Prayers in the outfield (updated)

Screams and frightened gasps interrupted Tuesday’s night’s Texas Rangers-Cleveland Indians game when a fan fell 30 feet from the second deck while trying to catch a foul pop.

“Whoa! A fan tumbled out, and I pray that he’s OK,” Rangers play-by-play announcer Josh Lewin said on the Fox Sports Southwest broadcast that I was watching. “Oh my.”

Lewin wasn’t the only one who prayed.

The TV screen showed Indians outfielder Trevor Crowe kneeling face down with his head in his hands.

“What’s he doing?” my 13-year-old son asked, unsure if he was seeing what he thought he was.

“He’s praying,” I confirmed. As emergency personnel at Rangers Ballpark rushed to the fan’s aid, Cleveland shortstop Jason Donald also appeared to be praying.

I have watched a few thousand — OK, a few million — major-league baseball games in my lifetime. Never before that I recall have I seen major-league ballplayers bow on the field in spontaneous prayer. I was curious to see if news reports would pick up on that image. I was pleased to see that some did.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted Donald up high in its game story:

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Indians were on the way to loss No. 50 Tuesday night when a man fell out of the stands at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in the fifth inning.

“I didn’t see it,” said shortstop Jason Donald, after the Indians’ 12-1 loss to Texas, “but I heard it. I heard the body hit and I heard the crowd reaction. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened.”

Donald immediately squatted down in the outfield grass and started praying.

“I was praying that he wouldn’t die,” Donald said.

Now, I’d love to know more. I’d love to know Donald’s faith background. I’d love to know if he prays often or if his appeal for God’s help was an unusual thing for him. But that’s probably asking too much from a deadline game story.

Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News is one of my favorite baseball writers. Devoted Rangers fan that I am, I read Grant’s stories, um, religiously.

Unfortunately, his story did not mention the players praying. Now, that could be because they were Indians, and his beat is the Rangers. But I would suspect that Rangers such as Josh Hamilton, who has made no secret of his evangelical Christian faith, might have been praying, too. I wish Grant had included that angle.

Like the Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon Journal noticed — and noted — the reactions by Crowe and Donald:

After the incident, Trevor Crowe in left and Jason Donald at shortstop went down on one knee, obviously feeling emotions coursing through them.

”It was crazy,” Crowe said. ”I looked up and saw him coming down. He tried to catch himself [on the suite railing], but he kept coming down. It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen.

”I just started praying for the guy. There was nothing to break his fall. I thought he might have killed himself. It affected everybody emotionally, but that’s not the reason we lost the game.”

The game was interrupted for 16 minutes, and just before it restarted, players were told the man was conscious and moving.

”I didn’t see it happen because my head was turned, but I heard it,” Donald said. ”I heard the crowd, I heard the body hit the seats. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Thank God I didn’t see it. That would have done damage to me.”

Donald retreated to the clubhouse for a couple of minutes to compose himself.

”I was down on one knee, because I was praying for the guy and the people he landed on,” he said. ”It kind of puts in perspective that we’re playing a game. You take your family to a game, and you never think something like this could happen. It’s terrifying.”

Kudos to the Beacon Journal for letting the players describe, in their own words, what they were thinking and feeling. The description of Crowe going down on one knee is not totally accurate, however, as he clearly was down on both knees. A YouTube video (since removed from the Internet by Major League Baseball) confirmed my recollection.

It sounds like the man who fell — and four people slightly injured when he landed on them — will be OK. But players and fans had no way of knowing that at the time.

That made the prayers in the outfield all the more dramatic. And worthy of news coverage.

Photo: That’s my niece and nephew at Monday night’s game. Thankfully, we were not there in person to witness the fan’s fall Tuesday night.

UPDATE: The original video I posted was removed from the Internet by MLB, so I have replaced it with an ESPN Dallas video in which the reporter describes the two Indians players praying.

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Bible Belt begets better business?

Believe me, I understand the difficulty of writing about a complex academic study within the confines of a normal-sized daily newspaper or wire service story.

Researchers spend months or even years examining a topic. They produce a thick report on their findings. Then a university PR office whips up an important-sounding press release and sends it out.

What’s a reporter to do? Take time in a frenzied newsroom to understand the big words in the study report? Or run with the press release and produce a “news story” with a bunch of vague generalizations with no specific details to back them up?

