The Shanley debate

shanley.jpgThe major dailies published appropriately subdued stories earlier this week about the conviction of the Rev. Paul Shanley on charges of raping a Sunday-school student during the 1980s.

These paragraphs by Pam Belluck of The New York Times cover the details mentioned in most other stories:

As the verdict was read, Mr. Shanley stood straight and betrayed little emotion. His accuser, who spoke publicly about his accusations over the last three years but asked news organizations not to name him during the trial, stood in the first row, rocking back and forth with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face.

Now a 27-year-old firefighter, the accuser testified that Mr. Shanley would pull him out of Christian doctrine class beginning when he was 6 years old, and would orally and digitally rape him in the bathroom, the pews, the confessional and the rectory of St. Jean’s Parish in Newton.

Mr. Shanley’s lawyer, Frank Mondano, had argued that what Mr. Shanley was accused of was logistically impossible given the layout and crowded nature of the church on Sunday mornings. Mr. Mondano also argued that the accuser had concocted the charges in order to prevail in his civil suit against the church.

Shanley’s conviction made me aware of an amazing package of articles I missed when they appeared in the Jan. 14 edition of the National Catholic Reporter. The Reporter published an essay by Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry, who worked with Shanley in the early years of gay activism within American Catholicism.

Gramick confesses that she was nervous about seeing Shanley again after nearly 20 years, then describes how some of her anxieties diminished:

My anxiety was somewhat allayed as I lunched with Terry [Shanley's niece] in the mall near the county jail. She believes her uncle, who has been like a father to her, is innocent. The four individuals who have brought indictments against Paul all base their claims on repressed memories, a concept regarded with skepticism by leading mental health professionals. Terry believes there is not sufficient evidence to convict her uncle. Furthermore, her uncle told her he had never raped a child or forced anyone to engage in sexual acts, and he would not lie to her. If he were guilty, would he have given himself up to the district attorney’s office?

Both Gramick and David France, in his article “The jury should still be out on Paul Shanley,” object to media reports that describe Shanley as helping to found the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

Gramick writes:

The allegation is based on a 1978 article, which reported that Paul spoke at a conference about the legal aspects of sex between men and teenage boys. The conference was not a meeting of the association, which did not exist at the time. Paul was only one of many speakers, including lawyers, psychologists, ethicists and activists. The article did not state that Paul advocated man-boy sexual relations. In fact, his file contains written testimony to the contrary. He does not condone the sexual seduction of children. After the conference, some participants decided to form a Man-Boy Love Association at a caucus Paul did not attend.

And France writes:

So why is he called the most serious pedophile priest ever to surface in the crisis? Partly because of his alleged NAMBLA link, but in fact, he was never a member of NAMBLA, nor did he ever attend a NAMBLA meeting. His crime was to attend — along with other clergy — a conference from which a caucus spun into the North American Man/Boy Love Association. He appeared, in fact, to idealize men just barely over the consent age — and, if they were vulnerable enough, to take advantage of them.

Shanley was a hero [for his gay-rights activism] and a predator, but perhaps not a criminal. That is the unusual set of facts we know so far.

Maureen Orth, who wrote a profile of Shanley in the June 2002 Vanity Fair, takes apart Gramick’s essay:

Sr. Jeannine Gramick obviously has never read the 1,600-plus pages of the Boston archdiocese’s file on Paul Shanley. I have. Had she done so before taking up his cause, she would have seen that there were complaints about Shanley’s inappropriate behavior toward minor boys going back nearly 40 years and that the diocesan-appointed psychiatrist who finally examined him in 1994 concluded, “Fr. Shanley is so personally damaged that his pathology is beyond repair.”

. . . Sr. Jeannine mentions that it is a tragedy that so much money the church could be spending for the poor instead has to go to paying off victims. I agree it would be ideal to spend the money in other ways, but where was the hierarchy’s vigilance and concern that should have occurred throughout the years but did not? Where was its moral center? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that when someone commits a transgression against another, justice requires that the harm be repaired and the injuries be compensated. For someone like Sr. Jeannine to make fatuous statements about Paul Shanley’s presumed innocence without a real knowledge of his actions — or of the church’s doing absolutely nothing to stop him for over four decades — is not only sad, it is shocking. Her charity is glaringly misplaced.

