LA Times disses religious liberty (Updated)

religion 01You may have read read that the California State Supreme Court ruled that religious doctors cannot refuse to inseminate lesbian women artificially on religious grounds. The decision came down yesterday and has generated quite a bit of buzz.

I wrote about the consideration of the case two months ago. My criticism of a Washington Post story on the topic was that it failed to elaborate on the competing claims: the defendants’ lawyer argued that in terms of medical care, freedom of religion is invoked most clearly in the creation and termination of life, while the plaintiffs’ lawyer contended that the freedom of religious clause does not allow doctors to refuse treatment to certain classes of people.

Surely The Los Angeles Times, the state’s paper of record, would add to our understanding of this topic or, even better, adjudicated the justices’ claims. Alas, it did not. Reporter Maura Dolan gave readers this explanation:

The state high court said the doctors’ constitutional rights to freedom of religion did not trump the state antidiscrimination law because the state has a compelling interest in ensuring full and equal access to medical care.

That is an all to brief explanation. On what grounds did the justices accept the plaintiffs’ claims rather than those of the defendants’? Did the justices equate homosexuals with women, as a majority of them did in their gay-marriage ruling?

On this issue, readers need to be given more than a one-sentence assertion. They need an explanation of the rationale.

UPDATE: The Washington Post‘s story on the same topic was everything — well, almost everything — the LAT’s was not: It explained on what grounds the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Consider the passage below from reporter Ashley Surdin:

The court ruled that physicians’ constitutional right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt businesses that serve the public from following state law that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

That holds true, Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote in the 18-page decision, “even if compliance poses an incidental conflict with the defendants’ religious beliefs.”

If a doctor wants to refuse a service because of religious beliefs, the court found, he or she must refuse all patients, or provide a doctor who can provide the service to everyone.

That makes sense. If a doctor refuses to perform artificial insemination on religious grounds, he or she cannot single out lesbian women. This does not address the defendant’s chief claim in Surdin’s story from two months ago — religious freedom applies usually to termination and creation of life. But hey, it is an explanation.

Warren as King David (minus Bathsheba)

rickwarren In case you missed the cover story of this week’s Time, reporter David Van Biema wrote a profile of evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren. He presents Warren as a kind of evangelical King David on a global scale.

Van Biema’s thesis is interesting, arresting even. And the reporting and writing in the story are exceptionally well done. But whether the story truly gets religion I have my doubts.

The story was intriguing. It told of an evolution in Warren’s thinking about his role in society. While it is a common knowledge that Warren is no longer a conventional figure on the religious right, Van Biema went on to explore the pastor’s new, expanded mission in detail:

If Warren were content to be merely the most influential religious figure on the American political scene, that would be significant enough. He isn’t. Five years ago, he concocted what he calls the PEACE plan, a bid to turn every single Christian church on earth into a provider of local health care, literacy and economic development, leadership training and spiritual growth. The enterprise has collected testimonials from Bono, the First Couple, Hillary Clinton, Obama, McCain and Graham, who called it “the greatest, most comprehensive and most biblical vision for world missions I’ve ever heard or read about.” The only thing bigger than the plan’s sheer nerve is the odds against its completion; there are signs that in the small country Warren has made a laboratory for the plan, PEACE is encountering as many problems as it has solved.

The story was also fair and balanced. A conventional magazine article would describe Warren’s new program and quote academic experts debating whether it would succeed or fail. This piece featured actual reporting from the front lines, seeking to determine whether his new enterprise has worked or not:

Yet others, rather flatly, claim Warren’s effort is invisible by the very terms on which he sold it. Visitors interested in the PEACE plan are still invariably flown not to a church but to the hospital in the town of Kibuye (Rwanda). PEACE is working with the University of Maryland to upgrade the facility and next year will give $500,000 as part of its province-wide $13 million commitment. But so far, aside from a paint job and some tidying up, there is little improvement. Laura Hoemeke, director of Twubakane, a USAID-funded Rwandan decentralization and health program, says, “Warren’s people haven’t done anything. For passing on information, mobilizing people, changing social norms, I think the church can be really effective. But …” Others maintain that short-termers can’t stay on top of the involved logistics of development.