The above scenario falls under the category of hypothetically speaking. I have no way of knowing if it applies to a Birmingham News story that ran this past weekend with the headline Bible Belt may keep reins on accounting fraud, study says.

What I do know about the Birmingham story — a version of which was picked up and distributed nationally by Religion News Service — is this: I wouldn’t bet the (meager) savings in my 401(k) retirement account on the claims made in this 475-word story.

Here’s the top of the report:

Companies in Alabama and other Bible Belt states may do a better job of thumping accounting fraud than those in other states, a study indicates.

Research by Mays Business School at Texas A&M University found that companies headquartered in counties with high levels of churchgoing are less likely to practice aggressive financial reporting.

The study conducted by accounting faculty members Sean McQuire, Thomas Omer and Nathan Sharp also found that small and medium-sized firms tend to use religion as a self-regulating mechanism in the absence of more formal external monitoring.

Got that?

Apparently, the idea is that religion contributes to a higher level of business integrity and ethics. But the story never connects those dots, except for noting that the researchers — in a way never explained — compared Gallup surveys on religiosity with shareholder lawsuits related to accounting malfeasance.

Also, the article never specifies what area is covered by the Bible Belt — an ambiguous geographic region that doesn’t exactly show up on U.S. maps.

More from the story:

Sharp, in an interview Friday, said the study is more a measure of an overall accounting approach among multiple firms of various sizes in the Bible Belt and can’t predict mega frauds such as those at Birmingham-based HealthSouth Corp.; Clinton, Miss.-based WorldCom and Houston-based Enron Corp. — all companies in Bible Belt states.

“We would view them more as anomalies,” Sharp said. “What we focused on was smaller, systemic aggressive accounting occurring as almost a part of doing business.”

Sharp said the study also does not account for how some people use religion itself to defraud others.

Instead, the study zeroed in on how companies in areas of high levels of religion approached accounting.

“We can’t predict those one-off cases,” he said. “On average, when you hold everything constant, accounting practices are less aggressive in areas with high religiosity.”

OK, do we all understand now?

Even a few specific examples of companies — in the Bible Belt and beyond — reviewed by the researchers and how they fared might provide a bit of needed context.

At the same time, it would be helpful to know if extenuating factors were considered; for example, the types of companies that might be headquartered in the Bible Belt as opposed to New York or San Francisco. In other words, did researchers really compare apples, or could this be an apples-and-oranges situation?

Maybe there really is a newsworthy story in this study. However, it’s impossible to tell based on this report.

The headline grabs your attention, yes. But the story itself fall short.

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Weiss on (a few) crucial SBC news trends

As Bobby “Bible Belt” Ross Jr. noted the other day, this summer’s meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention did all kinds of interesting stuff. I choose to write about the Gulf of Mexico resolution for Scripps Howard, but, frankly, the divorce resolution was just as interesting and I still hope to dig into that one. It is rare to see conservative believers (or liberal believers, for that matter) point the finger of judgment at themselves.

Then again, the SBC also wrestled with a massive reorganization plan that affects millions of people and much of the money that they put in offering plates.

Lots of people. Lots of money. Is that news? At the same time, the Southern Baptists gathered in Orlando did all kinds of things (see the video and its links) linked to evangelism and aid for the poor and hungry. But that isn’t really news, either. Maybe if Bill Clinton, Al Gore or Jimmy Carter had shown up?

The bottom line: If a tree falls in a forest and the Associated Press is not there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Someone needed to stop and ponder the news values linked to this non-story and, thankfully, found a logical person to do that in columnist Jeffrey Weiss, who is best known to GetReligion readers for his years of service on the religion beat (R.I.P.) at the Dallas Morning News.

Weiss broadens this topic by adding a historical note. Thus, the headline: “The Southern Baptist Convention is Yesterday’s News.” The answer is, “yes,” kind of. What we have here is another one of those cases in which the press flocked to cover religion news, when the religion in question had an easy-to-label impact on politics. Here’s how he opens the essay:

If you know that the Southern Baptist Convention recently finished its annual meeting, you are either a Southern Baptist or a truly addicted news junkie.

