What if Democrats exploit religious voters?

JesusRodeADonkeyRepublican leaders are often accused of manipulating religious Americans for their own ends. But what if Democratic leaders, who are courting religious voters, exploit them? Will reporters hold them responsible?

Newsweek‘s profile of a religious Democratic official was a discouraging sign. The story about Leah Daughtry, the DNC’s chief of staff and a Pentecostal minister, was almost completely free of religious content. Surely like any religious person, Daughtry must perceive some conflicts or tension between her faith and her party. Yet this story implies complete harmony between Daughtry and the Democratic Party, as if things are just peachy.

The party has tried preaching to religious voters in the past, encouraging Democratic candidates to talk about their personal faith; to adopt the GOP’s language of “values” and “morals,” and to quote from the Bible. But talking about faith can get the Democrats only so far, especially among conservative Christians, who will not vote for candidates who favor abortion and gay rights, no matter how often they go to church. Knowing this, Daughtry has set more-modest goals. “We want to maintain the groups we’ve traditionally held. African-American churches and mainline Protestants,” she says. But they’re also reaching out to religious voters she calls “persuadables,” more-liberal Catholic parishes that may be less stringent about abortion and a younger generation of evangelicals who say their faith teaches them that global warming and poverty are as important as trying to stop abortions and gay marriage.

Reporter Eve Conant does mention, twice, that Daughtry speaks in tongues. What she does not mention is that speaking in tongues is characteristic of Pentecostals, “Bible evidence” of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Which raises the question of what Daughtry thinks of the spiritual state of her colleagues in the DNC’s halls who don’t speak in tongues.

Conant does not describe at all Daughtry’s most distinguishing physical characteristic: her shaved head. Her visage might not sound like an issue, but it is one for pentecostals. The United Pentecostal Church International considers short hair on women to be unholy. As further evidence that the story missed this religious angle, Conant notes that, while growing up, Daughtry did not wear makeup. How has Daughtry reconciled or dealt with this tension?

And Conant does not mention at all Daughtry’s views on social and cultural issues. What does Daughtry think about the party’s secular stands on abortion, homosexuality, cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, etc.? As far as the United Pentecostal Church is concerned, those positions are wicked and sinful. [The General Council of the Assemblies of God takes the same stands.]

The story’s failure to mention those three conflicts is problematic. It creates the impression that Daughtry isn’t serious about her faith, that she views it as subservient to her politics. “We’re not talking about changing the party’s platform,” she tells Newsweek. “But there’s a way that we can explain ourselves and present ourselves that will resonate better.” Talk about manipulation. You wonder if Newsweek considered whether Democratic leaders are coming across as manipulative.

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Dark Ages return in Baltimore?

mass paintingSo did you see that bizarre story about the Roman Catholic priest who got way out of line?

No, no, not that one. Not the priest who has been charged with stalking Conan O’Brien. I have no idea what that’s all about and I’m not sure I want to know (check out the role that La Dolce Vida plays in this story).

No, I’m talking about the story unfolding here in Baltimore, where the brand new Roman Catholic archbishop is sending signals that that there is a new man in town. The Baltimore Sun is treating this like a major scandal and, no surprise, the newspaper seems to be shocked by the archbishop’s actions. Here’s the top of the story:

Baltimore’s new Roman Catholic archbishop removed a priest who was pastor of three South Baltimore parishes for offenses that include officiating at a funeral Mass with an Episcopal priest, which violates canon law.

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien personally ordered the Rev. Ray Martin, who has led the Catholic Community of South Baltimore for five years, to resign from the three churches and sign a statement yesterday apologizing for “bringing scandal to the church.”

Martin led the funeral Mass on Oct. 15 for Locust Point activist Ann Shirley Doda at Our Lady of Good Counsel with several clergy, including the Rev. Annette Chappell, the pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption in Locust Point, Martin said.

Now, the first sign of what’s happening here is the name of Father Martin’s operation in South Baltimore — the Catholic Community. Everywhere I have covered the religion beat, the most edgy, progressive Catholic congregations have either had “community” or “center” in their names, as opposed to “church” or “parish.” I am not sure why that is, but there you go. Think “Paulist Center” in the Boston area.

The good news is that the Sun story does a pretty good job of letting the reader know why the priest is in trouble, even though lots of people are quoted who are very upset with the archbishop for enforcing Catholic teachings. Here is some background:

Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said this was one example of repeated administrative and liturgical offenses Martin had committed in more than a year.

