Reporting on gays, women and the PCUSA splits

Thou shakest thy head and hold’st it fear or sin
To speak a truth. If he be slain, say so;
The tongue offends not that reports his death:
And he doth sin that doth belie the dead,
Not he which says the dead is not alive.
Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news
Hath but a losing office, and his tongue
Sounds ever after as a sullen bell,
Remember’d tolling a departing friend.

The Earl of Northumberland in Henry IV part II
Act I, scene 1, lines 95-103
William Shakespeare

Blaming the teller of bad news for the bad news is as old as time. Reporters who break stories about malfeasance in churches are often attacked for airing dirty linen. I’ve been reproached by those perturbed by what they read in my stories about bad behavior in churches. My critics argue that as a Christian (which I am) and a priest (which I am) I should suppress discomforting or embarrassing news. I should take as my guide Matthew 18:15-17.

15 If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

I am not persuaded  by their Biblical exegesis nor by the merits of the argument, believing that truth telling is a higher virtue than face saving. The phrase, “shooting the messenger” is a valid rejoinder to these criticisms,

The same retort can be applied to media criticism. Complaining about what something is not, rather than addressing what it is, is a form of shooting the messenger. When there is a hole in a story a reader should not assume the reporter is responsible. Some things are unknowable — try as we like, reporters are not omniscient.

A recent story in The Colorado Springs Gazette on the disaffiliation of one of the state’s largest churches from its parent denomination — the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. (PCUSA) — brought this problem to mind.

Let me say up front there is nothing wrong with the article on the First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs’ vote to leave its presbytery — it is a workman-like story that relates crisply the facts. But The Gazette story entitled “Sparked by acceptance of gay ministers, First Presbyterian bolts denomination” seemed to be missing something. This something was not the rather dumb headline. The  story makes it clear that it was not only about gay ministers and the church didn’t bolt — but reporters do not write headlines and this brick forms no part of my critique.

The lede is clean and lays out the facts well:

In an historic vote Sunday morning, the largest Presbyterian church in Colorado voted overwhelmingly to leave its governing body and join a new, more conservative denomination.

An estimated 95.5 percent of the 1,769 congregants who cast ballots at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Colorado Springs voted to leave the mainstream Presbyterian Church USA in favor of the newly-created Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.

The new denomination was created with the help of First Presbyterian’s senior pastor Jim Singleton.

The reporter’s editorial voice comes into play at this stage through her selection of quotes — and to her credit she does not play favorites. After relating the news of the vote, the author addressed the question of the minority who opposed the vote — identified as 80 out of almost 1780 members who voted. The first quote comes from a church spokesman who acknowledges that “some members may leave.”

This is followed by a quote from a church spokesman stating the vote was historic. Background on the church and its decision to leave the PCUSA follows with The Gazette avoiding the mistake of portraying this as being solely a gay issue.

Sunday’s vote was the culmination of almost a year’s worth of work by church leaders who wanted to distance themselves from the Presbyterian Church USA. That organization voted in 2011 to allow openly gay ministers to be ordained, but First Presbyterian leaders say the divide is greater than just that issue — going back to a basic way that scriptures are read and interpreted.

“God has called us to respond to his call, step into something new and hold firm to our understanding of scripture,” Cindy Sparks, chair of the church’s Board of Trustees said Sunday morning.

Further detail on the vote and what happens next follow, as does a quote from a member of the minority opposed to the split, and  closing quote from a member of the majority. All in all this was a very clean story.

But it was also incomplete. The pastor is quoted as saying this was historic. Well why was it historic? The story is not clear on this point. Was it historic for First Pres, for Presbyterians in Colorado, for all Presbyterians?

I was struck by the weakness of the pastor’s comments reported in the article as to why it was historic. Did the reporter not do her job? Did she not understand what was said? I think she did. The problem was that she was not given much to work with.

When I checked the church’s website and read the statement  issued after the vote, I found that all the reporter had to work with were some rather anodyne comments. If you want to know why this was a “historic day,” you won’t find an answer from the church.

As an aside — What is it about Colorado Springs and conservative churches? First Presbyterian of Colorado Springs was the largest PCUSA congregation in Colorado and it quit is denomination. In 2007 Colorado’s largest Episcopal Church, Grace and St Stephen’s in Colorado Springs, quit its denomination over the same basic issues as First Presbyterian. That split ended badly for the parish and the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado — the Presbyterians appear to have avoided the path of litigation. Is there something in the air, or unique to the culture of that community that would see schisms in two mainline congregations — as well as produce inordinately large Episcopal and Presbyterian churches?

To find out why this was historic — and why this story has wider significance you need to do some research in the congregation’s website. What is the significance of the choice of First Pres’s new denomination? The article mentions that the pastor, Jim Singleton, helped form the ECO — Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians — but why did the church not join one of the existing conservative Presbyterian groups?

A letter to the congregation on the church website states that it was the issue of women ministers that led First Pres to the ECO, as the existing conservative groups were not as accepting of women clergy as was First Pres.

One of the subtexts often unreported in the stories about the mainline splits is the question of women clergy. Conservatives leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church may be at odds with their denomination’s teachings on human sexuality, and they may express this as being a division over the interpretation of Scripture, but amongst themselves they are divided over women clergy.

And this division over women clergy is driven by the interpretation of Scripture. What criteria is First Presbyterian using to say that the PCUSA has broken with Scripture over homosexual clergy, but not over women clergy? In asking this question, I am not assuming an answer — rather seeking development of an issue. One, for example, that may well divide the nascent Anglican conservative church, the Anglican Church in North America, and is dividing First Presbyterian and the ECO from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

I also liked this article from The Gazette because it did not make the mistake so often made by newspapers in distilling the mainline splits into a story about opposition to gay ministers or gay marriage. That is part, but is far from the whole story. It is the back half of the story — the question of where these breakaway churches are going and why — that was missing. And, if the church can’t explain why — a reporter can’t tell her readers why.

The first bringer of unwelcome news, as Shakespeare observes, hath but a losing office. Beating up on the press for omitting part of a story is easy. But when the actors in the drama don’t say their lines — the reporter is unable to say it for them.

