World Youth Day: by the numbers

Pope BenedictHeadlines can be tricky things. In perusing the stories on the upcoming World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, I came across three distinct types. The most basic news story simply contained edicts declaring the beginning of World Youth Day, often with a large number attached:

Young people arrive in Cologne for Catholic festival

World Youth Day begins for 400,000

Second, you had local stories from news organizations around the world proclaiming that local Catholics were embarking for Cologne.

Angolans Travel to Cologne for Catholic World Youth Day

Local Catholics head to World Youth Day

2,000 Irish taking part in World Youth Day pilgrimage

And third were the more ambitious articles that attempted to set an agenda for the week’s news in Cologne. Stories like these are the ones to watch, for they will determine the world’s perception of the event.

A story by the U.K.-based Christian Today stands out:

Pope Benedict will have to work hard to appease German Protestants that he is serious about pledges to improve relations as he returns to his native Germany for World Youth Day, which starts today.

The Pope’s return to his homeland this week will be the first time he has been in Germany since he was appointed as pontiff.

The preparations for World Youth Day are about to pay off as the Pope attends the massive event, expected to be attended by some 800,000 young Roman Catholics in the Rhineland city of Cologne.

Christian Today‘s Maria Mackay is pursuing an interesting if somewhat predictable angle. Germany is the birthplace of Protestantism, as well as of the new Pope. Will Pope Benedict have the same effect on his homeland as did Pope John Paul II? Is this the beginning of a great movement in the country toward unification between the two sects of Christianity? I doubt it.

Protestants respect the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as a Pope who understands and appreciates their views far more than any pope before him, but also feel threatened by his deeply “Roman” posture and his keenness to reawaken a strong Catholic identity among Catholics worldwide.

Reuters picks up what appears to be a reprint of that story with a slightly altered lead. Watch for this story line to spread.

COLOGNE, Germany — Pope Benedict faces a tightrope walk with Protestants over pledges to improve relations when he returns to his German homeland this week for the first time since he became pontiff.

The AP has a take on Pope Benedict’s personality and the Guardian looks at Pope Benedict’s attempts to reclaim Europe’s youth.

Watch your local newspapers tomorrow and see which they pick up. Since most smaller newspapers in America don’t have Reuters subscriptions, watch for the AP story to dominate the local coverage.

By the way, Amy Wellborn’s blog is all over World Youth Day.

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Is it a sin to talk to a reporter?

I don’t know how to describe this item other than to say that the omnipresent Ted Olsen of the Christianity Today blog has done an amazing job of writing up a GetReligion case study from a San Bernardino Sun article about ministry in times of sickness and health. The case is so amazing that all I can really say is click here and go read it. Do yourself a favor.

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Strange times, strange times

You know we are living in strange times when you are more likely to see the name of progressive heroine Ayaan Hirsi Ali in a Wall Street Journal byline than in a headline linked to a human-rights fest in Hollywood. She is, of course, the Somali-born Dutch liberal who has been forced to live in hiding because of her criticism of radical forms of Islam. Her op-ed essay focuses on issues linked to the rights of women in two nations that seem, at first glance, radically different — Iraq and Canada.

The first is the draft constitution of Iraq, now due next week. Iraqi women like Naghem Khadim, demonstrating on the streets of Najaf, are fighting to prevent an article from being put in the constitution that would establish that the legislature may make no laws that contradict Shariah edicts. The second case is the province of Ontario, in Canada. There, Muslim women led by Homa Arjomand, an activist of Iranian origin, are fighting — using the Canadian Charter of Rights — to keep Shariah from being applied as family law through a so-called Arbitration Act passed as law in Ontario in 1992.

It’s all about religious liberty, isn’t it? Now tell me: Is this a “liberal” issue or a “conservative” issue?

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Are j-profs losin’ their religion?

ManAngelThat man Jay Rosen, a veteran professor at New York University’s Department of Journalism, is at it again — digging into the religious structures beneath the cathedrals of journalism.

A long, long time ago, a Sojourners essay took a stab at describing the links between religion and journalism, saying that journalists turn over the rock to reveal the dirt and ministers shovel off the dirt to reveal the rock. This is the same territory that Rosen covered in one of those essays that I hope every GetReligion reader has read — “Journalism Is Itself a Religion.” Note that this link takes you to the The Revealer, where it is stored as one of that blog’s statements of core doctrine.

