All hands on the Roman deck

ConsecrationAttention everyone who cares about MSM coverage of debates in modern Catholicism: Please help us watch, in the next 48 hours or so, how major newspapers cover a big story that is breaking right now. In fact, this story may run through the weekend because the visuals should be interesting, which may even lead to television coverage.

What’s the story? Here we go, starting with the Catholic News Service report from Rome:

Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to expand permission to use the Tridentine Mass, the pre-Vatican II rite favored by traditionalist groups, said an informed Vatican source.

The pope is expected to issue a document “motu proprio,” or on his own initiative, which will address the concerns of “various traditionalists,” said the source, who asked not to be named. The source said the new permission, or indult, was a papal decision, but was being done in cooperation with agencies of the Roman Curia. …

The Tridentine rite is currently available to groups of Catholics who ask and receive permission for its use from their local bishops. The old rite is celebrated in Latin and follows the Roman Missal of 1962, which was replaced in 1969 with the new Roman Missal.

Let me emphasize that this is a very hot, symbolic story for the Catholic left as well as for traditionalists. The big change would be removing bishops on the left from the decision-making process. They are going to howl, with good reason.

Now there is going to be a very interesting vocabulary issue in coverage of this issue, and we can see hints in the early Associated Press coverage by Victor L. Simpson. Note, in the following, the use of the word “reforms.” Reforms are, of course, good and anyone who overturns or weakens said “reforms” must, therefore, be doing something bad. Thus we see:

Pope Benedict XVI has decided to loosen restrictions on use of the old Latin Mass, making a major concession to ultraconservatives who split with the Vatican to protest liberalizing reforms, a Vatican official said Wednesday.

And there is this:

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X in 1969 in opposition to the reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, particularly allowing Mass to be celebrated in local languages instead of Latin. The Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome’s consent.

Ah, so there is a chance that newspapers that view this story from a strictly modernist point of view — there are, I imagine, few high-Mass Catholics in the typical newsroom — may even say that Pope Benedict XVI is “dividing” the modern church or bowing his knee (or words to that effect) to schismatics.

So what would the opposite be? They could say that liberalized use of the Latin Mass represents a nod to diversity. It can even be a sign of unity in multilingual parishes. No, honestly.

So help us watch this story in the days ahead. And, of course, you can cruise over to Catholic blogger Amy Welborn’s Open Book for all the updates there.

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Digging for facts on dog-whistle politics

dog whistleA few weeks ago, I stumbled across this post at Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire that cited a CNN interview in which President Bush said that history would judge the Iraq war as “just a comma.” He subsequently repeated the statement elsewhere and the good folks at Political Wire suggested that it was code meant for the religious right:

While it seems an odd thing to say, a Political Wire reader suggests it’s designed to speak to the religious right while not unnecessarily alarming others. In other words, it’s a classic example of “dog whistle politics” used to energize his base.

The Christian proverb Bush was evidently referring to is “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” In essence, trust in God to make a bad situation better.

Puzzled by these comments, I put out a feeler and Doug informed me that the only reference he had seen to this “Christian proverb” is a public relations campaign of the United Church of Christ, which used it to reference the idea of continuous revelation.

silent dog whistleThen came Peter Baker’s coverage and analysis in The Washington Post. This would not be the first case of the president’s dropping code words. But the comma proverb provided an interesting twist, and Baker was spot on:

The comma remark, though, offers an especially intriguing case study in how a few words can trigger many interpretations. Bush used it in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer aired on Sept. 24 in talking about Iraq. He noted the bloodshed shown on television but hailed the resiliency of the Iraqi people and cited the election last December in which 12 million came to the polls despite the violence.

. . . Then Ian Welsh, on his Agonist blog, postulated a theory about the hidden meaning of the comment, citing the “never put a period” saying and calling it a “dog whistle” comment that only some would understand: “He is constantly littering his speeches with code words and phrases meant for the religious right. Other people don’t hear them, but they do, and most of the time it allows Bush both to say what those who aren’t evangelical or born again want to hear, while still reassuring the religious right [what it] wants to hear.”