What say you GetReligion readers? Is this a case of the subject, not the journalist, dropping the ball? Who should be telling this story?

Orthodox lay presidency at the Eucharist?

Reuters has a dispatch from Athens on the difficulties the Greek financial collapse is causing the Orthodox Church. The article entitled “Crisis proves a curse for Greece’s Orthodox Church” will appear in various forms in newspapers and websites this weekend and I encourage you to read it, as it provides a strong account of the hardships facing the Church.

However, a GetReligion reader, Dominic Foo, was struck by one section of the article. He wrote:

I find it incredibly hard to believe that an Eastern Orthodox Church would permit lay celebration of the Eucharist, unless of course, this is merely sloppy journalistic reporting and what is permitted is not “mass” but a prayer service.

He was questioning this section of the story:

To cover the shortage of priests, some bishops are permitting laymen to take services. These volunteers receive no state wages and don’t wear the characteristic vestments.

For instance, a retired army officer recently started holding mass at Avantas, a village close to the eastern border with Turkey, said Father Irinaios. “Priests in small villages retire or pass away and there is nobody to replace them,” he said. “We are going to have a huge problem.”

If Reuters is correct in its reporting, this is highly significant development. In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions it is inconceivable that a lay person would be permitted by a bishop to celebrate the Eucharist as the administration and celebration of the sacraments is the essence of the priesthood. For Roman Catholics this teaching is set down in a number of formal statements and encyclicals: Lumen Gentium 28; De ordinatione episcopi, presbyterorum et diaconorum 2; 6; 12.

For the Orthodox lay presidency is a non-starter. The doctrinal confessions most accepted in the Orthodox world, The Confession written by Dosietheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1672) and The Orthodox Confession written by Peter Mogilas, Metropolitan of Kiev (1643) state the Eucharist may be celebrated only by a “lawful” priest.

In my corner of the church world, the issue of lay celebration of the Eucharist has the potential to supplant the fights over homosexuality. The Diocese of Sydney — the most influential evangelical diocese in the Anglican Communion — supports  allowing lay people licensed by the bishop to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The diocese has debated this issue for almost a generation and prepared a number of theological papers in support of its views.

One clue to the debate is the use of the phrase “Lord’s Supper” rather than Mass by Sydney Anglicans. Their understanding of what takes place in Holy Communion is very different than that of High Church Anglicans, not to mention the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. However, the Archbishop of Sydney Dr. Peter Jensen, has so far declined to implement the diocesan synod’s request as the wider Australian church — and Anglican Communion does not agree with this innovation.

If the Greek Orthodox Church is allowing lay celebration of the Eucharist this would be a break with tradition. For a religion reporter this would be great news — I have visions of a pan-Orthodox council being called (allowing me a trip to Greece on my editor’s dime.)

Perhaps something less dramatic, but still highly significant is taking place. Has some form of Liberation theology arisen in Greece? That would be news! In marginalized or deprived communities where a priest is not present to preside at the Eucharist, such as in Latin American base communities, Leonardo Boff and other radical theologians have proposed holding a eucharist-like fellowship meal as an admittedly less than adequate substitute for the Eucharist.

Or, as is most likely, the Reuters reporter was confused or his article was mistranslated. I’m afraid I won’t be jetting off to Greece this summer as I suspect the liturgy being used at services where no priest is present is the Typica or Reader’s Service.

While the Typica may not be common in areas where there is a settled Orthodox presence, it can be found in places like the American South or Africa where there are new Orthodox congregations but no resident clergy. Here is a link to a Greenville, NC Orthodox Church that explains the value of Lay-led Services.

While this Reuters story focuses on the effects of Greece’s economic implosion on the Orthodox Church, the statement about lay led masses should be addressed. If wrong, I would hope it would be corrected. If right, then there is a major story here that has so far gone unreported.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Iranian truths, Iranian lies

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon Iran last week not to proceed with its nuclear weapons program, warning that deployment of atomic weapons by Teheran would destabilize the Middle East, a story prepared by AFP reported.

Speaking at a dinner in Norfolk, Virginia Mrs. Clinton was quoted as saying:

There is no clear path. We know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be incredibly destabilizing to the region and beyond. A conflict arising out of their program would also be very destabilizing

The story continues in this vein: further warnings from the West, denials from Iran and so forth. It is rather a snooze in that this story has been written several dozen times before. I wrote a few of these for the Jerusalem Post at one time — but the Secretary of State was Condoleezza Rice. Times, words and speakers change, but the same messages have been offered up by Obama and Bush Administration speakers.

What has this to do with GetReligion‘s mandate? Where’s the hook, you ask? It comes towards the close of the story which the Telegraph entitled “Hillary Clinton warns nuclear-armed Iran would be ‘destabilising’.”

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in February that possession of a nuclear bomb “constitutes a major sin” for Iran, reiterating a fatwa – or religious edict – that he made in 2005.

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei’s fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalised,” Clinton said in Norfolk.

As this was a wire service story that reported a speech given by the Secretary of State, the opportunities for AFP to develop the leads offered by Mrs. Clinton’s words are slight. However, I would have expected the Telegraph to have investigated this fatwa, which Commentary magazine called a “ruse” that had bought the Iranians five more weeks to develop the bomb.

Neither was the editor-in-chief of the London-based Arab newspaper, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat,  impressed by the U.S. government’s study of the fatwa. In an editorial entitled “The Security Council for Fatwas,” Tariq Alhomayed hammered Iran and stated Mrs. Clinton was naive and out of her depth — not knowing that in Islam a believer may follow the principle of taqiyya to lie when facing danger.

it is absurd to talk about an Iranian fatwa when negotiating with Tehran, for countries – like individuals – have reputations and histories that cannot be ignored, therefore the reputation of a bad country, like the reputation of a bad individual, is not based on statements or fatwas, but rather past deeds! Therefore, when US Secretary of State Clinton talks about the Iranian fatwa, we can be certain that she has not heard about Iranian taqiyya [the practice of precautionary dissimulation emphasized in Shiite Islam whereby adherents may conceal their religion when under threat]!

