Pope’s abuse apology: Media did a fair job, surprisingly

Mainstream media didn’t pile onto Pope Francis. I know that sounds cynical — something like “Johnny’s trumpet recital didn’t suck!” — but in the story of Francis’ personal apology to victims of priestly abuse, reporters actually reported. They left pontifications to the pontiff.

Francis, of course, has apologized before for the abuses that his predecessors allowed to persist. In April, he vowed to impose sanctions for the “evil” done by churchmen. But many media have seen the broader, more severe tone of his latest remarks — in which he compared abuse to a “cult” or “satanic mass.”

One example is a 1,000+-word piece in The Guardian:

“It is something more than despicable actions,” Francis said of clerical sex abuse. “It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence.”

He added: “There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not.”

It is not the first time that Francis has condemned abuse, but his words delivered at the Santa Martha guesthouse on Vatican grounds were particularly pointed towards those clerics who may have enabled the abuse to be “camouflaged with a complicity”.

“I beg your forgiveness … for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk,” said Francis, according to a translation made available by the Vatican.

The Wall Street Journal saw Francis’ remarks as a kind of escalation. Its coverage says that although he has apologized for abuses in the past, this is the first time he has included the bishops:

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Two views of SCOTUS abortion decision — both on NBC

Is NBC News going schizoid? The way the network reported the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion buffer zones sounded like it was done by different people, maybe even on different stories.

As you probably know by now, the nine justices — in a remarkable unanimous decision — struck down Massachusetts’ law requiring protesters to stay at least 35 feet from abortion clinics. Now, the prolifers can apparently protest right up to the clinic entrances.

Pro-abortion folks said the protesters harassed and even scared women who sought to enter the clinics. But the high court said the buffer zones were an overly broad approach and that the rights of free speech and public discussion were more important.

NBC’s 2:53-minute video report and 473-word text report were produced by Pete Williams, the network’s Supreme Court specialist. But the two are starkly different, both in tone and in the facts and opinions they hightlight.

The video report is calm and reasoned; anchor Brian Williams straightforwardly introduces it without the dry disdain he often uses. He says the decision “struck down one of the toughest in the country intended to limit protests at abortion clinics.”

He quickly turns over the fact-telling to Pete Williams, who observes: “This Court is deeply divided on the issue of abortion, but it was unanimous today in declaring that Massachusetts went too far in trying to prevent violence at clinic entrances.”

The video shows file footage of picketers shouting at women that “They’re lying to you, and they’re going to kill your baby!” Then it switches to the more peaceful protesters nowadays, and Williams reports that they say the buffer zones “violated their free-speech right to calmly suggest alternatives to abortion.”

He gives a soundbite to one of them: soft-spoken, grandmotherly Eleanor McCullen, who complains that clinic patients “need somebody to care for them, and I truly care,” but that the no-protest zone keeps her from talking to them. The challengers’ lawyer, Mark Rienzi, says the decision means that Massachusetts can’t “round everybody off and haul them off to jail just for speaking close to an abortion clinic.”

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What’s in a name? PCA vs. PCUSA

Oh my. My heart goes out to the writer at NBC News’ breaking news desk for having bungled a story from the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA)’s General Assembly in Detroit.

From the conservative religion news and advocacy website Juicy Ecumenism, here is a report from reporter Alexander Griswold from the meeting:

At its 2014 General Assembly held in Detroit, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to approve two measures to allow ministers to perform same-sex marriages. The first, Item 10-03, issued an authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order stating that pastors have a right to preside over gay marriages in states where they are legal. The second, Item 10-02, amended the Book of Order to redefine marriage as between “two people” rather than between a man and a woman and allows ministers to perform any legal marriage between two people. That amendment will require the approval of a majority of the presbyteries before it will take effect.

For religion news watchers this vote was not unexpected. The delegates to the 201o General Assembly voted to permit the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy, while the 2012 General Assembly narrowly turned down a similar gay marriage bill. The surprise was in the strong margin of support the measure received this time round.