If you want an update on some of those themes, check out Rosen’s “Deep Throat, J-School and Newsroom Religion,” which dissects the role that the Watergate Myth played in the idealism of a whole generation of journalism leaders. Here’s the readout from the top of that essay: “Watergate is the great redemptive story believers learn to tell about the press and what it can do for the American people. Whether the story can continue to claim enough believers — and connect the humble to the heroic in journalism — is a big question. Whether it should is another question.”

Now, if any of that interests you, you are ready for the Rosen report from the recent AEJMC convention in San Antonia (tmatt asks: Great summer climate. Was hell booked up?) where some veteran journalism professors had a chance to testify — in the Bible Belt sense of that word — during a panel discussion called “Things I Used to Teach That I No Longer Believe.” It seems that the old-time religion just isn’t converting a new generation. As a journalism professor myself, I feel their pain.

It’s impossible to miss the faith language in the San Antonio remarks. Here is a clip or two from Rosen’s report:

First up was Carl Sessions Stepp, a contributing writer to American Journalism Review, a former national correspondent and editor for the Charlotte Observer and USA Today, and a professor at the University of Maryland’s J-School. He said that most of what he believed when he began teaching in 1983 he still believed, with one big exception.

Then he would have said that nearly all journalists employed in the field were people “on a mission.” They saw their work as a noble public service, and shared a sense of duty that helped them define what the service was amid a hectic news environment. Students quickly picked up on this creed, and newsoom culture supported it.

That was then. Now, he said, the sense of mission is not the same. He didn’t say it was gone; plenty of journalists still heard the call. And young people still showed up in his classes ready to believe. But changes in the news business and “workplace culture” have turned the mission into a fairy tale much of the time. There is no universal sense of calling any more, Stepp declared. Journalism as a whole isn’t “on a mission,” but journalists as individuals still can be.

The obvious question: What is the nature of this secular “calling”? As a Christian who works in mainstream journalism, I have always struggled with that word for the simple reason that many people hear it and link it directly to the work of ordained ministers. The traditional Christian doctrine, however, is that people are called to a wide variety of professions and God does not rank them — from rock & roll guitarists to airplane pilots, from (gulp) lawyers to painters. In that sense, one can be “called” to be a journalist, working in this industry to the best of one’s ability and following the rules of the craft.

Rosen argues that many journalists are actually semi-ordained evangelists in a church of journalism. They are on a mission from the gods and the gods have names such as Woodward and Bernstein, who produced The Good Book that inspired young believers to make personal professions of faith and walk the true path.

So what does it mean if young people don’t want to do “mission” work in modern newsrooms? What is the modern j-student seeking?

Back to Rosen’s report:

Next was Dianne Lynch, dean of the School of Communications at Ithaca College, a journalist, and former executive director of the Online News Association. She told us a startling story about an exceptional student who gave up a four-year scholarship worth over $200,000, including tuition, room and board, even travel money. The student came to the dean’s office to let Lynch know that she was quitting journalism and switching to sociology. “I decided that I just can’t be in such a terrible profession,” the student said, adding that it did not seem to her a field where a young person could “make a difference.”

There was a slight gasp in the room at that. This was because the phrase used, “make a difference,” though tedious and vague, was once the very thing that identified to journalists their own idealism. You didn’t do it for the money, and it wasn’t the wonderful working conditions, or a chance for advancement. For a certain generation (whose mortality was lurking about the panel, way under the laughs) journalism, at its best, was all about “making a difference.” Speaking truth to power, and all that.

And so forth and so on, world without end. Amen.

So do modern j-students want to preach, as in pour out their beliefs in secular sermons in openly partisan publications? Are we facing the rise of the new, New Journalists? Is the goal to do unto the bloggers what the bloggers want to do unto you?

These are interesting times and Rosen is must reading, no matter what church you have joined.

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Familiar formula

math formulaDaily news coverage of religious controversies lends to a familiar formula. One side is pitted against another. Quippy quotes from both sides are dropped into the article for spice and the reporter is left satisfied that a standard of objectivity was met and the reader will be left informed.

This formula is familiar because I have resorted to it, as a young reporter, in the past. The challenge of covering controversial religious issues leaves a reporter with a 15-inch space limit scrambling to sum up the existence of the controversy in the lead, add a few more summary paragraphs with key facts and toss in some one-liners from both sides to fill out the story.