… the claim that we can rely on a fatwa that prohibits the possession of nuclear weapons, reminds us of the famous Arab proverb: “the thief was asked to swear [his innocence], and he swore [falsely] and said “yes, this is the way out [of the predicament]!” If this fatwa is one of the merits of dialogue with Iran, then by God we are truly facing a disaster in the region!

I’ve written about the practice of taqiyya in GetReligion before, and have noted the Western press’s seeming inability to comprehend this practice. It may not matter in the great scheme of things if the Telegraph or the New York Times is unaware, or loathe to report on taqiyya. But when governments are clueless — that spells trouble.

As an aside, I had been thinking about the general question of fatwas before I read this article — and perhaps I chose it for that reason. A contact in Pakistan sent me a copy of a fatwa released by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that called upon Muslims to combat the Baha’i faith. My friend (an Anglican bishop in Pakistan) translated the letter, written on stationary from Khamenei’s office, as saying:

In the name of God All members of the Baha’i cult are guilty as being infidels and are regarded as “Najes” (an Islamic term for being inherently unclean/dirty), thus people are advised to avoid proximity in food and other things because of their contagious nature and it is paramount that the believers combat the schemes and devious nature of this misled cult.

I mention this in that the author of this Baha’i fatwa is the author of the no-nukes fatwa.

A wire service story is almost always limited by space and written for a general audience. I cannot fault AFP for not developing Mrs. Clinton’s remarks. But it would have improved the story tremendously, changing it from just another in a list of worthy diplomatic stories (a polite phrase for tedious) if the press had asked some questions. Mrs. Clinton consulted religious scholars: which ones? She spoke with the prime minister of Turkey: what did he, an Islamist, tell her? What is the weight of a fatwa from Khamenei? Is he credible? Is it comparable to a papal encyclical that must be followed, or is it an earnest wish? What is the implication of a London-based Saudi-backed newspaper saying taqiyya is something “those Shi’ites” do?

It is a shame that these angles were not addressed in the news sections, but only picked up in opinion pieces.

This a classical example of a religion ghost. The outward subject is nuclear proliferation. But the DNA of this story is one of religious restraint over the production and use of nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the author was a aware of the concept of taqiyya, but chose not to address the subject? In Western eyes taqiyya is inherently dishonorable. Yet how does one report upon this subject through Western eyes in a Western newspaper without loosing sight of the cultural and religious environment that produced a moral teaching that holds that the ends justify the means and that lying can be a moral good? Is this even a fair question?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Addendum: MEMRI reports that the no-nukes fatwa never existed — it was a propaganda ruse by the Iranian government. Curiouser and curiouser.

Koran-Offensive in Die Welt

Who says the Germans don’t do comedy well? An article in a recent issue of Die Welt — “Koran-Offensive alarmiert Deutschlands Parteien” shows this not to be so. As I read the article, which tip-toes round the issue of radical Islam in Germany, my mind harkened back to an episode of the television series Seinfeld.

In the “Koran-Offensive” we know what Die Welt is talking about when it mentions Salafists or radical Muslims, but the paper will not say what it means. It sidles around the issue, performing a verbal silly walk that implies radical Islam is un-German, small minded, uncultured and a generally bad thing.  Die Welt knows that we know, but is reluctant to say this aloud.

What we do have is a story about the distribution of Korans that is slightly strange. The story arc tells us that freedom of religion and expression is a good thing, freedom to distribute Korans during Holy Week is a bad thing. Or, is it that those doing the distribution are the bad thing? The article is not quite sure.

It is like “The Outing” episode of Seinfeld. Whilst seated at a cafe, Jerry, George and Elaine notice that a young woman in a nearby booth eavesdropping. In a spirit of fun, Elaine speaks to Jerry and George intimating that they are a secret gay couple. The woman reappears shortly thereafter when she arrives at Jerry’s apartment on assignment from her student newspaper. During the interview, the interplay between Jerry and George strengthens her belief the two are a gay couple. They then recognize her from the coffee shop and deny they are gay, closing each of their denials with the catch phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

The humor in this episode came from the interplay between George’s and Jerry’s fear of being taken for homosexuals against their fear of being homophobic. The audience knows the truth about Jerry and George, but takes pleasure in their panic.

The Die Welt article follows the same line in its Good Muslim/Bad Muslim story.

Here is the lede, taken from the English translation provided from Worldcrunch.

After more than 300,000 copies of the Muslim holy book were reportedly distributed in German cities during Christian holy week, major political parties have announced that they will push for closer monitoring of Salafist groups advocating fundamentalist Islam.

The Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, known as the Union parties, and Alliance ‘90/The Greens, have all declared their concern about the massive free distribution of the Koran launched by Ibrahim Abou Nagie, a Cologne-based businessman and preacher with Palestinian roots. According to Abou Nagie, the 300,000 copies were distributed at information booths and over the Internet, with the purchase of one copy entitling the buyer to another Koran free.

The timing of the action is thought to be a particular provocation for Christians, as thousands of the copies of the Koran were distributed around Good Friday and Easter.

Abou Nagie — one of Germany’s most influential Salafist leaders — has been charged in Cologne with inciting the public to commit illegal acts and disturbing the “religious peace.” The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been monitoring Salafist groups, which is why this distribution of religious literature – normally not a cause for concern – is being seen in another light.

The article then shifts to comments from spokesmen from the major political parties, each of whom offered a version of “Not that there’s anything wrong with that (Islam).”

“I view the distribution campaign of free copies of the Koran by Salafists with great concern,” said an SDP spokesman, but added she had “fundamentally nothing against the distribution of religious literature as long as this is not associated with encouraging criminal acts or defamation.” The Green party spokesman told Die Welt. “Distributing the Koran is certainly not forbidden by the law, but this should be monitored very carefully by the police.” And a spokesman for the governing CDU/CSU parties called for “an urgent stop” to be placed on the “machinations of the growing radical Salafist movement in Germany.”

