Did Bono swim the Tiber?

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard — who is not famous because of his sources in the world of rock ‘n’ roll — recently (a) broke a big story without knowing it or (b) made the kind of picky mistake that U2 fans get hot and bothered about. I am wondering if anyone else out there spotted this and can tell me whether the reference is accurate or not.

So what is the story?

Bono grew up in Dublin with a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, which is a big thing if one is Irish. U2 grew out of friendships in a Protestant high school. Very early on, several members of the band became active Christians in the context of a charismatic house church (check out October), a very free and non-starched form of free-church Protestantism.

It is hard to stick a label on Bono’s faith these days, but he is usually assumed to be a member of the progressive evangelical camp. I know that the band remains close (he joins them on tour from time to time) with the evangelical Anglican who was the chaplain at their high school.

Nevertheless, Barnes made this reference in a recent story titled “Pro Bono: The president and the singer make common cause on Africa” that jumped out at me:

Bush has twice invited Bono to the Oval Office to discuss Africa. The first meeting, in 2002, was joined by several White House aides and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Catholic leader in Washington. Bono is a Catholic.

Now that’s a major story and I have not seen a reference anywhere else.

Yes, that rosary that you see around Bono’s neck came from Pope John Paul II and the singer is as comfortable quoting Catholic sources as evangelical. That’s the rosary that, when the pope died, Bono hung over his microphone stand under a solo spotlight as a quiet tribute.

Still, has anyone out there heard of Bono actually swimming the Tiber?

What James hath wrought in the Times

I have been watching for several days to see what kind of online reaction screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi might offer to the long-awaited piece in The New York Times about the state of covert right-wing operations in Hollywood. Alas, Barbara appears to be away from her computer keyboard for a few days. Must be talking strategy with Vatican operatives.

As noted in the comments section on the previous chapter in this saga, reporter James Ulmer’s “On the Right Side of the Theater Aisle” came out over the weekend.

The story confirms several shocking facts.

(1) There are quite a few people on the right (as on the left) who want to make agenda-driven documentaries that club people over the head. What this has to do with mainstream entertainment is not explained in the article. Thus, it is best to ignore all of the references in Ulmer’s piece to people who want to make documentaries.

(2) Many people of faith are convinced that Hollywood doesn’t understand them. Most are upset about this.

(3) There are cultural conservatives/people of faith in the film industry who want to learn how to do a better job of working in mainstream Hollywood on its own terms, producing products that millions of people want to buy (as opposed to lots of family movies featuring babies). These people are even, for example, willing to work with Disney to do so. These religious believers think it is time to stop whining and learn how to do a better job of telling good stories.

That’s it folks. So, here is what ended up in print about Nicolosi and her Act One army, including that “Catholic activist” thing and its link to a meeting in California — organized by the Wilberforce Forum and some other culturally conservative movie lovers in Washington, D.C. — to discuss issues of faith and entertainment.

A co-host for the Santa Monica gathering was Act One, a nonpolitical group of Christian screenwriters based in Los Angeles and led by Barbara Nicolosi, a Catholic activist and former nun. Ms. Nicolosi said one of the goals of the meeting was “for Wilberforce to find some intersection of policy and story ideas” for future Hollywood content.

Ms. Nicolosi added that while religiously motivated filmmakers can “obviously find it difficult enough” working in Hollywood, “some of us think we should stop calling ourselves Christians, it’s become such a political liability here.” Building political connections hasn’t been easy, either. “The Christians in Washington just don’t trust us, because we’re part of the Great Satan called Hollywood,” she said.

Here is Nicolosi’s first somewhat sarcastic reaction to the Times piece:

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What we have here is a reindeer ruling

Readers who want a quick way to evaluate today’s MSM coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the Ten Commandment cases can follow these simple directions.

Go to Google News and type in the words “Ten Commandments,” followed by the word “reindeer.” This will help you find the reporters who listened carefully and realized that, in church-state studies terms, what we have here is another reindeer ruling.

And what, you ask, is that? Here is a clip from the Los Angeles Times report by David G. Savage that nails the crucial facts:

In the past, the court has struggled to decide disputes involving religious displays. Often, the outcome turned on trivial details. For example, the court in 1984 upheld a city’s display of a manger scene during the Christmas season, but only because it included reindeer and colored lights. Several years later, it struck down a more solemn depiction of Christ’s birth that sat during the Christmas season on the steps of Pittsburgh’s City Hall.

