Kiss pic or no kiss pic?

licenced kiss 1Our friends over at the diversity and ethics offices at have run a really interesting commentary on a media issue at the heart of debates about fair and accurate coverage of same-sex marriage.

On one level Kelly McBride‘s piece is about whether or not news organizations should run the “dreaded kissing photo.” On another level, the debate is about whether pushing same-sex marriage into the faces of readers is (a) good for the subscriber-challenged mainstream press and-or (b) good for the actual cause of lesbigay rights.

This is similar to the debate in England about whether calling The Wedding a “wedding,” as opposed to the “blessing of a civil union” is a good strategic move within the Anglican wars.

Here is a key chunk of McBride’s post:

Some newsrooms have policies that discourage running photos or video of same-sex couples kissing. Some photo editors and news directors are inclined to run the kissing images, because they capture the climactic moment of a wedding.

Interestingly enough, some advocates of gay marriage bristle at the kissing photos, arguing that they have become a cliche that turns people away from the story. Of course, other gay marriage proponents argue that when editors refuse to show a photo of a simple kiss, they give in to dehumanizing forces.

Four years ago, when public officials around the country began to test the laws that banned gay and lesbian couples from legally marrying, journalists learned a lot. The audience, in some cases, protested mightily over the photos. They accused their local television stations and newspapers of supporting the liberal cause of gay marriage by displaying the images. Others celebrated the diversity of same-sex couples that is rarely represented in visual journalism.

There is, of course, a thin line in California right now between saying that these photos will turn off newspaper subscribers and saying that they will turn off voters.

I can’t come up with a reason not to run the best photos that you have. I would, for example, have trouble saying that photos in secular settings are somehow better or safer than photos taken in sanctuaries on the religious left. This is a journalistic decision, although it is clear that there is no “safe” choice. Are “kissing photos” good for the religious right or the religious left? You can argue both sides of that.

Similar issues bubble to the surface in a Los Angeles Times piece by Jessica Garrison that ran with the candid headline “Gay couples are emphasizing low-key weddings — Flamboyant images from same-sex ceremonies, activists say, could be used by opponents to convince California votes that gays and lesbians shouldn’t have the right to marry.”

This theme that runs through this story is clear: It’s time to focus on public relations. Do what is best for the movement. Here’s the lede:

The gay and lesbian couples who packed a Hollywood auditorium last week had come seeking information about California’s new marriage policies. But they also got some unsolicited advice.

Be aware.

Images from gay weddings, said Lorri L.Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, could be used by opponents in a campaign designed to convince California voters that gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry. Those getting married, she cautioned, should never lose sight of what they might be supplying the other side.

Sitting close to his husband-to-be in the audience, hairstylist Kendall Hamilton nodded and said he knew just what she meant. No “guys showing up in gowns,” he said.

“It’s a weird subject,” added Hamilton, 39, who plans to wed his partner of five years, Ray Paolantonio. “We want everybody to be free, but the image does matter. … They are going to try to make us look like freaks.”

In other words, do not celebrate too much. That’s important advice to activists. The question is whether this advice should have anything to do with policies in newsrooms.

Photo: From

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Obama on fatherhood and family

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s speech on Father’s Day about the importance of fatherhood is drawing praise from some surprising quarters that the day-after stories struggled to pick-up on. The New York Times rightly focused on the impact the speech had on the African-American community, but this speech is having effects in other communities as well.

Here is the NYT:

Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who sat in the front pew, Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, laid out his case in stark terms that would be difficult for a white candidate to make, telling the mostly black audience not to “just sit in the house watching ‘SportsCenter,’” and to stop praising themselves for mediocre accomplishments.

“Don’t get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation,” he said, bringing many members of the congregation to their feet, applauding. “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”

His themes have also been sounded by the comedian Bill Cosby, who has stirred debate among black Americans by bluntly speaking about an epidemic of fatherlessness in African-American families while suggesting that some blacks use racism as a crutch to explain the lack of economic progress.