Germany’s churches were described as “maintaining a low profile”. An EKD spokesman stated that “Fortunately, in Germany it is not forbidden to distribute religious literature,”but “Of course I hope that in countries where Islam is the religion of the majority that the distribution of Bibles were allowed.” While a Catholic spokesman said the Salafists were not interested in dialogue, and view tolerance and any form of integration for Muslims as toxic.

Only the Greens seemed prepared to speak up. Its spokesman answered the question I had — why was this a problem — by saying:

the Koran campaign was “very worrisome, because calls to violence and terror have repeatedly risen from these radical Muslim splinter groups, which is why it is entirely justified for them to be watched by security authorities.”

A Green politician of Turkish descent, Cem Özdemir, added that he had a:

“problem with any religious group that puts their vision of the world above basic law, the Constitution and human rights. So that also goes for the Salafists, who do encourage violence, and whose ideology is a front for Islamic terrorism.” It was apparent, he said, “that the strategy underlying this campaign is to represent themselves as the mouthpiece of Muslims and to propagate what they would claim is the true Islam. The Salafists can’t be allowed to get away with this.”

Moderate Muslim groups said the right things in Die Welt‘s narrative.

“The Koran is not some PR flyer to be handed out like mass merchandise,” Ayman Mazyek, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims, told the Catholic News Agency. Kenan Kolat, the chair of Germany’s Turkish community, said the action reminded him of Jehovah’s Witnesses. While it was not forbidden to distribute the Koran, Kolat told Die Welt that “the question to be asked are: Are the Salafists acting aggressively? Are they disturbing people?”

And a spokesman for the group giving out 300,000 Korans said?

We don’t know as their voice does not appear.

On its face the idea that distributing 300,000 Korans is a threat to public order in an open democracy seems ludicrous. The article asserts those handing out the books are not good, or acculturated westernized Muslims, but does not say what it is about the Koran getting into the hands of Germans that makes it a danger to public order.

This question is made even more curious by the Seinfeld answer given by those opposed to its distribution. “We’re against giving out the Koran, not that there is anything wrong with that.”

The answer is not the Koran, of course, but the people handing it out. But there is a reticence to make this clear save for the Greens. The BBC’s coverage of this story managed to include the objections voiced by political leaders but offered a few words of context that cleared away the absurdist Die Welt story structure.

Last summer, the president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Heinz Fromm, said: “Not all Salafists are terrorists.  “But almost all the terrorists we know about had contacts with Salafists or are Salafists themselves.”

Is this part of the cultural cringe we see in some quarters — an ease at criticizing Western norms and culture, but a reticence to speak out about the “other”? Should Die Welt have made it clear at the top of its story the suspected link between Koran distribution and terrorism? Or would that have vilified Muslims as a whole, for the actions of a radicalized minority?

How should the press handle this? Who speaks for Islam?

What say you GetReligion readers?

“Poisonous” Catholic reporting from La Stampa

Sometimes a story is too good to be true. A story with sympathetic victims, righteous heroes, dastardly villains and an issue that all agree is important, but yet is remote to the reader — something that doesn’t touch me — makes a reporter’s day.

One of these stories appeared in the Italian sky last week and burst, producing a torrent of outraged news stories. A Catholic priest denied Communion to a mentally disabled child because the boy was “Non è capace di intendere e volere” — not capable of consent, of understanding the holy mysteries of the sacraments, reported the Italian daily La Republicca.

The Italian press had a field day with the story of Fr.  Piergiorgio Zaghi of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Porto Garibaldi, a village near Ferrara in Northern Italy. And it was picked up by all of the major newspapers and news sites in Italy.

It also topped the now famous Washington Post story about Fr. Marcel Guarnizo who declined to give Communion to Buddhist-Catholic-artist-gay-activist Barbara Johnson. The gay angle muddied the Fr. Guarnizo story, pushing it into the U.S.’s battle over the normalization of homosexuality. The Fr. Zaghi story, however, was clean and clear of political mines. There was no downside in expressing shock, horror, and outrage over the news that a 70-year-old rural priest had refused to allow a mentally handicapped boy to receive his first Communion.

Here is Worldcrunch’s translation of La Stampa’s report.

Controversy has erupted both inside and outside the Catholic Church after a parish priest in northern Italy refused to offer communion to a disabled child. Father Piergiorgio Zaghi of the Immaculate Conception church in Porto Garibaldi, a village near Ferrara, denied the sacrament at Easter mass, saying that the mentally-disabled boy was unable to “understand the mystery of the Eucharist.”

The parents of the boy in the Emilia-Romagna region have taken their case both to the European Court of Human Rights and to the higher authorities at the Holy See in Rome.

La Stampa followed its lede with a comment from a children’s rights activist who denounced the 70-year-old priest’s actions as “cultural obscurantism from the Middle Ages.”

The newspaper picked up the intensity by saying “parishioners are divided” between those who support the priest and the boy, 10-year old Luca. It then followed with this quote:

A boy who attends catechism classes with the disabled child wrote a letter to the priest: “If he was with us, it would be a great joy for him, and we would see the actual value of Communion.”

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis offered his opinion of the controversy, denouncing Fr. Zaghi.

“As long as the disabled person does not desecrate the host, if they receive it calmly, it is normal practice to offer it to them,” De Paolis said. “Never have I denied host”, and above all, “the strength of the sacrament also touches the ill and the dying.”

The child’s mother was quoted as saying she hopes the priest will reconsider his actions, but they have engaged attorneys to press their case. La Stampa reported the Bishop of Ferrara is backing Fr. Zaghi, but the article closed with the mother’s hope the church will reconsider.

“I hope that my son will be able to have the communion with all his friends,” Claudia said. “They want to celebrate the ceremony with us. They stand in solidarity.”

This story appears to have covered all the bases. Sympathetic victim. Couragous mother fighting for her disabled child. Catholic cardinal siding with the embattled family. Unnamed bishop backing cranky old priest. Crisp, clean, clear. It doesn’t get any better.

It would have been nice to have the other side of the story. A comment from the diocese, the bishop or the priest. Fr. Zaghi appears to have done himself no favors. The Corriera Della Sera got hold of the priest to ask him why he did it and was told:

«Non ho nulla da dire, voglio essere rispettato» (“I have nothing to say. I want to be respected.”)

