Latin Mass firestorm just ahead

ratzingertlm9asOne of the rare subjects on which conservative and liberal Catholics agree is this one — the work of John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter is must reading about 99 percent of the time. This is especially true, in my opinion, when he tackles complex subjects that require blending an inside-the-Vatican perspective with some understanding of Catholicism in the swinging United States.

So Allen’s recent New York Times commentary on the upcoming controversy about the “return” of the Latin Mass is must reading for anyone interested in writing, or reading, news about American Catholicism. Here is how it opens:

A senior Vatican official has confirmed that sometime soon Pope Benedict XVI will expand permission for use of what’s popularly known as the Latin Mass, the service that was standard before the Second Vatican Council. Though some details remain vague, one point seems all too clear: When the decision officially comes down, its importance will be hyped beyond all recognition, because doing so serves the purposes of both conservatives and liberals within the church, as well as the press.

Pope Benedict’s intent, according to Vatican authorities, is to make the pre-1960s Mass optional, leaving Catholics free to choose which Mass they want to attend. Because the older Tridentine Mass, named for the 16th-century Council of Trent, has come to symbolize deep tensions in Catholicism, the pope’s decision is sure to trigger an avalanche of commentary.

Some voices on the right will say this action is step one in rolling back the liturgical reforms — or “reforms,” with scare quotes, depending on one’s point of view — of Vatican II and, thus, returning some of the sense of awe and beauty lost in the wake of folk Masses, polka Masses, bad liturgical dancing and whatnot.

In other words, this is great fundraising letter material.

Meanwhile, some voices on the Catholic left will, essentially, say the same thing, only with fear and anger in their voices. This is linked, in part, to their opposition to the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI, who has a long history of being a liturgical traditionalist. Allen notes:

That argument, too, depends on selective perception. While Benedict certainly wants to call the church back to some Catholic fundamentals, evidence of a systematic lurch to the right is hard to come by. This is the same pope, after all, who scandalized Catholic traditionalists by jettisoning limbo and by praying alongside the grand mufti of Istanbul inside the Blue Mosque in Turkey. On the political front, Benedict has demanded debt relief for impoverished nations, said that “nothing positive” has come from the United States-led war in Iraq, and denounced capitalism as an “ideological promise” that “has proven false.”

In other words, the pope is not a Republican or a member of the Religious Right. However, some on the left love to pretend otherwise while crafting the language in their own fundraising letters.

So this is likely to be one big mess of a media circus, complete with smells and bells. For a handy overview of the controversy, check out this USA Today report. As you would expect, Amy Welborn’s open book has its share of coverage and links to people on both sides.

However, it pays to remember that there is a big story lurking behind this one, only it’s a story that is much harder for reporters to tell.

Truth be told, there are Catholics who would love to torpedo Vatican II and some of them love incense, Gregorian chant and Latin. For them, the return of the old Mass would be a huge symbolic victory — even if it does not result in a crackdown on some of the bizarre version of the liturgy that same modernists and postmodernists have dreamed up.

At the same time, there are many American Catholics, including more than a few who wear purple, who dislike traditional Catholics so much that they have gone out of their way to deny them any use of the old Tridentine Mass or even use of the Vatican’s own original, official Latin-text version of the Novus Ordo liturgy that followed Vatican II (the foundation text for translations into English and other modern languages).

There are Catholic leaders, for example, who are fighting the new liturgical texts in which the Vatican has attempted to restore some complex, ancient language — to reform, perhaps, a few of the spirit-of-Vatican II reforms. Click here for a Religion News Service story about Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., chair of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, and his conflicts with Rome on this issue.

The bottom line: You will find a few of these extreme people, left and right, in most American dioceses. You will usually have one or two parishes that strongly support Rome and like to fly that flag high (and apply pressure for Latin rites). Then you will also have one or two edgy parishes (or “centers” or “Catholic communities”) that oppose — in ways either open or subtle — almost everything that Rome tries to do.

So where is the big story? It’s in the middle there, where the typical Catholic parish offers Masses that are plain, vanilla, often numbingly quick versions of the modernized English rite.

If the people on the left and the right can articulate what their ancient or edgy rites stand for, can anyone find a way to describe for readers the theology of these everyday generic Masses? In other words, what is the theological content of the current state of affairs, of the business-as-usual Sunday Mass in the big, mushy middle of suburban American Catholicism?

