catholic WomenPriests stories we have fun with. It begins:

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today, in Brazil, Pope Francis led the first public Mass of his first international trip. He travelled to a basilica that is deeply symbolic for Brazil’s Catholics. In a sermon, Francis spoke of helping the young turn away from what he called the idols of money, success, power, pleasure. He addressed thousands who had waited in the rain for his arrival.

Throughout the Pope’s Brazil trip, he has been greeted with excited throngs, but also protests.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)

SIEGEL: This past Monday, in Rio, pro-gay marriage activists mounted a bare-breasted demonstration. Same-sex unions have become a big issue in the region. NPR’s Lourdes Garcia Navarro has this profile of a rebel priest whose message of tolerance got him excommunicated.

Emphasis mine. So, what tolerant message got this “rebel priest” excommunicated? You’ll want to read on to find out! You really need to read the full transcript (or affiliated story) to get the full beauty of this particular piece, but we learn from correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro that Roberto Francisco Daniel “looks cooler than your typical priest.” His doctrinal deviations included opposing church teaching on homosexuality, of course, but also:

DANIEL: (Through translator) The Catholic Church is one of hypocrisy, and because of what I heard in the confessional, I decided to engage in the debate.

NAVARRO: Padre Beto not only believes in gay marriage, but is in favor of divorce and of open marriages where either party can have an extramarital affair as long as husband and wife agree… Equally, he says, how can we, in this day and age, expect people to be chaste before matrimony?

DANIEL: (Through translator) I would have young people in their 20s confessing as if it were sinful that they had sexual relations with the person they were going to marry before they said vows. Sex is the most natural thing in the world. How can someone get married without first knowing their partner sexually? That’s absurd nowadays. The church is more worried about genitalia than human life.

NAVARRO: Padre Beto was repeatedly warned by the church to stop making his views public, to recant and repent. Things had become so tense he had decided to resign his ministry. But his superiors beat him to it. A few months ago, without warning, they convened an ecclesiastical hearing where he was informed that he was being excommunicated.

DANIEL: (Through interpreter) It never even crossed my mind that they would excommunicate me.

NAVARRO: Padre Beto says he fell foul of the ultraconservative elements in the church who were outraged by his opinions. He says, though, since he’s been stripped of his priestly duties, he’s gotten a lot of support in the community. He is still a devout Catholic, he says, who stands by his priestly vows. But in many ways, he is now freer to voice his opinions.

Wait, what? What? What?

Advocating open marriage is somehow a “message of tolerance” that Rome is wrong to oppose in its clergy? That is, as the correspondent put it so eloquently in his note to us, “insane.” Which is sad, since NPR is much better than this story.

Nowhere do we get an explanation of why Daniel believes that the Catholic Church is one of hypocrisy, or why after he said so publicly, was warned to stop it and yet is somehow surprised to be excommunicated. Nowhere do we get stats on how supposedly popular he was or is, whether it’s in any way at all true he was excommunicated without warning or how the glacially slow pace of excommunication was somehow sped up just for him. Heck, you might notice that no Roman Catholic official is even included in this story! Why not? What were the specific excommunication reasons? Why aren’t we hearing the other side of this story? None of this really makes sense, but the reporter is just rolling! Go with it!

My own personal favorite thing is where his claim of remaining a devout Catholic is accepted without even the slightest push-back. Journalism! You go girl. Another thing that might have been helpful is to tell listeners what excommunication means from the Roman Catholic perspective.

What I find hilarious about all this is you can imagine how quickly NPR might handle a rogue reporter going on anti-NPR tirades and violating whatever code of responsibility employees are held to. That this particular report doesn’t violate standards set by NPR is, perhaps, another issue worth noting.

Image of woman practicing NPR-supported open marriage via Shutterstock.

  • Jen L

    In addition to the things you noted, the quote that stuck out to me was, “The church is more worried about genitalia than about human life.” I would expect a priest to understand (at least as well as this Lutheran does) that the Roman church’s teachings on sex and marriage and human life are inseparable. I’m also not sure how not changing those views in light of modern culture is an example of hypocrisy.

