Round II: The LATimes ignores Supremes, covenant too

There were quite a few logical journalistic questions to ask after my post about the teacher who was fired by a Catholic school in Glendora, Calif., after his very public same-sex marriage to his long-time partner.

Here are several of them in one reader comment:

Thin story … leaves out too many details and, perhaps, the school does not wish to harm the person’s teaching reputation — the one who just stuck them in the eye.

The Church (or this school, evidently) does NOT discriminate against homosexuals; they are accepted as are all people. However, when one decides to live a disordered life (publicly marries his partner), then this becomes a similar situation to a heterosexual who decides to “shack up” — it’s just not a good Catholic example to give impressionable young people. So, you have the good old “morals” clause.

It would seem like the teacher knew EXACTLY what he was doing. Might we expect this to be run up to the almighty (sometimes called “supreme”) court of this land as an “anti-discrimination” issue? We await with bated breath.

– James Stagg

The problem, of course, is that one of the major points made in my post was that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled — with a headline grabbing 9-0 vote, against the expressed wishes of the current Justice Department — that doctrinally defined churches and educational institutions have the right to hire and fire in ways that defend their teachings and religious traditions.

So were the journalists involved in this story simply unaware of this recent blast from the Supremes? Or, is the subtext here that the gay-rights theme in this developing story cancels out this basic religious-liberty, First Amendment reality?

Several readers mentioned another key issue: That this particular Catholic school may or may not have a doctrinal covenant that is signed by faculty, students, parents, etc.

I get that. I know that there are schools that are living in the legal past — legal in terms of state law and the desires of Rome — and don’t want to do that whole religious covenant thing. There are also plenty of Catholic educators who disagree with the teachings of their own church and do not want them enforced.

Well, then you have photos in the local newspaper and, well, you know. That’s bad. So the reality in the school hallways clashes with the reality that is the Catholic tradition. That’s hard to explain to any traditional Catholic parents and donors linked to your school. There’s a major news story in there, methinks.

But that story does not fit the template that is in operation in the coverage.

Some GetReligion readers may, in fact, have been thinking something else: That this was just a story from small local newspaper that didn’t really cut the mustard. Things would be different if it was covered by a major newsroom, one that would certainly include the crucial missing pieces of this news puzzle (as in the covenant issue and the U.S. Supreme Court decision).

So how about The Los Angeles Times?

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Bishop enforces Catholic doctrine; press goes, ‘Wha …?’

A regular reader who is an active Catholic recently sent us a URL to an interesting mainstream news report about religion and, this is the unusual part, even suggested a headline that ALMOST nailed the GetReligion angle in the piece.

So I used the reader’s headline.

However, I think the reader is slightly off and, perhaps, a bit too kind in that headline. I believe the actual journalistic reaction, in most newsrooms, would best — in Internet terms — be described as “WTF.” I could be wrong about that, of course.

So, the big shocking news in this piece from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat is that the local bishop has decided to get on board with the Vatican’s attempts to put the “Catholic” back in Catholic education. Thus, the opening of the story (which should be read while listening, oh, to something like this) offers a gripping account of the current crisis:

The Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese is requiring its 200 schoolteachers to sign an agreement affirming that “modern errors” such as contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage and euthanasia are “matters that gravely offend human dignity.”

The move is an effort by Bishop Robert Vasa to delineate specifically what it means for a Catholic-school teacher — whether Catholic or not — to be a “model of Catholic living” and to adhere to Catholic teaching. That means means abiding by the Ten Commandments, going to church every Sunday and heeding God’s words in thought, deed and intentions, according to a private church document that is an “addendum” to language in the current teachers’ contract.

In his two years as Santa Rosa’s bishop, Vasa has attempted to bring his strict interpretation of church doctrine to a diocese that historically has had a more tolerant approach. But some teachers fear the addendum is an invasion of their private lives and a move toward imposing more rigid Catholic doctrine.

Now, none of this is the least bit shocking for any journalist who has followed events in the American Catholic Church over the past few decades.

Here is the key: This story is not shocking for two well-established reasons.

First, anyone who has ever covered events on the Catholic left (think, oh, a WomenPriests ordination rite or any kind of event linked to the Catholic gay-rights group Dignity) knows that a high percentage of faculty members in many, critics would say most, Catholic schools tend to lean to the cultural and doctrinal left and, as a rule, this includes many non-Catholics who do not respect the ancient teachings of the church.

Second, during the era defined by the work of the Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, key Vatican offices have taken steps to put some degree of orthodoxy back into Catholic schools, including making them safe working environments for pro-Vatican Catholics. At the level of colleges and universities, this trend is perfectly summed up in the controversial, for many Catholic educators, document Ex Corde Ecclesiae (“From the Heart of the Church”).

In other words, it is totally missing the point for this Press Democrat story to say that the local bishop is attempting to “bring HIS (emphasis added) strict interpretation of church doctrine” to the diocese, when Vasa is acting in a way consistent with a Vatican-supported effort to defend church teachings. Also, the subjects included in this covenant are all very high-profile issues in the church, rather than obscure points of doctrine. Note, also, that the teachers are protesting an action that is consistent with the right of all private schools — on the cultural left, as well as the right — to define the boundaries of their own voluntary associations.

The bottom line?

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What are the real differences between Mahony and Gomez?

Guess what? There are significant differences in the theological approaches and doctrinal convictions of Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez and his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony.

So, what are they?

It’s hard to tell, in a fascinating Los Angeles Times story that goes way, way out its way to argue that the differences that really matter are rooted in style and, you guessed it, politics. You can tell that right up front in the content of the magisterial double-deck headline:

Gomez, Mahony are a study in contrasts

Where his predecessor led labor rallies and took up worker rights, earning the nickname ‘Hollywood’ from a pope, Gomez has quietly promoted conservative voices and evangelization.

Trust me, the contents of the story are way better, are way more complex, than that tone-deaf headline. However, I think that headline does show you where the newspaper’s editors were coming from when they approved work on this important news feature story.

The surprising bottom line, however, is that Gomez — whose roots are in Opus Dei — has not turned out to be a rampaging monster out to destroy Mahony’s work as one of the heroes of progressive American Catholicism. Part of this, yes, is a matter of style. Yet the story also hints that the bottom line is clear for those who have eyes to see: Mahony was a political animal who was always seeking the media spotlight; Gomez thinks the best way to achieve Catholic goals is to quietly use Catholic means, year after year after year.

Thus, readers are told, right up top:

In more than two decades leading the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Cardinal Roger Mahony headlined immigration rallies, marched for worker rights and made national news by announcing he would defy a congressional bill he regarded as anti-immigrant.

But the man who replaced him in 2011 — Archbishop Jose Gomez — has shied away from such attention-getting actions. Instead, he plans to take 60 conservative Catholic business leaders on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City this fall in hopes of winning them over on immigration reform.

It’s a distinctly different style from that of Mahony, whom Pope John Paul II nicknamed “Hollywood” for his frequent media appearances.

In other words, both men are highly committed to helping immigrants, a crucial issue in America’s largest Catholic archdiocese — 4.5 million Roman Catholics in 120 cities in Southern California, with Latinos as 70 percent of the faithful. However, Gomez appears to be reaching out to Catholic leaders on these issues through worship and Catholic education, perhaps with few television cameras nearby.

Still, I think that this passage does raise an interesting journalistic question: Did someone in the Gomez camp say that the goal of the trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was “winning” these business leaders “over on immigration reform”? Would Gomez state the goal in political, rather than spiritual terms? It’s hard to tell, since Gomez did not consent to be interviewed, which may or may not tell readers something about his view of the Times.

I found this passage especially interesting:

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