“Father Martin’s received advice and counsel on numerous occasions from the archdiocese, and he has repeatedly violated church teaching,” Caine said. His major offense was not complying with hiring and screening policies, but he also allowed dogs in the sanctuary and did not show up for a baptism, Caine said.

Dogs in the sanctuary? Is this a reference to some kind of hip St. Francis rite? However, this is not the key point. Here is the heart of the matter, describing the role of the female Episcopal priest:

Chappell did not participate in the consecration of the Eucharist but read the Gospel at the service, Martin said. Someone at the service reported to the archdiocese that Martin gestured to Chappell to take Communion, though Martin said he did not recall doing so.

Only ordained priests and deacons may read the Gospel at Mass, and non-Catholics may not receive Communion.

“I think that canon laws exist to protect the church from extremism. I don’t find that this is such an extreme situation,” Martin said.

The story does not give us two key details. It would have been appropriate, in this case, to have actually quoted some of the Catholic canon laws that were broken — so everyone is clear that there were, in fact, laws broken.

I also wondered if Chappell was fully vested for the rite, or merely in clerical clothing. I have been present in Episcopal services in which Catholic clergy take part — even very conservative bishops — yet they are careful not to fully vest as concelebrants. They also remain in the congregation or are careful to leave the altar area during the consecration prayers.

wiltI would think that the rules would be even more strict when the tables are turned and there are Episcopalians (from a church with open Communion) taking part in a Mass in a Catholic setting (a church that practices the ancient tradition of closed Communion).

One more key question: Did Chappell, wherever she was in the sanctuary, raise her hand in blessing during that part of the Mass?

So there are key details included in this story, but other details missing. It’s safe to assume that Father Martin’s supporters would consider these details to be picky or even trivial. After all, this is how the story ends:

Joyce Bauerle, a longtime friend of Shirley Doda, said having Chappell at her friend’s funeral service was a beautiful, ecumenical tribute to a woman who battled the status quo.

“What, are we in the Dark Ages again? This is absolutely ridiculous,” Bauerle said.

Victor Doda, who now operates the family funeral home, said he learned of Martin’s fate after conducting a funeral with him. …

“This ruins my mother’s legacy,” he said. “My mother would be turning in her grave to know that a priest was being victimized like this.”

I hope the Sun will follow up with the archbishop’s perspective when he is prepared to explain why he did what he did.

UPDATE: The Sun is back with an update on this story today. Once again, we can see the difference in how this issue is framed between what certainly seems to be the old Catholic guard in this progressive Catholic city and the new frame of reference (that would be Rome’s point of view, we must assume) offered by the new archbishop.

The Sun makes that crystal clear:

… (The) news yesterday that the Rev. Ray Martin, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, was forced to resign for offenses that included officiating at a funeral Mass with an Episcopal priest, was met with outrage. Community members of all faiths decried Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s action and vowed to protest, noting how sharply it seemed to break from the emphasis on religious tolerance by his predecessor, Cardinal William H. Keeler.

Note the use of the word “tolerance” and the equating of civic activities with the actual Sacraments of the Catholic faith. Surely the newspaper knows that this is an apples and oranges situation.

Meanwhile, we have another key detail of the actions by the female Episcopal priest during the Mass.

The Mass, led by Martin, included several clergy, including the Rev. Annette Chappell, pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption, whom Doda’s family asked to participate.

Chappell read the Gospel, which only ordained priests and deacons are allowed to do, and received Communion, which only Catholics may do, said Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Caine said these acts “gave the appearance of concelebration of the Mass, which is a violation of Canon law and is also a cause for confusion.”

The archdiocese received “multiple complaints” about the Mass, Caine said. “We have ministers of other denominations participate in weddings and funerals all the time. … Their presence alone does not constitute a violation of the church. It’s very common that they be present and that they offer words of prayer.”

Correct. Canon law does not forbid participation. It forbids specific actions that require ordination into the sacramental priesthood of the Catholic Church.

Still no word on whether Chappell was vested as a concelebrant or if she remained in the altar area during the consecration prayers. Stay tuned.

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Religious freedom swept under the rug

Olympic ringsIn response to reports of Web chatter, the Associated Press and other news agencies inquired with Olympic officials about whether Bibles will be allowed in the Olympic Village for the 2008 Olympics in China. Most reporters got the answer they wanted and probably expected. Yes, of course Bibles will not be banned in the Olympic Village. What kind of country do you think this is? Oh, wait.