    • UWIR

      One cannot oppose murder without also opposing homosexuality? That’s an incredibly bigoted thing to say.

      • ariofrio

        “If one’s views are completely consistent, one cannot oppose murder without also opposing homosexuality.” That’s simply a statement about how Catholic theology is consistent, and other philosophies are not. Nothing bigoted about it, really.

        I believe you when you say that you oppose murder but not homosexuality. I just think you are wrong about the second part, but let’s work together on the first part, eh?

        • ariofrio

          (I meant to say that “If one’s views are completely consistent, one cannot oppose murder without also opposing homosexuality” is a more charitable and accurate reading of Jen’s comment.)

        • UWIR

          If you think that it is not possible for a non-Catholic philosophy to be consistent, then you clearly have no idea what the word “consistent” means. “Consistent” means that none of a philosophy’s statements lead to contradictions with other statements of that philosophy, not that none lead to contradiction with yours. Also, Catholicism is “consistent” only in the trivial sense that with exception after exception, it can be made “consistent”. Homosexuals remaining celibate is not good for their emotional health, and leads to a decrease in life expectancy. Therefore, it is not consistent to claim to be “pro-life”, and oppose homosexuality, without coming up with a bunch of rationalizations that make the term “consistent” meaningless. If that counts as “consistent”, then pretty much anything is consistent.

          And yes, opposing homosexuality is bigoted, and coming up with fancy excuses why opposing homosexuality is good is even more bigotry. People who think that mixed-race marriages are wrong have their reasons. People who think that women shouldn’t be allowed vote have their reasons. You think your reasons make sense, and theirs don’t. They think their reasons do make sense. Basic human dignity is not something that should be subject to philosophical contrivances.

          What would your reaction be if someone said that they think that it’s important to oppose violence against women, but it’s just fine to beat up black people? You might find yourself working on the same side as them on some issues, but it would rather difficult for you to work “together”, wouldn’t it? Joining together with them in any sort of formal organization would be even more difficult. I mean, what, you would have an organization whose mission statement says it’s opposed to violence against women, but takes no position against violence against black people? As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Justice is indivisible, and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I’m not willing to carve out an exception to justice when it comes to homosexuals. I’m not willing to treat it as a separate issue. I’m not willing to think of justice as something that should be pursued on an a la carte basis.

          • ariofrio

            I do think I understand what consistent means, and it’s the same definition as yours. While there remain some open questions in my mind about Catholicism, it seems more consistent both with itself and with everyday life, than other philosophies. I think I overreached when I said that other philosophies are not consistent with themselves. I should have said “not consistent with themselves and everyday life.” I understand you don’t agree. If you did, you would be Catholic! But I assume you think your own worldview is mostly consistent with itself and everyday life.

            Regarding homosexuals remaining celibate and lower life expectancy: I’m not sure where you get that claim. Source? I’ll consider the topic once I have more information.

            Bigoted. It means treating others unjustly because of prejudices. You would have to show that my positions are based on prejudices to call my positions bigoted. Same thing with racist people. I think what you really mean is that the positions are wrong, harmful, and unjust. Maybe you also mean that you can’t think of non-bigoted reasoning for those positions.

            I’d argue that there are levels of injustice. If I argued that it’s OK to bully homosexuals, that’s a different level of injustice (assuming you are right) than arguing that homosexuals should be celibate. But I understand not feeling comfortable working together with people you disagree with on important matters.

            I oppose abortions as grave injustices, but support much of the rest of Planned Parenthood’s efforts and ideals. I wouldn’t work at a PP and be complicit in abortions. But would I invite them to help at an anti-rape rally? Should I? Like you, I’m uncomfortable with the idea.

          • UWIR

            “While there remain some open questions in my mind about Catholicism, it seems more consistent both with itself and with everyday life, than other philosophies.”