The SBC met in Orlando, in the mouse-eared shadow of one of the denomination’s best-known recent adversaries. And if you’re interested in the official doings of the SBC, it did some interesting things. … But contrast the news coverage this time with what happened a decade or so ago. Back then, SBC meetings received major attention from the secular media. The pressroom would be packed by wire service reporters, writers from large and not-so-large newspapers from across the South, and from most of the top 10 largest papers not in the South. This time, I can find evidence of exactly five representatives of the secular media in attendance: Reporters from the nearby Orlando Sentinel and Lakeland Ledger, the Tennessean, Democrat-Gazette, Claremore (OK) Daily Progress, and Religion News Service.

Which leads to this question: Did the SBC get too much attention back in the day, or is it getting too little attention now? My answer to both: Probably so. (And for another good analysis of this question, check out Bobby Ross’ post on the excellent GetReligion blog.)

Obviously, one major cause of the exodus is the state of the economy. There are fewer religion reporters on national-level beats and the travel budget is thin, when it comes to coverage of religious topics other than politics and professional sports. Yet Weiss, like our own Ross, noted that the key was the absence of the AP.

This leads to the more interesting question: Did the SBC’s gatherings get too much coverage in the past and, if so, why did that happen? Yes, there were media-friendly issues such as abortion, gay rights, the ordination of women, the Disney boycott, etc., etc. I would note that Weiss also says that the Southern Baptists voted to “proselytize specifically at Jews.” Actually, what they said (and this is controversial enough in this day and age) is that they would continue to prepare evangelism materials for dozens upon dozens of different ethnic and cultural groups in America and around the world and that the Jewish people would not be singled out for silence. That was yet another fight over Universalism.

The key is that hot buttons were being pushed, year after year. Then, Weiss notes:

Atop those reader-friendly news hooks, we had the 25-year internal battle between what we always called “conservatives” and “moderates.” That fight ended with the conservatives in firm control of the denominational leadership and the moderates purged at about the same time the Republican Party was becoming increasingly defined by a publicly political conservative Christian base.

All factors that totally demanded intense news coverage for the SBC, yes?

Actually, many if not most MSM accounts of the great SBC civil war referred to those on the right as, yes, “fundamentalists” (truth be told, the coalition on the right did include some who fit under that historical umbrella). Meanwhile, those on the left were always given the label that they welcomed — “moderates.” Does any of this sound familiar?

But, culture-war era issues aside, Weiss is well aware that other issues are going on. You know a sea change is at work when even the Southern Baptists are facing a slight decline in membership statistics.

Weiss notes that the SBC war reflected, in part, the rise of the Religious Right and the redefinition of the Republican Party. That’s true, of course, and that represents good news and bad news for the convention. He also knows that the SBC is being hit by this culture’s slide into a “post-denominational age” in which people are increasingly on the move into congregations that strive to avoid putting a brand name on their lawn signs. People are also drifting back and forth across hazy doctrinal lines that used to be clearly defined.

This is a giant story and, in part, that is what the SBC reorganization plan is about — granting more independence to congregations, clergy and donors in an attempt to pull the old denominational tent a bit closer to the realities of this day and age. The bottom line: The children of many old Southern Baptists are turning into generic Evangelical and Charismatic believers.

This is one half an important story. The other half is the implosion of the old world of the liberal Protestant mainline churches. You think the SBC has problems with declining numbers and red ink? Go talk to mainline leaders. For that matter, go check in with the “moderate” leaders of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the network on the left that formed in opposition to the coalition that won the great SBC war.

At the same time, it must be noted that the Southern Baptists are having some success with their church-planting efforts among Latinos, Aftican-Americans and Asians. The SBC’s numbers would be much worse without the small gains made there. This is another area in which, statistically, evangelicals and charismatics are doing better than “moderates” and liberals. There’s a story there that cuts against many stereotypes.

Weiss quotes people on both sides of the Baptist wars, but focuses his attention on trends that are affecting the right. That’s the bigger story, after all.

You need to read the whole essay, but here is the key point. The convention in Orlando included lots of news, but it was news that focused more on religious issues than political issues. GetReligion readers know which subject drives the conversations in most editorial meetings in big newsrooms.

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Please, God, help us with ‘this awful oil spill’

At first glance, it sure seems like The New York Times’ make-fun-of-prayer squad is at it again.