A perfect answer — one that allows commentators to wax eloquent on the priest’s pastoral failings, and ignorance of canon law and doctrine. The Archbishop of Ferrara defending backing Fr. Zaghi makes it all the better — old boys network, cover up — what fun!

But, all good things must come to an end. And after 100+ Italian newspapers, websites and blogs reported on the controversy, the Archbishop of Ferrara spoke to Vatican Radio to explain what happened.

Archbishop Paolo Rabitti of Ferrara-Camacchio stated Fr. Zaghi had declined to allow the disabled boy to receive Communion because he had not attended the requisite number of First Communion classes. The boy was not banned from receiving Communion because he could not understand the mysteries of the sacraments due to mental defect, but because he had skipped class.

In its summary of the broadcast, EWTN wrote that two years of preparation were required before First Communion.

“The path of preparation intensified starting last October,” Archbishop Rabitti said. “First Communion took place on a very significant day – Holy Thursday – and a couple not belonging to the parish came to the pastor on February 29 to request that their mentally handicapped son also make his First Communion.”

Due to the lack of preparation, Father Zaghi explained to the parents that they should be sure to attend Mass with their son during the final month before Holy Thursday, “but they only came a few times: the child had participated in Mass and catechism classes only a few times.”

At some of the classes the boy did attend, he spit out the unconsecrated host from his mouth when catechists were helping the children to familiarize themselves with how to receive the Eucharist.

Father Zaghi informed the parents that their son had not received enough preparation and he suggested that he make his First Communion next year, but they reacted by calling the decision “discrimination,” Archbishop Rabitti explained.

As Miss Emily Litella used to say, “Never mind.”

Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference responded to the press furore in an editorial entitled “Le lenti offuscate” (“The clouded lens”).

In focusing a spotlight on an episode that was divorced from its ecclesial setting, the press acted trivially, forgetting to check the news (and perhaps to manipulate it to raise the dust of anti-clerical propaganda.) …  In this runt of a narrative –  Communion “denied,” the priest “bad”, the child “excluded” — all was false. This was poisonous reporting whose flow, drop by drop, undermines religious freedom and public faith and trust in the Church.

The story was too good to be true. Avvenire‘s editorial implied that the fault lay with lawyers for the family who enlisted a credulous media, quick to believe the worst of the Catholic Church.

Perhaps. But the church did itself no favors by not moving more swiftly to put out its version of events. It may have been safer to wait for the archbishop to appear on Vatican Radio to explain what happened, but by then two days had passed — and the narrative was set.

Does that excuse the reporting or the herd mentality of the press on this story? It is easy to beat up the media on this one. One side exaggerated and the other side was slow to respond. Should the press have waited until the church decided to speak? Did it have a duty to run with a story that showed a callous disregard of the church’s teachings about the sacraments for the disabled (remember they had the cardinal weighing in against the priest).

Given a conflict  between unequal forces — a disabled boy and the Catholic Church — sympathy for the boy is the natural response. How do you respond to this GetReligion readers? What should the press have done?

Cats, dogs, contraception and Rick Warren

Do all dogs go to heaven? Rick Warren thinks so, and he believes cats will enter paradise too according to an interview the mega-church pastor gave to ABC’s Jake Tapper for This Week on Easter Sunday. The influential pastor of Southern California’s Saddleback Church offered his views on the immortality of animal souls as well as comments on a wide range of issues including the implications of the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate.

While the ‘doggies in heaven’ angle provided a light touch to the interview, it also opened the door to a potential discussion of the theological and moral questions animating the contraception fight waged by the Catholic Church against the Obama Administration HHS mandate. However, the opportunity was lost to push Rick Warren on the coherency of his theological and political arguments as ABC treated the issue as a joke.

Yes, you heard me right — all ‘dogs go to heaven’ has a bearing on the question of the morality of artificial contraception. But ABC missed it.

Which leads me to ask two questions. Why did they miss it? And even if they were aware of the issue, where they wise to let it go?

Why did they miss it? One reason might be that given by New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer. In a recent GetReligion post by my colleague Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Oppenheimer responded to a question about media coverage of religion by saying in part:

It’s not skeptical enough. … We either treat religion with reverence, or we treat is as a human-interest curiosity … the truth is that the mainstream media is not critical enough. It misunderstands religion, sure — but is still oddly hands-off and reverent.

Oppenheimer is right about the media’s treatment of religion as being too soft and too reverent. But it is not for the reason he suggests. Most reporters do not know what questions to ask when speaking to faith leaders, and when they do hear something they often as not do not appreciate its importance.

We can see this in the This Week interview. In a segment entitled “Rick Warren: Contraception Debate About ‘Greater Principle’ of Religious Freedom” Tapper asked Warren several strong questions about his advocacy against the mandate. Warren encapsulated his opposition to the mandate stating that while he had no objections to contraception, he did believe:

There is a greater principle, and that is do you have a right to decide what your faith practices? I would be just as opposed to someone making a law that says every Jewish deli now has to serve pork. Well, I would be — I would protest that. Why? There are 100 other delis  you can get pork at. Why do I have to insist that the Jewish delis also serve pork? There’s plenty of places to get contraceptives.

Tapper’s political radar, skills and experience were evident when he questioned Warren. At one point Warren stated:

… Most or many religious organizations insure themselves. We insure ourselves here at Saddleback Church. I have 350 staff. We have a self-insurance program, where we do our own insurance. So we’re basically robbing from ourselves to pay for ourselves.

TAPPER: But weren’t you already required to do this under California law?

WARREN: That’s not the issue. The issue is on a national level, on a national level, to start limiting churches and their organizations, the church and organizations — or any organizations, whether it’s Christian or not, in what they believe that that limits what they do with their school or their health care, that is a violation of the First Amendment, in my opinion.

Let me say I am not examining the merits of Warren’s answers, but applauding Tapper’s skill in asking the right questions that served to draw out the implications of Warren’s thinking.