            It is not possible to derive moral laws merely from empirical data. Catholic theologians have developed so-called “natural law”, which basically consists of treating the world (not really the natural world, since they include socialization effects) as a bunch of tea leaves to read God’s will. This relies on a bunch of (generally unstated) normative statements, and cannot be constructed merely from positivist statements. And given its subjective nature, it generally results in the theologians finding exactly what they wanted to find.

            “But I assume you think your own worldview is mostly consistent with itself and everyday life.”

            It is not possible to increase consistency by adding hypotheses. It therefore follows that atheism is at least as, if not more, consistent than Catholicism. That is not merely my personal belief, but something that logically follows from the definition of “consistent”.

            “Regarding homosexuals remaining celibate and lower life expectancy: I’m not sure where you get that claim. Source? I’ll consider the topic once I have more information.”

            It’s rather common knowledge that intimacy improves health. Here’s just one of many cites: http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/sex-brain

            “You would have to show that my positions are based on prejudices to call my positions bigoted.”

            Homosexuality does not hurt people. Moral opprobrium against a group that does not hurt people is bigotry.

            “Maybe you also mean that you can’t think of non-bigoted reasoning for those positions.”

            I mean that there are none. I have met gay people. I have not met this “God” character you people keep talking about. I consider people who definitely exist to take precedence over people who merely might possibly exist. The Catholic argument against homosexuals consists of discussing a being whose identity is incoherent, whose evidence of existence is ridiculously flimsy, and whose will is unknowable and irrelevant. If what Catholics say about God is true, then God is a bigot. “A bigot told me to do bigoted things” is not a non-bigoted reason for doing bigoted things.

  • blestou

    It’s like you and Joe Carter had a competition to find the most awful religion reporting. He won (he even says so), but good show with this submission.

    • MollieZHemingway

      Thanks. This one’s almost too obviously awful to win any sort of competition. It has provoked much laughter among religion reporters, however.

      • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

        The problem is, though, that it’s going to provoke all kinds of head nods and “Oh, yes, they’re right” among listeners and readers, people who aren’t going to recognize how bad this piece of trash reporting is. So while we’re getting our kicks and giggles, others are having their heads messed with and they don’t even know it.

  • tmatt

    Sports fans, it is kick butt day here at GetReligion. Maybe I need to find something nice a cheery to write about.

    Nah.

  • Trudy W. Schuett

    I remember hearing an NPR report last winter on the state of Catholicism in South America. They interviewed a girl who was complaining about not being allowed to get an abortion. The tone was as if they didn’t know that was among the basic rules of the church, and they were shocked — shocked! that there were rules. Go figure.

    • UWIR

      If someone is “not being allowed to get an abortion”, then that sounds like a government rule, not a Church rule. And yes, liberals tend to get offended at religious people using the government to force their religious beliefs onto others.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Let me see – he’s permissive on ‘marriages’ which break the commandment against adultery. I would have thought that was not alone an offence in Catholicism, even the more liberal denominations would at least nominally adhere to the idea of “committed, faithful, monogamous marriage”.

  • Julia B

    There’s a problem with the translation, I’m sure. When a priest is in trouble, he is not ex-communicated. First he is told to amend his behavior. Then he is relieved of acting or presenting himself as a priest. Then, maybe there’s a local canonical trial or appeal to Rome to laicize him. This is not “ex-communication”.

    Ex-communication is like like being found in “contempt of court” – it’s aimed at changing behavior, which will lift the “contempt” finding. This article is not correctly describing what goes on. Unless all of what I described in the first paragraph happened some time ago and he was subsequently also ex-communicated after he became a lay person. Being laicized does not, by itself, kick you out of the church.

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      That, of course, would require some digging and asking the diocese about what happened (if they would talk). It also could mean that, *gasp!* they might have to find a canon lawyer to talk to about the process! Now we can’t have that, can we?

  • UWIR

    The title of this blog post is dishonest. The article didn’t say that tolerance equals open marriage, it says that tolerance equals tolerating open marriage.


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