Also, the story showed the domestic side-effects of Warren’s new global venture:

It’s possible that what drives Warren is the opportunity not just to lead American Evangelicalism but also to reshape it as a broad-based postpartisan movement, as focused on challenges abroad as (Billy) Graham‘s was on the crisis within. But it’s still unclear whether Warren’s many spheres of activity, his seemingly genetic disposition to multitask will sap his energy and influence rather than enhance them. Trouble recently popped up in the form of an “Evangelical Manifesto” that expressed several New Evangelicalism principles he has come to support. Despite having helped launch the document and claiming to still agree with it, he declined to sign it, saying it was released before consensus could develop for it. Warren’s retreat made it easier for old-line conservatives to dismiss it. It would indubitably have fared better had he applied his networking skills.

But it is one thing to describe a pastor’s social vision and its progress. It is another to explore its theological basis.

After all, Rick Warren is not a diplomat or politician; he is a Southern Baptist pastor, and a best-selling author at that. As Mollie noted in an email to me, why would Warren de-emphasize eternal salvation and the five non-negotiable political-cultural issues? Has his theology changed? Does he consider helping the poor and sick in Africa the doctrinal equivalent of God’s command about marriage and protecting innocent unborn life? On these questions, I am afraid, the story came up short.

The story attempts to answer those questions through an anecdote:

Warren had an epiphany in 2003. His wife Kay had dedicated herself to the fight against HIV/AIDS, a brave move in a community where it was still often stigmatized. In Africa with her nine months later, he says, he heard a message from above. “God said, ‘You don’t care squat about the sick and the poor. And you need to change; you need to repent.’” He became fond of repeating that the Bible has 2,000 verses dedicated to the poor and that the Gospel of Matthew contains not only the Great Commission, in which Christ bids his disciples to spread his word, but also the great commandment, in which he tells the Pharisees to love thy neighbor as thyself.

The time line is off. As late as the fall of 2004, Warren was invested heavily in that year’s presidential election and its attendant clash over cultural issues. But the passage above makes it appear that Warren and his wife had their change of heart and mind in late 2003 or in 2004.

Rick Warren’s pastorate changed sometime from 2003 to 2005. Time’s story did a great job showing readers how it did and the consequences thereof. But it just didn’t explore why it changed.

Property of Jesus

prodigal2You may have heard that the son of a major Hamas leader announced that he is Christian. But if your curiosity was piqued as to why he converted, read Haaretz reporter Avi Issacharoff’s story about Masab Yousuf.

The article was a model in some ways for religious reporters. First, the lede was memorable, underscoring the man-bites-dog theme of the story:

A moment before beginning his dinner, Masab, son of West Bank Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, glances at the friend who has accompanied him to the restaurant where we met. They whisper a few words and then say grace, thanking God and Jesus for putting food on their plates.

It takes a few seconds to digest this sight: The son of a Hamas MP who is also the most popular figure in that extremist Islamic organization in the West Bank, a young man who assisted his father for years in his political activities, has become a rank-and-file Christian.

Second, Issacharoff asked Masab the proper questions. It might have been tempting for the reporter to describe Masab’s conversion in a sentence or two. But Issacharoff let the subject speak Rosebud style, which as the exchange below illustrates was a wise move:

How were you exposed to Christianity?

“It began about eight years ago. I was in Jerusalem and I received an invitation to come and hear about Christianity. Out of curiosity I went. I was very enthusiastic about what I heard. I began to read the Bible every day and I continued with religion lessons. I did it in secret, of course. I used to travel to the Ramallah hills, to places like the Al Tira neighborhood, and to sit there quietly with the amazing landscape and read the Bible. A verse like “Love thine enemy” had a great influence on me. At this stage I was still a Muslim and I thought that I would remain one. But every day I saw the terrible things done in the name of religion by those who considered themselves ‘great believers.’ I studied Islam more thoroughly and found no answers there. I reexamined the Koran and the principals of the faith and found how it is mistaken and misleading. The Muslims borrowed rituals and traditions from all the surrounding religions.”

The story was not perfect, however. Its chief flaw was a lack of context. While I use this criticism frequently, it really applies to Issacharoff’s article. Consider the following passage in which Masab warns the readers of the Israeli-based Haaretz:

“You Jews should be aware: You will never, but never have peace with Hamas. Islam, as the ideology that guides them, will not allow them to achieve a peace agreement with the Jews. They believe that tradition says that the Prophet Mohammed fought against the Jews and that therefore they must continue to fight them to the death. They have to take revenge against anyone who did not agree to accept the Prophet Mohammed, like the Jews who are seen in the Koran as monkeys and the sons of pigs. They speak in terms of historical rights that were taken from them. In the view of Hamas, peace with Israel contradicts sharia and the Koran, and the Jews have no right to remain in Palestine.”

