Did Father Donald Timone ever say, ‘Pray away the gay’?

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?

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‘Dozens of pastors’ not quoted in front-page story

Readers of The Oklahoman, my hometown newspaper and one-time employer, awoke today to a banner, front-page story on controversy over a play opening in Oklahoma City this week.

Yes, there’s a potentially strong religion angle (once you get past the junior-highish lede):

Jane, a scarf around her shoulders, works out a dance scene.

Mabel enters the room from backstage, a plastic container filled with snickerdoodles in hand. The cookies are a hit with cast and crew.

So begins a rehearsal for the play dozens of pastors have labeled
“gross pornography” and a Christmas-season affront to Christian values.

“The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” opens Thursday at CitySpace, a small, spare theater in the basement of the Civic Center Music Hall.

Dozens of pastors, huh?

As a reader, I’m immediately curious: Who are these pastors? I’d love to see some names. And, of course, I’d love to see some quotes.

But as I kept reading (the main story as well as the “Fact-checking pastors’ claims” sidebar that appeared with the jump), guess how many pastors The Oklahoman actually named?

Exactly one pastor, if you count this reference:

State Rep. Dan Fisher, a Republican who is a pastor in Yukon, first said Christian leaders would pressure city leaders to block the production.

For those unfamiliar with the play, here’s how the writer summarizes it:

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Pod people: LA Times cheers for United Methodist ‘reform’

If readers want to know where The Los Angeles Times stands on the issues the loomed over the United Methodist Church trial of the Rev. Frank Schaefer, all they have to do is read one summary passage in a recent update.

Schaefer, GetReligion readers will recall, was on trial for violating his ordination vows, in which he promised to defend the “order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline” of his local, national and global church. He broke his ordination vows by performing a marriage rite for his son and another man.

Thus, the crucial Los Angeles Times passage:

… Schaefer’s United Methodist Church does not tolerate same-sex marriage, and Schaefer has become the latest poster child in the fight between reformists and traditionalists, who after learning of the wedding took Schaefer to a church court this month and won. After an emotionally charged trial, a jury of fellow pastors convicted Schaefer of breaking church law and suspended him for 30 days for performing the April 2007 marriage of his son in Massachusetts.

Now, he faces a choice: loyalty to church doctrine, or loyalty to his son and to other gay men and women who might ask him to perform marriages in the future.

OK, three cheers for a rare mainstream media reference to the word “doctrine,” which — properly so — is included along with the obligatory reference to the trivial sounding term “rules.”

But it’s all right there in the phrase stating that this is a “fight between reformists and traditionalists.”

Say what? This is a biased wording that plunges right past the problems in Schaefer trial coverage that host Todd Wilken and I discussed in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to listen in).

Open your local cyber dictionary and you will find this information:

re·form: verb …

: to improve (someone or something) by removing or correcting faults, problems, etc.

In other words, this is not a battle between people who want to defend church traditions and those who want to “change,” “liberalize” or even “modernize” them. This is a battle in which one side — by the word chosen by the Times — are merely attempting to remove or correct an error, a fault, in the teachings of their church and, by proxy, two millennia of church history.

There is, in other words, a good side here and a bad side and there is no need for journalistic coverage that treats both sides in a fair and accurate manner.

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WPost listens to half of the great United Methodist debate

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After years of covering the sexuality wars in America’s oldline denominations, I am well aware that different camps within these churches interpret the rites and vows of their traditions in different ways. The wordings in their rites have been known to change from decade to decade, as well.

Still, one can state with certainty that in the rite in which he was ordained as a minister in the United Methodist Church, the Rev. Frank Schaefer spoke the following words or words very similar to them:

Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and are the unique and authoritative standard for the church’s faith and life?

I am so persuaded, by God’s grace. …

Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?

I will, with the help of God.

Now, there’s a ton of tradition and content packed into those crucial words “order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline” and, yes, there are plenty of people in the highly diverse local, regional, national and global reality that is United Methodism that interpret these words in radically different ways.

Nevertheless, it is a factual statement that United Methodist ministers, including Schaefer, vow — at the very least — to accept and defend the church’s doctrines.

Thus, the language used at the top of the following Washington Post story is loaded, to say the least. Also, the headline frames the story in a way that favors one side of this bitter global debate, as well, stating: “Methodist pastor found guilty at church trial for officiating at gay son’s wedding.”

Well, yes, that was the act that was at the heart of the trial. That fact as never in dispute.

The key to the trial — at the level of arguments and facts — was that this minister was found guilty of violating the vows that he willingly took when he chose to be ordained into a specific religious tradition. He was found guilty of breaking his own vow to defend the doctrines of the faith.

Nevertheless, here is the Post lede:

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AP badly flubs Catholic teaching

The media’s obsession with sexualityism is somehow getting even more pronounced. We have a backlog of stories to look at.

But here’s a quick example of how shoddy the coverage is, this time from the Associated Press:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to sign a bill Monday barring licensed therapists from trying to make gay minors straight.

There are so many questions I have about this. So many questions not answered in this brief AP report. One might be how this bill handles treatment of minors who have unwanted same-sex attraction. Does this ban affect their treatment options? How so?

In any case, that’s not why I mention the story. Here’s the portion that fails utterly:

In a signing note accompanying the bill obtained by The Associated Press that will be made public Monday, Christie says he believes people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin. That view is inconsistent with his Catholic faith.