The nuance and significance of the story are left unstated in most news reports. For example, here is the AP:

The USOC contacted the International Olympic Committee about the issue in response to a story posted on the Catholic News Agency Web site citing a list of prohibited items that was reported to include Bibles.

That story said the Italian daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport, reported that organizers cited “security reasons” for prohibiting athletes from carrying any kind of religious symbol at Olympic facilities. Those reports and others were producing active blog discussions on several Web sites.

USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said the federation contacted the IOC about the news reports.

“We have heard from the IOC and there will be no restriction on athletes bringing the Bible or any other religious book into the village for their personal use,” Seibel said in a telephone interview from USOC offices in Colorado Springs.

The emphasis of that sentence and the story should be on the restriction of Bibles and other religious literature to “personal use.” Are athletes restricted from having their own religious services or Bible studies?

Perhaps that explains a Reuters story in which China proclaims a guarantee that religious services will be held in the Olympic Village:

China will offer religious services for foreigners arriving for the 2008 Olympic Games and religion will play a positive role in the country’s future, its top religious affairs official said on Wednesday.

… Ye [Xiaowen, director-general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs,] said he expected large numbers of religious faithful among the athletes, coaches and tourists swarming into the officially atheist nation during the Olympics.

“We are learning from practices in past Games to make sure that their demands for religious worship are met,” Ye told reporters on the sidelines of the ruling Communist Party’s 17th Congress.

“Here I can promise that religious services we offer will not be lower than the level of any previous Games,” Ye said. He did not say if proselytising would be allowed.

This Reuters piece is Exhibit A for scribe-style journalism. Important person with important title stands up and tells journalists something and their job is just to write the quotes down accurately and spit those quotes out in a sensible manner in 800 words or less. No follow-up questions, please.

Catholic News Agency has been all over this story and reports (with links) that there are still contradictory statements out there. One example is the recommendation that travelers to China only bring one Bible and that “Any printed material, film, tapes that are ‘detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture and ethics’ are also forbidden to bring into China.”

The world’s Big Media will descend on China next summer and the country will no doubt do its best to sweep under the rug those policies that restrict personal freedom of speech, the press and religion, among others. Whether the Big Media types, particularly those fancy TV evening news hosts, take the time and effort to stoop down and look under those rugs will say a lot about whether they value the freedoms they enjoy in the U.S.

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The Economist on the resurgence of religion

religion in the economistIf there is one edition of The Economist you should pick up off the newsstand, it is this week’s because of its special report on the state of religion in the world.

Quite appropriately, The Economist notes that it was wrong when it wrote in December 1999 that God’s career was over. If any other journalists felt the same way lately, they should have reconsidered that thought a long time ago.

There is so much that could be said about this report. Generally from what I have read they get it. The general message is that religion matters in the world. Moreover, you have to get it to function.

As you can see from the cover, the big issue of the day is why religion has inspired violence in the modern era. Much of the leading report discusses how the world should “deal with” religion as if all its readers are secular and are frustrated with religion’s role in the world. To me that’s a flawed approach, but not that surprising from The Economist:

Part of that secular fury, especially in Europe, comes from exasperation. After all, it has been a canon of progressive thought since the Enlightenment that modernity — that heady combination of science, learning and democracy — would kill religion. Plainly, this has not happened. Numbers about religious observance are notoriously untrustworthy, but most of them seem to indicate that any drift towards secularism has been halted, and some show religion to be on the increase. The proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism — rose from 67% in 1900 to 73% in 2005 and may reach 80% by 2050 (see chart 2).

Moreover, from a secularist point of view, the wrong sorts of religion are flourishing, and in the wrong places. In general, it is the tougher versions of religion that are doing best — the sort that claim Adam and Eve met 6,003 years ago. Some of the new converts are from the ranks of the underprivileged (Pentecostalism has spread rapidly in the favelas of Brazil), but many are not. American evangelicals tend to be well-educated and well-off. In India and Turkey religious parties have been driven by the up-and-coming bourgeoisie.

With modernity now religion’s friend, an eternal subject has become fashionable. Father Richard John Neuhaus points out that when he founded his Centre for Religion and Society in 1984, there were only four centres of religion and public life in America; now, he thinks, there are more than 200. Religious people are getting more vocal in all sorts of fields, including business. Religion is also cropping up in economics. Niall Ferguson, a Scottish historian, re-examined Max Weber’s theory of the Protestant work ethic to explain why Europeans work less than Americans.