Religion News Service observed:

The church has long grappled with the issue, which came to a head at the last General Assembly, in 2012, when a similar resolution allowing for gay marriage lost 338-308. Since then, the church’s decades-long decline in membership — it has lost 37 percent of its membership since 1992 — has continued. These losses have been led by conservative-leaning congregations that defected over what they lamented as the church’s embrace of more liberal values.

Those defections — many to smaller and more conservative Presbyterian denominations — made it more likely that the General Assembly would approve a gay marriage resolution this year.

One of these more conservative denominations is the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) — the second largest Presbyterian denomination and one that withdrew from what is now the PCUSA in the early 1970s.
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Writing on houses of worship? Ignore the religious

Pop quiz: When you write about baseball or surgery, whom should you quote?

That’s right. And when you write about playing a piano or cello, whom should you quote?

Right again. And when you write about religion, whom should you quote?

Nope, missed that one. When writing about any field, you must include its practitioners — unless it’s a religious group.

NBC News and the New York Times followed that rule faithfully — in this case, faithlessly — in stories about efforts to save church and synagogue buildings, although both have long lost their congregations.

First, the NBC story, the more facile of the two. Travel writer Rob Lovitt found a team store for a minor-league baseball team in South Bend, Ind., that was once the home for the Sons of Israel Synagogue.

Granted, it’s meant to be a light feature by a travel writer. Still, when he includes details like foam fingers but leaves out details on the “rich history” of the synagogue, it’s like leaving a shoe dangling in the air rather than letting it drop.

He’s clearly charmed by the idea of keeping a revered site, quoting Joe Hart, the president of the team:

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Luke Russert on snark, journalism, faith and easy targets

Let’s start the day with a quick thought from Luke Russert of NBC News, who recently sat down with David Brody of The Christian Broadcasting Network — the rather rare reporter in the Christian television world who often talks with real, live national leaders and thinkers.

Russert, of course, is the son of the late Tim Russert of Meet The Press fame, who an outspoken Catholic and quite respected by activists and leaders on both sides of American politics. Why? He was a veteran Democrat who had some understanding of the beliefs of blue-collar workers, labor-union members, Midwestern Catholics and other members of the old Democratic Party coalition that included some room for moral conservatives.

Thus, Tim Russert was known for occasionally stating the obvious truth that others declined to voice.

So, let’s let this exchange with the young Russert speak for itself:

DAVID BRODY: Do you believe the media, or if not so much the media, writ large, the much larger population has some sort of bias against whether it be a strong conservative evangelical or maybe a strong Catholic, whatever it happens to be, you know, people of faith. It just seems that if you wear it on your sleeve too much you can get bit to a degree.

LUKE RUSSERT: I think that’s absolutely accurate and I think the current world in which we live in, specifically with the American media, snark is valued. And it’s very easy to come after people of faith no matter what they’re religion is — Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu. That you’re sort of tagged with this label of being puritanical and not understanding of others or of different viewpoints and I think that’s kind of, it’s lazy, number one, and I think it’s just something that just feeds the snickering masses if you will in that regard. …

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The heroism of Antoinette Tuff

YouTube Preview ImageA reader sent along a link to a story about an amazing woman who talked down a gunman at an Atlanta-area elementary school. Her name is Antoinette Tuff and the full 9-1-1 call she made — which includes her conversation with the gunman — is gripping. You can hear it from CNN here. Her courage is inspiring and her love for her neighbors is just beautiful. She talks about her own hardships to help him see that he’s not alone in having a bad situation. The love she shows the mentally disturbed man who could have destroyed so many lives is just staggering.

The story the reader sent in, from ABC News/Yahoo included the following passages:

Hill, according to Tuff, said he had no reason to live because nobody loved him.

