Those elusive Devout Catholics™ are back

We have another Devout Catholic™ sighting!

That legendary creature, best known to reporters in mainstream media, is rarely spotted in real life, but they seem to show up in the news all the time. (See the attached photo.)

One appeared in a Los Angeles Times article about a campaign to loosen up laws in Oregon against same-sex marriage. This was a small herd in Portland that wanted to sport big white buttons for “marriage equality” while attending Ash Wednesday.

Brave move or childish stunt? That would be a subjective call. Almost as subjective as, say, this Times article.

More on that later. Right now, here are a couple of offending paragraphs — the first two in the story, in fact:

When Jackie Yerby and a small band of devout Catholics go to the cathedral for Mass this Ash Wednesday, they will be sending an unmistakable message. Pinned to their lapels will be big white buttons that proclaim, “Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality.”

The newly formed group wants to show that “just because we’re Catholic doesn’t mean we don’t support same-sex marriage,” said Yerby, who served on the board of Catholic Charities of Portland for six years. “We support same-sex marriage because we are Catholic.”

It’s a decidedly quirky species. For one, it always seems to differ with the leaders of the pack. Their own shepherd, Archbishop Andrew K. Sample of Portland, has urged his folks to prevent changing state law to allow gay marriage. Devout Catholics™ may not be more Catholic than the pope, but more Catholic than an archbishop ain’t bad.

The new Devout Catholics™ are rare even in Portland. Yerby’s organization first met last month and has a mere “few dozen members,” according to the Los Angeles Times article. Significantly, those relevant facts are buried in the 26th paragraph of the 34-paragraph story — after the reporter has gotten max mileage from their devout disagreement with Sample.

Longtime readers of tmatt, of course, know that he and GetReligion specialize in Devout Catholic™ spotting. Five years ago, he asked why a couple of odd characters — a horoscope columnist and a voodoo high priest — have gotten the label.

When Archbishop Donald Wuerl was made a cardinal, tmatt saw the label appended onto loud-mouthed TV commentator Chris Matthews. And late last year, tmatt observed that some media are using “practicing Catholic” in ways just as loose and fuzzy.

Therefore, tmatt fumes:

Of all the labels used by journalists to describe believers — from “apostate” to “zealot” — surely “devout” has become one of the most meaningless. While this is true in a variety of world religions, for some reason things get especially interesting when “devout” appears in front of “Catholic.”

The bottom line: What’s the difference between a “practicing” Catholic and a “devout” Catholic? Do journalists simply know one when they see one?

For myself, I think reporters use Devout Catholic™ in two ways: (1) “Doing more Catholic things than I do”; (2) “Claiming to be good Catholics while breaking with the Church over major doctrines.”

The species arose early, perhaps in 1999. That’s when director Kevin Smith turned out the movie Dogma, which at times seemed to be a catalog of ways to offend Catholics. Many news stories on the film blithely proclaimed him a Devout Catholic™ — except for the Baltimore Sun, which went one better (or worse) and called him a “devout blasphemer.” That story even bore a groveling subhead: “Kevin Smith’s new film makes fun of the church, but the issue of his faith was never in question.”

Nor does the Los Angeles Times article out of Oregon ask a lot of penetrating questions. Much of it, in fact, amounts to classic card stacking. One instance is quoting an LGBT historian that “there have been an estimated 35 ballot measures, local or statewide, that have attempted to circumscribe the rights of gays and lesbians.” Note how it assumes the existence of such rights, despite the absence of laws in Oregon that establish them.

Yes, the story quotes an Oregon group that’s trying to get a personal-freedom law passed like the one that was just vetoed in Arizona. But it also quotes the LGBT historian, a group called Oregonians for Marriage Equality, and another called Oregon United for Marriage. This is not exactly a model of balanced reporting.

The piece ends with a sympathetic look at a lone campaigner for same-sex marriage:

One recent, chilly afternoon, Lakia Davis tramped along tree-lined avenues near Reed College, knocking on doors and explaining the rapidly shifting landscape. Wrapped tightly in a scarf and wool coat, the 27-year-old outlined the ballot measures, the court cases, the optimism, the peril:

“Do you know anything about what’s been going on in the past couple of weeks?”

“If you’ve heard about Arizona, our opposition is looking to replicate that.”

“We’re hoping you would be able to contribute.”

How about a matching sympathetic passage about a Devout Catholic™ who happens to agree with the Catholic stance? Nope, not here. Or in many other mainstream media.

That would be an even rarer sighting.

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  • wlinden

    There do not seem to be any Devout Jews, Devout Buddhists, Devout Sikhs, or Devout Pagans.

  • Fr. Richard

    How can it be that the Times cannot even get the archbishop’s name right? His first name is Alexander, not Andrew. Or did this misnomer come from one of the devout Catholics that were interviewed?

