Who went to heaven with Walters?

thefiveYes, Barry Garron of the Hollywood Reporter is right — that ABC News production on heaven does sound like a TV-ratings-friendly variation on an old joke: “So a priest, a minister, a rabbi, the Dalai Lama, an atheist and Barbara Walters walk into a studio and …”

I did not see this report, because I was working on my Scripps Howard column and — speaking of alternative religions — getting my son to a Lego robotics team meeting. So I am not in a position to debate with Garron when he says that Walters and Co. did not deliver on the outrageous title for this “news” special: “Heaven. Where Is It? How Do We Get There?’”

Here is a clip from the Reporter summary:

What you are likely to learn from this ABC News production, if you didn’t know already, is that religious leaders have not only the sketchiest of notions as to what heaven is but also contradictory ideas of what goes on there. Cardinal Theodore E. McCerrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., says there’s no sex in heaven. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, an Islamic scholar, says there’s plenty of sex there — and with virgins, no less. He’s kind of vague on where the virgins come from, though.

That there is so little agreement about heaven might suggest that most of us have been making it up as we go along. Ellen Johnson, president of the American Atheists, says as much. If we really believe heaven is that great, she says, we’d be busy hanging ourselves to get there. It’s a point the others don’t address, except for the would-be suicide bomber now serving 24 years in an Israeli prison. His goal was despicable but there’s no denying he believes in a better afterlife.

Based on the print feature posted online, this Walters “special report” does seem to offer the usual grab-bag of interviews with clerics, scholars, scientists and pop-culture stars. That is what ABC pays Walters to do.

But there is an unspoken subtext to this approach that is much more interesting. There are three basic ways to interpret what Walters serves up. (1) All of these believers are crazy and out of their minds, (2) all of them are, to one degree right and to another degree wrong, but their yearning for heaven points to some vague reality that makes them all right in the end or (3) since so many of their beliefs clash and cannot be reconciled, some of them must be wrong and, somehow, one of the many different doctrinal positions must be right.

You will not be surprised that Walters seems to have flirted with (1) and ends up with (2) as the usual MSM all-roads-lead-to-one-god (or set of gods) orthodoxy. What is her alternative?

How does it end? Once again, it is not surprising that she ends up seeking wisdom from the postmodern version of a celebrity evangelist — journalist Mitch Albom, author of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” for his universalist benediction.

Albom tells Walters, “There’s one thing I would say about heaven. If you believe that there’s a heaven, your life here on Earth here is different. You may believe that you’re gonna see your loved ones again. So the grief that you had after they’re gone isn’t as strong. You may believe that you’ll have to answer for your actions. So the way you behave here on Earth is changed. So in a certain way, just believing in the idea of heaven is heavenly in and of itself,” he said.

I am sure that, at this point, Walters gently nodded her head.

Who can give us a report on how this played out in prime time?

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On the telephone as reporting tool

santa telephoneA few weeks ago a mini-scandal broke out surrounding Ridgeway Elementary School in Wisconsin. It seemed that some official with the school play had secularized the words to the beautiful “Silent Night” (or as we Lutherans call it: “Stille Nacht“) to “Cold in the Night.” Various groups got enraged and sent out press releases and television networks ate it up and ran breathless segments about the war on Christmas.

So Washington Post reporter Neely Tucker did something revolutionary. He picked up his telephone and called the author of the play in which “Cold in the Night” is featured. It turns out that playwright Dwight Elrich was a music director for a choir at Bel Air Presbyterian (President Reagan’s church in California) for decades. The play comes with a “Christian” page which may be inserted and includes Christian Christmas songs such as “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

On the one hand, Tucker pokes fun at Fox News’ John Gibson and Bill O’Reilly and generally gives the impression that the war on Christmas is more perception than reality, but on the other hand he does a good job of explaining why those who feel attacked do so. Tucker does this by speaking with James P. Byrd Jr., assistant dean of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School. He contrasts what Christmas in 1950 might have seemed like to a conservative Christian with the present. Here’s how Neely characterizes it:

And now you wake up and it’s 2005. You go to hear the kid’s Christmas play, except by the time it clears all the church-state hurdles the ACLU worries about, it sounds more like “Songs of Many Lands as Sung by 6-Year-Olds.” The Christmas Tree at the Capitol in Washington, they call it a “holiday tree” most years now. Even President Bush, a devout Christian, sends out a Christmas card that does not say “Merry Christmas.” Now you hear a lot about Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and “the holidays.” What is to be made of all this?