But it turns out that the phrase “never put a period” originated not with a Christian conservative figure or biblical passage but with Gracie Allen, the comedienne wife of George Burns. And the phrase is a favorite not of the religious right but of the religious left. The United Church of Christ, which is devoted to fighting for what it calls social justice and opposes the war, adopted the phrase in January 2002.

“I needed something short and succinct,” said Ron Buford, the marketing director who came up with it. “When I saw the Gracie Allen quote, I was up all night thinking about it — God is still speaking, there’s more for us to know.”

When he heard about Bush’s comment, Buford was stunned. “It’s ironic that, as savvy as they are about using these quotes to strengthen their base, that he would use a quote that we’ve been using lately,” Buford said.

I doubt that President Bush’s speechwriters are intentionally using a slogan from the theological left in an attempt to connect with his base. But it was a fair enough question to ask. Congrats to Baker for rooting out the back story of the allegation and putting the speculation to rest.

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Birth of Contemporary Christian Cinema?

FacingGiantsThe faith-and-football flick Facing the Giants continues to get quite a bit of press out there, especially since it has now been linked in many media minds with the post-Passion decision over at Fox to create a DVD and indie division called Fox Faith.

Last weekend, Jeffrey Weiss of The Dallas Morning News included the flick in an interesting wrap-up of some, yes, post-Passion trends in marketing small movies about religious faith. I was struck by the following section of the story, centering on a chat with Matthew Crouch, son of Trinity Broadcasting Network founders Paul and Jan Crouch. While Mel Gibson’s breakthrough was crucial, Crouch the younger also stressed that religious people — including some on the real Christian right — have “have decided it’s OK to make Hollywood movies.”

That wasn’t always true. Mr. Crouch recalls that his grandmother once told his dad if he were at a movie when Jesus came back, he’d go to hell. But today, evangelicals believe they need to be in the world, he said.

“We’re supposed to define culture,” Mr. Crouch said. “Hollywood is a part of that.”

The problem, of course, is that creating this kind of culture is really hard work that takes talent, patience, skill and teamwork — teamwork that almost always is going to include seeking excellence among unbelievers as well as believers. There are, of course, serious (and diverse) networks of Christians already doing fine (and commercially hot) work in Hollywood. They make real Hollywood movies for audiences of normal moviegoers.

The question, it seems to me, is whether we are about to witness the birth of what can only be called the Contemporary Christian Movie industry. Wait, that “CCM” thing has already been claimed. Contemporary Christian Cinema? CCC? Is this kind of niche market strategy (again) a good idea for faith in popular culture?

There is, however, an interesting story behind Facing the Giants and the team of Southern Baptist amateurs who have managed to get their $100,000 evangelistic movie onto 400 screens in smaller markets across the country and to make about $3 million so far. Washington Post reporter Peter Whoriskey actually ventured down to Albany, Ga., to take a refreshingly low-key look at this story, which drew the rather over-the-top headline “Filmmakers Say God Was Their Co-Producer — ‘Facing the Giants,’ Shot On a Shoestring and a Prayer, Does Miraculously at Box Office.”

Here’s the heart of this report from a red-zip-code backlot:

The “Giants” box office tally doesn’t even include some of the nation’s largest metropolitan markets, which distributors skipped over in recognition of the cultural divide in this country. For now, the movie is not playing anywhere near Washington (unless you consider Richmond nearby). According to Julie Fairchild, a spokeswoman for Provident Films, “There’s a sort of imaginary line where Christian films don’t play.” Where it is showing, she says, is the “flyover country that Hollywood has been ignoring.”

A world removed from the realm of most indie filmmakers, the cast and crew were for the most part completely lacking in experience, and in Hollywood terms, this makes for an appealing back story. The female lead is a homemaker with no acting credits aside from being “part of the crowd” in a church production; the male lead is a balding associate pastor with a passing resemblance to Dan Aykroyd. One of the screenwriters sums up his artistic experience this way: “I wrote a poem in fifth grade.”

culture 43 0Now this is where the plot thickens.

