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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Where’s the faith content in these sex scandals?

On one level, that New York Times feature story on the fall of Msgr. Kevn Wallin of Connecticut has everything one would want in a religion scandal. I mean, it’s got sex, crystal meth, Broadway show tunes and a hazy link to a future cardinal.

Consider this summary material:

At a time when priests from California to Delaware have been accused of loathsome deeds, the allegations against Monsignor Wallin, the former pastor of the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Bridgeport, are of a notably different dimension: that he was a drug dealer and addict who was buying an adult novelty shop to launder ill-gotten proceeds, a priest who was cross-dressing and having sex with men.

The enigmatic double lives of Monsignor Wallin burst into public view last month after federal prosecutors announced they had arrested him on charges of possessing and conspiring to sell drugs that could send him to prison for life. Now 61, he languishes in jail, having pleaded not guilty to behavior that many who know him find both twisted and ungraspable.

Or how about this?

After his departure, church officials found a bag stowed in the rectory containing adult pornographic videos, sexual toys and leather masks, according to church workers.

Alarmed at the possibility of child pornography or child abuse, the diocese hired an outside lawyer. The diocese said Monsignor Wallin was questioned and denied interest in children. An expert searched his computer, but found nothing related to children.

The diocese decided it had a priest who had committed a sin but not a crime.

Anyway, I think that we will skip the part about the “lace panties and other articles of women’s clothing” in his laundry.

The journalistic question, for me, is this: What about the actual content of this talented clergyman’s faith and ministry? I mean, was he one of those priests who was silent on the church’s teachings? Was he a progressive who gently undercut the doctrines of the church? Was he a traditionalist to preached one thing, while secretly living a life that completely contradicted the doctrines he had vowed to defend? Was he high church or low church?

Readers don’t get much on that side of the equation, which is strange since many unnamed Catholic leaders — we are told — believed that this man was on his way to being a bishop.

I mean, we are told that he was “erudite” and that the faithful “felt buoyed by his homilies.” He apparently loved to talk about church history and to take people on pilgrimages of some kind or another (other than to the opera and Broadway shows). Then there was this interesting paragraph that combined both sides of his life in a mysterious and unexplained manner:

Monsignor Wallin’s fall seems precipitous. But colleagues said that his faith had been weakening for years under the imperatives of running a financially crippled church, and that he had long been sexually active with men. His drug use, they suspect, may have been more recent, and the final tinder that exploded his life.

And then there is this glimpse of spiritual issues:

“His lifestyle was go-go-go-go, doing 50 things at once,” said a businessman who knew him. “He loved to mix with the big shots.”

But there was evidence he was wrestling with his faith. A church worker who has known him for decades described a session with other priests years ago during which they spoke of things like the mercy of God, and Monsignor Wallin said, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“He had become disillusioned with the bureaucracy of the church,” this worker said. “You’re always doing the ceremony. You’re always dealing with the paperwork. You’re not shepherding souls.”

But the fact everyone agrees on was that, before the drugs, before his mental breakdown, there was always his double life in which he was violating his oath of celibacy. So whatever his approach to the Catholic faith, it was one in which his public, celebrated priesthood was mixed with his life as a sexually active homosexual and church officials close to him seemed to have known about that, according to the Times.

So there is a crucial question here, once again.

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Unnecessary words and the Vatican’s ‘gay lobby’

YouTube Preview ImageYesterday a reader tweeted that The Guardian was clearly trying to insinuate that Pope Benedict XVI is compromised in some way, resigning in disgrace. The headline:

Papal resignation linked to inquiry into ‘Vatican gay officials’, says paper 

Pope’s staff decline to confirm or deny La Repubblica claims linking ‘Vatileaks’ affair and discovery of ‘blackmailed gay clergy’

Sounds deliciously scandalous! The long and the short of it is that some claim there’s a shadowy “gay lobby” in the Vatican, blackmail was involved and such dark forces may have factored into Benedict XVI’s decision to resign. David Gibson over at Religion News Service ruins the fun by saying there’s not much to the report:

I’m one of those who would say this is pretty massively overplayed. For one thing, Benedict’s resignation was most certainly the result of numerous factors, mainly revolving around the internal problems of the Vatican, of which sexual shenanigans were likely one — but hardly the only one, or even the principal one. His advancing age was the element that pushed it all to the brink.

The other thing is that Benedict would receive the Captain Louis Renault Award (see below) if he were to declare himself “shocked” that gay men inhabit the priesthood and hierarchy, and of course the Vatican itself.

