Generic person of God (or gods) busted for selling fake art

So, if you read a news report about a politician who did something really stupid or really bad — illegal even — what is the first question that would leap into your mind?

Right. You’d want to know what kind of politician, what brand of politician, the story was talking about. Ditto for all kinds of other cultural figures, from scholars, to musicians, to business people or to any other kind of work frequented by a wide variety of people who believe a wide variety of different things.

Thus, a former GetReligionista emailed us the URL for an interesting New York Times piece, but it’s a piece with a rather strange hole in the middle of its facts. The headline:

Pastor Who Tried to Sell Fake Damien Hirst Paintings Is Sentenced to 6 Months

Nothing all that unusual there, methinks. But let’s move on to take a look at the top of the story:

A Florida pastor who was convicted of trying to sell fake Damien Hirst paintings to an undercover police officer was sentenced on Monday to six months in jail and five years of probation.

Justice Bonnie G. Wittner of State Supreme Court in Manhattan said a jail sentence was warranted because the pastor, Kevin Sutherland, had chosen to sell the works to a person he believed was a New York collector shortly after the Sotheby’s auction house said one of the paintings could not be authenticated.

Nothing usual so far, right?

But before we proceed, let’s pause and ask — for unenlightened folks who live far from New York City — a relevant question: Who is Damien Hirst and why is the term “enfant terrible” so frequently attached to his name in modern-art circles? And, oh, what is the postmodern theological statement attached to that dead Tiger Shark at the top of this post?

[Read more...]

AP’s not-too-religious airport chaplain story

The entire long Thanksgiving weekend, it’s widely reported, is the busiest air-travel season in the United States. So, it’s not too difficult to imagine human interest stories about life in and around major airports, which The Associated Press rightly declares are “mini-cities” with a life and culture all their own, right down to a local church or, in most cases, an interfaith chapel.

Said chapels are staffed by either volunteer or paid chaplains, and that’s where the AP comes in with an interesting discovery: they may be called “Reverend,” but from the AP’s telling, these folks aren’t all that, well, religious.

Here’s the top of the report:

ATLANTA – The Rev. Frank Colladay Jr. stood at the end of the gate waiting. On the arriving plane was a passenger whose husband had just died of a heart attack on another flight. Her name was Linda Gilbert. The two had never met before.

Colladay’s parish happens to be the world’s busiest airport. His flock consists of people passing through who might need comfort, spiritual advice, or someone to pray with.

On this day, a traumatized Gilbert needed even more. Colladay guided her through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, drove her in his silver Ford Fusion to the medical examiner to see her husband’s body and arranged for a flight home for both of them.

“He didn’t say a whole lot. But just his presence being there, it just felt comforting and reassuring,” Gilbert says. “I didn’t know that airports have chaplains.”

Although some headlines on this widely published story almost hinted at an almost Kevorkian-esque tone — “Airport chaplains help fliers reach heaven,” the Redwood Times of Garberville, Calif., topped it — that’s about the only mention of heaven, or anything else religious here, albeit with some contradictions:

They aren’t at airports to proselytize and — surprisingly — very few passengers confess to a fear of flying. Often, they just roam terminals offering a friendly face and occasional directions. Some walk up to seven miles a day.

“When I came into the job, my predecessor said you have to buy good shoes,” says the Rev. Jean-Pierre Dassonville, a Protestant who just retired after 12 years at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris.

Chaplains need outgoing personalities. They have to recognize the signs that something is wrong and know how to approach strangers.

The Rev. Wina Hordijk, a Protestant minister at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, recently saw a teenage girl sitting by herself, crying. The girl was supposed to travel throughout Europe with her boyfriend, but he dumped her at the start of the trip.

“I always have a lot of handkerchiefs in my bag,” Hordijk says.

A “Protestant.” That’s pretty vague. On the other hand:

[Read more...]

Rise of the tiny church, with its no-cost clergyperson

In recent decades mainstream journalists have spilled oceans of ink — with good cause — on stories about the declining number of men entering the Catholic priesthood. Fewer and older men are trying to serve a flock that is rapidly changing in ethnic makeup, while membership totals have continued a slow rise (largely due to Latino numbers).

So what is the next subject linked to that story? The rising number of permanent, married Catholic deacons.

While all eyes have been on the Catholic front lines a major change has been unfolding in the world of mainline Protestantism, where membership numbers continue to decline while the donor base of active members is also rapidly aging. The bottom line: There is no easy, painless way to slice a shrinking pie.

This brings us to a very interesting story released recently by Religion News Service about a trend that, in many ways, is the liberal Protestant version of the rise of the married, permanent Catholic deacon. It’s an attempt to offer a positive reaction to a negative demographic (and some would argue doctrinal) wave.