If one assumes that the goal of this movie is evangelism, that would also assume that the movie needs to attract people who are not already believers. Yet, as Whoriskey demonstrates, Facing the Giants is almost certainly going to be a financial success to one degree or another because it speaks the language of the people who are already in the pews. It treats their stories with respect, for a change.

The movie preaches and this audience likes preaching.

Yet it may be that preaching is exactly what will make it successful. . . . (For) the appreciative and tearful crowds filing out of a theater here last week, none of that mattered. What they repeated over and over is that the script seemed so faithful to their view of the world.

“It was so real,” said Linda Kile, 59, a school bookkeeper. “If you believe in the Bible, it’s just so real.”

“What I liked is that it didn’t seem made up,” said Adam Rodriguez, 28, a sales specialist at Sherwin Williams.

“Hollywood movies are fake,” said Melissa Goodwin, 42, a sales rep. “Just a lot of cussing. That was a real movie about real life.”

Do you see the irony? This is a solid niche market. But it will not help shape the mainstream. Also, it is hard to imagine how Contemporary Christian Cinema will reach many people who do not already believe. This is evangelism for the already evangelized.

On a personal note, my Scripps Howard News Service column for this week focuses on the long road that the Rev. Alex Kendrick has taken from his young Star Wars dreams of making movies to his role as writer, director and actor in Facing the Giants. I’ve been covering this PG-rated story from the beginning and I still find it poignant that Kendrick wanted to study how to make movies, but had almost zero chance to do so in a Christian context, growing up when he did. There are options now, of course. Here is a tiny clip from the new column:

Kendrick never had a real chance to study screenwriting, editing, directing or acting. When the time came to pick a career, he did what many young media-driven believers end up doing. He entered the ministry.

It’s hard to explain to outsiders how this kind of thing happens.

“I kept trying to find people who felt the same way as I did,” he said in an interview just before a ratings tussle with the Motion Picture Association of America that sparked a media firestorm. “I could see that movies were shaping our culture and I couldn’t understand why so many other people couldn’t see that. It was hard to find people who understood what I wanted to do.”

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Modern Russia does have its ghosts

moscow theater 007Dang it, that’s what I get for waiting an extra day or two before writing about that sprawling Los Angeles Times series, “The Vanishing Russians.” I was waiting until the last day to see if reporter Kim Murphy elected to dig into the religious questions raised all the way through this fascinating and depressing set of four articles.

This is a textbook “project” in a great mainstream newspaper, complete with loads of statistics and personal stories to back them up. This clip will give you the flavor of the thing:

Russia is rapidly losing population. Its people are succumbing to one of the world’s fastest-growing AIDS epidemics, resurgent tuberculosis, rampant cardiovascular disease, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, suicide and the lethal effects of unchecked industrial pollution.

In addition, abortions outpaced births last year by more than 100,000. An estimated 10 million Russians of reproductive age are sterile because of botched abortions or poor health. The public healthcare system is collapsing. And many parents in more prosperous urban areas say they can’t afford homes large enough for the number of children they’d like to have.

Let’s see. We have suicide, AIDS, substance abuse, rampant abortion and a loss of hope in the future. All of this in a nation that, in the past century, saw the rise of an atheistic regime that tried to stamp out the practice of faith. Still, the city skylines are dominated by crosses and onion domes.

Let’s see. Do you think there might be a religion element in here somewhere?

But I waited too long. My friend Roberto Rivera, a brilliant Catholic thinker who now writes for The Point blog linked to Prison Fellowship, beat me to it. However, we offer him thanks for using, with credit, a term from GetReligion in his analysis. Rivera says that the opening story in the series is:

… such an important piece that I feel bad about pointing out that it’s haunted by what the folks at GetReligion call a “religion ghost.” (That’s their term for an unacknowledged religious element in a story.) How do you write a story about declining populations, especially declines fueled by substance abuse, abortion and suicide, without mentioning religion? For that matter, how do you write a story about the Russian people without mentioning the role of religion? But, apart from quoting an Orthodox priest on the effects of the Soviet system, Murphy’s story is a religion-free zone.