That’s a big story. Trust me.

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Religion matters in Middle Eastern fashion

Middle Eastern fashionI am the last person anyone should go to for fashion advice, but I do recognize the importance of fashion and what it says about a society. So with that in mind, I found the recent spate of stories on the shifting mindset of women in two major Middle Eastern countries toward fashion a fascinating look inside the countries’ culture.

To say that female fashion is driven by religion in Saudi Arabia and Iran is an understatement. But that is not saying that the two Middle Eastern giants are anywhere close to being similar in their approach to fashion. Just compare the leading fashion descriptions in a Los Angeles Times piece by Borzou Daragahi on illicit fashion shows in Tehran and a Washington Post piece by Faiza Saleh Ambah on the colorful abayas that are all the rage in Saudi Arabia.

Here’s the LAT:

Amid air kisses and gossip, techno and hip-hop music thumps. The guests slide out of dark overcoats to unsheathe daringly low-cut dresses and open-slit gowns, form-fitting sweaters and go-go boots, skin-tight T-shirts and acid-washed jeans. Skinny, long-legged models giggle as they slip into outfits of satin and silk. A red carpet serves as a runway.

And the Post:

When Fageeh, a health industry executive, appeared at a recent business conference in a floor-length white abaya made of light cotton and monogrammed with an M, some of the attendees were shocked, she said. But others were inspired.

The LAT piece does little to explore the theological background of Iran’s fashion laws. The Post piece explores the history nicely but does little to explain why the country’s enforcement of the law has become less stringent. For instance, why has the influence of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice waned since the Sept. 11 attacks? Nothing in the article convinces me that this date is significant in Middle Eastern fashion. For all I know, it is merely a coincidence.

Here is the Post on why conservative Muslims support laws restricting women’s fashion:

Many conservatives see the new abaya as sinful, and orthodox clerics have issued fatwas, or edicts, decreeing that the robes must be dark, loose and shapeless.

The varied views here on women’s dress stem from different interpretations of Koranic verses and hadith, anecdotes about Islam’s prophet Muhammad and his followers that are considered an important source of religious practice and law. Though there is no consensus among Muslims regarding what constitutes proper dress, most believe that God ordered women to wear loose clothing that covers their contours.

The first verse in the Koran that deals with the Islamic dress code for women says: “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.”

The day that verse came to Muhammad from Allah, according to hadith, women walked to dawn prayers “looking like crows.” Ahmad al-Mussaed, a geography professor and the author of several books on traditional clothing, said Muslim women should therefore dress in black abayas to follow the example of women during the time of the prophet.

Anytime someone writes about the Middle East, it inevitably involves Islam. This is particularly true here. The Post piece does a great job explaining how the letter of the law is often what people seek to follow while skirting (apologies for the pun) the spirit of the law.

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Baltimore Sun ‘perceives’ an Episcopal trend

CenterburyNuke1Clearly, the Anglican vs. Episcopal warfare is just getting started at the local level here in the United States, which means that more and more religion reporters are going to have to wade into this journalistic swamp in the weeks, months and years ahead.

This time around, it was reporter Liz F. Kay of the Baltimore Sun, writing about a Pentecost service attended by Anglican Bishop Hector Zavala of Chile, who was visiting a missionary parish of his diocese that is located in Baltimore County.

The heart of the story comes early, in the grit-your-teeth-and-write-it background paragraphs that reporters simply have to write in order to help readers understand what is, supposedly, going on. So here is Kay’s shot at this almost impossible task:

The Church of the Resurrection is one of many in the United States forming relationships with foreign bishops after growing increasingly dissatisfied with the perceived liberal direction of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. arm of the international Anglican Communion.

For several Resurrection members, the 2003 election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire was a recent — but not the only — evidence of a church straying from biblical values and truths.

Reisterstown resident Vince Clews, a founding member of Church of the Resurrection, said its formation after Robinson’s election may imply homophobia but had more to do with public statements by Episcopal bishops who don’t believe in tenets such as the divinity of Jesus, his resurrection or virgin birth.