So your denomination is rapidly aging, having a below-replacement number of babies, losing quite a few active members in an age of doctrinal conflict and facing the decline of some American regions that have previously been strongholds. What to do? This brings us to Mark Marmon, who will soon be ordained as a no-cost Episcopal priest for a small, and surprisingly typical, parish in Texas. Here’s some crucial summary material from this newsy piece:

A 57-year-old fly fishing guide, Marmon, whose wife is a lawyer, says he doesn’t want or need a church salary. He belongs to a growing breed of mainline Protestant clergy who serve congregations in exchange for little or no compensation.

“We’re the frontline,” Marmon said. “If it weren’t for us, these churches would just roll up and die.”

Though small evangelical congregations have long relied on unpaid pastors, mainline churches haven’t. They’ve generally paid full-time or nearly full-time salaries, said Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist of religion. That’s changing, however, as churches face declining numbers and look to new ministry models to make ends meet. Thumma sees more mainliners cutting back to halftime or one-quarter-time packages for clergy, who increasingly work second jobs.

For some reason, it seems that it is much easier to track this trend at the level of a humble local diocese — let’s say Wyoming, or even Texas — than it is at the lofty national level. Much of the story focuses on the work of the 9-year-old Iona School for Ministry in Houston, down in Bible Belt territory, a region in which some Episcopal dioceses are actually holding their own.

It’s clear that this is an important story, and the RNS piece is packed with provocative info. However, I think it has at least one significant hole.

[Read more...]

Media obsession dangers: Pope and gay priests edition


Ermagerd, everybody! The Pope has renounced all church teaching on everything! Stop the presses! Start them again! Freak out!

That’s my impression of Twitter, online and broadcast and cable news today. From my morning read:

CBSNews: Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge” gay clergy? http://cbsn.ws/14dnXJD

BreakingNews: Pope Francis says he won’t judge priests for their sexual orientation – @AP http://apne.ws/17Oyvw2

Raushenbush: Pope Francis on Gays: Who am I to judge them? http://huff.to/12xEA1z

DavidCraryAP: #PopeFrancis reaches out to gays, says he won’t judge gay priests http://bit.ly/16tTmDo  by @AP #LGBT #Catholic

Biggest news story of the day. And why, exactly, is this news? Everyone agrees it’s news, but why? It would be news if he was changing church teaching on whether homosexual acts are sin, for instance. It would be news if he were changing church teaching on whether sexually active gay men should be priests, for instance. It would be news if he were changing church teaching on whether strong homosexual tendencies are a barrier to ordination. And, to be honest, no matter what was said it would be news even if the word “homosexual” or “gay” were uttered by Pope Francis, since that’s all that the media really care about these days. What, specifically, is the news?

I was glad I read the Associated Press story first because, setting aside the headline and lede, it included the minor detail that Pope Francis did not depart from traditional church teaching on sin and homosexuality. That was a detail left absent from most every other report I read:

ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT (AP) — Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

Could we all pause to agree that this is the best dateline in the history of datelines?

The distinction being suggested here is clear — the Vatican in 2005 said that deep-rooted homosexual tendencies are a barrier to priesthood. Now the Pope says that if you a priest who confesses to sexual sin, you should be forgiven and your sin forgotten. But is this the contradiction or change of policy the media fervently pray it is? I’m not sure. The original document signed by Benedict was about the formation of priests — in no way was it about not forgiving ordained priests who have sinned — sexually or otherwise. Likewise, Francis isn’t referring (at least as far as what’s been published to this point) to the formation of priests but, rather, about forgiving clergy who have sinned sexually.

Anyway, note the last line “gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.” What you’re seeing here is traditional Christian teaching both in terms of a clear understanding of what sin is and that sin is forgiven and forgotten. You can’t forgive, obviously, something which is not a sin. There would be no need to forgive and wipe away something that should be celebrated, right?

I’ve written before about how poorly the media understand forgiveness as a key Christian teaching. Yes, Christianity has for 2,000 years had an impossibly rigorous moral code that its adherents strive to follow. That these same adherents fail is not exactly news-breaking. It has been said that the life of the Christian is one of repentance. (To repent, by the way, means to turn away from. If one repents from a sin, that means they have turned away from the sin.) That the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about the forgiveness of these sins is — somehow, even after it has changed the hearts of billions of humans — the great under-covered story of those last few thousand years. Again, this forgiveness means something very little in a culture without sin. Thus, I guess, the confused stories coming out today.

One particularly bad story was out of USA Today, built off of an AP story:

[Read more...]

Public esteem for journalists sinking. Why?

I’m not ashamed to say that I love journalism. I’m elated that I get to work in this field and I love the work I get to do. I have high regard for the good that journalists’ accomplish, this week providing just one example. You can’t be a media critic without being aware of the downsides. Heck, it’s my job to look at problems with media coverage. And yet still, I am so very thankful for newspapers and media outlets that tell us about the world around us. When I read a story about an event or an interview, I try to remember what a blessing it is that someone was there and took the time to tell me about it.

