Silence on that hot Vatican scoop?

Every now and then, a story comes out in a niche magazine or alternative form of media that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me say, “Wow! What a scoop! What will the MSM do with that?”

Since this is a blog about the major media and religion news, I tend to wait until someone else picks up the story before I write about it. Recently we had one of those “Wow!” stories and I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and . . .

So I guess I better let GetReligion readers help me figure out what happened to the hot story that the one and only John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter broke not that long ago. You knew it was a big story, because Andrew Sullivan blasted away from the progressive side of the church aisle and Catholic World News was encouraged on the traditional end of the kneeler. The story?

Sources indicate that the long-awaited Vatican document on the admission of homosexuals to seminaries is now in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI. The document, which has been condensed from earlier versions, reasserts the response given by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2002, in response to a dubium submitted by a bishop on whether a homosexual could be ordained: “A homosexual person, or one with a homosexual tendency, is not fit to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.”

That reply was published in the November-December 2002 issue of Notitiae, the official publication of the congregation.

It is up to Benedict XVI to decide whether to issue the new document as it stands, to send it back for revision, or to shelve it on the basis that for now such a document is “inopportune.”

So did I miss the story somewhere else? Or did Allen nail it with a piece of enformed speculation lower in his report? You see, people tend to forget that sexuality issues in the Catholic world are not strictly a left vs. right affair. It is also a matter of public vs. private.

Privately, some hope Benedict will decide to put the document in a desk drawer for the time being, on the grounds that it will generate controversy and negative press without changing anything in terms of existing discipline.

As one bishop put it to me, the policy against ordaining homosexuals is already clear — the only interesting question is, what do you mean by a “homosexual”? At one end of the continuum, it could refer to anyone who once had a fleeting same-sex attraction; at another, it could be restricted to someone who is sexually active and openly part of a “gay pride” movement. Most people would exclude those extremes, but where is the line drawn in between?

Watch Allen for the updates. He is the insiders’ insider. It is hard to overemphasize how important this story is among Catholic politicos. I cannot believe that the MSM did not chase the work of a reporter as plugged in as Allen.

Easy journalistic game in these Times

Here is a very easy journalistic game. What we have here are two Boy Scout Jamboree leads. Both are from White House beat stories in newspapers called the Times.

Without clicking the hyperlinks, just yet, name the newspapers.

Lead No. 1 is:

President Bush drew cheers on Sunday from a crowd of tens of thousands of Boy Scouts and their parents with talk about patriotism, morals and the role of their organization in creating leaders.

And here is lead No. 2:

President Bush yesterday told more than 30,000 Boy Scouts of America gathered at their annual jamboree not to waver from their moral conviction or their duty to God and country, telling the boys that “there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference.”

OK, name that Times newspaper.

Easy, isn’t it?

The news here is that New York Times reporter Matthew Wald did include the crucial “right and wrong” quote — attention Dr. James Davison Hunter — later in his story, at least in an early version that was on the website. Here is the context:

Mr. Bush praised the virtues of scouting and listed all those included in the Boy Scout law, including trustworthiness and loyalty. He said that some people might “question the values you learn in scouting.”

“But remember, lives of purpose are constructed on conviction that there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference,” he said.

What I found interesting was that the MSM did not mention why this quote was in the speech in the first place and why the Boy Scouts are, in these times, such a controversial organization. Freedom of association is another one of those controversial issues, these days.

Ch-ch-ch-changes at GetReligion

printingpressI have been missing in action today, but for a reason. It was my first day working at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities on the project now called the Washington Journalism Center. It’s a full-semester journalism education program growing out of the decade-long Summer Institute of Journalism (some info here).This is the teaching post that recently brought me and my family back to Beltway land.

But, as Jeremy noted yesterday, August 1 is a day for some other changes here at GetReligion. Young master Lott is taking a solid three months away from Washington media life to write his book, which is currently titled In Defense of Hypocrisy. Before he vanishes, I do hope he will offer us an epistle giving us a hint what this book will be about. The young man does have some edge.

The Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc is also poised to move into a new media post in the Anglican world and I will let him explain that himself. Suffice it to say that he will be spending much of his time on the other side of a reporter’s notebook, working with reporters rather than merely as a report. Let me go on the record that I do hope he gets to keep his column at Episcopal Life. Diversity is a good thing.

As a result, Doug is moving into a managing editor role here at GR. He will still be our go-to tech guy, continuing the work he has done since day one. He will focus his writing on religion coverage in mainstream news magazines, which will give him more flexibility with when and what he writes. Any ideas on what magazines he should stress, other than the obvious newsweeklies?

We will also be gaining the talents of a young writer named Daniel Pulliam who works at Government Executive, which is linked to the National Journal family. Daniel will stress foreign news and Internet publications. I will let him offer some biographical information. However, I will note that there are apples that do not fall far from journalistic trees.

As for me, there is much to do before the Washington Journalism Center opens its doors in the fall of 2006. Meanwhile, I will continue to be senior editor here at GetReligion, with an emphasis on domestic issues and rock music (same as always). I certainly expect to be more involved in media life in Washington, as the religion columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service and in projects linked to the world of blogging.