Earlier this month, GetReligion went behind the scenes of a Times story on unidentified faith groups seeking “divine wisdom” (scare quotes courtesy of the “Old Gray Lady”) to close a California state budget gap of biblical proportions.

Now comes a Times story from the Gulf Coast that opens like this:

BON SECOUR, Ala. — In a small white building along the baptizing Bon Secour River, a building that once housed a shrimp-net business, the congregation of the Fishermen Baptist Church gathered for another Sunday service, with the preacher presiding from a pulpit designed to look like a ship captain’s wheel.

After the singing of the opening hymn, “Ring the Bells of Heaven,” and the announcement that an engaged couple was now registered at Wal-Mart, the preacher read aloud a proclamation from Gov. Bob Riley that declared this to be a “day of prayer” — a day of entreaties to address the ominous threat to the way of life just outside the church’s white doors.

Whereas, and whereas, and whereas, the proclamation read. People of Alabama, please pray for your fellow citizens, for other states hurt by this disaster, for all those who are responding. And pray “that a solution that stops the oil leak is completed soon.”

In other words, dear God, thank you for your blessings and guidance. And one other thing, dear God:


That snarky enough for you?

You’ve got the baptizing river (seriously, what does that mean?). You’ve got the obligatory Wal-Mart reference (I’m guessing there’s not a Macy’s or even a Target in that small town). You’ve got the scare quotes around the “day of prayer.” The only thing missing is Forrest Gump’s mama saying, “You have to do the best with what God gave you.”

Get past the condescending approach, though, and this story actually is a hundred times better than the California piece.

Yes, it manages to include the word “mortals,” just like the story from the West Coast. Yawn. But this time, when the Times refers to divine intervention, there are no scare quotes. Let’s chalk that up as progress.

Even better, there’s some actual religion meat in here — specific details on the wording used by each of five states’ governors who declared days of prayer Sunday:

In the two months since the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion began a ceaseless leak of oil into the gulf, damaging the ecosystem and disrupting the economy, the efforts by mortals to stem the flow have failed. Robots and golf balls and even the massive capping dome all seem small in retrospect.

So, then, a supplementary method was attempted: coordinated prayer.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry encouraged Texans to ask God “for his merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.” In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour declared that prayer “allows us an opportunity to reflect and to seek guidance, strength, comfort and inspiration from Almighty God.” In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal invoked the word “whereas” a dozen times — as well as the state bird, the brown pelican — but made no direct mention of God. In Florida, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp asked people to pray that God “would guide and direct our civil leaders and provide them with wisdom and divinely inspired solutions.”

I could get all nitpicky and complain that the story never tells me whether the Fishermen Baptist Church has any ties to the Southern Baptist Convention or another denomination. I could complain that the piece uses the term “Bible Baptist” and doesn’t explain what that means. But I won’t. Unless, of course, I just did.

The story ends this way:

A missionary about to leave for Brazil was waiting to make a multimedia presentation, but first these kneeling men, led by Brother Harry — Harry Mund, a relative of the pastor’s — needed to finish their prayer.

Please God, help us with “this awful oil spill,” he said. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The men rose from their knees and returned to their pews, a couple of them rubbing the salty wet from their eyes.

So there you go. A prayer story from the Times that’s not half bad. I think I’ll rub the salty wet from my eyes, too.

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Got news? Religious freedom edition

Religion Dispatches, a progressive blog for religion news and analysis, has a post about President Barack Obama’s newly appointed religion ambassador. The headline sums up the story very well:

Obama’s Religion Ambassador: Inexperienced?
Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook is an upbeat motivational preacher, but her self-help background may not be preparation enough for an international diplomatic post

As I searched around for news about Cook, I was surprised to find very little outside of Christian media.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, however, is this dramatic Got News? entry by Thomas Farr:

It appears that the policy Johnson Cook has been nominated to lead is being sidelined even before she takes the job. The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives — outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China’s cooperation, advancing gay rights — would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom. In fact, such a decision would harm the victims of religious persecution, hamstring key Obama initiatives and undermine U.S. national interests.

After explaining why the post is important and the bipartisan support it has received, he writes:

Expert envoys have long been at work on favored subjects, including HIV/AIDS, Guantanamo, disabilities and outreach to Muslim communities. A task force on gay rights has been in place for months.