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Dawn of the deed: Was the mistake fatal?

cartoonDawn.jpgMy first full-time job in journalism was on the copy desk at a daily in Champaign, Ill., so I have been on the other side the editing process. I would like to make three comments about the Dawn Eden affair, based on what we know so far. I have never met Dawn (the logo is from her blog) and I hope we can discuss this sooner, rather than later.

1. In the newspapers where I have worked, the changes she made would have been considered on the pushy side, but not fatal. They are right at the point where you should clear them with an editor, or the reporter, if you can. No way you get fired for this stuff. The blogging on company time issue is something else — a whole new source of tension between journalists and their bosses.

Of course, we are talking about abortion. There is a reason that almost all of the media-bias studies end up returning to questions about abortion coverage.

I could offer loads of case studies here. I once had the end cut off a story — I turned it in short, so a trim would not be needed — because the final quote was from a priest active in AIDS ministry. That was fine, but he linked his stand on that issue with his high-profile work as pro-life activist. This was a consistent, culture-of-life priest who was taking a controversial stand on two issues that he believed were connected by an ethic of life.

I warned the city editor at the Rocky Mountain News that someone in the editing process would be offended and try to cut that final quote. He said I was being paranoid. Then someone cut it off, without putting their initials on the page as required. Nothing was said, except that the city editor knew I had predicted it. That made him more sensitive to the issue.

2. During my religion-beat reporting days, I had copy editors add all kinds of things to my stories — often thinking they were correcting something. More than once, they edited in errors.

Here is an example. In a very sensitive story on Mormon theology, I quoted a leaked audiotape of the secret rites in Mormon temples. In an older version of the rite, a worshipper would vow to “suffer his life to be taken” for revealing temple secrets. A copy editor thought that sounded stuffy and changed it to say that Mormons “vowed to commit suicide.” Needless to say, we received more than a few calls from Mormons who disagreed with “my” interpretation of their theology. No punishment for the copy editor, however.

3. This is one case in which it really helps to remember that the New York Post is not a culturally conservative newspaper. It is a Libertarian newspaper. Once again, I think we are seeing evidence of the massive war still to come in the GOP in the next four years, as the moral and cultural conservatives — many of whom are old-fashioned Democrats — square off with the hard-core moral Libertarians. Jeremy can shed some light on this, I am sure, because he is a Catholic who works in one of the various Libertarian sanctuaries.

So Dawn Eden was the wrong brand of conservative. I always wondered: Why did the Post hate Bill Clinton so much? He seemed like their kind of guy, once you veered into the moral issues.

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Darkness at Dawn

dawneden.jpgThe New York Observer this week ran a major cover story on l’affaire Eden, the firing of headline gal and copyeditor Dawn Eden by the New York Post for her pro-life edits of a piece on in-vitro fertilization.

The Post brass do not come out terribly well in this story. I mean when this — “Some people already think the Post is conservative, and we don’t need New York readers also thinking it’s a Christian paper and that there are Christians working there” — is a quote from a sympathetic voice at the Post, well, you just know we’re in for the management-as-weasels treatment.

Eden explains why she made the edits to the story about women diagnosed with terminal cancer who turn to IVF to have babies:

“I got choked up,” Ms. Eden said. “How are people going to ever understand the complex issues involved here, if the story they’re reading reduces it to ‘Oh, isn’t this nice? We can just make lots of embryos and not worry about whether they live or die.’”

So she changed things. To the sentence “Experts have ethical qualms about this ‘Russian roulette’ path to parenthood,” Eden added, “which, when in-vitro fertilization is involved, routinely results in the destruction of embryos.” Where the author had written about the implantation of three embryos in which “two took,” Eden amended to, “One died. Two took.”

At the time, the Observer reports, Eden thought “she was performing a service for the reader, since she believed that the Post had been ‘notoriously oblivious’ to the nuances involving embryonic life.” Since the incident, she has decided that “my first loyalty should have been to my employer.”

The author of the Post article in question, Susan Edelman, reportedly responded to Eden’s apology thus: “Dawn You are the most unprofessional journalist I have ever encountered in all my years in this business. A disgrace. Sue Edelman.”

On her own website, Eden maintains that she did not work her own pro-life views into the article she edited: “To say that I was working my own views into the piece implies that the information I added was untrue.” I know what she’s getting at, but, given the thrust of the whole profile, I don’t think that’s the conclusion readers would be inclined to draw.