As always, please let us know about those MSM ghosts that you see and about publications and networks that you think we need to cover. We welcome your help.

Big story. Small church. Huh?

Bronx2I don’t mean to be snarky about this, and I don’t think that all Godbeat stories must be driven by some statistical formula, but does anyone else think that this major feature story in The New York Times is a little bit strange?

The headline is sweeping: “A Guiding Light Leaves His Church in a Reborn Bronx.”

The opening paragraphs by reporter David Gonzalez are big stuff:

The Rev. Eddie Lopez Jr. always pursued a ministry that went against the currents of politics and popular opinion. Since becoming pastor of La Resurrección United Methodist Church in the South Bronx in 1988, he has started a needle exchange, supported Puerto Rican nationalists, opposed wars abroad and fought for jobs and housing at home.

It was a journey of faith and feet, with a congregation that moved three times as it grew, starting in a storefront and finally settling into a 19th-century brick church in Melrose. That neighborhood was once bombed out, but has been rebuilt.

Then it turns out that this congregation has grown and grown and grown and today is has — 65 members?

I kept reading on to see if one or two digits had accidentally been dropped from that membership total. I mean, in light of recent growth trends in New York City religion — a gigantic story, believe me — surely that was supposed to be 650 or 6,500? The rebirth of the Bronx (the photo with this post is a classic from the past) is also a major religion story. More on that in a minute.

So there is some kind of story here.

A popular pastor of a small, struggling congregation is moving on. In this case, he may even be moving out of one oldline Protestant flock (United Methodism) and into another (the Episcopal Church). We are also told that he is an active leader in all kinds of protests and social movements, but we don’t really get any details. We find out that the tiny church is struggling to pay his salary and benefits, without aid from regional conference leaders, but we don’t find out how that is affecting Lopez’s family or if he even has one.

If this man is a rebel of some kind, what is he a rebel about? What is the story here? Above all, why is this a major story?

Like I said, I am trying not to be snarky. I am really curious. What was it about this particular little church and event that so inspired editors at the Times, in the midst of their efforts to be more diverse and religion friendly? What am I missing in this story? What is the X factor?

It isn’t as if there are not big, inspiring, growing religion stories to be told in the Bronx and in the city as a whole. I mean, click here and check out a recent Christianity Today story on this topic.

Read this CT story and then the Times story and then do the math.

Covering the thickets of the law

Just a quick update on an ongoing topic. There is an interesting essay in The Wall Street Journal about Catholicism, John Roberts, Sen. Richard Durbin and St. Thomas More — sort of in that order. Clearly this topic is going to keep coming up, as demonstrated by Jeremy with this post yesterday and Doug with another earlier in the week (great art) about the start of this new angle on the Supreme Court wars.

The WSJ article is by Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University and once the dean of the Catholic University law school. The piece is low-key and sane, and this is how it ends:

Catholics do not have to recuse themselves, though, from judging the legality of, say, abortion or the death penalty: These are matters of constitutional, not moral, authority. When More was asked why he didn’t arrest a man directly for being “bad,” he replied (as retold by Sir Robert Bolt) that, though he set man’s law “far below” God’s, he was most certainly “not God,” and he wanted to draw “attention to [that] fact.” “The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which [others] find such plain sailing,” More said, “I can’t navigate. . . . But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt there’s a man alive who could follow me there, thank God.”

There is no match for Judge Roberts, either, in the “thickets of the law,” and the Senate Democrats should evaluate him on his high merit and avoid picking a fight with American Catholics.

I know this is an obvious point, but this whole Roberts/Catholic angle is really not a clash between Republicans and Democrats, at this stage. It’s a flash point between Catholics. James Davison Hunter, please call your answering service.

Death in the European church family?

You had to know this was coming. During the days before the conclave in which Pope Benedict XVI was elected, many commentators predicted this would be the papacy that furthered the transition to the “global Christianity” reflected by many of the appointments made by Pope John Paul II.

Well, that’s true. But there are two ways to look at that.

One way is that this would be a papacy that symbolizes the rise of the Third World. The other is a papacy that symbolizes the fading of the First World.

What would this second reality look like? As has often been noted (Andrew Sullivan leaps to mind), Cardinal Ratzinger is a traitor to his class. He emerged from the heart of chilly European liberalism and has turned into a champion of the old ways and traditions of pre-modern Europe. He is a modern intellectual who does not worship modernity or postmodernity.

So this Associated Press report by Nicole Winfield is not really a surprise. But the language is blunt. If this keeps up, it is clear that many journalists are going to need to catch up on their Philip Jenkins (click here for that classic Atlantic Monthly article called “The Next Christianity”).

The bottom line: The rise of the “Next Christendom” does imply that some other Christendom has to fall.

Thus, the bold headline: “Pope Laments ‘Dying’ Churches in West.” This has been the story for some time in the Anglican drama. At some point, the heat will increase in the Church of Rome.

Here is some of what Big Ben had to say, during an informal talk to some Italian priests in the northern Valle d’Aosta region:

Benedict . . . said the “joy” at the growing numbers of churchmen in the developing world is accompanied by “a certain bitterness” because some would-be priests were only looking for a better life. . . .