Tucker provides what so few reporters — especially those on the magic electronic box — have done with this cable-driven war on Christmas: he provides historical context, interviewing authors of various books on the American history of Christmas. He mentions the Puritan distaste for Christmas and keeps on going:

The founding fathers had no Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas, a minor European saint, did not morph into the current image of the gift-laden Santa Claus until the 1820s). There were no Christmas trees (a German import that didn’t take root until the 1840s). Dec. 25 wasn’t made a federal holiday under the first 17 American presidents (including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln). The holiday did not come until 1870, under Ulysses Grant, perhaps one of the least pious of presidents.

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Thank you! My one complaint, other than the inexplicable editorial “we” the author uses, is the absolutely offensive ending to the piece. Tucker makes fun of Liberty Counsel’s Matt Staver for arguing that Christmas trees should not be renamed:

Historically speaking, academics and scholars agree, he’s right: It is a Christmas tree.

You wonder if the Deity thinks that is the point. Or, perhaps, if it misses it entirely.

No offense, but my beloved hometown paper the Washington Post is just about the last place I look for speculation on what the “Deity” thinks about, well, anything. I mean, they could at least try refraining from mocking religious adherents for a few months before tacking on this ending. But it’s still worthwhile to read.

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Scientology: 10 million strong

waroftheworldsWe’ve commented before on the caustic treatment that Scientology true believer Tom Cruise has received from media outlets. The Los Angeles Times, which has been reporting on Scientology for decades, ran a lengthy business pages look inside the Church of Scientology’s Gilman Hot Springs resort on Sunday. The package included 30 photos of the compound and focused on business and spiritual relationship of Tom Cruise and current church head David Miscavige, although the article also provides a bit of information about the religious beliefs of Scientologists:

Scientologists learn Hubbard’s secret theory of human suffering, which he traces to a galactic battle waged 75 million years ago by an evil tyrant named Xenu.

According to court documents made public by The Times in the 1980s, Hubbard espoused the belief that Xenu captured the souls, or thetans, of enemies and electronically implanted false concepts in them to keep them confused about his dirty work. The goal of these advanced courses is to become aware of the trauma and free of its effects.

One of the difficulties of covering the Church is the group’s reticence to open up to accusations from ex-members or the prying public. Both Cruise and Miscavige declined interviews. So the article is driven by the testimony of ex-members who are then contradicted by church officials. After one ex-member says she was forced to spend all night planting a field of wildflowers for Cruise and his new love Kidman to romp through, a spokesman denounces the charge as a fabrication from apostates.

Well, there you go. The Times reporters break through a bit of this frustrating pattern of shocking accusations and pat denials when they use outside verification, as they did following the series of claims that Cruise spent much time at the Gilman Springs center where he was doted on by Miscavige:

Cruise has made no extended visits to the complex since the early 1990s and has done 95% of his religious training elsewhere, Rinder said. Miscavige, he said, spends only a fraction of his time there and divides the rest of his time among offices in Los Angeles, Clearwater and Britain. He also stays aboard the Freewinds, Scientology’s 440-foot ship based in Curacao in the Caribbean, Rinder said.

However, voter registration records list the Gilman Hot Springs complex as Miscavige’s residence since the early 1990s and as recently as the 2004 general election. Rinder said the church leader simply had not updated his registration. Miscavige’s wife, father, stepmother and siblings also have resided at the complex, according to voting records and interviews.

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I have a few friends who are former Scientologists. They were heavy into it while they were working in Hollywood in the 1960s and 1970s but when they left the church, they decided it was best to leave the region, ending up in Colorado where I met them. I also am acquainted with a few current Scientologists — in Hollywood, of course. And I guess what I’m trying to say is that claims like this are interesting:

More than any other celebrity, Cruise has helped fuel the growth of the church, which claims a worldwide membership of 10 million and in the last two years has opened major centers in South Africa, Russia, Britain and Venezuela. Cruise joined Miscavige last year for the opening of a church in Madrid.

It is completely true that Scientologists claim a worldwide membership of 10 million. It’s also true that, well, they don’t have much support for the claim. In the same manner the reporters checked out the voter records, they should have provided the reader with context or trusted religious data. Mormons claim a worldwide membership of about 12 million, to put the number in context. Even understanding that religious adherence data is not terribly reliable, perhaps another source would have been helpful.