Those comments are harsh. Although they might be true, Issacharoff should have quoted an academic or outside expert to verify this claim, as well as others that Masab makes. The lack of context can be viewed as a tacit endorsement of Masab’s views of the relationship between Islam and Judaism.

In addition, the article’s headline is odd. The story of the prodigal son in the New Testament is about a fallen-away Christian or Jew who returns to His Father. By using this headline, are Haaretz’s editors saying that Masab will return to Islam? Or that Masab’s ancestry is Jewish, presumably because his family is from Palestine, and that he will return to a Jewish conception of God?

Bottomline: this story got religion — about Masab’s experience of it at least.

Unmade in Detroit

kwameYou don’t read this everyday. Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley writes that an influential Christian minister in Detroit is calling on the city’s embattled mayor to resign. Her story explains why the Rev. Edgar Vann joined a growing list of pastors to urge Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to step down.

Vann helped get Kilpatrick elected as Detroit’s youngest mayor, and the mayor stood next to Vann as the pastor built dozens of homes near his sanctuary, Second Ebenezer, ran successful youth programs and nurtured a booming congregation.

Vann said he was watching a shooting star.

But now Vann believes the time has come to extinguish that star. He says he intends to call on the city’s spiritual community to stand up, speak up and work together to convince Kilpatrick to put the city before himself.

“I just feel that the mayor came into office with a lot of promise, a lot of potential, some very unique gifts to help Detroit be better,” he said. “I think that what we have over the city now is this abyss of darkness that prevents us from moving forward. … And so I think the time has come for the mayor to resign.”

Call me intrigued. I have lived in four cities — Baton Rouge, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — and read a lot about 20th-century urban politics. While I recognize that big-city politics and Detroit’s problems are unique, I have never heard about local ministers urging the city’s top political official to resign. Riley’s story conveyed to readers the power that local ministers can have.

And if only Riley had included the voices of more ministers in her story, not to mention that of Mayor Kilpatrick or a spokesperson at least. What do they think of Vann’s opposition?

Her story would not only have been stronger, showing the depth of opposition to the mayor; it also would have been fairer. Riley mentions that Vann is “whispered about as a mayoral hopeful.” This tidbit raises questions about Vann. Is he opposing Kilpatrick to further a political career? Is he using Riley’s column to advance himself?

By not handing over her megaphone to other pastors and Kilpatric’s people, Riley raised too many question in an otherwise interesting story.

Not getting Casey Democrats

CaseyPin 03John M. Broder of The New York Times wrote that Barack Obama’s campaign is likely to give a speaking slot at the Democratic convention later this month to Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., whose late father was famously denied the privilege:

Sixteen years ago, the Democratic Party refused to allow Robert P. Casey Sr., then the governor of Pennsylvania, to speak at its national convention because his anti-abortion views, stemming from his Roman Catholic faith, clashed with the party’s platform and powerful constituencies. Many Catholics, once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight.

This year, the party is considering giving a speaking slot at the convention to Mr. Casey’s son, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who like his late father is a Roman Catholic who opposes abortion rights …

The Obama campaign is being close-mouthed about its convention plans and would not confirm whether Mr. Casey would be given a prime-time speaking slot. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that the call was Mr. Obama’s, but that a prominent speaking role for Mr. Casey would assist in the candidate’s efforts to woo Roman Catholic voters.

Mr. Casey, who endorsed Mr. Obama early and campaigned extensively for him in Pennsylvania, said there was no formal offer yet from Mr. Obama or the party. But, he said, “I think we’ll get something worked out.”

I have enjoyed Broder’s stories about the presidential campaign this year. But this story struck me as more of a political trial balloon floated by the Obama campaign than an examination of the national Democratic Party’s newfound approach toward Catholic voters and the issue of abortion. (Read this old tmatt column for the late Gov. Casey’s view of the diversity of the Catholic vote.)

For one thing, the story lacks essential details about Casey’s speech. What will it be about? Will it call for changing the party’s plank in favor of legalized and taxpayer-financed abortion? Or will it call for reducing the number of abortions through increasing access to contraception or, as Casey’s legislation calls for, increasing housing, maternal, and childcare support?

