That’s all folks (for now)

With this post I take my leave of GetReligion. Terry Mattingly should be along either later today or early tomorrow to announce further changes. I’m skedaddling to devote time to a book-in-progress about hypocrisy, which should land in finer retail outlets next year. Don’t know if I’ll be back to these cyber pages, but I wouldn’t rule it out. It has been fun.

Before I go, let me say a few things about my co-bloggers.

I bumped into Doug LeBlanc when he was the book review editor for Christianity Today and found him to be a remarkably understanding editor. He let me write about things that caught my interest, insisted on changes when I went off the rails, didn’t meddle needlessly, and helped to negotiate my work through what can become an editorial buzz saw. So when he sent an e-mail asking if I’d like to work with him on this site he was associated with called GetReligion, I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t have to.

At GetReligion, Doug has saved me from numerous embarrassing mistakes and some truly traumatic typos. He has also been a great friend, and I’ll miss some of our bull session-like and “Hey can you please fix this?”-oriented phone calls. No doubt he’ll now have exponentially more free time.

And what does one say about Terry Mattingly? The guy is so tireless he’s almost a force of nature. The passion he brings to teaching and analyzing journalism makes Howie Kurtz look like a lazy part-timer. “On deadline” should be the epitaph they carve on his tombstone. He’s also sweet and quirky and funny and he evinces a remarkable ability to crash any computer program known to man.

Terry cared enough to give a down-on-his-luck freelancer a regular gig and a lot of rope. For that I will always be grateful.

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Re: The ECT Moment

The ECT Moment

Santorum like you mean it

This week, The Christian Science Monitor interviewed Senator Rick Santorum as part of his new book tour. And the excerpt is just lame.

I mean, I’m glad to know the Rt. Hon. Sen. is “absolutely not” bothered that he is a polarizing figure, that he has “never really worried” about winning his next race, and that he has only ever “worried about doing the right thing.” It’s also nice to know that he is keeping his options open in re: a presidential bid, that the voters should prefer him to Bob Casey Jr. in the next senatorial go-round because “I am effective down here” [While always doing the right thing, of course -- ed.] and that he thinks the release of Judge Roberts’ writings should be limited to those things the White House sees fit to divulge.

But . . . that’s it? I have to assume the conversation with Santorum was more interesting than this brief excerpt. Why doesn’t the Monitor at least carry a fuller transcript on its website?

For longer interviews with both Santorum and his opponent-apparent Casey, take a look at the website of Ignatius Press (here and here).

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Big story. Small church. Huh?

Bronx2I don’t mean to be snarky about this, and I don’t think that all Godbeat stories must be driven by some statistical formula, but does anyone else think that this major feature story in The New York Times is a little bit strange?

The headline is sweeping: “A Guiding Light Leaves His Church in a Reborn Bronx.”

The opening paragraphs by reporter David Gonzalez are big stuff:

The Rev. Eddie Lopez Jr. always pursued a ministry that went against the currents of politics and popular opinion. Since becoming pastor of La Resurrección United Methodist Church in the South Bronx in 1988, he has started a needle exchange, supported Puerto Rican nationalists, opposed wars abroad and fought for jobs and housing at home.

It was a journey of faith and feet, with a congregation that moved three times as it grew, starting in a storefront and finally settling into a 19th-century brick church in Melrose. That neighborhood was once bombed out, but has been rebuilt.

Then it turns out that this congregation has grown and grown and grown and today is has — 65 members?

I kept reading on to see if one or two digits had accidentally been dropped from that membership total. I mean, in light of recent growth trends in New York City religion — a gigantic story, believe me — surely that was supposed to be 650 or 6,500? The rebirth of the Bronx (the photo with this post is a classic from the past) is also a major religion story. More on that in a minute.

So there is some kind of story here.

A popular pastor of a small, struggling congregation is moving on. In this case, he may even be moving out of one oldline Protestant flock (United Methodism) and into another (the Episcopal Church). We are also told that he is an active leader in all kinds of protests and social movements, but we don’t really get any details. We find out that the tiny church is struggling to pay his salary and benefits, without aid from regional conference leaders, but we don’t find out how that is affecting Lopez’s family or if he even has one.

If this man is a rebel of some kind, what is he a rebel about? What is the story here? Above all, why is this a major story?

Like I said, I am trying not to be snarky. I am really curious. What was it about this particular little church and event that so inspired editors at the Times, in the midst of their efforts to be more diverse and religion friendly? What am I missing in this story? What is the X factor?

It isn’t as if there are not big, inspiring, growing religion stories to be told in the Bronx and in the city as a whole. I mean, click here and check out a recent Christianity Today story on this topic.

Read this CT story and then the Times story and then do the math.

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Covering the thickets of the law

Just a quick update on an ongoing topic. There is an interesting essay in The Wall Street Journal about Catholicism, John Roberts, Sen. Richard Durbin and St. Thomas More — sort of in that order. Clearly this topic is going to keep coming up, as demonstrated by Jeremy with this post yesterday and Doug with another earlier in the week (great art) about the start of this new angle on the Supreme Court wars.

