Shock: Bishops decide to defend Catholic tradition!

OK, let’s deal with some basic questions about Catholic bishops and politics.

In terms of basic journalism language, when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released pastoral documents about, oh, nuclear weapons, were these statements doctrinal or merely political?

When the bishops speak out on America’s actions abroad, let’s say in Iraq or the Middle East in general, are there statements doctrinal or merely political?

When the bishops release pastoral letters on issues of economic justice, are these statements merely political or are they rooted in Catholic social teachings, scripture and tradition? We should ask the same question about the bishops and their longstanding support of health-care reform. Yes, I know that politics can enter into the discussions of HOW BEST to pursue these aims, but no one wearing a bishop’s cross considers these goals to be mere politics.

How about discussions of abortion and euthanasia, topics that the Vatican has raised to the highest levels of doctrinal authority, arguing from the same theological principles as its teachings on the fundamental dignity of the poor, the suffering, the weak and, yes, the unborn. Is that mere politics? How about the death penalty? Immigration reform and the rights of immigrants? How about the deadly spiritual cancer of racism?

The bottom line, of course, is that journalists covering these kinds of Catholic statements and actions must attempt to recognize and grasp the doctrinal content linked to these public issues. Of course the bishops consider the political implications of their actions. But, in the end, they know that there are scriptures, traditions and doctrines that must be defended.

You see, in the ancient churches (hat tip to G.K. Chesterton) the saints have the right to vote. On many issues, the bishops cannot discuss whether or not to toss out 2,000 years of Christian tradition.

With that in mind, let’s look at the latest horror story from The Baltimore Sun, which is, alas, the home town newspaper whenever the bishops hold their meetings in the premier episcopal see of the Catholic Church here in America. By the way, when you get ready to click this link, pay attention to the actual content of the URL code. Interesting, right? And now the lede:

Meeting for the first time since voters in Maryland and two other states legalized same-sex marriage, members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Tuesday that they have no plans to soften their position that genuine marriage can occur only between one man and one woman.

They have “no plans to soften their position” on the definition of marriage? Who do the members of the Sun team think these bishops are, for heaven’s sake? Baptists? Episcopalians? Presbyterians? Free-church evangelicals? The actual issue, of course, is what strategy the bishops will choose to pursue in defending centuries of doctrine on this topic — first and foremost within their own complex and divided flock. That’s the heart of the story.

Yes, we must read on:

Over the past year, a variety of hot-button issues have put the church and its teachings in the public spotlight. While some activists this week urged the church to focus on its mission of aiding the poor instead of politics, church leaders started looking for better ways to articulate their positions and win converts to their stances on issues that have played out in the political arena. …

The bishops said they plan to refocus their opposition to a provision of President Barack Obama’s health care law that requires most employers, including religious institutions, to provide health insurance covering contraception.

Once again, the newspaper avoids the actual issue in the health-care fight. The bishops support health-care reform, as they have for decades. The issue is whether the government can mandate that Catholic institutions provide products and services to their own employees — people who voluntarily work for Catholic ministries or who choose to attend Catholic schools — that the church’s doctrines proclaim are sinful.

Looming in the background is an even larger Constitutional issue, which is whether the government can recognize one level of religious freedom when doctrines are linked to worship, while refusing to recognize the same level of religious liberty when doctrines lead to actions in religious ministries that interact with the public. Is a Catholic parish fundamentally more religious than a Catholic soup kitchen? Is a Catholic Sunday school Catholic, while a Catholic high school is not?

When reading this article, please look for evidence that the Sun team has any willingness to accurately quote the voices of activists on both sides of that debate. Does the Sun leadership know that this is the topic being debated, or are the editors convinced that this whole public-square fight — involving Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, evangelical Protestants and other traditionalists — is mere a political spat about politics, about opposition to the current occupant of the White House?

Was that the case with nuclear weapons, racism, poverty, the Iraqi war, health care, immigration, labor, the death penalty and other public issues?

Come on people, cover the real debates, including the ones that are rooted in eternal principles, as well as fleeting politics. Do some reading. Ask some tough questions to informed people on both sides.

Come on. It’s journalism. Give it a try.

Occupy Poitres

Le Figaro, Le Monde and Libération are France’s newspapers of record, the Presse de référence. While the national edition of Le ParisienAujourd’hui en France, may have a larger circulation, I believe that these three  best represent the voices of the French establishment: Le Figaro, the center right, Le Monde the center left, and Libération the left.