One of the things I enjoy most about reading The Economist is its respect and understanding of the broad scope of history. If there is a news report from a far-off place, such as Pakistan, The Economist generally makes the background of the story, particularly if there is a long history behind it, fairly clear. You can debate the conclusions, but at least something is there and it’s generally fairly sound.

In this instance, the report takes a step back and tries to pinpoint when religion in the world decided it was not going anywhere:

In retrospect, the turning point came long before Osama bin Laden declared his jihad on Jews and Crusaders. For Timothy Shah, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York who is writing a book on secularism, the symbolic turning point was the six-day war of 1967. It marked a crushing defeat for secular pan-Arabism; meanwhile Israel’s “miraculous” triumph gave God a stronger voice in its politics, emboldening the settler movement. In the same year a Hindu nationalist party won 9.4% of the vote in India.

By the end of the 1970s this counter-revolution was in full swing. America had elected its first proudly born-again Christian, Jimmy Carter; Jerry Falwell had founded the Moral Majority; Iran had replaced the worldly shah with Ayatollah Khomeini; Zia ul Haq was busy Islamising Pakistan; Buddhism had been formally granted the foremost place in Sri Lanka’s constitution; and an anti-communist Pole had become head of the Catholic church.

Is it fair and accurate to lump those religious movements together like that? Are they responding in unity to the first revolution of the 1960s?

If you do not have time to read the entire special report or cannot find a place to buy it, check out this free audio interview with John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist and author of the special report. This is Micklethwait’s first special report, and he says he chose religion because of the demand for religion news and commentary.

I hope other journalists are hearing that. If a leading numbers-crunching, libertarian-leaning publication finds religion news in demand and important in today’s society, how can other newspapers serving a more general interest see otherwise?

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We’re not all secularists now

barackWhen I interned at The New Republic, an editor there told me something about Andrew Sullivan that I have been turning over in my mind ever since. Sullivan doesn’t care about Christianity, he said. He does care about Catholicism, but only because he grew up in the faith. For years, I failed to grasp what this editor meant. But after reading Sullivan’s panegyric on behalf of Barack Obama and reflecting on it, now I do. Sullivan is a secularist. For all of his love of Catholic rituals, he rejects and, in a few instances, disdains its morality and theology, not to mention its authority.

If Sullivan had reported his story thoroughly, talking to those familiar with Obama or digging through his old files, as Ryan Lizza did in a profile of Obama, his secular biases might have been tempered. But he did little more than interview Obama and refer to his two books. In consequence, Sullivan’s secular worldview reduces the story to a glorified press release for the Obama campaign.

Sullivan’s thesis is that only the Illinois Democratic senator can end the nation’s cultural war. By dint of his uniqe background, Obama can, finally, unite the country around important issues, not those that have bogged it down for two generations.

It isn’t about his policies as such; it’s about his person. (Many Republicans and independents) are prepared to set their own ideological preferences to one side in favor of what Obama offers America in a critical moment in our dealings with the rest of the world. The war today matters enormously. The war of the last generation? Not so much. If you are an American who years to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today’s actual problems, Obama may be your man.

Sullivan’s dismissal of the culture war is more than a little suspect coming as it is from a leading advocate for normalizing homosexual relations. In any event, few religious traditionalists would agree with his assessment. Take the issue of abortion. For religious traditionalists, all human life, regardless of its quality, has intrinsic value. So the fact that more than 45 million unborn children have been aborted since 1973 is a modern-day Slaughter of the Innocents.

Sullivan’s claim that Obama can transcend the culture war is partly based on the candidate’s religious background. Raised in a secular humanist household, Obama converted to Christianity as an adult. From this fact, Sullivan contends that Obama can unite secular and religious Americans, who are presumed to be Christians. As he writes,

(Obama can) deploy the rhetoric of Evangelicalism while eschewing its occasional anti-intellectualism and hubristic certainty is as rare as it is exhilarating. It is both an intellectual achievement, because Obama has clearly attempted to wrestle a modern Christianity from the encumbrances and anachronisms of its past, and an American achievement, because it was forged in the only institution where conservative theology and the Democratic Party still communicate: the black church.

What Sullivan overlooks is that on cultural issues, Obama’s Christian denomination is more secular than religious. The United Church of Christ supports unlimited abortion rights and homosexual marriage. As Pew notes, opposition to both is strongest among religious traditionalists.