For another thing, the story is a curiously Orwellian rewriting of political history. For years, reporters invariably included the standard Democratic disclaimer about Casey Sr.’s exclusion from the podium at the 1992 Democratic convention: Casey was not barred because his speech was pro-life, but rather because he failed to endorse the party’s presidential nominee. Now this story, as well as others, affirm Casey’s Jr.’s account, as well as mine: Casey was barred because his speech was anti-abortion. What gives?

Perhaps Broder and his editors never bought into this falsehood. Yet, and this is the third weakness in the story, the article never gets a reaction from liberal feminists and abortion-rights supporters. What do they have to say about Casey’s speech?

Those groups are the ones to ask, not the working-class Democrats who are moderate and even conservative on the issue . After all, they likely pressured nominee Bill Clinton in 1992 to block Casey from speaking. On the day that Casey, Sr. would have spoken, Clinton in his only appearance of the day attended a reception for the National Women’s Political Caucus. “It makes a difference whether,” he said, “whether the president believes in a woman’s right to choose, and I do.”

Finally, the story asserts that Casey Sr.’s position on abortion stemmed form his Catholic faith. This is inartful at best and dubious at worst. In his autobiography, Casey Sr. describes his anti-abortion position in terms of traditional Judeo-Christian values, citing the biblical injunction to be your brother’s keeper. On page 145, he elaborates on the source of his position:

As governor, I viewed abortion as the gravest of a whole array of chilren’s issues. For me, it was a simple step in logic: If government has a duty to protect the powerless, then who among us was the most powerless, most defenseless, most voiceless? The answer: Children.

Broder’s story had redeeming qualities. It included long quotes from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, a vocal pro-life Catholic leader; former Clinton advisor Bill Galston, and Doug Kmiec. Indeed, I take faithful GR reader Julia’s point:

This article is a huge improvement over what you usually get from the NYT about Catholic concerns and the election.

Perhaps true, but the story also shows how big of an improvement is still needed.

Photo: The picture of Gov. Casey dressed up at the Pope was distributed by pro-abortion-rights Pennsylvania Democrats at the 1992 Democratic convention; the pin is courtesy of Michael Donohue.

An abused story

abuseI was in high school 20 years ago. It was an age of great pop music, mullets, and impending U.S. victory in the Cold War. If that sounds like a long time ago, it was.

Which is why I find it odd that The New York Times buried this fact in its story about a Catholic priest who has been removed from ministry because of allegations that he fondled two teenage boys.

Reporter Paul Vitello’s story was curious. It had strong virtues but also strong defects.

On the one hand, Vitello showed that in some cases at least, the Catholic Church’s new policy about removing alleged abusers is severe:

Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the first accuser came to the archdiocese in June. After an internal investigation, he said, the church sent the case to the district attorney’s office, but did not remove Monsignor Harris because it is church policy “not to alert the target” of a potential criminal investigation.

During the district attorney’s investigation, the second accusation against Monsignor Harris emerged, and the diocese ordered him to step aside, Mr. Zwilling said. The five-year statute of limitations has lapsed in both cases, and charges are not likely to be brought, said Alicia Maxey Greene, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.

The archdiocese still must decide whether Monsignor Harris will be returned to his duties, “returned to the lay state,” or permitted to retire to “a life of prayer and penance,” an inactive status, Mr. Zwilling said. Monsignor Harris is one of 15 archdiocesan priests who have been removed since 2002 on sexual abuse allegations, with just one returning to his post, he said.

Also, Vitello showed that the priest, Monsignor Wallace A. Harris, was no recluse or loner; on the contrary, he was popular and influential:

Monsignor Harris, 61, is widely known in Harlem for his church’s charity works, and known in the community of 648 priests who serve in the Archdiocese of New York as an expert organizer and charismatic leader. He is the chairman of the archdiocesan priests’ council, a position to which he was elected by the priests. He was appointed by Cardinal Edward M. Egan as vicar of central Harlem, one of five vicariates in the five boroughs.

Later, Vitello added

The monsignor was assigned to coordinate Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Yankee Stadium in April — and it is part of local legend that the task involved making sure that 100,000 ponchos were ready in case of rain. “How many people could do that?” Ms. Tuckett said. “He is a very smart man; he makes things work like clockwork.”