Benedict also touched on another his favorite themes: the state of the church in Europe. He said in contrast to the developing world, where there is a “springtime of faith,” the West was “a world that is tired of its own culture, a world that has arrived at a time in which there’s no more evidence of the need for God, much less Christ, and in which it seems that man alone can make himself.

“This is certainly a suffering linked, I’d say, to our time, in which generally one sees that the great churches appear to be dying,” he said, mentioning Australia, Europe and the United States.

At the moment, it is hard to think of an oldline and liturgical church that is not really being affected by this global tension, other than some that are so elite or tired that they literally have no ties to a vital faith community in the rest of the world. This is one news story that will not fade any time soon. It seems this pope will talk about it openly, even if it does represent a death in his immediate cultural family.

Colson and prisons: Why not hard news?

Hey, our home DSL is finally working. Time to do some catching up.

Here is a little essay about Charles Colson that The New York Times ran the other day. Part of me wonders if this is part of the newspaper of record’s attempt to deal with more countercultural and “radical” segments of American life — such as traditional religious believers. But here is the larger question: Why is this on the op-ed page? The topic discussed by Adam Cohen is worthy of news coverage. At least, I think so.

I mean, read this section of the essay and tell me this is not a news hook:

Prison reform has been a liberal cause since the Quakers founded the first penitentiary, Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail, in 1790. Political conservatives have traditionally been more focused on punishing criminals than on reforming them, and religious conservatives have generally felt the same way. “The evangelical church has some great strengths,” Mr. Colson said in an interview, but historically, “concern for the poor and the marginal was not one of them.”

There are signs that, at least on the issue of prisons, that could be changing. In the last few years, evangelical Protestants and their allies in Congress have become more interested in prison reform, and Mr. Colson deserves much of the credit.

Why not turn this into a news feature and interview all kinds of people with all kinds of viewpoints? This sounds like serious news to me.

Where does the L.A. editor worship?

I am not a big Huffington Post reader, but I do pay attention to the blogging of a friend of mine named Mark Joseph, one of those journalism students who went to the dark side and works in Hollywood. MJ just shot off an interesting critique of some of the early U.S. Supreme Court coverage — especially the stories focusing on the religious beliefs of nominee John Roberts and his wife, Jane.

What is unique is that MJ starts far from the court. He begins with the recent leadership transition at the top of the most powerful media institution on the Left Coast — the Los Angeles Times. What does that have to do with the court wars? Here is a major chunk of MJ’s provocative little post:

Reading stories in the L.A. Times on the paper’s new editor Dean Baquet and Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, I noticed something about the coverage: The paper is telling me a lot more about Roberts than Baquet.

Apparently it’s newsworthy that Roberts’ wife was president of the anti-abortion group Feminists For Life. But the reporter profiling the new editor gives me no such insights into Baquet’s wife’s activities. To what groups does she belong to? The ACLU? The Sierra Club? A pro-life group? You can tell a lot about a man by the groups his wife belongs to.

The Times tells me that Roberts is a conservative, but I read nothing about Baquet’s ideological orientation. I read that Roberts is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, but I read nothing of the groups to which Baquet has belonged to.

Reporters dig up memos at the Reagan Library written by Roberts in the early ’80′s to help me understand his thought processes and political views, but I read nothing of comparable memos written by Mr. Baquet.

MJ admits that a Supreme Court justice has a much greater national impact than one newspaper editor. But it is true that, as a rule, newspapers do not do a very good job of sharing even small amounts of information about the views of the institutions and the people who run them. Does your newspaper union support abortion rights with chunks of your dues? Mine did.

The Times story about its new editor does give us some interesting personal information, but nothing about his beliefs. Some forms of diversity are more equal than others, it seems.

. . . Baquet was reared in a working-class section of New Orleans by parents who owned a neighborhood Creole restaurant. His promotion will make him the first African American to run a top-level American newspaper.

Baquet attended Columbia University in New York City but never graduated, having been swept up in the excitement of the news business after an internship at the now-defunct New Orleans States-Item. He made his journalistic name in 1988 at the Chicago Tribune as part of a three-person team that won a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting with stories about corruption in the Chicago City Council.

The Washington Post likewise sticks to the journalistic details. This is not surprising. Journalists are supposed to be able to do their jobs and be fair to people on both sides of hot issues — such as the legality of abortion on demand. Do we need to dig into their religious beliefs?

Howard Kurtz at the Post did offer this interesting note about John Carroll, the departing editor in Los Angeles. Back in 2003,

Carroll . . . made news that year with a leaked memo that criticized the “apparent bias” of one of his reporters on an abortion story, writing that he wanted to challenge “the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, ‘politically correct’ newspaper.” Like most big-city editors, he has struggled with declining circulation, which dipped 6.5 percent earlier this year, to 908,000.

Well, that’s interesting. It sounds like it might have been good to ask the new L.A. editor a few questions about moral and cultural issues.

So, should there be a religious test for journalists? Should there be a religious test for justices?

You probably know where I am going to come down on this — the more information the better. Let’s look for ideological diversity and ask lots of questions, on both sides of these cultural divides.