Mr. Obama did not take his Father’s Day message to Trinity United Church of Christ, where he resigned as a member in May after a series of disputes over controversial remarks by the church’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Instead, he chose the 20,000-member Apostolic Church of God, a vast brick structure on the South Side near Lake Michigan. The church’s pastor, Byron Brazier, is an Obama supporter.

Many religious conservatives, not necessarily tied to the African American community, have latched on to the speech’s broader theme regarding the importance of fatherhood and the family. The NYT article correctly notes that this is not the first time Obama has spoken on this issue, which is part of the reason traditional conservatives were initially curious about Obama’s candidacy.

The setting of the speech, a powerful church on Sunday morning, was appropriately noted, but there has been little coverage of the scripture Obama used to open his sermon speech. Here it is from the text:

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus closes by saying, “Whoever hears these words of mine, and does them, shall be likened to a wise man who built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.” [Matthew 7: 24-25] …

Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.

One news organization, The Politico, picked up on how Obama ended the speech, which tied directly into the opener:

“We try. We hope,” he concluded. “We do what we can to build our house upon the sturdiest rock. And when the winds come, and the rains fall, and they beat upon that house, we keep faith that our Father will be there to guide us, and watch over us, and protect us, and lead His children through the darkest of storms into light of a better day. That is my prayer for all of us on this Father’s Day, and that is my hope for this country in the years ahead. May God bless you and your children. Thank you.”

Along with the setting of the speech (a church), the use of “the rock” as a religious symbolism to explain a policy position of the potential next president of the United States is significant. Obama is known for choosing the words of his speeches carefully and frequently changing phrases to fit what he believes represents himself. Was this one of them?

How much should reporters, if they covered this aspect, read into the use of “the rock” as a religious symbolism? Saint Peter is frequently referred to as “The Rock” upon which the Church of Jesus Christ would be built. Jesus is also frequently referred to as the “Rock of Salvation,” or the “Rock of Ages.”

In other words, has Obama picked up President Bush’s style of using religious rhetoric to explain his policy positions? If this is the case, will it be as effective in drawing in voters who wouldn’t otherwise identify with Obama?

Lastly, reporters should follow-up on the policy goals behind this speech. The NYT noted that Obama announced he would co-sponsor legislation with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (huge Hillary Clinton support) intended to increase child support payment enforcement and domestic violence prevention. But is that all? What other positions held by Obama are influenced by this lofty goal of increasing the role of father’s in the lives of this country’s youth?

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All the trimmings in Anglican land

london st bartholomew churcYou gotta hand it to the Brits. The journalists over there sure know how to cover a wedding.

The Telegraph rolled out the heavy artillery to cover what may have been the most celebrated wedding in the United Kingdom since that of Prince Charles and Lady Di. I am referring, of course, to the same-sex union rites for the Rev. Peter Cowell and the Rev. Dr. David Lord.

Here’s the hard news lede, served up by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the newspaper’s religious affairs correspondent.

An Anglican church has held a homosexual “wedding” for the first time in a move that will deepen the rift between liberals and traditionalists, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Two male priests exchanged vows and rings in a ceremony that was conducted using one of the church’s most traditional wedding rites — a decision seen as blasphemous by conservatives. The ceremony broke Church of England guidelines and was carried out last month in defiance of the Bishop of London, in whose diocese it took place. News of the “wedding” emerged days before a crucial summit of the Anglican Church’s conservative bishops and archbishops, who are threatening to split the worldwide Church over the issue of homosexual clergy.

Notice how, in just a few sentences, the reporter hit all the different levels of this Anglican blockbuster — both local, diocesan, national and global. Good show.

But this is one case where it really helps to remember that this story focuses on the radical redefinition of an ancient sacramental rite in a church that claims apostolic ties to Catholic orders and creeds. This has to be a story about worship and doctrine.

That’s where another Telegraph story really shines. To truly grasp the importance of what is going on, and all the fine details, I suggest that GetReligion readers click here and print out a blogger’s close analysis of the actual text for this same-sex rite, compared and contrasted with the Book of Common Prayer rite that it is modernizing or postmodernizing, depending on one’s point of view.