Said formula is followed here by Associated Press reporter Rachel Zoll.

ORLANDO, Fla. — A national meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected a proposal Friday that would have allowed gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy under certain conditions.

The measure would have affirmed the church ban on ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians but would have allowed bishops and church districts, called synods, to seek an exception for a particular candidate — if that person was in a long-term relationship and met other restrictions.

With limited space, Zoll lays out both sides, the development of the issue and the “what’s next.” Fortunately for those who follow debates like these, more detailed and in-depth reporting on the issue is available in niche publications and magazines. Here, words like “non-celibate gays” and “long-term relationship” are measured, explained and used carefully and the precision of the reporting is much greater.

But what about those who only read the headlines and the first few paragraphs and move on? They are left with a weak description of the issue and are left to interpret the news in a way that best fits their worldview. The goal of objective reporting has its limits in reality.

In related news, the Evangelical Lutheran Church made news by declining to financially protest Israel’s security barrier around Palestinian territory.

The Chicago Tribune weighs in:

ORLANDO — Avoiding a form of protest that has threatened relations between Jews and other mainline Protestants, the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination on Saturday denounced Israel’s construction of a security barrier around Palestinian territory and called for financial stewardship that did not include divestment.

Instead, church officials emphasized a commitment toward positive economic development in the Holy Land that ensures a secure and viable two-state solution, a shared Jerusalem and a continuation of the church’s humanitarian ministries in the Middle East.

But readers of Aljazeera’s website received the news from a slightly different tone.

A five-million-strong US church has rebuked Israel for building a separation barrier along the West Bank, becoming the second major US Protestant denomination to reject policies implemented by the Jewish state.

The resolution titled “Peace Not Wall” was adopted on Saturday on a 668-269 vote by members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at their convention in Orlando, Florida, despite pleas from Jews to refrain from the move.

What appeared in the first line of the Tribune story does not show up until the eighth paragraph of the Aljazeera story. How’s that for an extreme example of how two news organizations serving vastly different communities view the same news?

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Back to my Anglican hobbyhorse

SeoulNaveAs Terry hinted at the beginning of this month, I have taken a new job with the Anglican Communion Network. Since the early 1990s, my greatest passion as a writer has involved the moral and theological debates within the Episcopal Church.

I was born an Episcopalian because my Roman Catholic father and Southern Baptist mother both knew they wanted a church for themselves and their two boys, but also knew they needed a liturgical via media. During the 1990s I sometimes experienced a love-hate relationship with the Episcopal Church, and I wondered if I ever would have joined it had I grown up in, say, an evangelical Lutheran church. Today that relationship is more of a lover’s quarrel.

Because I will be engaged in an activist’s role with the ACN, I will cut back radically on how often I write about Anglican and Episcopal matters for GetReligion. Indeed, I expect to write on such matters only if I can do so without setting off my Conflict of Interest Meter (which I try to keep fine-tuned).

I will, however, write about magazine articles on many other topics that touch on the concerns of this blog.

I’ll always be grateful to Terry for making me part of this project when I was leaving the full-time staff of Christianity Today, but I’m also eager to rejoin the Anglican discussions I’ve been less involved in for the past several years. I’ll still appear here, albeit it with less frequency.

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Sin and ink are still a volatile mix

It has felt strange to go several days without mentioning the media coverage of the scandal at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City involving the powerful 79-year-old conservative leader Msgr. Eugene Clark and his beautiful, married, much younger secretary Laura DeFilippo.

Just look for the New York Daily News tabloid headlines that scream “Beauty and the Priest.” This story has it all — sex, what certainly seem to be lies and one really interesting videotape by a private eye (which is evidence in a nasty divorce, of course). Here’s a tiny sample (leaving out the part where the priest is alleged to have made a kind of “touchdown!” scoring gesture to his secretary when he manages to register for the hotel room):

The Daily News viewed the videotape. After a two-hour brunch on the porch of the nearby Surfside Inn, Clark, dressed in a white polo shirt, was seen wheeling a small black suitcase into the White Sands Motel. His secretary, dressed in short white shorts and a matching top with spaghetti straps, followed him inside with an orange tote bag over her shoulder.

When they emerged about five hours later, the video showed Clark and DeFilippo wearing different outfits.