That isn’t all that bad, as these things go. Saying that there are “many” U.S. parishes forming ties to traditional Anglicans in the Third World will raise some eyebrows on the left, since many newspapers are using words like “some,” “a few” or “dozens.” It would really help if the elves at one or more of the Anglican sites created a master U.S. Anglican parish list online to help reporters (hint, hint).

Then there is the issue of Clews’ claim that there is more to his parish’s stand than homophobia. This is, of course, a fact of history if anyone wants to study a timeline of the Anglican conflict.

However, this is what is really hard for reporters to capture in a mere paragraph or two.

The Anglican right is correct when it says that the doctrinal and creedal conflicts dividing this worldwide Communion are broader and deeper than sex. It is also true that this open warfare has been going on for a long, long, long time — for a quarter century or so. This is why I came up with the questions in the “tmatt trio” back in the mid-1980s and added the Anglican “bonus question” in 1993. (Follow those links if you need background or you are playing the GetReligion drinking game.)

However, the Episcopal left is absolutely correct when it notes that the conflict — for whatever reasons — truly exploded as the ordination of noncelibate gays and lesbians entered the mainstream of the church here in North America. The Robinson election threw the final switch, especially in terms of media coverage. It personalized the conflict, which creates a story that is easier to write than one centering on often foggy theological language.

The most interesting word, journalistically speaking, in Kay’s report is the word “perceived” in the statement that traditionalists are upset about the “perceived liberal direction of the Episcopal Church.” This interests me, because I think we have reached the point where leaders on the Episcopal left are openly and honestly saying that God wants their church to move in a liberal, or progressive, direction.

“Perceived”? Let’s turn that around. If the Anglican right was victorious tomorrow and somehow began to pass and enforce statements, well, that salvation can only be found through Jesus Christ, that clergy must preach that the resurrection literally happened and that sex outside of marriage is a sin, would The Sun write that mainstream Episcopal leaders were upset that their church was swinging in what they “perceived” was a conservative or even, heaven forbid, a “fundamentalist” direction? Would anyone doubt that the facts were clear?

Once again, I think we have reached the stage where newspapers can quote people saying what they believe and then let the readers figure out what is going on. At least that is my perception.

File art: Back by popular demand

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Finding the news on Muslim Americans

PewStudyWhenever I have the pleasure of writing a story based on another organization’s work (I actually cringe when I have to do this), it’s always interesting trying to come up with a news hook that is relevant but not what everyone else is going to do. In these situations you usually have a press release with the preordained lede, but there is nothing forcing journalists to use it. Sometimes the press release lede is a no-brainer, but sometimes there is room for creativity.

Such was the case for an excellent $1 million survey released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life earlier this week on Muslim Americans. The survey, according to Pew, “finds them to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.”

And that’s what most major media outlets told us the next day. But is that the news in this survey? Here is The Economist:

Hypothesis: the Pew people are actually running a clever survey on us, the media people and the bloggers, seeing how we react to a poll that can be interpreted in many ways. Thoughts?

Now, I doubt Pew spent $1 million in an effort to see how the media would react, but the various links posted on The Economist‘s blog show how varied the responses were. But like most big outlets, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times ran with Pew’s lead. Here’s the Post‘s Alan Cooperman:

Unlike Muslim minorities in many European countries, U.S. Muslims are highly assimilated, close to parity with other Americans in income and overwhelmingly opposed to Islamic extremism, according to the first major, nationwide random survey of Muslims.

The survey by the Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of U.S. Muslims said the use of suicide bombings against civilian targets to defend Islam is never justified. But 5 percent said it is justified “rarely,” 7 percent said “sometimes,” and 1 percent said “often”; the remaining 9 percent said they did not know or declined to answer.

Those survey numbers are great, but the news to me was buried 12 graphs into Cooperman’s story and received scant attention:

Still, the poll found “pockets of sympathy for extremism” particularly among African Americans and young Muslims, said Andrew Kohut, head of the Pew Research Center.

Native-born African American Muslims, who represent about 20 percent of the total Muslim population, are its most disillusioned segment, the report shows. They are more skeptical than foreign-born Muslims of the idea that hard work pays off. About 13 percent are satisfied with the way things are going, compared with 29 percent of other native-born Muslims and 45 percent of Muslim immigrants.

One of the poll’s most striking findings, Kohut said, is that African American Muslims are considerably more likely than immigrant Muslims to express support for al-Qaeda.