Reading it, I thought of the scene in War and Peace in which Napoleon asks the Tsar’s emissary, Balashov, if it’s true that Moscow has hundreds of churches and monasteries. When told it is, Napoleon says that this many churches and monasteries are a “sign of the backwardness of the people.” The joke, of course, is on Napoleon: it is “very religious” and “backward” Russia that shatters both his army and the myth of his invincibility. You can’t tell a good, much less complete, story about Russia without talking about her religion or, in this case, the lack thereof. And you especially can’t do it here — the correlations between what is killing Russia and religious observance is just too great.

All kinds of questions leap to mind. Where to begin?

teremFor starters, I wanted to know if officials or researchers have seen any differences between the Russians who are secular and the Russians who are believers in the major faiths of that culture. Are religious believers more likely to have children? This is, after all, a pattern seen in other cultures.

Sure enough, by the time we make it to the fourth installment in the series we discover that Muslim believers are on the rise for multiple reasons, including birthrate. It appears that trends in Russia resemble those in post-Christian Europe.

Which raises another point. Russia is not Europe. Is it impossible for Russia to fit into the Western world on the terms of the modern Western world? The Communists tried to tear an ancient form of Christianity out of the heart of Russia. Is the modern world attempting the same thing, only in the name of — what? — the glories of the shopping mall? Globalization?

The ghosts actually break into song when Murphy has to deal with the issue of suicide:

Russians fling themselves from balconies, slash their wrists or simply walk out in the snow on a bitter night. Russia’s suicide rate, at about 36 per 100,000 people, is second only to that of Lithuania, according to the Serbsky National Research Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry. In some remote areas of Russia, the rate exceeds 100 per 100,000.

Nikolai Zavada, a 21-year-old musician who goes by the name Serial Self-Killer, posted a song on http://www.mysuicide.ru, a well-known website that was later shut down because of public pressure:

I’m going out.
And it doesn’t matter whether it’s up or down.
Or who’s holding your hand, an angel or otherwise.
The cold has worn me out.

“People have a lack of hope,” Zavada said in an interview. “That all their efforts are in vain. And also, they have a feeling of eternal emptiness.”

So here is the obvious questions: When it comes to “eternal emptiness,” are all Russians created equal? Are some spiritually emptier than others? Do those who practice a faith face the same sense of emptiness as those who have flung the faith of Mother Russia aside? This is a gripping series, full of crucial questions. I am simply saying that it needed to explore one more big question about this dark night in the Russian soul.

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Fact, not opinion

Up YoursThe New York Times‘ public editor, Byron Calame, devoted his last column to the case of Linda Greenhouse. She’s the Supreme Court reporter who in a June speech at Harvard revealed her liberal opinions about various policy issues:

The government, Ms. Greenhouse said on the NPR audio version of her speech, “had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, other places around the world, the U.S. Congress, whatever. And let’s not forget the sustained assault on women’s reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism.” She later added, “I feel a growing obligation to reach out across the ridiculous actual barrier that we seem about to build on the Mexican border. …”

Calame’s analysis is great. He asks how Greenhouse’s speech conflicts with the paper’s guidelines governing public expression of personal views by news writers. He also asks about the value of the guideline, considering the reality that reporters have personal opinions. He says Greenhouse clearly stepped across the line with her political remarks.

Times editors did nothing about Greenhouse’s speech, though. That’s interesting, but not nearly so interesting as Greenhouse’s arrogant and disappointing response to the public editor:

Ms. Greenhouse told me she considers her remarks at Harvard to be “statements of fact” — not opinion — that would be allowed to appear in a Times news article. She said The Times has not suggested that she avoid writing stories on any of the topics on which she commented in June. “Any such limits would be completely preposterous,” she said.