But a second segment, where Tapper asked questions of Warren submitted by audience members, showed the Oppenheimer effect in action. In her blog, USA Today‘s Cathy Lynn Grossman commented on the theological exchange between Tapper and Warren. She wrote:

Early on in the interview, ABC invited folks to raise questions on social media and one viewer tweeted a query: if “faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.”

Warren, a Southern Baptist, keyed in on the essentials of salvation — a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ. He told the tweeter, “I do believe that. And I believe that because Jesus said it… Jesus said ‘I am the way.’.. I’m betting my life that Jesus wasn’t a liar.”

Warren explained that God’s grace is the only ticket, that our works on earth cannot earn heavenly passage, although, he joked, “Most of us want to have enough.. good works to get into heaven, but enough bad works to be fun.”

Bottom line, says Warren, “I’m not getting to heaven on my integrity. I’m not getting to heaven on my goodness. I’m getting to heaven on what I believe Jesus said is grace…”

Grossman then stated these words were:

“evangelical gospel. But where Warren goes next may not be. Tapper relays a Facebook question: Do dogs go to heaven?

Said Warren, “Absolutely yes. I can’t imagine God not allowing my dog into heaven.”

Cats, too, Warren added. “Why not.”

The “Why not” answer Warren gave to cats in heaven could also have served as a great link back to the issue of the HHS mandate. For the theology that animates Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical that sets forth the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception, is informed by the same issue that is involved in the question about animals in heaven. While I think it safe to say that all traditional Christians, not just Evangelicals, believe in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, I would disagree with the contention that Evangelicals on the whole object to the proposition that animals go to heaven.

Critics such as Peter Singer have held that Christianity has no moral regard for the welfare of animals. Singer prefaced his account of Christian thought regarding animals with the statement: “To end tyranny we must first understand it.”

But as Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey has noted, there is “an ambiguous tradition” about animals in Christianity. Thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Fenelon, and Kant and have held that animals do not have rational, hence immortal souls. Descartes defended a distinction between humans and animals based on the belief that language is a necessary condition for mind and as such animals were soulless machines (Descartes, Discourse on the Method)

Others theologians, philosophers and writers as diverse as Goethe, St John of the Cross, C.S. Lewis, Bishop Butler, and John Wesley held the opposite view and believed that animals will find a place in heaven. Billy Graham is purported to have said:

I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness’ in heaven. If it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.

That may be all well and good, you say, but what has any of this to do with the healthcare debate?

As Janet Smith notes in her book, Humanae Vitae: a generation later, in Catholic moral teachings one of the differences between humans and animals is that while animals engage in reproductive sexual congress to create another member of the species, humans engage in procreative sexual intercourse “wherein they cooperate with God to bring into existence a new immortal being.”

The soul of Man is immortal while the soul of an animal is mortal. Thomistic theology holds that animals possess sensate souls that can respond effectively to the environment around them. However, animals do not possess rational souls — being able to reason about reality. The sensate soul is mortal while the rational soul, created in the image of God, is immortal. And it is this distinction between mortal and immortal souls that prevents animals from going to heaven, and prohibits contraception in Catholic moral teaching.

For the Catholic Church, Dr. Smith notes:

sterlization, abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, and production of animals for “farming” of organs for transplantation are all permissible for animals. Yet the Church finds none 0f these actions permissible for Man. Again it is because of the nature of Man, not the nature of the  biological processes per se, that Man must not interfere with these processes.

When Rick Warren responded “why not” when asked whether there are cats in heaven, it prompted the question of what was distinctive about mankind, and closer to home, what was immoral about contraception. Why privilege one theological view of humanity or of the soul (one Warren admits not sharing) over against another?

Which leads into my second question. Had the reporter recognized the theological linkage between the two issues would it have served any useful purpose to ask this question? On a secular news show should all questions come back to a secular base? Or when interviewing a religious figure, should theological questions be asked that draw out the thinking and beliefs of the subject?

Is the Oppenheimer effect at work here? Is Rick Warren a political leader or a religious leader? Is his theology or methodology coherent? Is that even important? Am I aiming a bazooka at a fly? Should we give religious leaders a pass on their theology and hold them accountable only on their secular beliefs?

What say you GetReligion readers?

The case of the wandering Russian watch

As I write, the hammer is falling on a hapless editor in the offices of the Moscow Patriarchate for airbrushing a watch off of the wrist of Patriarch Cyril. The doctored photo of Cyril and the disappearing watch has been a gift to the Moscow press corps, prompting a flurry of arch and knowing stories written at the expense of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The coverage reveals as much about the mindset of some reporters as it does about Muscovite media morals. The article from the New York Times is a classic of its kind, a macedoine of self-righteousness, ignorance and cant served up in a context-free bowl. It is an op-ed piece masquerading as news.

If you examine the photos taken from the Patriarchate’s website, you can see a watch on Cyril’s wrist. This photo was doctored to remove the watch, but the editor omitted to remove the watch’s reflection. Eagle-eyed bloggers spotted the reflection and called out the church’s press office. They have since removed the watch free photo from the website replacing it with the original.

Photo-doctoring has a long history in Russia and has been driven by politics (removing non-persons from history) and embarrassment. David King’s 1999 book, “The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia,” is the best treatment I have seen of this topic.

“So much falsification took place during the Stalin years that it is possible to tell the story of the Soviet era through retouched photographs,” King wrote. The cover of the book shows a photograph of Stalin with three revolutionary leaders. Over time the photograph is airbrushed, cropped and clipped until Stalin alone is left, conveying the message that it was Stalin who owned the heritage of the revolution.

Other falsifications were less sinister. One of my favorites is a photo of Nikita Khrushchev arriving at Idlewild. The original photo shows the Russian premier hat-less. Sovfoto improved the picture by placing a hat on his head — but neglected to airbrush out from the photo the hat Khrushchev was holding in his hand. Nikkie Two-Hats.

One of the iconic photos from the Second World War was manipulated to prevent embarrassment. The photo of the Russian soldier raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag was edited by photographer Yevgeny Khaldei before publication. To counter charges the Russian army had looted its way to Berlin, Khaldei removed the multiple wrist watches appearing on both arms of the officer standing below the flag.