This story focuses
on the worship service itself, making clear the degree to which this was a wedding, no matter what the high Anglican spinners try to say after the fact. And the setting? Location, location, location. Read it all. But here is a sample:

St. Bartholomew the Great at West Smithfield, in the City of London, dates from the 12th century but it can have seen few more historic events than this.

Greeted with a fanfare of trumpets, the Rev. Peter Cowell and the Rev. Dr. David Lord celebrated their civil union with the kind of pomp and pageantry reserved for royal weddings. The couple walked up the aisle to Mendelssohn’s march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream dressed in morning suits, with their bridesmaids and best men following behind.

A robed choir sang in Latin as incense was burned on the high altar. The service was rooted in the most traditional style, from the music to the liturgy, which was based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Rev. Martin Dudley addressed the congregation: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together these men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity.”

To conservative Anglicans the use of those words in such circumstances might be blasphemous, but the packed pews indicated the level of support for the couple.

One more detail, in a nation that truly sweats the details of class and politics.

Cowell is who is a hospital chaplain at Barts and priest at Westminster Abbey, which means he works at the heart of the system that serves the queen. Thus, he are told:

Among those celebrating with the couple were some of the Church’s most senior clergy, including Canon Robert Wright from Westminster Abbey and chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

“It was incredibly grand — the most spectacular wedding I’ve ever been to,” said one guest. “They had a 10-tier wedding cake. I’ve never seen a cake that big.”

So, do you think that this might come up for discussions in Jerusalem and then in Canterbury?

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Holy matrimony from Cana to California

marriage cana xlOf the many stories dealing with same-sex marriage in California, one San Francisco Chronicle story in particular deserves a look. Headlined “Bay Area churches opened door to same-sex vows,” the reporter skims the surface of the history of same-sex rites in Christian churches and managed to get the attention of more than a few GetReligion readers in the process:

The Bay Area has had a number of seminal moments in the history of gays and lesbians in organized religion. The first ordination of an openly gay minister, William Johnson, took place in San Carlos. One of two openly gay bishops in the Anglican Communion, Otis Charles, is a Bay Area resident.

But even so, the vast majority of churches in the region limit the role of gays and lesbians. Only one mainline Protestant denomination – the United Church of Christ, which ordained Johnson – marries homosexual couples with the same rite used for heterosexual couples. And the number of churches friendly to gays and lesbians is much lower than the number of Catholic, evangelical or other conservative Christian churches in the region.

So while liberal churches helped change the state, the state now has a far more liberal view of same-sex marriage. Flat-out opposition has come from evangelicals and the state’s Catholic leaders – including San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer and Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron. Joint support for a November ballot initiative seeking a constitutional amendment that will codify marriage as between one man and one woman will probably come from them.

In case the language wasn’t clear enough, the bad people “limit,” “flat-out oppose” and aren’t “friendly” to gays. The good churches “help change” the state’s views on same-sex marriage, ordain and marry homosexuals and condone homosexuality. And that bizarre last sentence is conditional and passive why?

Reporter Matthai Kuravila goes on to say that “churches supportive of gay and lesbian rights” are in the difficult position of being in denominations with stricter rules on same-sex marriage than they might prefer:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church, for example, now prohibit using the marriage rite reserved for straight couples for same-sex marriages. Separate – and, some say, unequal – rites are set aside for gays and lesbians. (That’s not true for all churches in those denominations, including some in the Bay Area, where evangelical members insist that marriage should only be between a man and woman.)

I sort of have no idea what he means by this paragraph but love that it’s “evangelicals” in these mainline churches who oppose same-sex marriage. What does that word mean in this context? That middle sentence is also fascinating. It should really form the basis for its own article. In fact, I think an article on Christian marriage rites for same-sex partners is desperately needed.

