Con man, fake priest, sinner

If there are any screenwriters out there who want a bizarre real-life story about original sin, look no further than this amazing (and oh so depressing) Los Angeles Times feature story by Tonya Alanez about the life and times of con man Federiqkoe DiBritto III.

Where to begin? He just wants to do good, even if he can’t straighten out his own life. And the money was just there for the taking.

And what about the times he managed to convince people that he was a priest?

“Emotionally and spiritually, he did real damage to people here in Phoenix,” said Father David Sanfilippo, vicar general of the Phoenix diocese. “To find out that it was an impostor celebrating these sacraments was very hurtful.”

Brito said he regrets fooling the Arizona parishioners, but he sees things differently.

“When I worked in the parish, I gave my heart,” he said. “When I spoke at the Masses, they applauded.”

Brito describes himself as “very” religious and dedicated to fulfilling the needs of others. “I probably would have made a great priest, a great elected official, a great human being,” Brito said. “But I screwed it up.”

He said he prays for forgiveness.

“God came to heal sinners, not perfect people, and I am one of them,” he said.

So who plays this guy in the DreamWorks movie? This guy gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “born again.” Wow. My only knock on this story is that it really cries out for theological insights. No, I mean it. DiBritto is messed up — in a very specific way. The spiritual element of this story cannot be denied. What do Catholic authorities have to say about his angels and demons?

Does GetReligion want to “go there”?

dieties. . . (The) Christian worldview’s truth claims include an admonition for Christians to be “salt, light, and leaven,” individually and collectively, on their spheres of influence. That truth claim presupposes that their spheres of influence would benefit from a collective and intentional Christian influence, and also presupposes such intentional and collective influence is possible.

My perception is that the “Get Religion” blog does not want “to go there” — whether/to what degree Christian journalists should collectively and intentionally influence their profession. I suggest Jay Rosen’s most thoughtful insights, linked to the blog item, on the “religion of journalism,” allude to this — they do not mention how, if at all, Christian journalists (or journalists of other faiths) should collectively and intentionally influence their profession, as an appropriate outworking of that faith and its truth claims.

Posted by Joe at 9:56 am on August 17, 2005

This topic is linked to questions that we hear, from time to time, about the role of religious faith in journalism and, thus, in the work at this blog. This is natural, since faith tends to give journalists sweaty palms and journalism has the same effect on far too many religious leaders. I’ve been working in this particular minefield for decades.

So let me very briefly respond to Joe’s comment that GetReligion does not “want to go there” on the God and journalism issue.

If Christians in the field of journalism influence our field, I hope it is in the same way that religious believers influence the fields of law, art, sports, academia, etc. In other words, that influence is expressed through the quality of their work and in open debates about ethical issues that affect everyone on the job.

In other words, GetReligion is not a site about “Christian journalism.” We are pretty open about our faith around here, but the purpose of the blog is to talk about how to improve MSM coverage of religion news. The goal is diversity. We are pro-journalism. Click here and here for some of foundational essays about that.

Now, I freely admit that any study of media-bias literature tends to point toward conflicts between the press and traditional forms of religion. There’s no way to avoid that. But I am convinced there is more to that topic than some simplistic left vs. right divide. Religious conservatives who claim the MSM is “liberal,” in some traditional meaning of that word, and is out to nail them are not seeing the whole picture. That’s another topic that keeps coming up in this space, from time to time.

The Christians I know who thrive in mainstream journalism (I am active in Gegrapha, for example) are those who want to work in journalism — period. To get theological about it, they see journalism as a part of God’s (glorious and fallen) creation. No more, no less.

To paraphrase that noted theologian James Carville: It’s journalism, stupid.

iPod, therefore iAm (what iAm)

I had one of those moments of techno-transcendence this morning on the MARC train as I rolled into Washington, D.C.

So the mass-media side of me is looking around the train, noticing that about half of the people are wearing iPods or iPod wannabees. The older iPod people are listening and reading — books or newspapers. The younger people are just plugged in.

Then the journalist in me notes a Jose Antonio Vargas story that someone is reading in The Washington Post. You can guess the topic, and the headline sort of says half the equation in a blunt, materialist fashion: “The iPod: A Love Story Between Man, Machine.”

I, of course, start thinking again about the role music plays in self-identity and, thus, in religious faith. GetReligion has visited this topic before, of course.