More generally, Sullivan claims that Obama’s brand of faith sits astride two great fault lines in Western life. On one side are the secular totalitarianisms of the 20th century — fascism and communism. On the other are the existing religious totalitarianisms — Pope Benedict’s “doctrinal absolutism,” “fundamentalist Protestantism,” and “extreme and antimodern forms of Islam.” In the middle is Obama’s intellectual, genuine, and moderate faith.

This is a sly move on Sullivan’s part. He has repackaged liberal Protestantism as the centrist faith of the modern world. If he were writing about the early-to-mid 20th century, his claim would be arguable. But considering the worldwide decline of mainstream Protestant churches, his claim is silly.

It’s a pity. Occasionally in his rhetoric, Barack Obama does come across as a healer, not a divider. He talks of the common good as well as social and personal obligations. But from Sullivan’s piece, you would never know it.

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The newly illumined Russell Crowe?

gladiatorHey, I’ll admit it. The Associated Press got my attention with this story:

Russell Crowe, who is 43, says he’s planning to be baptized.

“I’d like to do it this year,” the Oscar-winning actor tells Men’s Journal. “My mom and dad decided to let my brother and me make our own decisions about God when we got to the right age. I started thinking recently, ‘If I believe it is important to baptize my kids, why not me?’”

Hold on, because this gets a bit more complicated and, to be perfectly honest about it, the AP report has left out a crucial piece of information.

Here goes nothing:

Crowe says the baptism will take place in the Byzantine chapel he built at his country ranch in Australia for his wedding to Danielle Spencer in 2003. The couple have two sons, 3-year-old Charlie and 1-year-old Tennyson.

“It is consecrated and everything,” Crowe says in the magazine’s December issue, now on newsstands. “Charlie was baptized there. And when Tennyson gets baptized there, I will, too.”

Crowe — a reformed Aussie bad boy with a reputation for throwing temper tantrums — is more spiritual than people may think. “I do believe there are more important things than what is in the mind of a man,” he says. “There is something much bigger that drives us all. I’m willing to take that leap of faith.”

Now, inquiring liturgical minds will want to know the answer to the obvious question (which clearly was not obvious to the wire-service people who wrote and edited this story). What, pray tell, does the word “Byzantine” mean in that sentence about the private chapel on Crowe’s ranch? And who consecrated it?

Is this Byzantine as in Eastern Orthodox? Is this a Byzantine-rite Catholic chapel? Is Crowe planning to swim the Tiber or the Bosporus?

Stay tuned.

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Mourning Columbine, yet again

columbineThere are very few news stories that have affected me as deeply as the massacre at Columbine High School. Obviously, Sept. 11 hit the whole country. It still stands as an event that I cannot even comprehend. But for me as someone who lived on that side of Denver for a decade, Columbine remains a kind of small-scale, very personal, horror that stands alone.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that many people tried to tone down the religion element of this complex story. This story was more than the story of one or two or three young people who were gunned down after they confessed their faith. There was more to this than debates about what is and what is not martyrdom.

In that video made before their rampage, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold talked about starting a “religious war” and mocked an outspoken Christian girl named Rachel. In audio tapes aired on CNN, and transcripts released by parents, Klebold said: “Stuck-up little b---- , you f------ little Christianity, godly little w----.”

Harris: “Yeah, ‘I love Jesus, I love Jesus.’ … Shut the f--- up.”

Klebold: “What would Jesus do? What would I do? (Makes shotgun sound at camera)”

“Rachel,” of course, must have been Rachel Joy Scott, who wrote in her personal journal — precisely one year before the tragedy — these words: “I have no more personal friends at school. But you know what? I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything I will. I will take it.”

There’s so, so, so much more to this story, of course. But all of that came back the other day as I read Stephanie Simon’s news feature in the Los Angeles Times about the dedication of the new memorial near the high school. It has all the small details that you would expect:

Cut into the hillside, the memorial features two curving walls of rough red sandstone. The outer wall is engraved with remarks from the community about that day. The inner wall supports 13 granite slabs, each inscribed with a victim’s name and a message from the family.