  • fredx2

    Over the years, I have come to realize the media is usually 180 degrees wrong on just about everything.
    So, applying my rule, “Devout Catholic” really means terrible Catholic.
    You just need to know how to read them.
    The worst part, as you note, is when they quote academics for supposedly neutral facts and then later you find out the academic teaches “Queer Theory”.

  • Käthe

    Listen, the Cathedral demonstrators annoy me as much as anyone, but I think “devout” is intended to be a description of their self-described subjective feelings rather than the degree of their adherence to canon law. It is an unnecessarily cliched turn of phrase, and it doesn’t add a whole lot to the story, so I’m not even saying it should be included–it shouldn’t, the journalist should take the time to “show” the devotion in a more meaningful way, or not bother. But I think the intended meaning is pretty obvious.

  • tmatt

    Right. The meaning is clear: Catholic leaders are not in charge of determining who is and who is not “devout.”

    • Donalbain




      having or showing deep religious feeling or commitment.

      Correct. Catholic leaders are not in charge of determining what feeling or commitment someone has.

      • AuthenticBioethics

        While it is a point well taken that individuals can define for themselves what “devout” and “deep” and “religious” and “feelings” and “commitment” are and whether they apply to themselves, the question is the object of being devout. And that is not subjective. To be a “devout Catholic” requires that it actually be Catholicism to which one is devout. And defining that object is definitely up to the Church. Considering that the Oregonians in the article appear to deny an ancient and clearly articulated teaching of the Catholic faith, any reasonable person can determine if they are in fact “devout Catholics.”

        • Paul Frantizek

          Exactly. A devout Catholic is devout about Catholicism.

          And denying the natural rights of the unborn or desecrating the sacrament of marriage by extending it to homosexuals represents a rejection of Catholicism.

          Those people are frauds and heathens.

        • Donalbain

          They are Catholics. They are devout. They are devout Catholics.

  • AugustineThomas


  • “Liberal Catholics are the worst enemies of the Church.” – Pius IX

    • Paul Frantizek


      • Donalbain

        Indeed, so much worse than those child raping priests!

        • Paul Frantizek

          First, what does one have to do with the other (apart from a cheap deflection)?

          Second, to a large degree it was the so-called ‘liberal’ Catholic hierarchy in the US who supported both the ‘child raping priests’ and the abortion-supporting politicians (See: Joseph Bernardin). Go figure.

        • AuthenticBioethics

          Gee if only the Church would affirm the age of consent to be 12 and homosexuality were OK! Then the scandal would never have happened!

  • Paul Frantizek

    The sight of abortion – really, infanticide – and gay ‘marriage’ supporters parading around with their ashes on their forehead is truly nauseating.

    They should be excommunicated.

    • hamous

      They are excommunicated latae sententiae. They’re just deluding themselves.

      • Paul Frantizek

        Good point.

      • AuthenticBioethics

        I tend to be a little paranoid, but I’m not sure they’re deluding themselves. They may know exactly what they’re doing.

      • Mariana Baca

        Being in favor or even voting for abortion or gay marriage are not excommunicable offenses latae sententiae. Procuring an abortion or providing direct material cooperation for one is. Don’t invoke canon law incorrectly.

        • AuthenticBioethics

          But they are grave offenses punishable by withholding Holy Communion under Canon 915. It’s difficult to see how people whose public and disruptive activities make them viably subject to exclusion from the Sacraments can be considered “devout Catholics.”

          • Mariana Baca

            Not being admitted to Holy Communion is not the same as excommunication, is my point. Not everyone who has committed a mortal sin is excommunicated, neither are all public sinners.

        • hamous

          Can. 1329 §2. Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur a latae sententiae penalty attached to a delict if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed…

          Pelosi has actively supported abortion by votes countless times. She, and all other Democrat politicians masquerading as Catholics, are accomplices and have incurred a latae sententiae penalty. Don’t be ignorant of Canon Law.

          • Mariana Baca

            I think it is stretching to say they are direct accomplices of abortion. Even if the legality of abortion rested solely on the shoulders of Pelosi’s vote (which it doesn’t, she didn’t invoke Rv.W or state law in california pre RvW), the abortion could still have been committed if illegal, as so many were by doctors in the US before RvW. I would ask Ed Peters or another canon lawyer if you think otherwise. Excommunication has clear and explicit guidelines.

          • hamous

            Let’s assume you’re correct (I don’t think you are) and she cannot be considered complicit based on her unwavering pro-abortion legislative actions and rhetoric. She would certainly be excommunicated for heresy for clearly denying a key component of our Catholic faith (Can. 750, 751). I also think her constant harping that abortion is not anti-Catholic would classify as scandal.

  • chezami