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Hollywood vs. homes and cellphones

ht02Forget all those raging debates about art, truth, commerce, faith, tolerance and free speech. It turns out that Hollywood thinks its box-office woes are rooted in — cell telephones, home theaters, rude adults, on-screen ads, ticket prices and fidgety tots. At least, that is what the National Association of Theater Owners told the gatekeepers at the New York Times.

But even in this “Problems? We ain’t got no stinkin’ middle-America problems” story by reporter Sharon Waxman, there is a hint of the topics being discussed much more openly in the Los Angeles Times.

Let’s listen in on one or two conversations with customers at the movies:

“It’s gotten too expensive to go the theater,” said Lauren Schneider, 49, who was strolling along the Santa Monica pedestrian mall on a brisk evening recently with her husband, Sascha. “You need a baby sitter. Tickets are $10, the popcorn is another $10. Before you’re done it’s a $50 night out.”

When they think a movie is a must-see — like “King Kong” or “Good Night, and Good Luck” — they will go, said the couple. Otherwise, “if it’s borderline, I’ll wait to rent it on DVD,” Mrs. Schneider said. …

Among a dozen moviegoers interviewed at the Santa Monica AMC theater, almost all cited ticket prices as a major factor in deciding whether to attend a movie. Several said ads were a nuisance. Most cited the caliber of the movies as the biggest issue.

“There’s a lack of quality stories,” said Lisa Martin, 40, from Bakersfield, Calif., who was on her way to see “Syriana.” “We feel like if we’re going to spend this amount of money, we want to see something good.”

What we have here are some powerful buried and unpacked pronowns — “they” and “we” — in phrases such as “when they think a movie is a must-see” and “we feel like if we’re going to spend.”

Who are these people?

Truth is, we don’t know. And, truth is, the American public is way too complex these days to provide a simple answer.

So Dr. James Dobson and Co. are wrong when they say Hollywood is out of touch with America. But they are right when they say that Hollywood is offending millions of Americans.

You see, different parts of Hollywood, with differing degrees of clout, are in touch with different Americas. The lords of the PG-13 blockbuster coalition are finding ways — sometimes — to punch the buttons of Red Zip Code America and fairly large numbers of that cherished 15-40 male demographic. An emerging niche of “values” moviemakers are just starting to explore ways to tap the 10 to 40 percent of the American public that is, in some sense, practicing a fairly traditional form of Christianity. The highly, highly skilled world of edgy, progressive Hollywood artists — religious and secular — who want to send messages just as much as they want to make cash are reaching their niche and helping shape the values and public image of Hollywood as a whole.

Are they a majority? Are they a gatekeeping elite? Are they too powerful for the good of their own industry?

We can debate that forever, I guess. Meanwhile, the values wars are only ONE PART of the tsunami of change that is hitting Hollywood. The pop-culture wars are real, but they may not be as powerful as the changes in technology that are allowing ordinary Americans to see and hear the movies and shows that they love in home theaters. And those cell telephones and ticket prices matter, as well.

So there are multiple forces pulling at the “they” and “we” groups in this complex and diverse culture I call Oprah America. What I called the “Brokeback stone table” issue is real, but it is only one part of a larger story. Many on the cultural right want to say it’s the whole story. Many on the cultural left want to ignore it. Both are wrong.

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Tips for understanding the mind war

muslimFor journalists — or anyone for that matter — looking to understand the conflict in the Middle East between the West and the Islamic fundamentalism, take a look at this book review in Sunday’s Washington Post titled “The War for Muslim Minds,” and then consider picking up one or more of these books.

The review by the RAND Corporation’s Bruce Hoffman encompasses three recent books on the minds of Muslims. The heaviest of the three, Fawaz A. Gerges’s The Far Enemy, moves along the theory on “why Jihad went global.” Khaled Abou El Fadl’s Wrestling Islam From the Extremists deals with the more well-known theory that Islam has been hijacked by highly charismatic characters, while Fred Halliday’s 100 Myths About the Middle East seems to be a quick guide worthy of a Christmast-time airplane ride (it’s also only about $10). I should note that I have not read any of these books, but that is no the point of this post.