Please understand that I am interested in some of the openly religious commercial applications of this new form of personal technology. I am even interested in the religious leaders who have started thinking about the implications of the iPod for religious expression in this age (check this out, on a slightly different topic). I am not even talking about the neo-cult status of Steve Jobs and Apple, although the last Windows machine in my personal life should leave the house within a matter of days.

No, I am talking about the spiritual implications of people — supposedly secular people, even — making statements such as this:

“If a song represents a memory in your head, then you listen to your life’s memories — faster than a mixed CD, definitely faster than a mixed tape — as you listen to your iPod,” says the affable, fast-talking Berkowitz, a project manager for a software company, as he sits in his downtown Washington office. “It becomes an extension of you,” he says. “It’s like a window to your soul.”

And then again there is this issue, which raises issues of cultural assimilation and cultural isolationism — at the same time. Does the iPod make you a part of a culture or does it help you avoid it? What if the answer is “yes”?

Fatima Ayub, wearing a white chiffon hijab that matches her iPod’s white earphones, is walking briskly on R Street in Northwest Washington on her way to work. You’d hardly ever see her, she says, without her 15-gigabyte iPod, which has more than 1,300 songs on it.

“Your taste in music is something very personal, very emotional. So when you have an iPod and you’ve got all your music on it, you’re trying to say something about yourself,” says Ayub, 22, an associate for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. She’s listening to “A Perfect Sonnet” by the indie rock group Bright Eyes as she sits on a curb near 18th and R streets. Her boyfriend, Imran, learned to play that song on his guitar for her, she says, cracking a shy smile. “You’re making a little collection of emotions and memories for yourself and you stick them all in this little machine and you carry it around with you wherever.”

Has anyone seen someone sitting in a religious sanctuary with an iPod on? Or have many people already chosen a congregation that fits in with the style and content of their iPod? Questions, questions.

P.S. tmatt’s iPod mix for this morning’s ride was the Byrds, with a heavy emphasis — I confess — on spaced-out David Crosby tunes. I don’t think “Triad” is about the Nicene Creed.

Is it a sin to talk to a reporter?

I don’t know how to describe this item other than to say that the omnipresent Ted Olsen of the Christianity Today blog has done an amazing job of writing up a GetReligion case study from a San Bernardino Sun article about ministry in times of sickness and health. The case is so amazing that all I can really say is click here and go read it. Do yourself a favor.

Strange times, strange times

You know we are living in strange times when you are more likely to see the name of progressive heroine Ayaan Hirsi Ali in a Wall Street Journal byline than in a headline linked to a human-rights fest in Hollywood. She is, of course, the Somali-born Dutch liberal who has been forced to live in hiding because of her criticism of radical forms of Islam. Her op-ed essay focuses on issues linked to the rights of women in two nations that seem, at first glance, radically different — Iraq and Canada.

The first is the draft constitution of Iraq, now due next week. Iraqi women like Naghem Khadim, demonstrating on the streets of Najaf, are fighting to prevent an article from being put in the constitution that would establish that the legislature may make no laws that contradict Shariah edicts. The second case is the province of Ontario, in Canada. There, Muslim women led by Homa Arjomand, an activist of Iranian origin, are fighting — using the Canadian Charter of Rights — to keep Shariah from being applied as family law through a so-called Arbitration Act passed as law in Ontario in 1992.

It’s all about religious liberty, isn’t it? Now tell me: Is this a “liberal” issue or a “conservative” issue?

Are j-profs losin’ their religion?

ManAngelThat man Jay Rosen, a veteran professor at New York University’s Department of Journalism, is at it again — digging into the religious structures beneath the cathedrals of journalism.

A long, long time ago, a Sojourners essay took a stab at describing the links between religion and journalism, saying that journalists turn over the rock to reveal the dirt and ministers shovel off the dirt to reveal the rock. This is the same territory that Rosen covered in one of those essays that I hope every GetReligion reader has read — “Journalism Is Itself a Religion.” Note that this link takes you to the The Revealer, where it is stored as one of that blog’s statements of core doctrine.

If you want an update on some of those themes, check out Rosen’s “Deep Throat, J-School and Newsroom Religion,” which dissects the role that the Watergate Myth played in the idealism of a whole generation of journalism leaders. Here’s the readout from the top of that essay: “Watergate is the great redemptive story believers learn to tell about the press and what it can do for the American people. Whether the story can continue to claim enough believers — and connect the humble to the heroic in journalism — is a big question. Whether it should is another question.”