Yet French newspapers, like the French, are different from their American counterparts. The New York Times’ mantra “all the news that’s fit to print” which expresses the American concept of newspaper of record does not work for these publications. Nor are they written in the classical liberal style of Anglo-American journalism that places a premium on “fair and balanced reporting”. These three, along with most all French newspapers, are advocacy newspapers. They begin with a partisan stance on an issue and report on the news through that lens.

This article in Le Figaro is an example of European advocacy journalism. The story published on 20 Oct 2012 entitled  « Des identitaires occupent une mosquée de Poitiers » reports that a group young French nationalists, or nativists occupied the site of a mosque under construction in the city of Poitres.  They unfurled a banner with the phrase 732, Génération identitaire — a reference to the name of their organization and the date in which Charles Martel defeated a Moorish army that had invaded France — halting the expansion of Islam into Europe.

Before I dive into this article, I want to say I am not so much interested in the events in Poitres but in the reporting on the events. What I see in this story from a center-right newspaper on a religio-political topic is a typical example of advocacy reporting.

The article is Le Figaro‘s first report on the incident and is framed to show the newspaper’s dislike of Génération identitaire and their politics. It begins not with a description of events, but with a condemnation of the group by Socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. The who/what/when/where/why are cited in paragraphs two, three and four with the report that a mouvement d’extrême droite (extreme right) had occupied a mosque under construction in protest to the « l’islamisation de la France ».

 Jean-Marc Ayrault a «condamné fermement» samedi l’envahissement du chantier d’une future mosquée par une soixantaine de militants qui protestaient contre «l’islamisation de la France». Trois organisateurs ont été placés en garde à vue.

Une soixantaine de manifestants du mouvement d’extrême droite Génération identitaire ont occupé pendant quelques heures samedi matin le chantier d’une mosquée en construction à Buxerolles, à côté de Poitiers.

Les manifestants souhaitaient protester contre «l’islamisation de la France». Ils ont déployé une banderole sur le toit de l’établissement portant la mention «732, génération identitaire», en référence à l’année 732 où Charles Martel a arrêté la progression des troupes musulmanes au nord de Poitiers. «Nous ne voulons plus d’immigration extra-européenne ni de nouvelle construction de mosquée sur le sol français», est-il indiqué sur le site de Génération identitaire.

Here is a links to an English-language France 24 report on the issue. And for a sympathetic account, here is a story from Frontpage magazine.

Le Figaro then moves on to a litany of objections, denunciations and complaints against Génération identitaire. The prosecutor of Poitiers, Nicolas Jacquet, lists the crimes the Occupy Poitres movement have committed. The prime minister is quoted as having “strongly condemned” the action which was an act of “aggression against the Republic and its values.” The minister of the interior is quoted as saying his ministry will deal with the group with the “utmost firmness”, while the Socialist and Communist Party leaders have called for a ban on the group and their prosecution for “incitement to racial hatred.” And not to be outdone, the Radical Party said that calls to end immigration of Muslims from North Africa to France “are poisons that divide our society.”

The second day story from Le Figaro continues in this line. « Mosquée occupée: quatre militants en garde à vue » reports that four leaders of the group of 73 young people remain in jail. On top of this news is a condemnation of their temerity in protesting against the virtues of multi-culturalism.

What is wrong with this, you might ask? From an advocacy journalism perspective, nothing at all.  The reader is given sufficient facts and told what to think about the incident. The voice of Le Figaro is the voice of God, or reason (this being France after all) and one must believe.

The voice not being heard is that of Génération identitaire.  The group has a website, and has even translated its materials and proclamations into English. Nor did Le Figaro solicit voices from the French political establishment that might agree with the viewpoint, if not the tactics, of Génération identitaire. There is nothing from the Front national, the Mouvement National Républicain or the Mouvement pour la France.

Is it accurate, or fair to say that opposition to immigration is a conservative or “far right” phenomena? Have not trade unions historically been opponents of immigration? While the Front national, Mouvement National Républicain and Mouvement pour la France oppose the Islamisation of France, they do not share a common economic policy or foreign policy.  The Front national is protectionist and socialist on economic issues while the other two support classical liberal economic policies — free markets. Which policy determines whether your are right wing — immigration, economics, foreign affairs?