It’s a beautiful place. Wind rustles golden trees. Laughter drifts from a nearby playground. …

Cassie Bernall longed to know heaven. Lauren Townsend wrote in her diary: “I am not afraid of death for it is only a transition.” John Tomlin lost his faith for some time, then reconnected, with great joy. Rachel Scott’s killers asked if she believed in God. Her final words: “You know I do!” …

The victims of Columbine were regular kids, and that’s how they are honored here. They asked annoying questions, failed to make the soccer team, were obsessed with Chevy trucks — and the Packers. They struggled with depression. They liked ice cream.

The GetReligionistas love Simon’s work, as a rule. But this story is almost too nice.

You really wouldn’t know, unless you followed the coverage through the year, how hard it was to cross the tricky church-state territory surrounding that killing field. There were debates about memorial services. There were debates about civic prayers. There were debates about religious expressions in memorial tiles inside the school. Could you use crosses in a civic memorial? The debates were painful, but that was to be expected.

Simon says that there were complex issues linked to the memorial, but keeps things gentle.

Talk of a memorial began soon after the last funeral. But families of the victims wanted to focus first on rebuilding the school library, where Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris targeted several classmates, then turned their guns fatally on themselves.

It would be nearly four years before parents, teachers and civic leaders agreed on a memorial design. It took another four years to come up with $1.5 million for construction.

This is part of the story and a very beautiful part. But, sadly, we live in a day and age when it is even hard to mourn without battles over freedom of religion. I have no idea how you cover this story now, without focusing on the divisions as well as the unity.

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Those parish school puzzles

catholic schoolsAre African Americans converting to Catholicism anymore? As Nicholas Lemann writes in The Promised Land, the old saying in Chicago was that when water was sprinkled on the forehead of a black baby, he or she was baptized essentially into three interlocking institutions: the Catholic Church, the Democratic Party, and the local buildings-trade union. Now one wonders what a future historian would write about the situation today.

This question should have come up in Carla Rivera’s otherwise fine story about the “grim economic reality” facing the nation’s Catholic schools. Ms. Rivera presented eye-popping statistics — there were 850 fewer Catholic schools in 2005 than 1990, and enrollment has dropped to a low of 2.3 million. She attributes this decline to fewer priests and nuns, a population shift from cities to suburbs, rising tuition costs. I don’t buy it.

Although no one familiar with Catholic schools would dispute those explanations, they tell only part of the story.

Suburbanization can’t be the main factor; Catholic schools have been overwhelmingly suburban since at least the 1970s. A declining share of priests and nuns can’t be the main factor, either; those figures plummeted in the 1970s and ’80s, yet the big drop-off did not occur until the 1990s. And rising tuition costs can’t be the top reason; as Ms. Rivera’s story implies, plenty of Hispanic kids are attending Catholic schools.

So there must be another reason or three in this what-dunit. One suspect clearly is the church-sex abuse scandal. Another is the reduced size of Catholic families, largely because of widespread use of birth control. Yet perhaps the most overlooked suspect is the failure of Catholics, black and white, to convert their black Protestant brethren or resistance by black Protestants to Catholic evangelization.

This explanation certainly resonates with me. My youngest sister, Sarah, teaches first grade at St. Elizabeth’s in west Oakland. When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, St. Elizabeth’s student population was all black (Protestant). Now the school is virtually all Hispanic (Catholic).

My sister’s school is not alone. As The Washington Post noted recently, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington endured vituperation after he proposed secularizing numerous Catholic schools:

(S)ome parents and parishioners reacted angrily, saying Wuerl’s proposal would gut high-quality education for black children. The majority of the students in the schools that would be affected are black and not Catholic. The archdiocese subsidizes a large portion of their tuition.

According to Post reporters Theola Labbe and Jacqueline Salmon, Catholic officials blamed the introduction of Charter schools in the late 1990s:

Soon after he arrived in the District in June 2006, Wuerl said he heard from Catholic education officials that the inner-city schools were no longer financially viable. Part of the reason was that many poor families were choosing charter schools, which are free.

But the end of the Post story shows that charter schools can’t be the main reason. After all, Hispanics continue to attend Catholic schools in the diocese of Arlington, Va.:

There, school enrollment has swelled 25 percent. The diocese has opened eight elementary schools because of rapid growth in the area’s outer suburbs and rising numbers of Hispanic Catholic immigrants in the closer-in suburbs.

For whatever reason, black Protestants today are not following in the footsteps of their forebears in such black Catholic enclaves as Chicago and New Orleans. Granted, a reporter who nailed this story would deserve the Pulitzer. But he or she could explain why Catholic schools are diverse but, well, increasingly parochial.

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