Yet it took 18 months to nominate an ambassador for international religious freedom. And despite bipartisan urging to employ religious freedom as a means to advance our national security, the recent National Security Strategy ignores IRF policy. The ambassador will not report directly to the secretary of state as do other ambassadors at large (all of whom are experts in their fields). The staffers who reported to predecessors will not report to Johnson Cook should she be confirmed. The position will be emasculated, in direct contravention of the legislation that created it.

This seems like major news — so why haven’t mainstream outlets reported on this more?

The Washington Post is the notable exception — Michelle Boorstein wrote back in January:

Missing, say religious freedom advocates, is any work related to religious freedom or foreign policy.

And when the appointment was finally announced recently, William Wan and Boorstein had an analysis-laden blog post that explained what was happening in the office and why some folks are worried:

Farr notes that his field is “met abroad with almost universal skepticism” and is seen as a “front for Christian missionaries” – problematic perceptions that need to be dealt with by an influential, respected ambassador.

“If the Obama administration were taking this issue seriously, it would choose an expert in international religious freedom with experience in foreign affairs. It would choose a proven leader who can change things at the State Department and re-energize our flagging [international religious freedom] policy,” Farr says.

So the Post is all over this story. That’s fantastic. It’s a shame other media outlets aren’t interested in this story as well.

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No mouse ears for the media

Once upon a time, the Southern Baptist Convention knew how to make headlines.

Whether battling over “hotbeds of liberalism” or declaring that a woman should “submit herself graciously” to her husband or feeding news holes with gay rights activists’ arrests, the convention’s annual meeting once drew a cadre of reporters — a “who’s who” list of Religion Newswriters Association members.

How far has the news value of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination — with 16 million members — fallen?

Well, 11,000 Southern Baptists are staging their 2010 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., this week, and it’s drawing barely a blip of coverage from most media organizations, if that. Did you catch that? The Baptists are meeting in the home city of Walt Disney World, and nobody seems to care. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. (If you need an explanation of the Disney reference, click here and here. Or check out this new Time magazine piece on “How Gay Days Made a Home at Disney World.”)

Seriously, what’s going on here?

Not at the annual meeting herself, Godbeat pro Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today tackled the question in a blog post headlined “Who’s watching Southern Baptists debate their future?”:

What if the Southern Baptist Convention, the USA’s largest Protestant denomination, had a contentious annual convention to set its path for the future — and no one paid attention?

The SBC has gathered in Orlando to confront its flat numbers (although the rate of baptisms bobbed up slightly this year) and furiously debate the way it funds evangelization and missions (the “Great Commission” to bring people to Christ).

But unless you are tuned in on Baptist Press or Twitter, it’s hard to find coverage. The wires services are walking the beaches of Pensacola with President Obama and religion reporters — what’s left of us — are hobbled by lack of travel budgets and the rigidly local focus of many media.

Fewer religion writers. Tighter travel budgets. News holes focused on local, local, local. I have no doubt that all of those issues contribute to the diminished coverage.

But I don’t think they are the only factors.

Could it be that the lack of interest is tied to the news media’s insatiable appetite for religion news woven through the lens of sex and politics? Could it be that debates over missions priorities and how to grow membership in a post-denominational world aren’t as, well, sexy?

As best I can tell, the only mainstream media organizations that flew reporters to Orlando were The Tennessean (read Bob Smietana’s story) and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (most of Frank Lockwood’s story is behind a subscriber-only pay wall). Please share links in the comments section if you know of others. It appears that the Louisville Courier-Journal (read Peter Smith’s story) and Religion News Service (read Adelle Banks’ story) are covering the meeting from home. Also, check out Jeff Kunerth’s coverage in the Orlando Sentinel. And, of course, for a different (and enlightening) angle, a Scripps Howard News Service columnist named Terry Mattingly filed a piece this morning on Southern Baptists speaking out about the Gulf oil spill crisis.

Here’s the top of The Tennessean story:

ORLANDO, Fla. – A decade ago, Southern Baptists fought over the belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven and the inerrancy of the Bible. Today, they’re divided over budgets and baptisms.

As the older hard-line conservatives fade into the background, a new group of leaders is jostling over the priorities of the country’s largest Protestant denomination. These new leaders are less concerned about conservative politics and more concerned about saving souls.