Nine percent of African American Muslims expressed a favorable attitude toward Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization, while 36 percent held a very unfavorable view. Among foreign-born Muslims, 3 percent had a favorable view of al-Qaeda while 63 percent chose “very unfavorable.”

Rebecca Trounson of the Times placed the bad news six graphs into her story:

Nonetheless, he said, the study also found pockets of sympathy and support for extremism among Muslim Americans, especially among the young.

Overall, although 78% of respondents said suicide bombings of civilian targets to defend Islam could not be justified, 13% said they could be, under some circumstances. That view was strongest — 26% — among those younger than 30.

I haven’t reviewed the original survey data myself, so I’m not one to say definitively what should or should have been mentioned in the lede, but it seems to me that saying American Muslims are generally happy with this country in comparison to European Muslims is old news. Having such precise polling data is awesome and very newsworthy, but the more interesting result, and that could mean it is more newsworthy, is that there are a significant number of American Muslims who are not happy and feel sympathies for extremist Islam.

Now the question is, Why? Are these younger Muslim Americans just rebelling against their elders, or is there a deeper theological reason for this trend?

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When WikiWarriors get religion

WikipediaNow here is something that is either fun, maddening, insane, brilliant or all of the above.

A friend of this blog who pretty much lives on the Web sent me this link that points to a list of the “top 20 most hotly revised articles on Wikipedia.”

Now, before you dig into this lovely list, here is some info about how and why the list was created.

You really need to see the interesting graphic that goes with that article, which I elected not to use because I could not tell its copyright status.

How do you keep track of the bubbling mass of information that is Wikipedia?

… It’s a mind-boggling task. About 4 million “Wikipedians” have made over 130 million edits, and the English-language version alone contains 1.7 million articles. Every second a new edit is made, and every day 2000 new articles spring up.

To make sense of it all, Bruce Herr and Todd Holloway of Indiana University, Bloomington, created clusters of 300 or so articles that touch on a related topic, such as a religion or a famous person. For each cluster they took one picture from the most popular article and laid them out in a circular grid.

Atop the grid are coloured dots showing how often and how recently each article has been edited. The larger, darker dots mean more intense activity. The list of blitzed articles reveals the idiosyncratic priorities of Wikipedians: Jesus, Adolf Hitler, Nintendo, Hurricane Katrina, Britney Spears and Albert Einstein.

So with no further ado, here is the list.

Note the central role of religion and even of personalities — heck, from Adolf Hitler to Britney Spears — who often tend to get linked to religious debates in the minds of some people. Was Hitler a Christian or an anti-Christian? Is Britney still a Southern Baptist?

Jesus
Adolf Hitler
October 2003
Nintendo revolution
Hurricane Katrina
India
RuneScape
Anarchism
Britney Spears
PlayStation 3
Saddam Hussein
Japan
Albert Einstein
2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake
New York City
Germany
Muhammad
Pope Benedict XVI
Ronald Reagan
Hinduism

What a world, huh?

I have never understood why many people think that it would be boring to be assigned to the religion beat, broadly defined (and I do mean broadly defined).

Does anyone have any favorite religion ghosts that they see lurking in this hot-button list?

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More than a politico

Jerry FalwellThe general consensus in the day-after coverage of the passing of the Rev. Jerry Falwell has been that he ignited the political movement that is today known as the religious right. Here’s Stephanie Simon of the Los Angeles Times:

A genial man in person, with a heart for the quiet, humbling work of a small-town pastor, Falwell made his public name with blistering attacks against what he saw as the moral decay gnawing at American society: legalized abortion, homosexuality, pornography, godless liberalism.

He poured that outrage into creating a new model for Christian engagement with the world. The result was the Moral Majority, which Falwell founded in 1979 after consultations with theologians and political strategists.

The group was credited with helping to elect Ronald Reagan president and a slate of Republicans to Congress in 1980. In the next two years, Falwell claimed to build a mailing list of about 7 million religious conservatives determined to express their faith at the ballot box.

Today, in an era when the religious right is an acknowledged force in American politics, the Moral Majority seems unremarkable.