On the other hand, the story’s lede was buried. The story opened not with the allegations against Monsignor Harris, but rather about the fact that one former pastor was addicted to cocaine and booze while another one was convicted of molesting a 12-year-old girl. What this angle has to do with the main story line I don’t know.

Also, the fact that the alleged abuse 20 years ago was buried. Here is the relevant paragraph:

Neither the archdiocese nor the Manhattan district attorney’s office would provide more details. But people familiar with the district attorney’s investigation said the complaints involved the fondling of two boys, about 13 or 14 years old, when they were students at the Cathedral School in Manhattan, where Monsignor Harris was assigned before becoming pastor at St. Charles Borromeo.

Readers only learn that the alleged fondling occurred two decades ago comes via a quote from an upset parishioner. By contrast, Oren Yaniv of The New York Daily News highlighted that the alleged abused occurred 20 years ago:

A popular Harlem priest accused of sexually abusing two minors 20 years ago will not be charged because the statute of limitations has expired, prosecutors said yesterday.

The allegations against Msgr. Wallace Harris of St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church on 141st St. date from the late 1980s.

The Catholic Church’s new policy is strict in many ways. Yet I think that the Times‘ story needed to explore the question of why abused teenage boys would come forward 20 years later. Is this unusual? Is it possible or likely that the boys’ memory is faulty? (In the early- and mid-1990s, the question of recovered and repressed memory was a big one.)

As is, the story conveys the impression that the church, St. Charles Borromeo, is somehow to blame. As one parishioner says,

“Must be something about that building,” said Roger Firby, 50, a retired corrections officer who has lived most of his life within walking distance of the church. “Always got some trouble.”

Yeah, I guess. But that is a strange way to explain the abuse and the allegations.

“The most segregated hour …”

hands 01Every serious student of recent American history and religion knows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote about racial segregation and Christian churches. But few surely know the ways in which little has changed from King’s day. They would do well to read a CNN article on the subject.

Reporter John Blake’s story
was one of unusual power and honesty. Rare is the mainstream newspaper article that tells uncomfortable truths about both black and white Christians. This is one of those stories. Consider Blake’s lede:

The Rev. Paul Earl Sheppard had recently become the senior pastor of a suburban church in California when a group of parishioners came to him with a disturbing personal question.

They were worried because the racial makeup of their small church was changing. They warned Sheppard that the church’s newest members would try to seize control because members of their race were inherently aggressive. What was he was going to do if more of “them” tried to join their church?

“One man asked me if I was prepared for a hostile takeover,” says Sheppard, pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, California.

The nervous parishioners were African-American, and the church’s newcomers were white. Sheppard says the experience demonstrated why racially integrated churches are difficult to create and even harder to sustain. Some blacks as well as whites prefer segregated Sundays, religious scholars and members of interracial churches say.

Later in the story, Blake elaborated on the reasons for the racial segregation. He summarized the views of the pastor of one inter-racial church this way:

Woo doesn’t say his church has resolved all of its racial tensions. There are spats over music, length of service, even how to address Woo. Blacks prefer to address him more formally, while whites prefer to call him by his first name, (a sign of disrespect in black church culture), Woo says.

The second sentence in this passage hit home with me. My Catholic parish technically is almost all black. I go there for confession and for morning Mass; I revere the pastor, a priest of uncommon holiness and charity. Yet I don’t take my wife and daughter there because the Mass is too long. Our 14-month-old can barely tolerates a 60-minute Mass (at the heavily white parishes), let alone a 150-minute one.

These long services survive regardless of the pastor. The lesson is clear: the black congregants prefer long services. Yet it is also clear why few black Catholics attend the local white Catholic churches. Every third or fourth sermon is a variation on the Jesus-loves-you theme. Whether this message would resonate with local working- and middle-class blacks is doubtful.

Perhaps I digress. Regardless, Blake’s story also showed a firm grasp of the New Testament and Christian theology. Besides the impressive conclusion, Blake summarized the theology of inter-racial parishes this way:

interracial church advocates say the church was never meant to be segregated. They point to the New Testament description of the first Christian church as an ethnic stew — it deliberately broke social divisions by uniting groups that were traditionally hostile to one another, they say.