While masterfully quoting Sun Tzu, Hoffman underscores the point I’ve been trying to make about journalists, only pointing towards the United States’ counterterrorism strategy:

Today, Washington has no such program in the war on terrorism. America’s counterterrorism strategy appears predominantly weighted toward a “kill or capture” approach targeting individual bad guys. This line of attack assumes that America’s targets — be they al Qaeda or the insurgency in Iraq — have a traditional center of gravity; it also assumes that the target simply needs to be destroyed so that global terrorism or the Iraqi insurgency will end. Accordingly, the attention of the U.S. military and intelligence community is directed almost uniformly toward hunting down militant leaders or protecting U.S. forces — not toward understanding the enemy we now face.

This is a monumental failing because al Qaeda’s ability to continue this struggle is predicated on its capacity to attract new recruits and replenish its resources. The success of U.S. strategy will therefore ultimately depend on Washington’s ability to counter al Qaeda’s ideological appeal — and thereby break the cycle of recruitment and regeneration. To do so, we first need to better understand the origins of the al Qaeda movement, the animosity and arguments that underpin it and indeed the region of the world from which its struggle emanated and upon which its gaze still hungrily rests. Each of the three books reviewed here provides a good start in this essential, though lamentably belated, process.

“In my conversations with former jihadis, one of the critical lessons I have learned is that personalities, not ideas or organizations, are the drivers behind the movement,” writes Gerges in his book, implicitly removing the importance of religion in this international conflict.

Why is this important to the average journalist? Most of us are not in the Middle East covering elections and suicide bombings.

Here’s why: the Post also on Sunday carried an article title “Muslim Leader Forges Interfaith Accord” by Fredrick Kunkle of a “popular Imam,” Yahya Hendi, who is supposedly boosting Islam throughout Maryland and beyond.

It’s a fairly straightforward middle-of-the-local-section religion story except for the fact that he’s a cologne-splashing Imam who is convinced that Islam, Judaism and Christianity are more similar than different. Fair enough character, but any reporter digging past the same-day feature story written by Kunkle must pitch some serious questions at Hendi who believes he is the Arabic version of John the Baptist. And to do that one must have at least a primer in what Muslims today believe and it is about as far away from monolithic as you can get.

Then there is the international story of Muslims flocking to the polls in Iraq and the convening of Afghanistan’s first parliament in more than 30 years. What story is more important these days?

These historical moments will receive their due treatment in lengthy magazine pieces followed by thick books, but for the journalist grinding out daily news stories on these dramatic events — whether for the metro section or from the Green Zone — a background in the minds of the Muslims will be crucial for accurately understanding the story.

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Sacred spaces? Let Dallas be Dallas

gene002101203Anyone who knows anything about church growth in America knows that, when it comes to studying big churches, all roads lead to Texas (surprise, surprise) and sooner or later (surprise, surprise) you’re going to end up in Dallas, which some people call the capital of American evangelicalism. If you doubt me, click here.

The researchers call them “megachurches.” Just how big a church has to be to earn that label is somewhat in dispute. But, suffice it to say, when your church sanctuary seats 2,000-plus you know you’re in the right ballpark. If you hit 5,000 you have entered the big leagues. There are so many big churches in Texas that there are even liberal megachurches, including the famous lesbigay friendly Cathedral of Hope.

But most of the Dallas megachurches are packed with evangelicals, of one stripe or another (although that label is problematic). Dallas is, well, Dallas. There’s the famous Potter’s House led by the Pentecostal giant Bishop T.D. Jakes and the powerful Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship (photo) led by Dr. Tony Evans. There are huge United Methodist congregations, such as the famous Highland Park United Methodist Church, and cathedrals of various kinds — Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, you name it. Among Southern Baptists there’s the old megachurch at First Baptist and the gigantic modern one at Prestonwood (photo number two).

Now, I realize that megachurches are not for everyone. Frankly, they kind of spook me when it comes to atmosphere and architecture. If you want to roam around a bit in the 7,000-seat Prestonwood sanctuary, click here and hang on.

Some people think these places are ugly. But many, many people (including a few who still subscribe to newspapers) think they are the most beautiful places on earth — modern cathedrals for the age of giant video screens and the worship services that go with them. They are big, dramatic places and I have seen photo essays that — for better or for worse — do them justice.

But not this past weekend in the Dallas Morning News.

