Not that long ago, our own Mark Kellner took at look at the New York Times coverage of a rather prestigious Catholic school in the Bronx that did something very controversial, at least in the newsroom of the great Gray Lady. The leaders of Cardinal Spellman High School invited a Catholic priest to speak at the school for a specific purpose — to defend Catholic moral teachings on sexuality.
The earth trembled. How could a Catholic school dare do such a thing?
I read the coverage, read Mark’s post and then moved on.
The problem, of course, is that there is more than one newspaper in the New York City area and, in this case, I later learned that it was crucial to pay attention to the coverage in The New York Daily News, as well. There have been several reports there on this controversy, but they are united by one truly horrible error.
You can see it right in this epic headline:
Spellman High School cancels talk by ‘pray away the gay’ preacher Donald Timone — but it’s only temporary
Father Trevor Nicholls suggests anti-gay father will be back. Gay groups and some staff outraged.
First of all, there are quite a few Christian groups that minister to gays and lesbians who voluntarily walk through their doors (as opposed to groups that, theoretically, would go out on the streets and kidnap people). I have been covering issues linked to these groups for several decades and, truth is, there is quite a bit of variety out there in terms of the doctrines that they teach and the strategies that they employ.
There are groups, especially among Pentecostals, who truly believe that, over time, God can heal each and every person who seeks healing from same-sex attraction. However, I have never heard of anyone claiming that all someone needs to do is say a prayer and that’s that. Not a single person. In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone claim that they prayed and prayed and were completely delivered from same-sex temptations. That’s the thing about real temptations. They are real and they hang around.
Here’s the key: In several decades of coverage of these issues, I have never heard anyone say that it is possible to “pray away the gay.” I literally have never heard the phrase used, except by critics of these ministries. So when this phrase is used, if it is ever used by journalists, it is extremely important to attribute this damning quote to someone specific. That’s an important rule in journalism, period, but especially when dealing with topics this controversial.
So if editors are going to start writing headlines such as, “‘Pray Away Gay’ priest at Cardinal Spellman,” it’s important to stop and ask the question: What did Father Donald Timone actually say and when did he say it?