I would get into my own fun-with-copyeditors experiences here, but Mattingly has promised to do so later in the day. So I’ll hold a few stories for the comments threads.

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Not your father's Bob Jones University?

BobJonesWebcam.jpgMy Scripps Howard column today took me back into the faith-integration wars at Baylor University, my alma mater, and the growth of institutions that try to blend ancient Christian faith and modern learning, which required a reference to the Council for Christian Colleges and my work there.

As I said before here on the blog, I have refrained from writing much about the Baylor conflict because I have family ties and I have friends on both sides of the battle. Still, I wanted to try to explain how the Baylor conflict is linked to some larger issues in higher education, both secular and sacred. If the mood strikes you, take a look.

Writing the column reminded me of several recent pieces I have read about related topics. The first concerns a controversial new book called God on the Quad by journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley. Here is the top of a Wall Street Journal piece on her thesis, which focuses on a small circle of religious schools and the growth of the CCCU in general.

It’s not news in academia, although it may come as a surprise to the rest of us: America’s 700-plus religiously affiliated colleges and universities are enjoying an unprecedented surge of growth and a revival of interest. . . .

(The) number of students attending the 100 schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities — an organization of four-year liberal-arts schools dedicated to promoting the Christian faith — rose 60% between 1990 and 2002. In those same years the attendance at nonreligious public and private schools stayed essentially flat. The number of applications to the University of Notre Dame, the nation’s premier Catholic college, has risen steadily over the past decade, with a 23% jump last year alone.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Many religious schools, traditionally regarded as second-tier or worse, have improved the quality of their students and of their academic offerings, sometimes dramatically.

The Boston Globe recently dug into a related trend — the growth of traditional Christian ministries on a wide variety of campuses. To explore that angle, click here.

But the article that intrigued me the most was a Newsweek online exclusive, an interview with Stephen Jones, the next heir to the presidency of Bob Jones University (see webcam). This is one institution that fits almost any historian’s definition of “Christian fundamentalism.” Yet check out these exchanges with journalist Susannah Meadows:

NEWSWEEK: Why does your father feel the university needs a younger leader?

Stephen Jones: He said in the last two or three years he really doesn’t understand this generation, with all the dramatic changes socially and culturally our nation’s gone through. It just kind of creates a gap there.

Which changes specifically?

The inroads the culture has made even into the church. The MTV generation, pop culture, all of that has been significant and has really increased in intensity over the past 15 years. His whole generation has a hard time with it. Doesn’t understand. . . .

What do you see young people struggling with?

The philosophical view point that there is no absolute truth, that one person’s belief is just as good as another, that two different things can both be right. That’s a completely postmodern view of truth and one that’s insupportable by scripture. A student has to wrestle through that because it’s definitely not popular. It’s definitely not the message of the culture and the media. It’s one of the things I have to wrestle through, what will orient my life.

George Barna! Call your answering service. The raised-on-MTV students at Bob Jones University are struggling with postmodernism and the loss of transcendent moral absolutes?

Of course they are. Meet the new mall, same as the old mall.

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Beware of fundamentalists bearing incense

incensegargoyle.jpgTime magazine prompted some snickers last week when it counted Catholics Richard John Neuhaus and Rick Santorum among “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”

This week, a story by Tim Padgett explores how “Bible-Belt Catholics” are “practicing a more conservative Catholicism than their brethren in many other parts of the country.”

Padgett turns to the Rev. Jay Scott Newman, a convert from Protestantism, to help explain evangelical Catholics:

Says the Rev. Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, less than two hours south in Greenville, S.C.: “Here you’re not Catholic because your parents came from Italy or Slovakia. It’s because you believe what the church teaches you is absolutely true.”

Such evangelical Catholicism, as Newman calls it, also lends itself to Southern-fried flavors like more exuberant hymn singing, intense Bible study, spirited preaching and what Evangelicals call witnessing — personal and public professions of faith usually foreign to the more philosophical, communal and inward Catholic style.

But not all Catholics in the South rejoice with Father Newman. Indeed, one university president worries about the threat of an undefined “evangelical Fundamentalism”:

Some church observers say this trend, while ecumenical, could undermine the “intellectual heritage” of the faith, says the Rev. Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University New Orleans, which in 2002 opened the Center for the Study of Catholics in the South. “The question is whether Catholicism in the South simply becomes another form of evangelical Fundamentalism with incense.”