Ms. Greenhouse is bitter, unethical and untrustworthy. That’s not my opinion. It’s just a statement of fact.

The copy chief at my paper told me that everyone has biases and opinions and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. What she doesn’t like, though, is when reporters say their clear biases and opinions are statements of fact. That’s where personal opinions are dangerous.

Let’s consider what Greenhouse is saying. She believes that her views in support of abortion are not debatable. And yet she expects us to trust her when she writes up the next Supreme Court decision on abortion. And she’s so confident that she’s right and anyone who disagrees with her is irrational that taking her off the story would be “completely preposterous.”

Many consider Greenhouse a good reporter, and she has her Pulitzer and other awards. But this story just keeps getting worse. When I addressed it previously, I thought it pointed to the simple need for newsrooms to try to hire reporters with a variety of perspectives.

But Greenhouse’s comments are unacceptable. All people, but particularly journalists, should humbly acknowledge that there are multiple views about contentious issues. It doesn’t make your opinions any less valid to acknowledge legitimate differences of opinion. Quite the opposite.

Greenhouse doesn’t know the difference between personal opinions and statements of fact. And that means she’s not a good reporter.

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LAT dips toe into moderate Islam

muslim dannebrog2Imagine profiling a moderate Muslim in Copenhagen for the expressed purpose of understanding the life and outlook of a secular Muslim and failing to ask a question about religion. Well, Jeffrey Fleishman’s Los Angeles Times piece on Sunday comes close to accomplishing that feat. Issues of religion come up incidentally as if they were minor matters to be brushed aside in a quest to portray the subject as absolutely secular.

Aside from this minor complaint, I thought Fleishman’s piece was pleasantly informing and included appropriate background information to paint a picture filled with contrasts:

Ever since he left the laundry-draped alleys of his Syrian village and glimpsed the red-light district of Copenhagen, Naser Khader’s life has been a curious, and sometimes dangerous, navigation between Islam and the West.

A man with “democracy” tattooed in Arabic on his arm, the Danish lawmaker epitomizes Europe’s struggle to integrate moderate Islam into secular democracy. The Danes view him as the ideal Muslim, a multilingual author with European sensibilities for tolerance. Islamists regard him as a traitor, a factory worker’s son who bartered his identity for a bit of Western acceptance.

It is sensitive cultural and political terrain, but Khader’s convictions are anything but opaque. This was apparent early this year when he condemned violent Muslim protests against a Danish newspaper’s publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Khader argued that the worldwide demonstrations were orchestrated by radical clerics to aggravate tensions between East and West.

Only much further into the article do we learn that Khader’s father was a Marxist, and we learn in the last paragraph that he rediscovered his faith five years before he died. The positioning of this information is a nice touch, but the effect is unconvincing.

In highlighting Khader as The Moderate Muslim of Denmark, Fleishman gives us picture of one end of the continuum of Islamic thought. Pretty much everyone else mentioned in the piece are avowed Islamists bent on eliminating the likes of Khader. But then Khader tells us that out of 100 to 120 imams in Denmark, only 5 or 6 are the radical types. While I recognize that the Muslims in Denmark are becoming more radical, the number of radicals compared to secularists would be interesting to know.

DanishStreetWe also learn that Khader is fairly un-Muslim, at least in a traditional sense, in his ways. To what degree is his moderate-secular viewpoint due to a crisis of faith? Or can a Muslim genuinely consider himself and be accepted as a “good Muslim,” to borrow a term, if he does not attend prayers?:

Khader has tried to become a unifying voice; his politics spring from a childhood of trying to fit in and succeed. But his unapologetic political message, praised by secular Europeans, has irritated conservative Muslims. They consider him a man who has drifted too far to the other side, marrying a native Dane, not attending Friday prayers, sipping beer and attending soccer games in a jersey that resembles the Danish flag.