DeYoung, the “United by Faith” co-author, says the first-century Christian church grew so rapidly precisely because it was so inclusive. He says the church inspired wonder because its leaders were able to form a community that cut across the rigid class and ethnic divisions that characterized the ancient Roman world.

“People said that if Jews, Greeks, Africans, slaves, men and women – the huge divides of that time period — could come together successfully, there must be something to this religion,” DeYoung says.

The passage above was not perfect. A brief passage examining whether segregation is itso facto bad would have been great. Catholic parishes were, and to an extent still are, segregated by ethnicity. Is it un-Christian that Hispanic Catholics have their church, while Irish and Italian Catholics have theirs?

But those are quibbles. Blake’s story did more than Get Religion. It is one of the best newspaper stories I have read this year.

A Cardinal in full — well, almost

cardinalAs I wrote a few months ago, I appreciate any serious newspaper profile of the local Catholic bishop or cardinal. Not to bash my hometown press unnecessarily, but I don’t remember the Bay Area media in the 1980s or ’90s ever doing so. And this in a region where not too long ago, the San Francisco bishop could name the city’s police chief or captain of the fire department.

So I read with interest The Boston Globe‘s profile of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Reporter Michael Paulson gave readers a many-sided portrait of O’Malley. Whether his portrait was full, let alone complete, is another question.

One virtue of the story was its presentation of reality from O’Malley’s point of view. Paulson sat down with the Cardinal for an interview, and this allowed him to portray O’Malley intimately and on his own terms, which are religious and spiritual. (Check out his blog.) His lede is a good example:

Some bishops would have attended an anniversary celebration. Others would have held a public Mass. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley skipped town, checked into a monastery, and prayed.

Five years after he was installed as the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, O’Malley remains in many ways the most unusual of public figures … He arrived in Boston on July 30, 2003, confronting, for the third time in his career as a bishop, a diocese thrown into crisis by clergy sexual abuse. But if the situations confronting the Fall River and Palm Beach dioceses had been grim, the situation in Boston was ruinous. So bad, in fact, that when Pope John Paul II asked him to move to Boston, O’Malley unsuccessfully sent a plea to the pope to reconsider.

“I dropped the phone . . . it was quite a shock,” O’Malley said in an interview Tuesday. “I did ask him to reconsider, and it came back immediately with, no, this is what he wants you to do.”

Another virtue of the story was its summary of O’Malley’s accomplishments and problems as Boston’s top prelate. Any reporter in Boston might have done the same as Paulson, and if anything Paulson might have underplayed the Cardinal’s successes, as O’Malley in his interview mentioned accomplishments not listed in the story.

Yet at least Paulson wrote about O’Malley’s record and did so in a serious and fair way. His descriptions conveyed a key truth about Catholic prelates — their job is primarily administrative, as this passage below illustrates:

He sold the archdiocese’s leafy 64-acre campus in Brighton to Boston College, and used the proceeds to settle abuse cases. He closed one-fifth of the parishes, acknowledging that the archdiocese no longer had the worshipers, the priests, or the funds to justify 357 churches, and he closed multiple parochial schools that he said had become too small to survive. He replaced nearly every top manager in the archdiocese, reduced the size of the administrative staff by about one-quarter, spun off eight Catholic high schools, and tried unsuccessfully to sell the Catholic hospitals. He cut administrative spending from $51 million the year before he arrived to $35 million last year, and slashed the annual deficit from $24 million the year he arrived to $2 million last year.

He moved from the traditional archbishops’ mansion in Brighton — which he then sold — to a shabby rectory in the South End; he traded down the archbishop’s car to a Toyota Avalon, and he continues to wear the brown hooded robe and sandals that symbolize the vow of poverty he took as a Capuchin friar.

What the story did not, however, was include many different voices. While it features quotes from two the presidents of two local Catholic colleges, the mayor, a business leader and a national sex-abuse leader, it has none from independent conservative, liberal or traditional Catholics. This absence was evidence of the story’s Establishment mindset.

I would have liked to have seen a quote from, say, Philip Lawler, the former editor of the archdiocese’s newspaper and author of a well-regarded book on Boston’s Catholics, or Ray Flynn, the city’s longtime former mayor and former ambassador to the Vatican. What do they think of the Cardinal’s administrative, spiritual or political record?

Yet these criticisms are minor. At least this story not only acknowledges that a Catholic Establishment exists, but also seeks to understand its leader.


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