Sixty-seven years later Moscow photo editors are still removing wristwatches.

Let’s see what the New York Times did with this story. The article entitled “$30,000 Watch Vanishes Up Church Leader’s Sleeve” begins:

Facing a scandal over photographs of its leader wearing an enormously expensive watch, the Russian Orthodox Church worked a little miracle: It made the offending timepiece disappear.

Editors doctored a photograph on the church’s Web site of the leader, Patriarch Kirill I, extending a black sleeve where there once appeared to be a Breguet timepiece worth at least $30,000. The church might have gotten away with the ruse if it had not failed to also erase the watch’s reflection, which appeared in the photo on the highly glossed table where the patriarch was seated.

The church apologized for the deception on Thursday and restored the original photo to the site, but not before Patriarch Kirill weighed in, insisting in an interview with a Russian journalist that he had never worn the watch, and that any photos showing him wearing it must have been doctored to put the watch on his wrist.

Why is this story shoddy journalism? Let me count the ways — but before I do remember the purpose of this blog is to discuss reporting on religion. It is not to discuss the issues in the underlying story.

Let’s begin with the lede. The author frames the story from the start as a scandal about the church hiding Cyril’s $30,000 Breguet watch through the magic of photo editing software. The news of the alteration of the photo is presented, followed by the assertion from Cyril that he was not wearing the Breguet watch; and if there is a photo of him wearing the watch Cyril claims the photo was doctored. The construction of this lede is to impeach Cyril by words out of his own mouth showing him to be a liar.

But was Cyril wearing the Breguet watch? Notice the Times says it appears he was, but there is no evidence or comment from a horologist to say the watch in the photo is the Breguet watch. Later in the story we hear Cyril say that he was wearing an inexpensive Russian watch when the photo was taken, and that he received the Breguet watch as a gift. If he was not wearing the Breguet, why remove the watch from the photo? I don’t know, and the Times does not try to find out.  The inferences and half truths offered at the start of the story have framed the narrative such that the reader will conclude Cyril is a hypocrite.

Having set the frame, the Times editorializes in earnest.

The controversy, which erupted Wednesday when attentive Russian bloggers discovered the airbrushing, further stoked anger over the church’s often lavish displays of wealth and power. It also struck yet another blow to the moral authority of Russian officialdom, which has been dwindling rapidly in light of recent scandals involving police abuse, electoral fraud and corruption.

A series of opinions mixed with general observations is then produced in support of the crooked cleric theme.

… Over the past decade, the church has grown immensely powerful, becoming so close to the Kremlin that it often seems like a branch of government. It has extended its influence into a broad range of public life, including schools, courts and politics. Patriarch Kirill publicly backed Vladimir V. Putin in last month’s presidential election.

… Then there is the question of the church’s wealth. Russian bloggers have published rumors that the patriarch has a large country house, a private yacht and a penchant for ski vacations in Switzerland, though none of this has been proved.

The watch, on the other hand, has been an object of fascination for years, and there is little question of its existence. It was first sighted on the patriarch’s wrist in 2009 during a visit to Ukraine, where he gave a televised interview on the importance of asceticism.

A Breguet watch “is virtually a sine qua non of any depiction of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie or, quite simply, a life of luxury and elegance,” the company says, noting that its products have been worn by Marie Antoinette and Czar Aleksandr I and cited in works by Dumas and Hugo.

… But the patriarch has presented himself as the country’s ethical compass, and has recently embarked on a vocal campaign of public morality, advocating Christian education in public schools and opposing abortion and equal rights for gay people. He called the girl punk band protest at the cathedral “sacrilege.”

Without offering any supporting evidence, the Times asserts the Russian Orthodox Church is in bed with the Putin regime. The church possesses vast wealth and Cyril jets around to Switzerland for the skiing, tools around in his yacht and weekends in the country. And, by the way, he wears a watch worn by the same firm that supplied Marie Antoinette. This is really crude. Cyril is a villain in Times-land. He supports school prayer, is anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-women. All that is missing from the Times‘ roster of pet pieties is a comment about his views on minorities.

The articles tries to tie the vanishing watch into a commentary about Russia’s moral decline, linking the Russian Orthodox Church to public concerns about “recent scandals involving police abuse, electoral fraud and corruption.” How do we know that Russian public opinion believes there is a link between the church and the scandals? There may be individuals who say this, but does Russia say this? No evidence is offered to substantiate this opinion.

The Times offers four voices against the church, and one in favor to flesh out the controversy, beginning with:

Aleksei Navalny, an anticorruption crusader, called the episode “shameful,” and bloggers gleefully ridiculed the church as hypocritical.

The choice of Aleksei Navalny is as interesting for the omission the Times makes about Navalny as is Navalny’s opinion.

In January Navalny was the victim of a doctored photo scam in the press concocted by Putin supporters. A photo of Navalny with Russian oligarch  Mikhail Prokhorov (the photo on the left) was altered to that of Navalny and another oligarch (the photo on the right), Boris Berezovsky — a fugitive from corruption charges who lives in London. In an attempt to smear Navalny with charges of guilt by association with one of the Russian media’s chief villains, the caption to the doctored photo stated:  “Alexei Navalny has never hidden that Boris Berezovsky gives him money for the struggle with Putin.”

Adding this information about Navalny’s experience of being a victim of press photo doctoring would have given context to the story — as would mention of the Russian penchant for fixing photos to create the preferred reality. There is no context to this story, no sense of history, no balance, no understanding of Russia, its people, culture or politics.

Let me say that I am not defending the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church’s press office in making the questionable watch vanish. What I am concerned with is the integrity of the reporting about that incident — and the preference for slotting in facts to support a story’s theme as against allowing the facts to tell the story.

An anecdote about the French novelist Balzac bears on this point. Balzac was talking to a visitor about the heroes of his novels. The subject changed to political and other events of the day. After a pause Balzac suddenly said: “Let’s return to reality,” and started talking about his characters again.