“Status quo is not the way to go,” said the Rev. Matthew Surber, the new pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. “To pretend like everything is fine and we just need to try harder is not going to work.”

At a gathering of 11,000 Southern Baptists on Tuesday at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., Baptists overwhelmingly approved a plan that will channel funds away from established Baptist programs and use them to fund new churches and more missionaries. It’s called the Great Commission Resurgence. The national meeting concludes today.

After typing all the above links, another thought strikes me: Could the rise of the Internet be another component at play?

I mean, anyone who is interested in what’s happening in Orlando can quickly Google dozens of news links (albeit most of them from religious media) to the convention. If you want a primer on what’s being debated, you can read an in-depth piece by Christianity Today.

By their apparent absence from Orlando, what are The Associated Press, The Washington Post and The New York Times – not to mention regional papers such as The Dallas Morning News and The Oklahoman – telling us? That the Southern Baptists aren’t news anymore? Or that their own coverage of such events isn’t relevant anymore?

Or is it as simple as the Baptists themselves working harder to get along and stay out of the spotlight?

If this week’s meeting had anything to do with ordaining gay pastors or considering evangelical sainthood for Sarah Palin, I can’t help but think the media would be there in droves — travel budgets be darned.

My question for GetReligion readers: Is what’s happening in Orlando this week news or not? Please weigh in with your opinions and rationale.

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Celibacy, NPR and Journalism 101

I’m no expert on the issue of celibacy and Catholic priests. Fortunately, I don’t need to be to critique an NPR Morning Edition report headlined “Letter From Priests’ Lovers Reignites Celibacy Debate.” A Journalism 101 student could handle this post.

Let’s start with the question posed by the GetReligion reader who passed along the link: “Isn’t it standard journalistic practice to ‘present both sides’ when a story is news rather than an editorial?”

Um, good question.

Then again, as the perceptive reader noted, “In short, this report appears to be a thinly sourced piece of advocacy masquerading as a news story.”

Here’s the top of the report:

The church scandals spreading across the Catholic world are prompting a renewed debate on clerical celibacy.

In an unprecedented move, a group of Italian women who have had relationships with priests wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, saying that priests need to love and be loved.

In Italy, it’s common to hear churchgoers say they have known priests with mistresses — women who passed as housekeepers or cousins.

Fiorella di Meglio, 50, knew one in her small town a two-hour drive north of Rome.

“Years ago, we had a priest here, Don Giorgio, he was a schoolteacher. The kids liked him and so did their mothers,” di Meglio says.

“When it came out he was having an affair with a woman, all the mothers rallied around him saying he was a good man. But all the people who didn’t know him were scandalized, and of course he was sent away,” she says.

OK, Journalism 101 students, what’s missing from that first paragraph? Let’s all say it together: “Attribution!” Give me a source. Or if you prefer, give me some evidence. Otherwise, I’m going to attribute the information to the reporter’s personal opinion.

Ditto on “unprecedented move” in the second paragraph and “common” in the third paragraph.

Moving on, a priest is accused — by name — of sexual misconduct. Again, with absolutely no evidence at all to back up the accusation. Believe it or not, that’s the only reference to that priest. We don’t find out if he’s dead or alive. The priest receives no opportunity to say whether he did or did not have an affair. But a woman told NPR that, so it must be true, right? Amazing.

NPR’s attempt at a news peg:

In most cases, the priests’ companions continue to live in the shadows — until now. In March, some Italian women came out into the open after Benedict spoke of what he called “the sacred value of celibacy.”

“And so we decided to tell people this is not a value, and this is not a sacred value, because sacred is the right of people to get married,” says Stefania Salomone, an office manager in Rome.

Salomone started an Italian website for women in relationships with priests. Little by little, 40 women contacted her; yet only two others joined her in signing the letter.

OK, so this “unprecedented move” involves three women signing a letter. Oh, and 38 others who Salomone says contacted her. Great, we’ll take her word for it. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be neat if NPR interviewed one of the many priests accused of clandestine relationships?