So that’s where I got the art for this post! As for criticizing The Guardian, I’m not sure it was doing much more than just reporting on some salacious and unsubstantiated gossip in La Repubblica. But the ultimate paragraph in The Guardian piece did make me laugh:

The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals. But it teaches that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered”. Pope Benedict has barred sexually active gay men from studying for the priesthood.

Anyone want to spot the unnecessary word there? Who wants to tell the Guardian about the celibacy requirement for priests? They’re going to be s.h.o.c.k.e.d. to find out, I bet.

Back to La Repubblica report, you simply must read John Allen’s analysis of it in the National Catholic Reporter (but, then again, you must read nearly everything Allen writes). He says there may be something to it. In so doing, he also explains some interesting media tips:

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Day 2: Pope still extremely Catholic

I hope everyone is having a blast with Day 2 of Papalpalooza. I’ve actually enjoyed some of the media coverage I’ve come across but we all know what happens when I post on good stuff.

<crickets>

Right. So let’s look at other approaches taken.

I know it’s The Guardian but I did like the transparency of this piece, which reads something like a parody of how the mainstream media treat the Roman Catholic Church. Headline:

Next pope’s in-tray: five key issues for the Catholic church

With Pope Benedict XVI announcing his intention to step down, we look at the pressing matters awaiting his successor

And I’m sure you will be surprised that the five issues are contraception, sexual abuse in the church, same-sex marriage, abortion and women. It’s like the newspaper was talking about the only five topics it permits discussion of when it comes to the Catholic Church instead of, you know, the Catholic Church’s pressing matters that await the papal successor. But illuminating none-the-less.

For a more sophisticated version of that piece, you might want to read the Washington Post‘s piece headlined “In picking successor, Vatican must decide what’s needed in a 21st-century pope.” It’s actually a great read overall and I don’t want this criticism to overshadow that. But the priorities put forth in the piece when it comes to cultural issues say more about what ails media coverage of the church than what ails the coverage of the church itself. The first three paragraphs of the analysis piece (is it analysis? It reads as such but I don’t know if it’s marked as such) are great:

In the eight years since Pope Benedict took office, the divisions in the Catholic world have become more solidified. The West, including Europe and the United States, has been locked in a culture war over contraception, homosexuality and the role of women in the church, among other issues. Meanwhile, more theologically traditional Catholics in Africa and parts of Asia have fueled much of the church’s growth, threatening a standoff with Islam.

That is the media’s war, no doubt. They wage it faithfully day after day after wearying day. I’m not entirely sure it’s one engaged in by many Catholics. I wonder if the media gets just what a narrow and distorted presentation of church life they present.

By the way, the next paragraph in the piece is:

In other words, the next pope will have to carefully pick his audience and decide how best to communicate with it without alienating the rest of the faith’s followers.

The second time I read that, I read it imagining a bunch of journalists in a dark room, licking their lips, rolling their hands over and laughing. That’s really unfair, I’m sure — and not just because the article immediately transitions to a discussion of how papacies are about focus. I think it’s just a telling reaction that illuminates a breakdown in trust with certain readers.

Here’s a telling couple of paragraphs:

Catholic debate in the United States often centers on issues such as whether the church should allow the ordination of women or married priests. But those are not the debates of the cardinals, all of whom were picked by Benedict or his like-minded predecessor, Pope John Paul II. They are in agreement on such matters as allowing female priests, contraception, or equality for gay men and lesbians: no, no and no.

The real factors behind the selection of a new pope are “not the kind of stuff that comes up on talk shows,” said John L. Allen Jr., who has written seven books on the Catholic Church and popes.

Oh that every reporter in the land would read that John Allen quote and ruminate on whether he’s talking about them!

As for the preceding paragraph, what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is that? I mean, first off, the media may have done an excellent job of convincing themselves that redefining marriage is about nothing more or less than who believes gay men and lesbians are “equal.” They have done an excellent job of closing their minds when it comes time to listen to any other arguments — much less giving them accurate, fair play in news coverage. Any way that you want to look at it, that paragraph was not, to put it mildly, a fair characterization of church teaching on the dignity of all people. It was not good journalism.

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At Obama inauguration, not all religion is biblical

Yesterday was a big day for the country, with the second inauguration of President Barack H. Obama. The president gave a very important speech and the media are, excitedly, poring over it. But how were the day’s religion angles covered?