In light of the enthusiasm many newspapers felt for Occupy Wall Street, Occupy St Paul’s and other sit-in movements of the past year, I find it somewhat absurd that Occupy Poitres should receive such opprobrium in comparison to their fellow college students in New York or London. If the protest were held at a cathedral to protest the French Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage — a live political issue in France — would Le Figaro have responded in the same way?

This article fails the test of classical liberal journalism as it does not give both sides to the issue. The reader is not invited to think the issues through and come to a conclusion based upon his unaided reason, but is instructed what to believe. This is the future of newspaper reporting.

Imagine that: ‘Pew gap’ among Latinos on gay rights?

I am sure that this will come as a major shock to many occupants of The Washington Post newsroom: The divisions among African-Americans over gay rights also show up among Latinos and, no surprise, these differences often are rooting in faith and varying levels of religious practice.

Once again, there is a “pew gap” at play in this scenario.

Of course, it is certainly news — as shown in a Pew Forum poll that’s making headlines — that Latino views on gay-marriage are rapidly changing, with a slight majority now affirming government attempts to change the definition of marriage.

That’s an important story. I know that.

Yet, at the same time, there are Latinos — just as there are millions of African-Americans — who for a variety of reasons, including religious beliefs, do not equate ethnicity with sexual orientation. There are other people of color who do.

In other words, this is a story with two sides.

This leads me to that fascinating story that ran in The Washington Post the other day under this headline: “Immigrant, gay rights groups form alliance — and meet resistance among some Latinos.”

A few weeks ago, CASA of Maryland and other immigration advocacy organizations formed an alliance with gay rights groups to urge passage of two hot-button initiatives on the Maryland ballot in November, one legalizing same-sex marriage and the other making some undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition.

Elected officials joined them in making the announcement, which came as no surprise. The news media had been alerted days in advance.

Of course media had been alerted days in advance.

And, of course, this alliance “came as no surprise” to those who engineered the alliance.

However, the alliance did come as a surprise to some Latino leaders who, obviously, were left on the outside of this political marriage. You will be stunned to know that this has something to do with religion.

… (For) Bishop Angel Nunez of the Bilingual Christian Church of Baltimore, a longtime CASA of Maryland ally, the news struck out of nowhere.

Nunez has long worked with CASA to promote immigrant causes, including the Dream Act in-state tuition initiative, but he strongly opposes same-sex marriage.

“Pastors are calling me up saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” he said, adding that he has been urging his 250 regular congregants, who hail from 23 nations, to vote for the Dream Act and against the Civil Marriage Protection Act. “I don’t know if I feel betrayed or not, but right now I’m confused.”

Typically, he said, he gets ­e-mails from CASA about its plans. But this time, Nunez said he didn’t know what CASA was up to until he read in the newspaper about the alliance, which also includes the prominent Latino advocacy group National Council of La Raza. “No outreach got to us … to at least say, ‘I know we don’t agree on this, but this is what we’re doing,’ ” he said.

So why the lack of outreach to Latinos who are active in evangelical Protestant churches or highly active in Catholic churches? Why is it surprising, to CASA and to the Post, that — while the beliefs of many Latinos are changing on gay-rights issues — that this is not the case for millions of Latinos who frequent church pews?

Doesn’t everyone outside newsrooms and activist offices understand that sexual orientation and ethnicity are equal? Well, some believe that and some do not. That’s the heart of the story.

Thus, to its credit, the Post team does get around to stating the obvious:

Experts say that younger Latinos and those whose families immigrated less recently are more likely to be open to same-sex marriage.

But many Latino religious leaders remain staunchly opposed to the referendum that would allow civil marriage for gay men and lesbians. The alliance has brought to the surface a conflict many Maryland Hispanics face between supporting an organization that has helped them in the past and going against deeply held religious beliefs. And while many are eager to see the Dream Act pass, their enthusiasm does not translate to supporting the marriage equality referendum.

Calling Nunez “a huge leader in our community” and a longtime ally of his organization, Gustavo Torres, CASA’s executive director, said last week that the failure to inform him about the alliance was “totally an oversight.”

So there is a story here, a good one. But is this story surprising?

Only to people at the Post, it seems (and certainly in other newsrooms). To me it looks like another example of one of the most dependable forces in American politics — the pew gap. It’s there. Cover it.


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