This is where things get a bit complicated and, if you work in this embattled newspaper’s circulation department, a bit depressing.

Year after year, the News wins national awards because of the high quality of its religion coverage. However, there are those who wonder whether this religion-news section is a national section or a local section. This is a question I have raised here at GetReligion. There is no question about the quality of the work. The question is whether the News remains dedicated to covering religion news in the Dallas that most people who live in Dallas would recognize as Dallas.

If you read these pages week after week (as any sane person interested in religion news would), you will read about all kinds of religious groups, and this is good. The problem is that you will find a stunningly low percentage of articles about the changes, trends, problems and triumphs of the largest and most powerful religious groups IN DALLAS.

Prestonwood Baptist Church2This weekend offered a perfect symbolic example of this syndrome, entitled “Sacred Spaces,” that probably made some telephones ring at the News. Or, let’s put it this way: If this feature did not make the telephones ring, then that would be really bad news. Why? That would tell us how few people in the biggest churches in Dallas still read the Dallas Morning News.

Here is the prologue to this photo-and-text feature:

What makes a place sacred?

Some — for instance, Jerusalem — are sacred because the faithful believe divine manifestations have occurred there. Some religious edifices are imposing, designed and consecrated in accordance with ancient traditions. Sometimes, a simple, quiet spot invites visitors to step out of their routines and into prayer or reflection. And sometimes, tragedy turns ordinary space into hallowed ground — like Ground Zero in New York, or the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial in downtown Dallas.

We visited seven “sacred spaces” in the greater Dallas area and brought back these images and impressions.

Thus, the News team visited the Cistercian Abbey in Irving, Temple Emanu-El Mausoleum, the Thanks-Giving Square, the St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, the Hare Krishna Temple, the Anjuman-E-Najmi Mosque in Irving and the Lien Hoa Buddhist Monastery in Irving.

Again let me stress (before people start leaving comments) that the question is not whether it was good or bad for the Dallas Morning News to focus on these particular “sacred spaces.” The question is why these talented journalists appear to have avoided other “sacred spaces,” including some of the most prominent religious sanctuaries in the entire United States of America.

I am sure that, in part, the goal was diversity. Fantastic! The question is whether what ended up on the printed page actually offered a diverse and balanced look at faith in Dallas. Was this feature diverse? Did it offer an accurate, sensible look at “sacred spaces” in the greater Dallas area?

Let me end with a question for the News circulation staff: If you were, let’s say, a Southern Baptist leader in Dallas and you happened to pick up this issue of this newspaper, what would you think the journalists who produced it were saying about your life, your churches and your faith?

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Check out the Liberty (hoops) women

Megan   web 1 This story from the Baltimore Sun has been hanging around in my imagination for several days. Let’s just say that I find it hard to ignore a story that starts with this lead:

The Rev. Jerry Falwell doesn’t body surf anymore.

In years past, Liberty University’s famed founder and chancellor, a self-described “sports nut,” occasionally allowed himself to be passed hand by hand up seating sections by delighted students during football and basketball games at the Lynchburg, Va., school. But with age creeping up on him, the 72-year-old has mellowed a bit.

Yes, I searched for a picture of that.

The goal of this story by reporter Joshua Cooley is to describe some of the challenges that Liberty University faces in its quest to have a football team that can compete at the I-A level of NCAA competition. Recruiting can be tough, after all, for a perfectly logical reason:

There is a modest dress code, curfew (midnight most days), three mandatory convocation services each week and many other regulations, including prohibitions on dancing, R-rated movies and certain music. Any infraction, even during semester breaks, is subject to a strict system of reprimands. As with all other students, these are the conditions that athletes on Liberty’s teams are expected to conform. … According to redshirt junior linebacker Manny Rojas, a four-year Liberty veteran, each year brings new complaints about the rules from the incoming freshman class, but they usually fade with time.

None of this is surprising, especially not for me (as a former sports editor at Baylor University, the world’s largest Southern Baptist university). Baylor has — cue the theme from “Jaws” — had its struggles competing in the lofty air of the Big 12 and people have always linked this with tough classrooms and the alleged Baptist atmosphere on campus. Let’s just say that my alma mater has rarely achieved a state of bliss.