The Christian model of marriage is based on the relationship between Christ and the church. The husband is to sacrifice for his wife as Christ gave himself to the church. The wife is to respect the husband as the church obeys Christ. You can read all about it Ephesians 5. When my husband and I got married, this was the understanding of marriage that we were instructed in. This was included in our marriage rite. Such clear roles for husband and wife wouldn’t make sense for same-sex partners. Or, if the same rite is used, who represents Christ and who represents the church? Is the same model of Christ and church used for same-sex partners? How is this understood? I would love to learn more about liturgies for same-sex marriage — or just other marriage liturgies in general — rather than some throwaway line about how some people say the rites are “unequal.” I mean, really.

Anyway, the article ends with a discussion of how Bay area Episcopalians have been at the forefront of gay rights issues. Bishop Marc Andrus says that gay couples should have a purely civil ceremony at county clerks’ offices and then return to the church for a blessing. And all couples — straight and gay — should use one of the three rites approved for same-sex blessings. The article fails to mention that these “approved” rites have not been approved by the Episcopal Church itself but, rather, the local California Diocese.

This Religion News Service report appearing in the Washington Post on Saturday notes that even in California, Episcopal bishops hold different views on same-sex marriage rites.

Here’s how the article ends:

Andrus said it is part of a natural order that churches might lead the state, and that the state might lead the church.

“We seek to intently follow Christ, but we don’t contain Christ,” Andrus said. “Christ transcends the boundaries of the church. . . . It’s not a surprise to me that the culture is going to manifest Christ in a way that summons the church to new realities. I really welcome that. I think that’s the way it’s meant to be.”

I feel like this quote needs more explanation, context or a response — but maybe it’s that I moved from California so long ago that I have forgotten the language. Anyway, all that to say that the graphic that accompanies the article is in error.

The chart looks at the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to see whether celibacy is required for gays and lesbians and whether they bless same-sex unions, perform same-sex marriages or ordain partnered gay clergy.

According to the chart, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) do not require celibacy, do bless same-sex unions and do ordain partnered gay clery. Except that that’s not true. Practices may and do vary in both church bodies but the PCUSA does say that unmarried clergy must remain chaste and that people are not free to disobey that rule. And I think they also forbid same-sex marriage blessings. As for The Episcopal Church, 10 dioceses bless same-sex unions but the national church body has not condoned that. And the international Anglican Communion has been pressuring the Episcopal Church to crack down on those dioceses that conduct same-sex union liturgies.

It just seems that if you’re going to write a light and airy piece like this, the least you can do is get the facts right.

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I’m not Catholic, I just go to church here

100So the Rev. Michael Pfleger, last seen mocking Sen. Hillary Clinton from the pulpit of Barack Obama’s church, will be back at his parish by June 16. He was told to take a couple of weeks off from St. Sabina’s to reflect on Catholic rules regarding priests and politics. Those couple of weeks up, he’s been told he can go back.

Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mary Wisniewski reports on his impending return. The problems start with the headline and subhead:

Rev. Pfleger to return to St. Sabina with ‘no restrictions’
He’ll be back at St. Sabina, but he has to stay out of presidential politics

So which is it? Does he have “no restrictions” or does he have to stay out of presidential politics? Something tells me that headline won’t be winning any awards for clarity. Anyway, the story also raised more questions than it answered. At least for me:

At a three-hour Sunday mass filled with songs and dancing, pastoral associate Kimberly Lymore read a letter from Pfleger in which the priest wrote, “This has been a very painful time for me personally and for our church family.” . . .

Lymore said parish leaders were told by Cardinal George that Pfleger will continue as pastor of the church he has led for 30 years with “no restrictions” — other than not being able to mention publicly the names of presidential candidates or campaign for them. On hearing this, several parishioners called out “That’s all right.”

No priests are allowed to be involved in politics, that’s standard. Still, it is a restriction and one that was obviously emphasized for Pfleger. What other restrictions would even be discussed?

I would say that it should be explained what “pastoral associate” means for the female holding the position, but it looks like Chicago media, including Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani, have discussed the issue before. Perhaps it’s old news there.