As for any kind of response from the Vatican or Catholic theologians, that is, apparently, asking too much. NPR makes no semblance of providing any kind of balance in this report. The only “expert” quoted is Richard Sipe, a favorite source of reporters looking for quotes critical of the Catholic Church hierarchy:

Richard Sipe is a mental health counselor for priests and a former Benedictine monk. He says the way celibacy is taught today is not in tune with contemporary reality. While studying in the monastic environment of the seminary, Sipe says, a priest can remain celibate for two to three years. But what happens when he goes out into the world?

“He does not know the psychological dynamics, the social dynamics of sex and what it means to be celibate,” says Sipe. “If a man is going to be celibate, it’s like a man who is an alcoholic and practicing sobriety. Every day he says, ‘I’m going to be celibate today,’ but that is not the way celibacy is constructed or taught.”

Salomone is particularly angered by what she sees as the hypocrisy and secrecy imposed on priests by the Catholic Church.

What saith the Catholic Church about these allegations of hypocrisy and secrecy? Ha! Good one. Did I mention that this piece falls a bit short when it comes to balance and attribution?

Speaking of bias, I loved this paragraph (and I mean “loved” in the most sarcastic sense possible):

And sin is the judgment the Catholic Church assigns to nearly everything to do with sex outside marriage.

Is it just me or do you sense a bit of negativity in the way that line describes Catholic theology? As for accuracy, since that line mentions nearly everything, I’m curious: What sex outside marriage would the Catholic Church not consider sin? And should “between a man and a woman” be added to the end of the sentence?

The reader mentioned earlier asked, “Is there really anything newsworthy here?”

No, not in the NPR report. But it actually might be worthwhile for a true journalist to take the allegations — priests’ female companions living openly in the shadows — and investigate them fairly and fully.

Who knows — there might be a story here. A potentially great story. But at this point, all we’ve got is a bunch of hearsay and innuendo.

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Nancy Pelosi’s favorite word

Nancy Pelosi is doing some preaching, but is anybody listening? No one in the mainstream media, apparently. CNS News captured some video where the House Speaker said at a May 6 Catholic Community Conference on Capitol Hill that she wants to “give voice” in terms of public policy to “the Word.” Here’s part of the transcript from CNS News:

At a May 6 Catholic Community Conference on Capitol Hill, the speaker said: “They ask me all the time, ‘What is your favorite this? What is your favorite that? What is your favorite that?’ And one time, ‘What is your favorite word?’ And I said, ‘My favorite word? That is really easy. My favorite word is the Word, is the Word. And that is everything. It says it all for us. And you know the biblical reference, you know the Gospel reference of the Word.”

“And that Word,” Pelosi said, “is, we have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of the Word. The Word. Isn’t it a beautiful word when you think of it? It just covers everything. The Word.

“Fill it in with anything you want. But, of course, we know it means: ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.’ And that’s the great mystery of our faith. He will come again. He will come again. So, we have to make sure we’re prepared to answer in this life, or otherwise, as to how we have measured up.”

The Speaker of the House is paraphrasing John 1:1 and John 1:14.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The remarks were reported on some blogs, a roundup from The Week, and in a column in the Daily News, but they received little to no attention in the mainstream. Can you imagine former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert making comments like this? Not only that, but it seems like Pelosi is on a roll with her religious outreach lately. A few weeks ago, Mollie looked at the nonexistent coverage of Pelosi’s outreach to Catholics over immigration legislation. Here’s what Pelosi said at the time:

“The cardinals, the archbishops, the bishops that come to me and say, ‘We want you to pass immigration reform,’ and I said, ‘I want you to speak about it from the pulpit. I want you to instruct your’–whatever the communication is,” said Pelosi, who is Catholic, speaking at the Nation’s Catholic Community conference sponsored by Trinity Washington University and the National Catholic Reporter.

“The people, some (who) oppose immigration reform, are sitting in those pews, and you have to tell them that this is a manifestation of our living the gospels,” she said.

So on one hand, Pelosi seems to be intentionally reaching out to the Catholic Community. On the other hand, last week, Mollie looked at coverage of the Democratic Party’s faith outreach, which appeared to be waning from an organizational level. So is the Democratic Party spending less money on outside consultants and ramping up its outreach through its own politicians?

CNS News, bloggers and commentators will have their own reasons for airing the video, but wouldn’t this be of interest to the general public? I guess political reporters are too busy reporting who said he had an affair with whom.

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