“And I just explained to him that I loved him,” Tuff told ABC News in an exclusive interview Tuesday night. “I didn’t know much about him. I didn’t know his name but I did love him and it was scary because I knew at that moment he was ready to take my life along with his, and if I didn’t say the right thing, then we all would be dead.”…

“I knew at that time it was bigger than me,” she said. “He was really a hurting young man, so I just started praying for him. And just started talking to him and allowing him to know everything that was going on with me and that everything was going to be OK.”

Then Tuff made the request that she said helped end the standoff. She asked the suspect to put his weapons down, empty his pockets and backpack and lie on the floor.

“He brought a gun bag, a book bag, a bag full of ammunitions in there, a bunch of magazine clips in there, a whole lot of stuff,” she said…

Tuff said she will be returning to work later this morning.

“Yes, I will be back,” she said, “sitting in that same seat, blessing that next person.”

The comment from the reader, a journalist herself, “Talk about a religion hole.”

Indeed. If you want to know more about the religious motivations of this woman who helped save so many lives, don’t look to em>Parade magazine. The story has nothing about her religious views.

One of my concerns about how journalists cover shootings is the fame given to those who kill others. When men and women courageously thwart gunmen, their names and actions should be remembered and covered well. The media have, in fact, done a good job of noting Tuff’s courage, but looking at what gave her the strength to handle such a worrisome situation could be handled better.

The Los Angeles Times ended its piece on the matter with this quote:

When it was all over, she said a prayer: “I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ “

NBC News gave this snippet:

Only after the ordeal was over did Tuff reveal just how scared she’d been the whole time:

“I’m going to tell you something baby — I’ve never been so scared in all the days in my life,” she told the unidentified operator. Then, she started crying and exclaimed, “Oh, Jesus! Oh, God!”

To which the operator told the courageous bookkeeper: “You did great. Hold on. Hold on”

More, please.

There’s another religion angle cropping up in this story.

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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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Mysterious deluge of unreported Catholics

I’m on a few of those neighborhood list-servs. One of them is for area parents. One of the members is a local reporter and she asks for interviews with folks for various stories she’s working on.

Well, one of her recent stories was related to the Newtown massacre. Had any parents, she wanted to know, removed toy guns from their home in response to the Sandy Hook massacre? Some time later, she asked again. And again. One mother responded that the reporter should “give up” trying to force a story that wasn’t there.

Now, as someone who has used social media to find sources for stories I’m working on, I’ve given some thought to this. I think the best way to handle such searches for sources is to not constrain them too much to your particular idea of what the story should be. So here’s a great example of how to do it, from the Washington Post‘s Michelle Boorstein:

Discussing Matthew Warren suicide at your church service? Bible study group? I’d love to hear: michelle.boorstein@washpost.com

In general, you want to keep the query as broad as possible so you don’t end up with a story where you’re forcing a few weak anecdotes into a preconceived hook that may or may not be valid.

Which brings us to this NBC News story  headlined “‘It was a sign’: Lapsed Catholics lured back by Pope Francis.” Now that reporters have a pope they like, instead of the last few, whom they clearly didn’t like, we’ll probably see a lot of coverage like this. I sort of imagine it all began with a social media request.

It begins:

Twenty million Americans consider themselves lapsed Catholics, but Pope Francis is convincing many to test the holy waters again with his bold gestures and common touch.

After years of disenchantment with the church’s hierarchy and teachings, former members of the flock say they are willing to give the Vatican a second chance under new leadership.

So of these 20 million, how many other than the three anecdotes in this story are we talking about? Well, it will not surprise you that it’s “unknown.”

What a trend piece!

We have a Dallas Baby Boomer Latina who generally drifted away from the Catholic Church after a divorce and such and switched to an evangelical church three years ago and recently started visiting Catholic Masses again.

We have a priest who says some people told him they’re coming back because of Pope Francis.

The article says that church teachings on abortion, homosexuality, birth control and “treatment” of women are the reason people have left the Catholic Church. Then it admits that Pope Francis “hasn’t given any hint of radical change on those issues.”

But the president of a website for returning Catholics says traffic is way up.

Anyway, here’s a sample anecdote:

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