In another piece this week, the wittily titled “Spirits of the Age,” James Poniewozik writes about the mini-trend of TV series that include supernatural elements. The range is as diverse as Medium (produced by Glenn Gordon Caron of Moonlighting), Point Pleasant and Revelations.

The latter show includes “an order of nuns, at odds with the Vatican, that believes the Second Coming is imminent.” Perhaps Father Wildes and his team will let us know whether this would make the fictional nuns evangelical fundamentalists, fundamental evangelicals or high-church dispensationalists (with incense).

In an otherwise thoughtful and entertaining piece, Poniewozik offers these agonizing generalizations:

There is a kind of vanity in Apocalyptic thinking: people eternally want to believe they are so special, their times so afflicted, that their tribulations outclass any others in history. It is oddly boastful to believe that one’s generation has screwed up the world badly enough to prompt the birth of the Antichrist. Ghost stories like Medium too appeal to our egotism. They assume that the dead are concerned above all with giving closure to the living.

But that’s what TV has in common with religion: each helps millions of people, sitting down to hear the same message, individually feel special.

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Frank Rich & the pleasures of adjectives

frankrich.jpgSome writers are worth reading because they are talented stylists. Regardless of whether I agree with the points these writers make, watching them make the case is its own reward. Several writers fill this role for me, including Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Ferguson, Paul Greenberg, James Lileks, Katha Pollitt, Anna Quindlen, Mark Steyn and Andrew Sullivan.

Frank Rich is not on my regular reading cycle. On Sunday, however, he worked himself into an exquisite lather about the newly blandified Super Bowl extravaganza. It became entertaining to watch him turn to the catharsis of angry and humorous language.

Some samples:

• Let us be grateful that Janet Jackson did not bare both breasts.

On the first anniversary of the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction that shook the world, it’s clear that just one was big enough to wreak havoc. The ensuing Washington indecency crusade has unleashed a wave of self-censorship on American television unrivaled since the McCarthy era, with everyone from the dying D-Day heroes in “Saving Private Ryan” to cuddly animated animals on daytime television getting the ax.

• This repressive cultural environment was officially ratified on Nov. 2, when Ms. Jackson’s breast pulled off its greatest coup of all: the re-election of President Bush. Or so it was decreed by the media horde that retroactively declared “moral values” the campaign’s decisive issue and the Super Bowl the blue states’ Waterloo. The political bosses of “family” organizations, well aware that TV’s collective wisdom becomes reality whether true or not, have been emboldened ever since. They are spending their political capital like drunken sailors, redoubling their demands that the Bush administration marginalize gay people, stamp out sex education and turn pop culture into a continuous loop of “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”

• Fox, which recently pixilated the bottom of a cartoon toddler in a rerun of the series “Family Guy,” now has someone on full-time rear-end alert: it rejected a comic spot for Airborne, a cold remedy, showing the backside of the 84-year-old Mickey Rooney as he leaves a sauna.

• That our government is now both intimidating PBS and awarding public money to pundits to enforce “moral values” agendas demonizing certain families is the ugliest fallout of the campaign against indecency. That campaign cannot really banish salaciousness from pop culture, a rank impossibility in a market economy where red and blue customers are united in their infatuation with “Desperate Housewives.” But it can create public policy that discriminates against anyone on the hit list of moral values zealots. Inane as it may seem that [Margaret] Spellings is conducting a witch hunt against Buster or that James Dobson has taken aim at SpongeBob SquarePants, there’s a method to their seeming idiocy: the cartoon surrogates are deliberately chosen to camouflage the harshness of their assault on nonanimated, flesh-and-blood people.

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Koran thumping

Koran.jpgFascinating report in The Christian Science Monitor from Yemen, where the religion of peace isn’t just another Orwellian slogan. Here’s the first sentence:

When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen’s Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.

The reporter isn’t exaggerating about the high stakes bit. Hitar promised the holy warriors, “If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle. . . . But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence.”

So far, the judge has had some success. Hundreds of young would-be Jihadis have been released and few, if any, have taken to blowing things up or left the country to fight the Great Satan.