Falwell’s greatest effect on America was undoubtedly the political movement he baptized as the “founder of the religious right,” as USA Today reporters Susan Page and Cathy Lynn Grossman put it. But in a page A6 story from The Washington Post‘s Hanna Rosin, the theme is that Falwell’s movement had moved beyond him like Russia did with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Reaction to Falwell’s death has produced an avalanche of statements from President Bush to Al Sharpton to Larry Flynt. Who was the last person, other than former presidents, whose death received this level of attention? And what could be the level of polarization in the statements?

The Post/Newsweek On Faith has posted comments from its panel of distinguished religious figures, including Rick Warren (“A Real Compassionate Conservative“), Diana Eck (“A Good Person with Bad Theology“), Anthony Stevens-Arroyo (“The Wolsey Moment“) and Jonathan Sarna (“Friend to Israel; Enemy to Anti-Semites“).

One angle that has been neglected was Falwell’s genuine attempts to bring conservative Christianity into modern times.

Here’s Jesse Walker at Reason:

Falwell fulminated til the end against homosexuality, feminism, and the other alleged evils of modernity. But it’s hard to escape the impression that his cohort not only lost the culture war, but perhaps did more than anyone else to usher Hollywood’s America into Christian homes. In the early days, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network refused to air reruns of Bewitched on the grounds that it promoted witchcraft. Today the outlet is owned by ABC, which calls it the ABC Family Channel and happily broadcasts not just The 700 Club but Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, not to mention the frequently ribald humor of Whose Line Is It Anyway? As intensely intolerant as Falwell could be, it’s harder than ever to imagine America reembracing his views about gender relations or the sinfulness of homosexuality. The one cultural war he may have won, perhaps without even meaning to wage it, was the battle against Protestant hatred of the Roman Catholic Church. Despite his illiberal platform and rhetoric, Falwell’s long-term legacy might be one of tolerance.

That could depend, of course, on whether the centralized, politicized fundamentalist community he helped create survives the next media revolution. Television tends to smooth over our differences; the Internet allows diversity to bloom. The next Jerry Falwell might be sitting in a church basement right now, pointing a camcorder at himself and preparing to upload his homilies to YouTube. He might even call his little films The Old Time Gospel Minute. Don’t let the title fool you.

It’s easy for the press to get caught up in the left-right divide that tends to dictate the direction of public statements issued to remember Falwell’s passing. But taking a longer perspective on Falwell shows that for all his dramatic pronouncements and controversies, he changed the American religious landscape, and subsequently America, in rather significant fashion. The political spats that made Falwell famous will pass away, but the rise of the religious right and his influence on the use of technology (think television) in religion will be his lasting legacy.

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Anglican pie fight: Update

Banana cream pieAs you may recall, I urged readers to let me know if there were any mainstream news updates on that strange event the other day at Grace Episcopal (or is that Anglican?) Church in Colorado Springs. I refer to the actions of 18-year-old Marcus Hyde, who attempted to hit Father Don Armstrong with a pie during a sermon on a rather timely topic: “Of Christian Love and Charity.”

Most readers would assume that this was an act of protest linked to the priest’s high-profile role in the global conflicts in the Anglican Communion. However, journalists are not supposed to settle for assumptions.

Thus, I appreciated a tip from a GetReligion reader who let me know that Hyde is, from time to time, a writer for a liberal Colorado Springs publication called Newspeak that has tangled with Armstrong in the past. In fact, Rocky Mountain News religion writer Jean Torkelson has more information for us:

First, there was a near miss with a pie. Now, surreptitious photographs of the embattled Rev. Don Armstrong are being posted, a la Candid Camera, by a self-described satire and gay-advocacy publication.

“Don Armstrong deserves it for any number of reasons,” said Noel Black, publisher of Newspeak. The Colorado Springs publication has posted on its Web site nine photos that purport to show Armstrong parking his car illegally. …

Marcus Hyde, the 18-year-old accused in the incident, is an occasional writer for Newspeak, Black said. Hyde did not respond to phone messages Wednesday. Black denied knowing about the prank beforehand but said, “I think it’s great, a time-honored tradition of political protest.”

As you would expect, Newspeak (motto: Not Reasoned Discourse but Fascist Tactics Since 2006) is having lots of online fun with all of this. I would expect that we have not seen the end of this spat.

However, I must at this time confess that I have a strong personal bias that will affect any future writing that I do on this whole pie-throwing episode.