One of the more interesting angles deals with homosexuality. Not only was a pastor dismissed from the program because he spoke 20 years ago of homosexuality in terms of sinfulness, but affirmation of homosexuality was something of a requirement for participation in the public square yesterday. While mainstream media reporters — who are among the most important elites to affirm homosexuality — have noticed one side of that equation, fewer have noted the religiosity of that affirmation or what it means for those who hold to traditional Scriptural views on sexuality. The thoughtful reporter Amy Sullivan being a notable exception here.

But let’s just stick to the speech itself. I’m not one of those reporters who faints or gets a tingle up the leg at any president and I didn’t even get to hear the speech because my children were shouting at me to turn it off. But even so, I think it’s fair to say the speech was remarkable. You can read the text or watch it here. You might not be as effusive with your praise as, say, the New York Times is in its front page story headlined (best to read this as if flushed or slightly out of breath): “Inaugural Stresses Theme of Civil and Gay Rights — Safety Net Praised” — but you can still acknowledge it was an important speech laying out the case for a strong federal government.

Reader Jerry wrote in last night:

Here’s a challenge. Find a mainstream report about today’s inauguration that says what Mark Shields said tonight on the PBS News hour or mentions religion outside of the historical significance of the Bibles that were used. Of course the RNS does but the mainstream media? Ghost city.

Well, Religion News Service is definitely a mainstream media outlet and it aims to present news objectively and without a sectarian point of view. But I get Jerry’s point — it’s an outlet that seeks out religion angles.

Here’s PBS: [Read more...]

Affirm homosexuality now … or else

Washington Post Book World fiction editor Ron Charles tweeted out this morning:

Changing times: Gay inaugural poet hailed; anti-gay inaugural preacher dismissed: ow.ly/gJopc, ow.ly/gJotK

And the links go to just that — stories about the hailing of a gay poet and about a Christian pastor who taught traditional Christian doctrine on homosexuality twenty years ago being disinvited from the inauguration.

Yes, changing times.

These are times that have been advocated strenuously for by the mainstream media. Many journalists don’t try to hide that fact and have been candid about this advocacy. We have covered their admissions here before. (See here, here, here, here)

And much of the current situation — where teaching what Christians outside of the Episcopal Church (and other churches that have recently changed their doctrines) teach about human sexuality makes you a pariah to be shunned — could have easily been predicted.

It was predicted, by many cultural observers (albeit the kind who don’t get glowing profiles in the same mainstream media).

As I prepare to look through the various stories (and of those that I’ve read, many are just fine explanations of the situation while some are more like Orwellian defenses of the inaugural committee’s understanding of tolerance), I have a simple question.

How well do you think the mainstream media explained the ramifications of their advocacy on this topic (and the advocacy of other elites on same) on Christians in the public square?

Medieval warrior, staring at you via Shutterstock.

New York Times on gay Pakistan

Altogether now, let’s chant:

World Ends Tomorrow: Women and Minorities Hit Hardest!

Mort Sahl is usually credited with coining this “fake but accurateNew York Times headline. Though offered as sarcasm, Sahl’s joke has survived for 25 years because it encapsulates the world view many critics see in the Gray Lady’s reporting. The Time‘s intellectual outlook, its weltanschauung, is of an insular urban American establishment. Though this viewpoint is often expressed in the espousal of liberal politics — that is but a surface manifestation of the problem of Times reporting. The deeper issue is of a lack of awareness of issues and beliefs outside the ken of its reporters/readers — an incurious provincialism.

Last week’s 1400-word story on gays in Pakistan is an example of this problem. The article entitled “Gay Pakistanis, Still in Shadows, Seek Acceptance” looks at efforts of the gay subculture of Pakistan to achieve acceptance. There is a great deal to recommend in this story in terms of its local color, characters, and quotes. The “on the spot” work is well done.

Here is the lede:

LAHORE, Pakistan — The group meets irregularly in a simple building among a row of shops here that close in the evening. Drapes cover the windows. Sometimes members watch movies or read poetry. Occasionally, they give a party, dance and drink and let off steam.

A street in bustling Lahore. Displays of affection between men in public, like hugging and holding hands, are a common sight.

The group is invitation only, by word of mouth. Members communicate through an e-mail list and are careful not to jeopardize the location of their meetings. One room is reserved for “crisis situations,” when someone may need a place to hide, most often from her own family. This is their safe space — a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis.

“The gay scene here is very hush-hush,” said Ali, a member who did not want his full name used. “I wish it was a bit more open, but you make do with what you have.”

That is slowly changing as a relative handful of younger gays and lesbians, many educated in the West, seek to foster more acceptance of their sexuality and to carve out an identity, even in a climate of religious conservatism.