“Naser Khader is irrelevant to Muslims in this country,” said Ahmed abu Laban, an outspoken Islamic leader in Copenhagen. “His role is to keep bombarding Muslims and Muslim values. He represents that strain of thought in Europe that’s too cowardly to face legitimate Muslims. So they get people like Khader to act as a human shield and to spit in our face.”

David Trads, a political analyst who has written a book on Islam in Denmark, said:

“Many are saying that Khader’s like an Uncle Tom. That’s not a fair criticism, but he wants to make sure everyone in Denmark understands that there’s a very serious situation with the Islamists. He wants also to build a bridge between moderate Muslims and Danes.”

Trads provides some good information and helps the American reader understand, with the “Uncle Tom” reference, some of what Khader is up against, but where are the voices of those “Islamists” in the article? They’re referred to, but can we have a quote from a radical Imam? Or is there a reason we can’t?

Overall the article is a refreshing look at one perspective in the war of ideas in Islam. But it should be the makings of a series. Placing these types of religion stories on American’s kitchen tables and local news websites is critical for creating a more informed citizenry.

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Trying to hear the Amish music

smalleramishAs you would expected, some major newspapers used their Sunday editors to dig deeper on issues linked to the Amish school massacre in Lancaster County, Pa. And, as you would expect, some newspapers did a good job of covering the spiritual issues and others used that old, dependable approach that resembles a National Geographic report on an alien culture.

I was speaking and flying all weekend, but still managed to see many of the reports online. I was especially struck by the “When worlds collide” feature story in the Baltimore Sun by reporter John Woestendiek. Folks, this story includes all kinds of interesting information about all kinds of valid stories about the Amish. There are details, facts and color galore. Here is a sample:

In a place where tranquillity is savored, hoopla ruled: Helicopters whirred above, and the roads were filled with police officers, TV news trucks, well-wishers and gawkers. Some vacationers went so far as to request their Amish country bus tours add the schoolhouse to the list of sights to see. There were threats from a fringe religious group to protest the funeral, and bikers who showed up to see that they didn’t.

In a culture where technology is eschewed, it was everywhere: from the satellite dishes dotting the horizon to the TV cables running alongside the road like spilled spaghetti, puzzling the horses that haul the buggies that carry the Amish, who — next to violence — abhor nothing more than being in the spotlight.

So what was missing? It seems that the team behind this story was — so sadly typical of the Sun — tone-deaf to the many religious elements of the story. There were melodies of faith and pain all around them and they just couldn’t hear the music. This is my local newspaper and this was one of those times when I really, really wished this was not my local newspaper.

I mean, they could have run Daniel Burke’s Religion News Service feature on the aftermath of the shootings. I have heard that Burke once worked at a newspaper in the Amish country, and it shows. He visited the Amish, listened and heard the music.

So click here to read “Amish Search for Healing, Forgiveness After ‘The Amish 9/11.’” Here is the haunting end of that piece:

But as their family gathered beneath a gas lamp in their living room after dinner, Ben and Mary struggled to explain why a gunman would want to hurt Amish children. They told their sons that he had a “little problem in his head that made him do mean things.”

One of the boys stared at his plain black pants, fingered his suspenders and again asked, in a respectful tone: Why?

Settling her hands on her lap, Mary said: “Sometimes we don’t understand. I understand that the Lord does let this happen, but I do not know why.”

“Really the only way to answer this is to toss it in the Lord’s lap and say, ‘You take care of it, I can’t,’” Ben said after turning to the boy.

“But you may ask him to please carry us through,” Mary said.

As the night grew long and the boys began to yawn, Ben pulled a little black prayer book from the shelf.

He pointed to a prayer often read at Amish funerals and provided an English translation.

“Glory Father, we thank Thee for all the blessings which Thou has bestowed upon the departed one, especially now that Thou has redeemed him from this wicked world and brought his sorrows to an end, and as we trust, has taken his soul home to Thee.”

AmishDollsIt’s all about access and listening, isn’t it?