In other words, public displays of religion are acceptable. However, they must feature a number of religious items displayed in such a way as to communicate that the various faiths are of equal truth and stature.

The tension is obvious. The goal is to show that all religions are equal in the eyes of the state. The problem is that it is hard to do this without drifting into a state-funded proclamation that all religions are equal in the eyes of God. Religious toleration is not the same thing as theological toleration. The state must avoid the latter because it is, well, a theological belief that cannot be backed with tax dollars.

A few newspapers caught the reindeer angle. Many did not. Washington Post columnist George Will dug into this angle in his op-ed piece, under the headline “Thou Shalt Split Hairs.” The massive opening paragraph captures the mood felt by many church-state lawyers on both sides of this dispute:

The Supreme Court rendered two more hairsplitting, migraine-inducing decisions yesterday about when religious displays on public property do and do not violate the First Amendment protection against “establishment” of religion. In a case from Texas, where a Ten Commandments monument stands outside the state capitol, the court, splintered six ways from Sunday, said: We find no constitutional violation. The second case came from Kentucky, where the Commandments displayed in several courthouses are surrounded by historical symbols and documents — e.g., copies of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Star Spangled Banner — to comply with the “reindeer rule,” more about which anon. Yesterday the court recoiled from Kentucky’s displays, saying, they are unconstitutionally motivated by a “predominately religious purpose.” Not enough reindeer?

Why God made bishops

I think it is safe to say that this story represents the end of the Romanian convent-from-hell episode. Bishop Corneliu Barladeanu stepped up and did what bishops are supposed to do — protect the faith. You know things are totally out of control when the nuns start attacking a bishop, attacking as in physical assault. Here are a few more interesting details from a wire update:

The church, which is faced with a shortage of priests, had granted Corogeanu the right to work as a priest, despite the fact that he had not completed his theological studies, Barladeanu said. He added the church now planned to introduce psychological tests for men entering the monastic life. The Holy Trinity convent was built in 2001 by a lawyer and had not been sanctified by the Orthodox Church, Barladeanu added.

Parsing the Supremes’ tea leaves

Supreme CourtThe pros at the Religion Newswriters Association already have one of their ReligionLink features up on the tightly decided U.S. Supreme Court decision on the 10 Commandments. To check it out, click here. Meanwhile, watch this space for the wave of links that will, in a matter of hours, pour out of Christianity Today‘s blog.

This is going to be a mucho strange story to follow in the MSM, because reporters are having a devil of time finding out if the Religious Right won or lost. And what is the impact of all this on the first open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court and, thus, on the legal future of abortion on demand? After all, this is the ultimate issue. If you don’t believe me, click here.

The split nature of the 10 Commandments decision is well stated in this early Washington Post report:

The decisions, issued by two different majorities of justices using different tests of constitutionality, are likely to continue, rather than settle, the long-running argument over when state, local and federal governments may display religious symbols or allow their display on government property.

“Split decisions make people go and fight again,” said Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization which has been fighting this particular fight for decades.

Let us know about the good and the bad in the MSM coverage in the next 24 hours. I’ll chime in again if and when I see any patterns. Who knows, maybe this decision will be impossible to get into a simple headline — period.

Covering the tense Vatican-China dance

It was hours before the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese government and I was, with a circle of other journalists from around the world, attending a conference on journalism and religious liberty. It was a wild and frantic time to be in what I am told is almost always a wild and frantic city.

There were many memorable discussions that night. But the remark I will always remember came from a major publisher in Hong Kong, who observed that there were really only two people in the world who were truly feared by the leaders of the mainland Chinese government — Bill Gates and Pope John Paul II. Why? One refused to cede control of almost anything that was happening in the world in terms of information and business. The other refused to cede control of the spirit and the conscience.

I thought of that while reading reporter Mark Magnier’s excellent Los Angeles Times update on the tense courtship that is under way between the Vatican and the principalities and powers in China. The story does underplay the crucial Protestant “house church” side of the religious-liberty scene in China, but that’s to be expected since it is not the focus of this lengthy report.