Now, if any of that interests you, you are ready for the Rosen report from the recent AEJMC convention in San Antonia (tmatt asks: Great summer climate. Was hell booked up?) where some veteran journalism professors had a chance to testify — in the Bible Belt sense of that word — during a panel discussion called “Things I Used to Teach That I No Longer Believe.” It seems that the old-time religion just isn’t converting a new generation. As a journalism professor myself, I feel their pain.

It’s impossible to miss the faith language in the San Antonio remarks. Here is a clip or two from Rosen’s report:

First up was Carl Sessions Stepp, a contributing writer to American Journalism Review, a former national correspondent and editor for the Charlotte Observer and USA Today, and a professor at the University of Maryland’s J-School. He said that most of what he believed when he began teaching in 1983 he still believed, with one big exception.

Then he would have said that nearly all journalists employed in the field were people “on a mission.” They saw their work as a noble public service, and shared a sense of duty that helped them define what the service was amid a hectic news environment. Students quickly picked up on this creed, and newsoom culture supported it.

That was then. Now, he said, the sense of mission is not the same. He didn’t say it was gone; plenty of journalists still heard the call. And young people still showed up in his classes ready to believe. But changes in the news business and “workplace culture” have turned the mission into a fairy tale much of the time. There is no universal sense of calling any more, Stepp declared. Journalism as a whole isn’t “on a mission,” but journalists as individuals still can be.

The obvious question: What is the nature of this secular “calling”? As a Christian who works in mainstream journalism, I have always struggled with that word for the simple reason that many people hear it and link it directly to the work of ordained ministers. The traditional Christian doctrine, however, is that people are called to a wide variety of professions and God does not rank them — from rock & roll guitarists to airplane pilots, from (gulp) lawyers to painters. In that sense, one can be “called” to be a journalist, working in this industry to the best of one’s ability and following the rules of the craft.

Rosen argues that many journalists are actually semi-ordained evangelists in a church of journalism. They are on a mission from the gods and the gods have names such as Woodward and Bernstein, who produced The Good Book that inspired young believers to make personal professions of faith and walk the true path.

So what does it mean if young people don’t want to do “mission” work in modern newsrooms? What is the modern j-student seeking?

Back to Rosen’s report:

Next was Dianne Lynch, dean of the School of Communications at Ithaca College, a journalist, and former executive director of the Online News Association. She told us a startling story about an exceptional student who gave up a four-year scholarship worth over $200,000, including tuition, room and board, even travel money. The student came to the dean’s office to let Lynch know that she was quitting journalism and switching to sociology. “I decided that I just can’t be in such a terrible profession,” the student said, adding that it did not seem to her a field where a young person could “make a difference.”

There was a slight gasp in the room at that. This was because the phrase used, “make a difference,” though tedious and vague, was once the very thing that identified to journalists their own idealism. You didn’t do it for the money, and it wasn’t the wonderful working conditions, or a chance for advancement. For a certain generation (whose mortality was lurking about the panel, way under the laughs) journalism, at its best, was all about “making a difference.” Speaking truth to power, and all that.

And so forth and so on, world without end. Amen.

So do modern j-students want to preach, as in pour out their beliefs in secular sermons in openly partisan publications? Are we facing the rise of the new, New Journalists? Is the goal to do unto the bloggers what the bloggers want to do unto you?

These are interesting times and Rosen is must reading, no matter what church you have joined.

Sin and ink are still a volatile mix

It has felt strange to go several days without mentioning the media coverage of the scandal at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City involving the powerful 79-year-old conservative leader Msgr. Eugene Clark and his beautiful, married, much younger secretary Laura DeFilippo.

Just look for the New York Daily News tabloid headlines that scream “Beauty and the Priest.” This story has it all — sex, what certainly seem to be lies and one really interesting videotape by a private eye (which is evidence in a nasty divorce, of course). Here’s a tiny sample (leaving out the part where the priest is alleged to have made a kind of “touchdown!” scoring gesture to his secretary when he manages to register for the hotel room):

The Daily News viewed the videotape. After a two-hour brunch on the porch of the nearby Surfside Inn, Clark, dressed in a white polo shirt, was seen wheeling a small black suitcase into the White Sands Motel. His secretary, dressed in short white shorts and a matching top with spaghetti straps, followed him inside with an orange tote bag over her shoulder.