But the fact is that public esteem for journalists is sinking. The Pew Research Center asks Americans about the contributions to society of various groups:

While there have been modest declines in public appreciation for several occupations, the order of the ratings is roughly the same as it was in 2009. Among the 10 occupations the survey asked respondents to rate, lawyers are at the bottom of the list. About one-in-five Americans (18%) say lawyers contribute a lot to society, while 43% say they make some contribution; fully a third (34%) say lawyers contribute not very much or nothing at all.

Compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38% in 2009 to 28% in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). About as many U.S. adults now say journalists contribute “not very much” or “nothing at all” to society (27%) as say they contribute a lot (28%).

The change in public perception of journalists is particularly noticeable and Pew looks into it:

The decline in public views about journalists’ contribution to society since 2009 is more pronounced among women than men. Roughly three-in-ten women (29%) say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being, down 17 percentage points from 46% in 2009. Men’s views on this are about the same today as they were in 2009.

The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

Unfortunately, we don’t know why the public holds journalists in such low esteem. I have my own theories, but I wonder what you think? And what are your own views on journalists’ contributions to society? What are some highs and lows you’ve witnessed?

[Read more...]

How to bury a link to the Catholic scandal of this age

Anyone who has followed the mainstream media’s coverage of the Catholic Church over the past decade or so knows that the biggest story out there — for perfectly valid reasons, let me stress — has been the latest wave of evidence that some members of the church hierarchy have hidden the sins and crimes of many clergy who have abused thousands of teens and children. These scandals have been drawing waves of coverage since the 1980s, although there are reporters out there who seem to think that this hellish pot of sin, sacrilege and clericism didn’t boil over until the revelations in Boston about a decade ago.

Let me stress, as your GetReligionistas have noted on numerous occasions, that this has been a scandal that has touched both the Catholic left and the right. To be perfectly blunt, quite a few Catholics on both sides of the theological spectrum have been hiding skeletons in their closets. If you have the stomach for it, the most intense, searing take on the scandal can be found in the book “Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church” by the conservative scholar Leon J. Podles.

With that in mind, it is interesting to take a careful look at the recent Associated Press feature marking the death of former Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond, Va.

What he have here is best described with the term “hagiography,” which one online dictionary defines as:

1: biography of saints or venerated persons

2: idealizing or idolizing biography

How did such a feature make it into global print, in an age in which Catholic leaders have faced — often with justification — withering scrutiny from the mainstream press? Let’s look at one or two chunks of this:

As the 11th bishop to head the Richmond diocese, Sullivan was known as one of the more progressive leaders in the Catholic church. He caused controversy by opening his churches to gays and lesbians, condemning wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and speaking out against the death penalty.

Under Sullivan, women found a greater role in the church as lectors and Eucharistic ministers, and seven of the diocese’s 145 parishes were run by women.

Sullivan also was instrumental in reaching out to minorities and other groups. Before he retired in 2003, the diocese had 24 advisory committees representing youth, women, homosexuals, blacks and senior citizens — all of which he consulted regularly.

The Commission on Sexual Minorities was the first official attempt by a Catholic diocese to reach out to homosexual parishioners when it was established in 1977. While it was not instantly accepted by many in the church, there were more than 40 commissions like it 20 years later. The commission was disbanded shortly after Bishop Francis DiLorenzo took over for Sullivan in 2004.

And further down in the piece, there is this bit of sacramental innovation:

He also helped found the Church of the Holy Apostles in Virginia Beach in 1977, a joint parish of the Catholic and Episcopal dioceses. Co-pastors conducted services at side-by-side altars — one for Catholics, the other for Episcopalians. … Last month, the Richmond diocese said the church could continue to longtime practice of allowing the blended church to remain under one roof, but it ordered clergy to devise a plan to meet in separate rooms for Holy Communion.

Finally, near the end, in the 16th paragraph, there is this nod to the elephant in the sacristy. The placement of this information is interesting, to say the least:

In the wake of the national sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church, Sullivan was chastised by many for not admitting that the Richmond diocese had had priests accused of molesting children in the 1970s and ’80s until after victims came forward. Three priests were ousted from the diocese in the wake of the national Catholic organization adopting new rules for dealing with allegations in 2002.

The “national Catholic organization”? Might that have something to do with the U.S. Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas and the resulting charter that, finally, offered some realistic strategies to force some of the shepherds to stop hiding the wolves who were abusing their spiritual sheep?

Why did the accusations against Sullivan, in this crucial matter, get pushed all the way down to the bottom of this rather long wire-service report?

Just asking. Meanwhile, in the very next paragraph, AP goes right back to the business of its fawning salute to Sullivan, a salute unmarred by the voices of any critics of his work, either here in America or in Rome.

“As a bishop, he took risks to try to create an atmosphere in the church where all literally all could find their place in the Church,” the Rev. Michael Renninger, now a priest at St. Mary Catholic Church in Richmond, told The Virginian-Pilot.

By the way, Catholic readers: Might anyone care to wager a guess where Sullivan went to seminary?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X