But back to the Liberty story. I think this report misses, or buries, two stories that are much more interesting than the football angle. The first is one that I have seen my own journalism students write on two different campuses. When Christian schools recruit non-believers to beef up their teams, what happens to these student athletes? Are they treated with sympathy and compassion? Do some happily convert and live changed lives? To some rebel? Do tensions exist? Do some students try to browbeat them into converting? Or (hint, here is the answer) is the truth “all of the above”? Whatever. This is interesting territory.

But here is the story I wonder about and it skips by way down in the body of the story:

Even in this unique environment, most of the Flames’ athletic teams have thrived at one point or another and won Big South Conference titles. The women’s basketball team is seeking its 10th straight conference crown, and, last year, thanks in large part to 2005 WNBA lottery pick Katie Feenstra, it defeated Penn State and DePaul en route to the school’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.

Stop and read that again. They have won 10 straight titles in women’s basketball?

Now when you see something like that you have to stop and think: What is it in the nature of this school that allows that to happen? What is drawing those young women to Liberty and keeping them there? What’s the connection? What is unique about these teams and these coaches? Do we see similar success, or at least unusual success, in other similar programs? I sense the presence of a ghost and, maybe, more than one.

One thing for sure, there is a good Godbeat story in there somewhere.

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Sheep safely graze

KickedOut A priest and six laymen at a Roman Catholic church in St. Louis have been excommunicated by Archbishop Raymond Burke and St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion writer Tim Townsend has been doing excellent coverage, even winning an award for one of his earlier stories.

St. Stanislaus Kostka, a Polish parish, has been battling the archdiocese for years, not over doctrine or any of the sexier issues of contention but over polity. Here’s Townsend doing a great job of explaining the situation a few weeks ago:

The dispute between Burke and St. Stanislaus stems from a late 19th-century arrangement that gave the parish board control of the church property. Since he arrived in St. Louis, Burke has demanded that the church conform to the same legal structure as other parishes, where the bishop oversees finances.

St. Stanislaus parishioners, through their six-member lay board of directors, has refused, and neither side has budged for months.

What struck me most about Townsend’s coverage was how well he explored the motivations of the Rev. Marek Bozek, the priest who joined the parish a few weeks ago. Townsend explains how Bozek, a Pole, knew he wanted to be a priest when he was only 9. He began going to Mass every day when he was 10 as a personal protest against Communism:

For Bozek, the particulars of the battle are secondary. In fact, he believes Burke is on solid ground in the dispute.

“Legally, canonically speaking, he’s right,” Bozek said. “The Holy See has said he’s right. Bozek mailed a letter to Burke on Friday. In it the priest said he wanted “to express respect and assure you that you will be indeed considered by me the Archbishop…”

Bozek’s decision to flout his superiors has more to do with a situation he labels “desperate”- that members of St. Stanislaus have not been able to take part in the sacraments in their own church for longer than a year because they lack a priest.

“I can’t imagine my life without the sacraments,” he said. “And these people have gone without them for so long.” . . .

Bozek also knows he may come off as high-minded. “My bishop told me I’m naive and idealistic, and I am,” he said. “I’m 30 and I have the right to be. If there’s a time to be idealistic, it’s now. Jesus was idealistic. He did things that were illegal but right. If we give up on our ideals, what are we left with?”

To help explain his actions, Bozek quotes from part of Canon 1752, the final law in the Catholic church’s law code, which reads in part, “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.”

“I think it’s significant that the code ends that way,” he said. “There are many canons, and I am breaking some of them. But to me, in that last canon, the word ‘supreme’ means it precedes all the other ones. To me, it’s about saving the souls of the people of St. Stanislaus.”

Which brings us to this weekend, when Burke announced his decision to excommunicate Father Bozek and the parish board of directors and suppress the church. Just as he did with Bozek, Townsend simply lays the facts out, permitting Archbishop Burke’s position to be explained:
thomond sheep3

The offense that triggered the excommunication, according to Burke, is schism. In the Catechism and the Code of Canon law, schism is defined as “the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Catholic law says that only a bishop can appoint priests to parishes.

Hiring a priest who “is not in good standing,” Burke wrote in a letter to board members, “is a formal act of schism, by which you have incurred automatically the penalty of excommunication. With this letter … I declare the excommunication to you.”

Townsend’s writing is amazingly thorough and fair. He takes the time to research Canon law, he is trusted to accurately convey religious belief, and he does it all by focusing on hard news.

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