When they emerged about five hours later, the video showed Clark and DeFilippo wearing different outfits.

By the end of the week, Clark had resigned, the Vatican was involved and the Daily News was writing unique stories that featured items such as the following.

Have you seen a newspaper print something like this lately? This seems rather, uh, Fleet Street British to me.

The Archdiocese of New York accepted Msgr. Eugene Clark’s resignation yesterday. But there are still questions left unanswered for both sides. Here are a dozen:


You’ve been stripped of your priestly duties and have been suspended from the Eternal Word Television Network. What now?

Why would you stay at an Amagansett motel when you have a $2 million house nearby?

Were there any other women who have helped you with your “paperwork?”

You’ve railed against homosexuality in sermons. Where do you rank infidelity among sins?

How can a priest afford a pad in the Hamptons and trips to St. Bart’s?

What would you say to Philip DeFilippo and his children?

The New York Times played things much, much straighter.

But here is what interests me. You know the old saying about the murder mystery in which the pivotal clue was the dog that did not bark? That is what this case reminds me of. The newspapers have rolled out damning evidence and opinions. There have been loaded quotes, stunning second-hand anecdotes and lots more. Catholics are outraged.

So what is the dog that is not barking? I am not hearing the usual claims that the press is out to torch the church. I am not hearing the normal yelps — often justified, no doubt — about media bias. Conservatives seem to be as mad as progressives, even though the left is getting to make hay about Clark’s many sermons against the fruits of the Sexual Revolution.

A few conservatives have made the valid point that a man’s teachings can be accurate and orthodox, even if he fails to live up to them. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also preached many a strong sermon on marriage, family and fidelity. He spoke the truth, even as he struggled to heed his own words.

What we have here, folks, is an ordinary, very human pot-boiler. As I once wrote, in a column about an Episcopal cathedral scandal in Denver, “Sin and ink will always be a volatile mix.” And all the people said, “Amen.”

Kenneth Woodward’s “What’s in a Name?”

Earlier this month, I shared a dark confession. I was really hoping that somebody, somewhere, would post a copy of veteran Newsweek scribe Kenneth Woodward’s provocative essay in the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy about The New York Times and its efforts to avoid the term “partial-birth abortion” in its headlines and stories.

Well, duh. It finally hit me that perhaps we could post it here at GetReligion. After several days of emails, I have been given the all-clear sign — by the author and the Notre Dame information office — to post the essay (Word file).

This is one of those cases where it really helps to read the article for yourself. Let me warn comment-writers in advance: It’s crucial to realize that Woodward is raising journalistic questions, not questions about Catholic theology or other issues linked to public battles over abortion on demand. Woodward is talking about issues of journalistic style and content, not science or faith.

I also need to say that I had, based one some of the clips from his essay posted elsewhere, misunderstood a key point about Woodward’s thesis. How?

It helps to discuss an example. The Times ran a story the other day — the headline was “Clinton’s Challenger Says She Opposes Late-Term Abortion” — in which reporter Patrick D. Healy used the words “partial birth-abortion” in the lead. Here’s the start of that story:

Jeanine F. Pirro, the new Republican challenger for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat, said yesterday that she opposed the procedure that critics call partial-birth abortion, after taking a muddier stance on the issue four years ago.

Ms. Pirro, a favorite of moderate Republicans whose new position will probably help her woo the conservative voters she needs, said in an interview that she decided to oppose the procedure — except to protect the life of the woman — after researching and reflecting on the issue.

After seeing this, I dashed off a note to Catholic superblogger Amy Welborn — the source for the original tip about Woodward’s piece — in which I suggested this meant hell might be getting cooler. You see, I was impressed by pieces of Woodward’s essay in which he noted the remarkable lengths to which the Times had gone in its news copy to avoid the partial-birth abortion term (which, by the way, just entered the Webster’s New World College Dictionary). I thought this meant they were not using these words at all.

Wrong. Woodward quickly dropped me a note to say the wording used in this case — “that critics call partial-birth abortion” — is actually quite normal. Business as usual. Old hat.

I wrote back and said that I thought people really needed online access to his essay so they could evaluate his whole argument.

So here it is, as an HTML page.

Thank you, Ken Woodward and thank you, Notre Dame.

P.S. Attention, fans of the late David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times: Check out footnote No. 4 in Woodward’s piece, offering a postscript on the famous Shaw series on media bias in abortion coverage. You are not going to believe it.