Homosexual acts remain illegal in Pakistan, based on laws constructed by the British during colonial rule. No civil rights legislation exists to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

But the reality is far more complex, more akin to “don’t ask, don’t tell” than a state-sponsored witch hunt. For a long time, the state’s willful blindness has provided space enough for gays and lesbians. They socialize, organize, date and even live together as couples, though discreetly.

This is well written in the sense of nicely constructed story line, vivid language, and detail. The author’s sympathies are clearly with its subjects — which is not surprising given the Times‘ outlook.

But there is so much that is unasked or unexplored in this story. And coupled with its dubious philosophical underpinnings it means the story just does not hang together. Let’s deal with the low hanging fruit among my criticisms first.  The news that there is a gay subculture in Pakistan is hardly new. Western media outlets have written about this for years. The Times article is a nice color piece on the current state of affairs, but is not groundbreaking. Not all stories can be original or fresh, but this one, unlike NPR‘s 2004 story, has missed the role of religion — Islam — in the debate.

It is true to say that Pakistan’s sodomy law was crafted by the British in 1860. Section 377 states:

whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.crimes against nature.

Yes I too wonder about the Victorians at times. The penal codes of India, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and Jamaica contain the same language in their sodomy laws as Pakistan and are even labeled Section 377, while the laws of almost all of the Commonwealth nations had or have sodomy laws based upon this language. What is missing in this throw away line about the British being responsible for Section 377 is the introduction of Sharia law in Pakistan.

There are two legal codes at work in Pakistan — the secular British based Section 377 which is hardly ever used — and the modern Sharia law code which is.

The 2010 edition of the Spartacus International Gay Guide, a guidebook for male homosexual travelers, states with regard to the legal framework pertaining to homosexual activity and the situation of LGBT persons in Pakistan:

Homosexual activity is illegal, punishable according to Islamic Laws which were re-introduced in 1990 and according to paragraph 377 with life in prison, corporal punishment of 100 lashes or even death by stoning. Despite the strict laws of Islam regarding moral standards, gay men, transvestites and transsexuals live relatively undisturbed from the police. On the other hand they cannot expect much protection from the authorities. (p. 98)

At the tail end of the story, the Times reports on the U.S. State Department’s foray into the sexual politics of Pakistan.

That clash of ideologies was evident last year on June 26, when the American Embassy in Islamabad held its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride celebration. The display of support for gay rights prompted a backlash, setting off demonstrations in Karachi and Lahore, and protesters clashing with the police outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. This year, the embassy said, it held a similar event but did not issue a news release about it.

What the Times omitted to say was who was protesting and why. Getting an anti-American crowd going in Islamabad is not that difficult, but the Associated Press story about the incident stated it was religious leaders who were leading the the “Death to the Great Satan” crowds this time round. The AP wrote:

The group, which included the head of Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, claimed the meeting — the first of its kind held by the embassy — was the second most dangerous attack by the U.S. against Pakistan, following missiles fired from unmanned drones. … “Such people are the curse of society and social garbage,” said the statement issued by the Islamic officials on Sunday. “They don’t deserve to be Muslim or Pakistani, and the support and protection announced by the U.S. administration for them is the worst social and cultural terrorism against Pakistan.”

By omitting to discuss Islam and homosexuality, and by not presenting the opposing view (disagreeable as it may be for the author) the Times has failed to report accurately. It also missed the opportunity of addressing the question: “How came there to be a tolerant attitude towards homosexuality in Pakistan given the Islamic culture of the country?”

The answer is … Islam in Pakistan has changed over the past generation. The tolerant Sufi-dominated Islam of the past has given way to a Saudi Wahhabist Islam. In sum, not only does the Times fail to address the role religion plays in current attitudes towards gays and lesbians in Pakistan, it also fails to address how and why the current attitudes arose.

There is also a missed opportunity to explore what is hinted at by the discussion of the gay and lesbian identity. The Times notes that the “younger gays and lesbians, many educated in the West” differ from the older generation — but also differ from the rural and less affluent or educated persons with the same sexual orientation or nature.

What we have here is the Times defining sexuality such that true gayness is found only in its Western version. Older, rural, less sophisticated persons with same-sex attractions need to evolve — to come up to the Times‘ standards of conduct and thinking. At heart, this article fails because of its blinkered vision of human autonomy.

As journalism the story is weak — no contrary views, no context, no religion — as a moral/intellectual enterprise it is blue-stockinged, blinkered and bourgeois.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.


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