It may well be that Cyril is a crook and the Russian Orthodox Church is a tool of the Putin-regime. The Times may think so and has written an article assuming that this is so, but has not provided any evidence in support of its contentions. All of the materials — the facts, the history, the setting, the new post-Soviet Russia of Vladimir Putin — are there for a great article. That story has yet to be written.

A Roman Easter Rashomon

Marge: “You liked Rashomon!”

Homer: “That’s not how I remember it.”

The Simpsons, Thirty Minutes over Tokyo, (16 May 1999).

The title of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film, Rashomon, has entered the English-language as a term to describe the conundrum where eyewitness accounts to an event are true but contradictory.

Set in 12th-century Japan, Rashomon  describes a chance meeting in a forest between a bandit, a samurai and his wife. A sexual encounter takes place followed by a death — but the plot revolves around whether this was a rape and if the death was murder or suicide. The film shows four conflicting accounts of the incident: from the perspective of the bandit, the samurai’s wife, the dead samurai speaking through a spirit medium, and a passing woodcutter.  As each narrates their version of the event, the film shows images of the incident that demonstrate truthfulness of the four characters’ accounts. But unlike a traditional mystery where falsehood is unmasked, and truth revealed, Rashomon presents each account as being true. What is truth?

I share this nugget of Japanese film lore as one explanation of the reporting of Pope Benedict XVI’s Holy Thursday chrismal mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The pope took a verbal stick to a dissident priests’ movement and gave them a mighty whack, or the pope held out an olive branch to a dissident priests’ movement and invited them to enter into dialogue. Are one, both, neither accounts true?

The English-language press reports Pope Benedict XVI denounced in harsh terms the Pfarrer Initiative (pastor initiative), a reform movement founded in 2006 by Austrian Roman Catholic clergy that has called for abolishing priestly celibacy and permitting the ordination of women priests.

Some of the stories are quite strong. The Daily Mail‘s article was entitled “Pope denounces rebel clergy who question church teaching on celibacy and ordaining woman.”

A number of newspaper ran the story from the Associated Press. Most newspapers along with the television networks ABC and CBS used the headline supplied by the AP: “Pope denounces dissident priests on celibacy”.  The New York Daily News picked up the tempo with “Pope Benedict XVI slams priests who question church on celibacy.” The Washington Post chose “Pope denounces dissident priests who question church teaching on celibacy, ordaining women” for its title, while across town the Washington Times ran with “Pope rips into dissident priests on celibacy”.

The pope “rips”, “slams”, “denounces” rebel clergy — strong stuff. All that is needed to complete the picture are Batman art cards — “Sock, Bam, Pow, Biff, Boom.”

The BBC and the New York Times followed this general line but used the less harsh but still strong verb “rebuke.” “Pope Benedict XVI rebukes Austrian dissident priests” and “Pope Rebukes Priests Who Advocate Ordaining Women and Ending Celibacy.”

However, the Irish Times did not follow the herd on this one. The story submitted by its Rome correspondent was entitled “Pope chides Catholics who query key beliefs.” The Italian newspaper La Stampa also broke ranks with its story “Disobedience is not a way to renew the Church, Pope tells dissident priests.”

The report in the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on the pope’s homily entitled “Pope to priests: Be configured to Christ” is even further from the AP’s perspective.

The lede in the AP story is that the pope

issued a blistering denunciation Thursday of priests who have questioned church teaching on celibacy and ordaining women, saying they were being selfish in disobeying his authority.

The article offers a quick summary of the Pfarrer Initiative and then pulls quotes from the pope’s homily.

… Benedict said the dissidents claim to be motivated by concern for the church. But he suggested that in reality they were just making “a desperate push to do something to change the church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas.”

“We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date,” he said. “But is disobedience really a way to do this?”

He said Jesus always followed true obedience to God’s will, not “human caprice.”

And he rejected the dissidents’ idea that the church had been “fossilized” since the Second Vatican Council, saying that on the contrary, the growth of new religious movements in recent decades showed the vitality and true renewal of the church called for by the 1962-65 Vatican II.

These are accurate quotes from the pope’s homily, but the truth of this report conflicts with the truth of the Italian reports. L’Osservatore Romano states the pope accepts the

“possibility as well that the signers of this summons were motivated ‘by concern for the Church’, and … invites us to reflect on how it is possible to realize this configuration to Christ  “in the often dramatic situation of the Church today”. The temptation to disobedience, the Pope explained, seems to be merely “a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas”.  Maybe because Christ “seems too lofty and too great for us to dare to measure ourselves by him”.

The Austrian press  reports the leaders of the Pfarrer initiative did not take the pope’s words to be a harsh rebuke but an invitation to discussion. Mgr. Helmut Schueller said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the homily according to an account printed in the Weiner Zeitung. “It is important to note the Pope has threatened no consequences. We are part of the church for him,” the Kurier quoted Mgr. Schueller as saying in response to the homily.

So which is it?

Singling out the Pfarrer initiative for criticism in the context of a holy week homily is unusual. The notice given to this is warranted, however, the “rips”, “slams”, “denounces” rebel clergy line taken by the AP and other papers misses the point of the pontiff’s homily.

The pope accepts the dissident clergy are acting according to the lights of their own conscience, but he rejects the notion that disobedience is the way to achieve a moral good. “A priest never belongs to himself,” the pope said, but must conform his life to Christ and in service to the church. “We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are.”

Are Mgr. Schueller and his compatriots in Austria being disingenuous then by saying they are pleased by the pope’s comments. I think not. What they hear is the pope’s disagreement with their views, but not a call for their silence. While the AP reports the pope rejects criticism the church has become fossilized, the Pfarrer Initiative clergy hear him to be saying their concerns have merit. The reasons for their concern are being heard. It is the way they are seeking to address these concerns that is being criticized.

Is this an example of the Rashomon effect — with the Austrian clergy, the Italian newspapers and the English-language newspapers hearing the same words but hearing a different truth? Or has the press blown it by focusing on one portion of a homily to the exclusion of the full message?

What say you GetReligion readers? Read the pope’s homily for yourself and tell me what you think.