The WSJ article is by Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University and once the dean of the Catholic University law school. The piece is low-key and sane, and this is how it ends:

Catholics do not have to recuse themselves, though, from judging the legality of, say, abortion or the death penalty: These are matters of constitutional, not moral, authority. When More was asked why he didn’t arrest a man directly for being “bad,” he replied (as retold by Sir Robert Bolt) that, though he set man’s law “far below” God’s, he was most certainly “not God,” and he wanted to draw “attention to [that] fact.” “The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which [others] find such plain sailing,” More said, “I can’t navigate. . . . But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt there’s a man alive who could follow me there, thank God.”

There is no match for Judge Roberts, either, in the “thickets of the law,” and the Senate Democrats should evaluate him on his high merit and avoid picking a fight with American Catholics.

I know this is an obvious point, but this whole Roberts/Catholic angle is really not a clash between Republicans and Democrats, at this stage. It’s a flash point between Catholics. James Davison Hunter, please call your answering service.

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Meet Pope Benedict (the Gothic Version)

RatzingerChandelierAnthony Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton University, has written a thoughtful summary of Pope Benedict XVI’s writings (The New Yorker, July 25). I apologize for my delay in mentioning this essay — it never appeared on The New Yorker‘s website, and the paper edition often reaches my home rather late in the publication week.

An illustration by Robert Risko depicts Ratzinger as a Pope Noferatu, clutching an inaccurately thick copy of The Ratzinger Report that’s marked with six small Post-It notes. Grafton’s profile is less prone to caricature, though he often returns to the image of Ratzinger as a man who prefers the shelter of “an enchanted castle of Latin song and prayer, intense and sacraments, which he has spent the rest of life exploring.”

Here is a key paragraph toward the end of Grafton’s essay:

In some sense, Ratzinger may be right: the form of our devotions certainly shapes our religious experience. Even in the secularized West, religions and denominations from Catholicism to Reform Judaism have found that a liturgy rich with music and cast in a sacred language continues to attract and hold worshippers. Yet Ratzinger’s passion for a particular world of Catholic beliefs and devotions is more than a recipe for a revived Catholic worship. His emotional vision underpins and buttresses at every point the doctrinal structures that he has made as a scholar. In the end, it determines what he can accept as suitable and what he rejects. As the organ and liturgy drown out the weaker voices of liberal critics, as the searchlight of orthodoxy retrospective reveals the errors of Leonardo Boff and other dissidents, the Pope and the magisterium — the centralized authority of Roman Catholic wisdom — have no need to look outside for enlightenment.

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The Catholic card

The nomination of Judge John Roberts is driving some Democrats to distraction because he is probably ultimately un-Borkable. As my colleague Gene Healy wrote, Roberts’ selling points include “[g]reat grades, stellar resume, nice posture, nice smile, [and] no doubt a firm handshake. But where he stands on anything is anyone’s guess. What we’ve got here is a guy who, apparently, was genetically engineered and grown in a vat for the sole purpose of getting past the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

So people are looking for proxies to try to infer Roberts’ opinions, and one of those proxies is religion. Roberts is a practicing Catholic, and plenty of attention is being focused on his parish of choice: Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland. Beliefnet sent my friend and former colleague George Neumayr to the church in search of some clues into Roberts’ true beliefs. Neumayr came away with certain impressions of the church and “its most famous parishioner.” Little Flower, Neumayr writes, is a parish “that heterodox Catholics would regard as an outpost of traditional Catholicism.”

To wit:

Little Flower displays the marks of a parish in conformity with official Catholic teaching: a large picture of Pope Benedict XVI at the moment of his papal election greets visitors as they enter the church; there is a Vatican flag on the altar; the bulletin board in the foyer announces the beginning of the canonization process for Pope John Paul II; pro-life literature is prominently available; the parish newsletter encourages congregants “to send your best wishes and prayer intentions to Pope Benedict XVI . . . by e-mail to”

If the Democrats really want to get nasty, they’ll drag Roberts’ priest into the proceedings. The Roberts clan was apparently so taken with Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi that it followed him to Little Flower when he moved from St. Patrick’s in D.C. I hope the Dems flinch from dragging Vaghi’s proclamations into the mix, but if they decide to do so, here’s a preview:

Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi, upholds the Vatican’s teaching on artificial birth control, an issue American priests have tended to relativize, dismiss or ignore since Vatican II.

On the Church of the Little Flower’s website, which links to the Vatican and promotes traditional piety and devotions such as “Forty Hours of Eucharistic Adoration,” Monsignor Vaghi has posted a meditation on chastity. Quoting the archbishop of Bologna, he said that every “sexual act performed outside marriage” is “gravely illicit,” but “even within marriage there can be an exercise of sexuality that does not respect its moral value: when the conjugal act does not truly respect the dignity of the person of one’s spouse, as well as when it is deprived, through a positive intervention of the spouses, of its natural capacity to give origin to new life.”

In another meditation, Monsignor Vaghi staunchly defended the Church’s teaching on abortion. “After all, since Roe v. Wade in l973, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion, there have been over 44 million abortions, young children dying before they had the opportunity to enjoy life outside the womb as we enjoy life,” he wrote. “Our church is always, and will always, be on the side of life, life from conception until natural death. And it is precisely because Jesus took on life, took on flesh and ennobled it by becoming man and like us in everything but sin that we value human life so much, that we were born in His image and reborn in Christ Jesus.”

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