Finally, I know many regular GetReligion readers will want to read Rod “Friend of this Blog” Dreher’s weekend commentary on this event, published in The Dallas Morning News. Click here to read “Amish faith shines, even in tragic darkness.”

The key, says Dreher, is that the Amish are not “Anabaptist hobbits” cut off from sin, temptation, tragedy and grief. They are part of the world of faith and they have their own way of dealing with the hard issues of life.

Charles Carl Roberts IV had one way of dealing with loss. The Amish way is very different and contrasts with many approaches to religion that, sadly, produce tragic headlines.

What sets hearts apart is how they deal with sins and tragedies. In his suicide note, Mr. Roberts said one reason he did what he did was out of anger at God for the death of his infant daughter in 1997. Wouldn’t any parent wonder why God allowed that to happen? Mr. Roberts held onto his hatred, purifying it under pressure until it exploded in an act of infamy. That’s one way to deal with anger.

Another is the Amish way. If Mr. Roberts’ rage at God over the death of his baby girl was in some sense understandable, how much more comprehensible would be the rage of those Amish mothers and fathers whose children perished by his hand? Had my child suffered and died that way, I cannot imagine what would have become of me, for all my pretenses of piety. And yet, the Amish do not rage. They do not return evil for evil. In fact, they embody peace and love beyond all human understanding.

Did that part of the story make it into your local newspapers and television broadcasts?

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Hey AP: Why didn’t she become a nun?

3virginmary btnHave you ever read a short Associated Press news report and then said to yourself, “Ah come on, there has to be more to this story than that.” That’s how I felt after reading the wire service story about the decision by 42-year-old Lori Rose Cannizzaro to take vows to become a “consecrated virgin.”

It seems that 116 or so newspapers printed this short report (and that’s just the Google News stat).

It isn’t a bad story. In fact, for such a short report, it manages to answer quite a few questions about what it means for a woman to take this rare liturgical step. Here’s the heart of the story:

Fewer than 200 women in the United States and 2,000 worldwide have declared their perpetual virginity this way, according to U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins.

“There are people who think I’m nuts,” Cannizzaro said.

The ceremony was a revival of one of the church’s oldest rituals. The rite is available only to virgins, who agree to abstain from sex so they can dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ in what the association describes as a mystical marriage and a profound spiritual blessing. Each woman wears a band on her left ring finger as a symbol, much like a wedding band.

Cannizzaro, who is not a nun, will continue to live on her own and work as a cook at Christ the King Seminary in a Buffalo suburb. She said she has plenty of support from family and friends.

Cannizzaro explains that dating just wasn’t working for her. So she took two years of seminary classes to get ready to take her vows and that was that.

Like I said, the article tells us a bit about what a “consecrated virgin” is. What it does not do is tell us much about what she is not. I found myself wanting to know the answer to this simple question: In an age in which most Roman Catholic religious orders for women are aging and often fading, why didn’t this woman help out by becoming a nun?

In other words, what are the unique advantages of being a solitary “consecrated virgin,” as opposed to a sister who is part of a religious community, whether a trendy liberal one or a traditionalist Catholic order?

A visit to the Consecrated Virginity website answers a few questions, but not, unless I missed it, this question that is bugging me. One will find this information:

The consecrated virgin living in the world embodies a definitive vocation in itself. She is not a quasi-Religious, nor is she in a vocation that is in the process of becoming a Religious institute or congregation. Nevertheless, she is a consecrated person, with her bishop as her guide. By virtue of the Consecration, she is responsible to pray for her diocese and clergy. At no time is her diocese responsible for her financial support.

The consecrated virgin living in the world, as expressed in Canon 604, is irrevocably “consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan bishop consecrates [her] according to the approved liturgical rite.” The consecrated virgin attends Mass daily, prays the Divine Office, and spends much time in private prayer. She can choose the Church-approved spirituality she prefers to follow.

Well, that helps a little. But I am still curious and I predict that other readers will be as well.

I think that I’ll ship this URL over to the omnipresent Amy Welborn and see what she knows.

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