You see, the GetReligion reader who sent me this information added another detail that left me shaken and furious beyond words. It seems that this errantly pitched pie, when it sailed past the sanctuary pulpit, almost hit (my hands are shaking as I type this) one of my very own godchildren who was seated in a chancel pew! I will not mention her name (she is the daughter of dear family friends from our days in Denver), because of the lingering threat of future pie attacks. I guess that I am now officially a crusty old godfather.

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Checking in with the pope’s editor

index phpWe are nearing the end of the media blitz accompanying Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Latin America (Amy Welborn has, of course, lots of handy links).

To my surprise, I still think the most important news came at the very beginning. The heart of the matter can be found in a paragraph that, at first, I thought The New York Times got completely wrong and that I now — brace yourselves — think the newspaper of record got precisely right.

Let’s flash all the way back to that very first report by Ian Fisher and Larry Rohter focusing on the pope’s blunt words about politics, abortion and the sacraments. Here’s the key, right near the top:

On the plane from Rome, Benedict appeared to go further than the Vatican had before on the contentious issue of Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights. He seemed to suggest that Mexico City legislators who recently voted to allow abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy had excommunicated themselves.

“Yes, the excommunication isn’t something arbitrary — it’s part of the code” of church law, the pope said in Italian, in response to a question during the first full-fledged news conference of his two-year pontificate. “The killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going into communion in the body of Christ.”

What leapt out at me was the use of “appeared” and “seemed” in the summary paragraph ahead of Benedict’s actual words. As a rule, journalists try to avoid interpretive words of this kind because they interject an element of editorializing or, at the very least, strong subjectivity. The reporter might as well say “appeared to me” or “seemed to me” and be done with it.

But then I read on and, as I did so, I thought about the reality of this journalistic challenge.

First of all, brilliant academic people are skilled at creating good sound bites, and this is certainly true of Benedict XVI, as it was for John Paul II before him. Second, if there is anything in the world that the typical Vatican diplomat detests it is a direct, logical statement that adds a note of clarity to a tense situation.

Sure enough, the pope’s headline-grabbing statement was followed — a few lines later — by this:

The pope’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, quickly issued a clarification that played down his words, but then issued a statement approved by the pope that seemed to confirm a new gravity on politicians who allow abortion.

“Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist,” the statement said, and politicians who vote that way should “exclude themselves from communion.” …

Father Lombardi’s initial clarifying statement said the pope had intended to refer to current Vatican policy, as expressed in a document on the Eucharist that Benedict issued in December. In that document, Benedict said that certain values, including protecting human life from conception to natural death, were “not negotiable” and that Catholic politicians had a “grave responsibility” to promote such laws.

So, you see, the Times was just playing the odds, which is an appropriate thing to do when Vatican diplomats are involved in press relations. So, you see, there really wasn’t a major news story here that would affect politicians in the United States and around the world. It just seemed that there was a major story, based on the words of this papal statement.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times quickly followed up with an amazing little piece noting that, by the time the pope’s remarks were transcribed and distributed, some of his words had actually disappeared — including a very crucial pronoun. Tracy Wilkinson should receive an award for the crisp, ironic, lede of the papal tour:

The pope, it turns out, has an editor.

Fallout from comments Benedict XVI made … about abortion and excommunication has been so intense that the Vatican has simply changed the record.

It all began when the pope, in a news conference aboard his flight to Brazil, appeared to endorse the excommunication of Roman Catholic politicians who vote to legalize abortion.

… (W)hen the transcript of the news conference appeared … on the Vatican’s official website, the pope’s comments had been altered.

For those who understand Italian, the transcript is here. Has anyone seen an English translation? That would have been nice, of course. Here is the crucial change, as described in the Los Angeles Times story:

In the 25-minute news conference, Benedict was asked if he agreed with excommunication for Mexican lawmakers who last month legalized abortion in Mexico City. “Yes, this excommunication is not something arbitrary,” he answered, before going on to explain that such punishment is part of church law.

The transcript on the Vatican website removes the “Yes, this” and begins, “Excommunication is …” — making his remarks seem more generic and unconnected to the case in Mexico.

So, the clarity vanished, with that little word — “this.”

Nothing much to write about, it seems. Peace, peace.

Photo from the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo’s papal tour press site.

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