What stands in the way of better Vatican-Chinese relations? The usual stuff, sad to report:

In talks in Rome and Beijing, the two sides have outlined a range of possible compromises to normalize relations that seem to overcome the main sticking points, said Mario Marazziti, spokesman for the Rome-based humanitarian group Community of St. Egidio.

The talks suffered a setback when Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian attended John Paul’s funeral, but Marazziti said he believed it was only temporary.

The main elements of a compromise are now in focus, religious leaders and analysts say. The Vatican would probably end its official recognition of Taiwan and Beijing would allow Rome greater say in church affairs.

Cuba and Vietnam, also ruled by communist governments, may provide a model, experts say. For instance, instead of naming a bishop, Rome could offer three candidates, letting Beijing choose.

Church officials said many of Taiwan’s 300,000 Catholics might feel betrayed by any downgrading of relations between Taipei and Rome. But Msgr. Ambrose Madtha, the Vatican’s charge d’affaires in Taiwan, said the possibility had been floating for years, and many are used to the idea.

This kind of reporting is so difficult, for journalistic reasons that transcend shackles on reporters attempting to do private interviews with real people in China. Face it — studies show that average Americans don’t want to read much about foreign affairs and many editors, well, just don’t get religion. Thus, it is hard for reporters to sell quality MSM coverage of religious issues on the other side of the planet.

Thus, it is important to pay attention when quality stories on these issues appear — such as this report by Magnier. Bravo.

Nicolosi and the Times, round III

windowAnd now it is time for another episode of Barbara Nicolosi and James the New York Times reporter. Barbara is the leader of the Act One screenwriting workshops in Hollywood and one of the most witty, at times even snarky, former nuns one would ever want to meet. “Snarky” can be a good thing, right?

If you want to catch up on the arc of this mini-drama, the previous acts and a lot of related links, click here. As I said before, Nicolosi is posting her side of her recent telephone encounters with a Times reporter who is writing a story on born-again right-wingers who have an evil plan to take over Hollywood, or something like that.

Barbara, you see, is not fitting into the mold that exists in the reporter’s mindset. She is not playing along.

I think more people involved in complicated, tense journalistic encounters in the blog age might want to try this approach. Let a million transcripts bloom. In the past, I have urged people I interview — if they are worried about being quoted fairly — to use a tape recorder. Then I have a tape and they have a tape. That’s fair, right?

Anyway, let’s get to the latest installment in this series, which is unfolding at Nicolosi’s blog, Church of the Masses.

So, I got a call today from my new friend, James, the NY Times reporter who has been working on the story to unmask the secret scary vast conspiracy to funnel money from rightwing political covert ops into Christian ministries in Hollywood. He was calling to say the piece he interviewed me for is running in this Sunday’s Times — the front page of the lifestyle section. It was very nice of him to call. . . .

James: I hope you’ll be okay with this. In my article, I referred to you as “a Catholic activist.”

Barb: Forgive me, but what the heck is a Catholic activist?

James: (laughing nervously) Well, you know, somebody who is really into organizing Catholic things.

Barb: But, I don’t organize Catholic things. I am the executive director of an interdenominational non-profit –

James: Yeah. Yeah . . . I know . . . but I had to call you something.

Barb: You could have called me the executive director of an interdenominational non-profit organization.

James: Yeah. Well . . . [cough]

Let’s all watch for that story in the Sunday edition of the Times. In a perverse sort of way, I hope that it ends up being pretty good — meaning that the facts are right and there is some balance to it. Hey, it could happen.

Bizarre Newsweek labor ghost

So you are rolling through the Newsweek story on tensions in American labor and how they may hurt the Democratic Party and then you hit this ghost — which is left unexplained by Howard Fineman, of all people. Boooo! There is, you see, a showdown looming between “Change to Win” coalition leader Andy Stern and AFL president John Sweeney. It’s complicated, so check out the story. But here is the part that spooked me:

Some say [Stern] has another agenda, which is to take over the AFL-CIO from his former SEIU colleague Sweeney, who is half a generation older and cut from a different cloth: a Dorothy Day social activist from the working-class Bronx, N.Y., versus Stern, whose grandparents were members of an exclusive German-Jewish country club and who is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

OK, so it’s a class reference. But you can’t help but note the Catholic Worker tag on one side and the “German-Jewish” label on the other. Say what precisely is being said here?