These two paragraphs were interesting:

Asked if it was fair that Pfleger was restricted from talking about the candidates, longtime parishioner Michelle Wong Scott said, “a lot of times, when you’re a member, you have to follow your leadership and do what your leaders tell you to do.” She said if Cardinal George had removed Pfleger permanently, the parish would have continued the work he started.

Two other parishioners, Rhonda Williams and Leslie Ross, who are not Catholic, said they would have left St. Sabina’s and followed Pfleger to a new church if he had been removed.

It’s the second paragraph that I didn’t quite understand. What does it mean to be a parishioner of a Catholic parish but not be Catholic? It would be much easier to understand in non-sacramental churches. But parishioners can’t take communion unless they’re Catholic and communion is central to the life of the parish, right? So what does it mean exactly? It would be good to have a bit more explanation.

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Alt-weekly goes church hopping

church hoppingGetReligion tends to focus on mainstream coverage of religion, but I wanted to take a little break from that to highlight a intriguing article out of an alternative newsweekly The Louisville Eccentric Observer on the community’s church services. Apparently this is the start of a 10-part monthly series of Christian church reviews.

The opinions of the reporters, George Halitzka and Zach Nord, shine brightly, but you know that going into the piece. Halitzka and Nord also provide some personal background so you know where they are coming from.

Here’s the article’s mission statement, so to speak:

Religion here on the border of the Bible Belt is a fascinating mix. Half of Louisville is CatholiBaptist. The other half’s hoping if they ignore the Jesus Freaks long enough, they’ll go away.

But we figure there are probably a few folks in the middle, too. Curious souls who wonder what really happens in church on Sunday, but fear they might burst into flames if they cross a sacred threshold. Just for you, LEO is launching a new series called “The Church Hoppers.”

Each week, I (George Halitzka) and my partner-in-holiness, Zach Nord, will visit a different Louisville church. We’ll report what happened in the worship service, and try to draw some conclusions about what the church might believe.

That way, if you ever decide to visit, you’ll know in advance if they’re stockpiling rifles for Armageddon.

I would hope this style of reporting wouldn’t make it onto the news pages of a mainstream news organization, but it works well in an alt-weekly.

The big question I had going into the piece is whether the journalists simply reported what happened in the worship services or merely express opinions. It turns out that it’s a mix of both. Clearly the journalists were not concerned with leaving their personal opinions, biases and past experiences at the door with the ushers, but as long as they were straightforward with where they were coming from and reported the details, one cannot fuss too much.

Snarky comments, such as “if you ever decide to visit [the churches], you’ll know in advance if they’re stockpiling rifles for Armageddon” may upset a few, but hey, they are reporting in Kentucky [This Hoosier ducks and runs].

The fact that one of the reporters is a self-described evangelical and the other was raised Catholic, but is now trying to figure out what he believes, balances the story and should broaden the number of people interested in their experiences.

Neither reporter enjoyed an Interstate megachurch so much. They both walked away feeling as if they had attended a pep rally. Attending a Catholic mass was a joy for the evangelical reporter, but the reporter who was raised Catholic found the passionate style of the service discomforting.

The article gets in a jab at “social-action Jesus” loving “liberals” for being uncomfortable with the concept of sin, but generally gives a straightforward account of their experience at an African-American church. Both reporters were sadly reminded that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the United States.

The only thing missing from the series is an account of the community life at these churches. An account of a single service is a good start, but so much of what makes up a church happens outside that hour. The fact is that no one can experience that through church hopping.

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Sleepy local religion news

sleepy pandaCould The Topeka Capital-Journal do better than the following story on how local families balance church and sports? Check out the introduction:

Involvement in team sports requires hours of regular practice, games and tournaments.

Balancing schedules when a child’s team’s schedule conflicts with the family’s worship and church fellowship becomes a juggling act for some.

Daren and Debbie Nigus, of Topeka, have made special arrangements to permit their two sons, Seth, 11, and Jesse, 14, to play Ken Berry baseball.