Really?

How so?

AP preaches this interpretation of Catholic teaching from the pulpit but provides … no substantiation. So we can’t know why AP is making this statement. I’m really curious how in the world that view is inconsistent with his Catholic faith. That church teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin but that homosexual acts are. And as for people being born gay, a doctrinal view of key importance in the church of sexualityism, neither is that view “inconsistent” with Catholic teaching. The church even puts its teaching on the matter online so AP reporters and others can check.

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Pope Francis’ 1st miracle: media coverage of mercy

A day after Popocalypse 2013 happened, we have the actual transcript of the remarks that got journalists worldwide going. And it’s safe to say that a quick read of it gives a different impression than the headlines or tweets that blasted out the news.

But, hey, we are a culture of tweets and headlines, not contextualized remarks, so does it even matter? If it matters to you, here’s the relevant discussion on the Vatican’s “gay lobby.” Actually, let’s go ahead and look at them here:

The question posed to Pope Francis was:

Ilse: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question.  Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life.  I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question.  How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?

Here is Pope Francis’ answer:

Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation.  And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him.  We found none of that.  That is the answer.  But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the “sins of youth,” for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.

But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing.  That is the first question.  Then you spoke of the gay lobby.  Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby.  I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay.  They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!

So many interesting things to reflect on, upon seeing a bit of context. For example, why did so many media outlets omit the few words between “If a person is gay” and “who am I to judge that person?” Or why was his appeal to the catechism elided or ignored? Not the biggest deal in the world, but interesting. My point, made yesterday, seems vindicated with Francis’ line “This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.”

Very Christian stuff here. Breaking: Pope Catholic. So let’s look at how the New York Times views these remarks:

On Gay Priests, Pope Francis Asks, ‘Who Am I to Judge?’

ROME — For generations, homosexuality has largely been a taboo topic for the Vatican, ignored altogether or treated as “an intrinsic moral evil,” in the words of the previous pope.

In that context, brief remarks by Pope Francis suggesting that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation, made aboard the papal airplane on the way back from his first foreign trip, to Brazil, resonated through the church. Never veering from church doctrine opposing homosexuality, Francis did strike a more compassionate tone than that of his predecessors, some of whom had largely avoided even saying the more colloquial “gay.”

For those readers paying attention at home, yes, Francis really used the English word “gay” while speaking otherwise in Italian. It’s an interesting lede, eh? More for what it says about the Times than what it says about Francis. The same story could have begun: “Condemning homosexuals acts as sinful, Pope Francis repeats the call of previous popes and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to treat homosexuals with dignity.” That it doesn’t say that tells us something interesting about journalists’ reaction to Francis.

Elizabeth Scalia had a really interesting take on that over at First Things where she praised the media coverage, in a way.

[N]othing Francis actually said about homosexuality was new. In fact, in these two quotes Francis is doing nothing more than pronouncing long-standing Catholic teaching on homosexuality, sin, and the mercy of God.

Let that sink in for a moment: A pope is teaching the Christian faith, and the press is accurately quoting him, in blazing headlines that everyone will read.

I completely agree with Scalia. It’s kind of cool that Francis is getting the media to report on Christian teaching of the forgiveness of sins. For that miracle alone, he should be canonized in a few decades. For just one example of this, check out this NBC News report.

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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:

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Boy Scouts: Hollywood vs. some vague army of Americans

On one level, the recent Reuters “special report” on the financial issues haunting the 10,600-acre Summit Bechtel Family National Reserve in West Virginia breaks quite a bit of new and important ground about the current challenges faced by the Boy Scouts of America. It’s a must read and it’s clear that this expensive project is — to one degree or another — in trouble.

But on another level, it’s just plain haunted. Period.

The larger context for this hot-button story is crucial, of course.

BSA membership totals are down and, to its credit, the Reuters team includes one fact on that front that has been missing in most other reports about this era in Boy Scout life — the reality that an organization offering camping, exercise, family values and wholesome educational projects is being forced to compete with the video game and Internet culture. Are there merit badges for hitting top levels in Halo and World of Warcraft?

The story also, of course, has to deal with the ticking time bomb of gay rights and the attempts by Boy Scout leaders to please the cultural, moral and religious left. Here is one of the crucial passages:

The Summit shortfall is part of a broader financial crunch facing the Boy Scouts as the organization shrinks. That decline has been exacerbated by the protracted gay-membership battle. A compromise adopted by Scout leaders in May — allow gay youth, but not gay adults — appears to be doing little so far to ease the pressure.

Conservative troops are threatening to secede; one splinter group said this week it is forming a rival to the Scouts. Liberal troops are meanwhile establishing more-inclusive policies. Many corporate donors continue to sit on the sidelines, even as some regional Scout councils face severe deficits, according to Boy Scout executives and council members across the country.

“We cannot support an organization that has a policy that is discriminatory,” said Joanne Dwyer, a spokeswoman for CVS Caremark, which stopped all funding to local Boy Scout councils and the national organization a decade ago.

The story does a very good job of describing the powerful legal, financial and cultural forces that are pushing against the Boy Scout leadership from the left. Special attention is given — and justifiably so — to the cultural principalities and powers based near that big white sign on a hillside in Southern California. Want to drop a big name?

Will the Boy Scouts ever be able to get a returned phone call from ET’s master? How about the Middle American powers that be at The United Way?

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