By the end of the week, Clark had resigned, the Vatican was involved and the Daily News was writing unique stories that featured items such as the following.

Have you seen a newspaper print something like this lately? This seems rather, uh, Fleet Street British to me.

The Archdiocese of New York accepted Msgr. Eugene Clark’s resignation yesterday. But there are still questions left unanswered for both sides. Here are a dozen:


You’ve been stripped of your priestly duties and have been suspended from the Eternal Word Television Network. What now?

Why would you stay at an Amagansett motel when you have a $2 million house nearby?

Were there any other women who have helped you with your “paperwork?”

You’ve railed against homosexuality in sermons. Where do you rank infidelity among sins?

How can a priest afford a pad in the Hamptons and trips to St. Bart’s?

What would you say to Philip DeFilippo and his children?

The New York Times played things much, much straighter.

But here is what interests me. You know the old saying about the murder mystery in which the pivotal clue was the dog that did not bark? That is what this case reminds me of. The newspapers have rolled out damning evidence and opinions. There have been loaded quotes, stunning second-hand anecdotes and lots more. Catholics are outraged.

So what is the dog that is not barking? I am not hearing the usual claims that the press is out to torch the church. I am not hearing the normal yelps — often justified, no doubt — about media bias. Conservatives seem to be as mad as progressives, even though the left is getting to make hay about Clark’s many sermons against the fruits of the Sexual Revolution.

A few conservatives have made the valid point that a man’s teachings can be accurate and orthodox, even if he fails to live up to them. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also preached many a strong sermon on marriage, family and fidelity. He spoke the truth, even as he struggled to heed his own words.

What we have here, folks, is an ordinary, very human pot-boiler. As I once wrote, in a column about an Episcopal cathedral scandal in Denver, “Sin and ink will always be a volatile mix.” And all the people said, “Amen.”

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Kenneth Woodward’s “What’s in a Name?”

Earlier this month, I shared a dark confession. I was really hoping that somebody, somewhere, would post a copy of veteran Newsweek scribe Kenneth Woodward’s provocative essay in the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy about The New York Times and its efforts to avoid the term “partial-birth abortion” in its headlines and stories.

Well, duh. It finally hit me that perhaps we could post it here at GetReligion. After several days of emails, I have been given the all-clear sign — by the author and the Notre Dame information office — to post the essay (Word file).

This is one of those cases where it really helps to read the article for yourself. Let me warn comment-writers in advance: It’s crucial to realize that Woodward is raising journalistic questions, not questions about Catholic theology or other issues linked to public battles over abortion on demand. Woodward is talking about issues of journalistic style and content, not science or faith.

I also need to say that I had, based one some of the clips from his essay posted elsewhere, misunderstood a key point about Woodward’s thesis. How?

It helps to discuss an example. The Times ran a story the other day — the headline was “Clinton’s Challenger Says She Opposes Late-Term Abortion” — in which reporter Patrick D. Healy used the words “partial birth-abortion” in the lead. Here’s the start of that story:

Jeanine F. Pirro, the new Republican challenger for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat, said yesterday that she opposed the procedure that critics call partial-birth abortion, after taking a muddier stance on the issue four years ago.

Ms. Pirro, a favorite of moderate Republicans whose new position will probably help her woo the conservative voters she needs, said in an interview that she decided to oppose the procedure — except to protect the life of the woman — after researching and reflecting on the issue.

After seeing this, I dashed off a note to Catholic superblogger Amy Welborn — the source for the original tip about Woodward’s piece — in which I suggested this meant hell might be getting cooler. You see, I was impressed by pieces of Woodward’s essay in which he noted the remarkable lengths to which the Times had gone in its news copy to avoid the partial-birth abortion term (which, by the way, just entered the Webster’s New World College Dictionary). I thought this meant they were not using these words at all.

Wrong. Woodward quickly dropped me a note to say the wording used in this case — “that critics call partial-birth abortion” — is actually quite normal. Business as usual. Old hat.

I wrote back and said that I thought people really needed online access to his essay so they could evaluate his whole argument.

So here it is, as an HTML page.

Thank you, Ken Woodward and thank you, Notre Dame.

P.S. Attention, fans of the late David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times: Check out footnote No. 4 in Woodward’s piece, offering a postscript on the famous Shaw series on media bias in abortion coverage. You are not going to believe it.

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