A reader who kindly brought the story to our attention thought the story was “lousy” and “dull.” (See Mark’s fine post here on another “unedifying” story). Here is more from our reader on heartland religion news:

So the headline caught my eye. But the article is a disappointment. It is a story without a plot: “Some families balance faith and sports by not playing the Sunday games, which is fine.”

I agree that this is not the most interesting work of journalism and likely won’t win awards, but let us consider the options the reporter had in deciding how to spice the piece up.

There is always the controversial angle. Instead of focusing on the fact that everyone generally seems to be getting along, why not focus on the fact that these sports organizations dare to schedule activities on the Sabbath Day! Doesn’t that potentially discriminate against those who take the Lord’s Day seriously?

Not exactly, at least how this story was reported. However, this rather non-controversial story is an example of how a journalist could have taken a seemingly mundane topic and work everyone up into a fit of steam. Perhaps it’s better that the reporter told what seems to be a rather straight-up story?

What happens when an athlete is not allowed to participate in a tournament or a league because of his or her personal or family commitment to attending church? That type of story seems to end up on page A1 in The Washington Post when it involves a high school athlete being disqualified from a track meet for wearing clothing intended to be modest for religious reasons.

In general, I hope this is not the Capital-Journal‘s one religion news story of the week. I should note that the article seems to have appeared in the “Life & Leisure” section on a Saturday. A brief exploration of the Web site shows that the newspaper published on the same day a column on a Muslim physician, a religion calendar and religion briefs. There is even a searchable devotional directory.

A July 2000 article notes that the newspaper launched a weekly news section (in color!) that was intended to cover “the wide variety of faith groups active in and around the Topeka area, focusing on how faith and spirituality affect people’s lives” and stories featuring “ethics and values.”

Eight years is a long time in the newspaper business. Here is hoping that these articles represent a vibrant religion section that gets into the heart of the community’s religious issues.

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More theology, please

eucharistWhen my wonderful wife first told me about the mother fighting a church’s legal ban on her autistic son attendance at Catholic Mass, I worried the news coverage would be rather shallow. On Sunday, Dave Kolpack of the Associated Press was able to publish a longish well developed update of this ongoing story that has important Catholic theology at its heart.

A reader had the following to say:

It’s a decent story, but I noticed that it has quotes only from the mother about Sunday Mass obligations — the reporter apparently did not ask the diocesan spokesperson about this theological question that is one of the issues at the heart of this dispute.

As is often unfortunately the case, the church official requesting the restraining order, Father Daniel Walz, did not respond to requests for comment. A church spokesman is briefly quoted about how the church’s board tried to work with the family to find an accommodation to this difficult issue, such as a live video feed of Mass that could be watched in the church basement, but the family was not too thrilled with the idea to say the least:

Carol Race dismissed the church’s suggestion that Adam watch a video feed in the church basement, saying that “does not have the same status as attending Mass. Otherwise we could all just sit home and watch it on TV and not bother to come in.”

“It’s considered a sin in the Catholic church not to attend Mass on Sundays and every holy day of obligation,” she said. “And that’s what this is about. I’m just trying to fulfill my obligations.”

Adam is one of five children. The family’s home in nearby Eagle Bend has separate study rooms so the other children can read books and use crayons that Adam could otherwise destroy.

I am no expert in Catholic theology, but even a life-long Presbyterian like myself will understand that attendance at Catholic Mass is quite significant. According to fellow-blogger Mark Stricherz, the mother quoted in the story is largely correct according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

A Catholic must “take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season.” (1389)

I understand what reporters go through when key sources won’t talk, such as the case in this story. But there are ways around those barriers, such as seeking out official documents that are readily available. There is also an endless range of experts that would be more than willing to expound on the mother’s comment regarding Mass attendance.

As one who has worked with autistic children in a church setting, I know this is a touchy issue for everyone involved. As much as this is a touchy private issue, when a family is willing to speak about it reporters ought to do their best to cover all the bases thoroughly.

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