As the Monitor explains it, Hitar’s system is “simple.” He asks his hot-blooded brethren to “use the Koran to justify attacks on innocent civilians.” When they cannot cite chapter and verse to justify such violence, Hitar “shows them numerous passages commanding Muslims not to attack civilians, to respect other religions, and fight only in self-defense.”

If the prisoners admit that, well, yes, the Koran does have many passages which would tend to check their aggression against Westerners, relative innocents, and fellow Muslims, the government of Yemen takes a chance on them. They are set free and offered “vocational training courses and help to find jobs.”

The success of the dialogue approach can be overstated. The reason the Jihadis are available to talk to the judge is that they are detained by the government, and the urge to fake a come-to-Allah experience and get out of jail should surprise precisely no one. Also, the Monitor reports that the “government has undertaken a range of measures to combat terrorism from closing down extreme madrassahs, the Islamic schools sometimes accused of breeding hate, to deporting foreign militants.”

And yet, even the U.S. and British governments are admitting that Hitar is on to something, and Hitar himself is surprised at the results.

Remember, this is Yemen. The Monitor helpfully explains that the country used to be “synonymous with violent Islamic extremism. The ancestral homeland of Mr. bin Laden, it provided two-thirds of recruits for his Afghan camps, and was notorious for kidnappings of foreigners and the bombing of the American warship USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 sailors.”


Some freed militants were so transformed that they led the army to hidden weapons caches and offered the Yemeni security services advice on tackling Islamic militancy. A spectacular success came in 2002 when Abu Ali al Harithi, Al Qaeda’s top commander in Yemen, was assassinated by a US air-strike following a tip-off from one of Hitar’s reformed militants.

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Punches on the Darwinian front lines

DarwinBlackBox.gifI am shocked, shocked to discover a strong interest among GetReligion readers in the topic of mainstream media coverage of debates between defenders of Darwinian orthodoxy and their critics.

This quickly breaks down into two camps: those who see themselves as defenders of free speech and those who believe it is proper to lock people that they believe are non-scientists out of debates in science education. Non-scientists are those — such as Pope John Paul II — who criticize strictly naturalistic interpretations of the data gathered in traditional scientific research. To read the original post, click here.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has published a short piece by Dr. Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, attempting to clarify what most advocates of “Intelligent Design” believe, as opposed to what they are often accused of believing. Behe is the author of a controversial volume titled Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. The Times piece is clearly addressed at people engaged in the public debate over science education, as opposed to the scientists themselves. For example:

(What) it isn’t: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments. For example, a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator. That’s misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.

Behe has a way of finding simple ways of stating complex issues. For some, this makes him an effective apologist. For others, this makes him easy to mock. (More on that in a minute.) Here is a very typical sample of how Behe writes, when addressing readers in a daily newspaper:

. . . Unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore. Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed.

There is, of course, more to this than a single op-ed piece. For journalists, the key is that Behe is attempting to clarify what he believes and how he is defining his terms. The goal, in the end, is for Behe to be able to read coverage of this hot-button issue in a news report and then say: “Yes, that is what I said. Yes, that is what I meant.” The same standard, of course, applies to his critics. This will lead to news features that are packed with tension and disagreement. So be it.

Meanwhile, the folks at The Revealer have greeted with scorn Behe’s tiny footprint on the sacred pages of the Times. This is, I am afraid, par for the course. Here is the item as it ran. Doesn’t this have a kind of a Bill O’Reilly (in reverse) flair to it?

Michael J. Behe, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, pleads the case of Intelligent Design in The New York Times, explaining I.D.’s “four linked claims,” and disingenuously describing the first two controversial assumptions as “uncontroversial.” It’s an exercise in anachronism, pointing mechanical metaphors backwards towards biology to prove that “life overwhelms us with the appearance of design.” Like this: we can see that Mount Rushmore isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon, but designed. Likewise, clerics have described cell life as resembling man-made mechanics, like a watch, designed. And even Darwinists admit that life is complex, so let’s call that agreement with watch-theory. Don’t trouble your head about putting this in any sort of chronological order. Go with the flow. This is about motors and watches, not watchmakers. Resting on these supposedly shared presumptions, Behe leads to his “controversial” claims: 3, Darwinists haven’t recreated evolution in any studies, and 4, until they prove otherwise, it’s scientifically reasonable to believe in I.D., according to Behe’s final, binding scientific standard: “The Duck Song.”

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