Flooding the papal coverage zone

We’ve certainly seen some abysmally bad religion news coverage ever since Pope Benedict XVI announced he was stepping down. But we’ve also seen some absolutely fantastic coverage. (Before we continue, please note the wording on this image — “Specializes in pastoral work, an important skill as Pope.” Funny, no?)

I sit in awe — every day — at the wonderful work done by John Allen, Jr. If you are likewise impressed with this man, you may want to read this Time profile of his work.

Anyway, I also rather liked the Washington Post’s serious coverage. Just in the last few days, we’ve seen extensive live coverage, and multiple angles for exploring the new pope. You can read about “Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, known for simplicity and conservatism,” for instance. And there’s been great local coverage from a variety of viewpoints — as you can read in “D.C. area Catholics embrace symbolism of the election of first Latin American pope.”

There was a nice look at the significance of the name chosen by the new pope in “Pope Francis: His name reflects ‘his ministry for the poor’.”

And there were even some fun, lighthearted blogs:

What name will the new pope choose? Some clues in this infographic

New pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, rode the bus because he gave up his limo


Sorry, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is not the first non-European pope

Maybe it’s that I’m hopped up on painkillers but I just want to thank the editors and reporters for all their hard work covering this story from around the world. It paid off.

As for problems, the only ones I saw were that last blog item, which I think displays some minor confusion about the papacy (such as whether the modern papacy is equivalent to the old bishops of Rome) and an error of missing at least one non-European pope we have discussed (Gelasius).

There was also the oddly hostile piece headlined “Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina elected pope, takes name Pope Francis.” It began:

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Vatican secret ballots aren’t democratic?

Friends, I took a nasty fall a couple of days ago and have seriously injured my ankle. It’s not broken, but the ligament is barely hanging on to the ankle.

Or so the doc says.

Anyway, I’m hopped up on Percocet and it’s surprisingly difficult to get work done between the pain and the painkillers. You’ll be hearing from me in small doses for a few days.

I was able to follow the coverage of the new pope — on Twitter, at least — and found it all fascinating.

What do you think of these two tweets from New York Times Vatican reporter Rachel Donadio?

Wait for it.

This just in: Popes are elected behind closed doors in a meeting — shaped by centuries of church tradition — called a “conclave.”

Obviously democracies don’t require secret ballots but it didn’t occur to me that secret ballots were viewed by some as undemocratic. I wonder if this extends to all those countries with secret ballots.

Democracy image via Shutterstock.

Pope Francis on Page 1: Best and worst of local reax

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It’s another great day to be a newspaper junkie who enjoys checking out front pages across the nation after major breaking news.

When tmatt saw the number of local reaction stories I planned to mention, he made me promise to keep this post under 5,000 words. I told him I’d hit the high points (and the low ones, of course).

Without further ado, I want to present a few nominees for limited-edition GetReligion awards for coverage of Pope Francis’ selection.

Best use of “firsts” in a lede

— Seattle Times

It may take time before Seattle-area Catholics learn whether Pope Francis shares their views on specific issues. But many found things to like in the new pontiff Wednesday:

First pope from the Americas. First Jesuit. A man from a developing region and one who has chosen a humble lifestyle.

Their comments made it clear that the selection of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the 266th pope turned a page in church’s 2,000-year history.

“The whole school stopped for about an hour to watch this historic moment,” said Father William Heric, chaplain at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish.

Dallas Morning News

First pope from this hemisphere. First Hispanic pope. First pope taking the name “Francis.” North Texas Catholics grabbed on to facts Wednesday about the man who until that afternoon had been Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aries.

Josefina Flores of Arlington was in downtown Dallas with her daughter and heard the bells peal at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. They ducked into the sanctuary to say a prayer for the new pontiff.

“He comes from a spiritual country and he seems so charismatic,” she said. “I have high hopes for him.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

While Wednesday’s election of a new pope may not have included the “first” that many St. Louisans were hoping for — namely, the election of Ballwin native Timothy Dolan as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics — it did contain three others.

And that’s not an easy accomplishment for a 2,000-year-old institution.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, is the first pope in history to choose the name Francis, in honor of one of the most popular saints in history, Francis of Assisi.

“He selected for himself the name of Francis, which tells you a great deal about the new Holy Father,” said St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson. “As you know, St. Francis was a man of simplicity and peace as he lived out the gospel. We can assume that our new Holy Father will do just the same.”

Pope Francis is also the first Jesuit supreme pontiff in the church, and his chosen name could also be a nod to the great 16th-century Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier — familiar to generations of St. Louis University students as the namesake of College Church.

“We’re proud, as a Jesuit institution, that it was a Jesuit selected to be pope,” said David Laughlin, president of St. Louis University High.

And, of course, Francis, until Wednesday the archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the first pope from Latin America.

Worst overgeneralized, unattributed statement

Arizona Republic

Bergoglio is seen as a leader who can bridge the divide between social liberals in the church and orthodox traditionalists; between the growing church south of the equator and the historical church of Europe; and between Jesuits, who are seen as more liberal, and conservative movements in the church.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The new pope will find himself in a delicate balancing act, adhering to traditions on which the faith is based yet moving them forward to address critical issues such as transparency, trust, the role of women in the church and better handling of the sex abuse scandal. …

Few doubt that the church needs reform.

Hartford Courant

Though most people in Connecticut knew little about him before Wednesday, the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope filled the state’s Roman Catholic community with hope for a different perspective in the Vatican.

Best use of a quotation in a lede

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Dudes with red hats deadlocked on pope winner

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The religion news world remains on pope watch, awaiting the selection of Benedict XVI’s successor.

Or, as a Twitter post by Religion News Service put it Tuesday afternoon:

Winner winner chicken dinner?

Even though I am no expert on the Roman Catholic Church or the papal selection process, the use of the term “winner” made me chuckle.

It’s as if the cardinals were picking lottery numbers rather than choosing a spiritual leader for a worldwide church. Alas, click the link to the RNS story now, and that wording no longer appears. Apparently, someone thought better of the original terminology.

Meanwhile, a GetReligion reader shared this headline from the BBC:

Cardinals deadlocked over next Pope

That reader noted:

Leave it to the Brits to give this dire headline. Everyone else is just reporting “black smoke.” How do they know it’s “deadlocked?” Do they have something that’s getting past the jamming devices?

At some point, the BBC changed “deadlocked” to “undecided.” Long live the Brits!

As a non-Catholic, my first recollection of the papal selection process dates back to 1978. That’s when smoke started billowing from the Vatican on all three major networks. Suddenly, the cartoons I enjoyed watching as a kid were replaced with somber-looking dudes with red hats (although I’m not entirely certain that my family owned a color television at that point).

Then Pope John Paul I died after just 33 days in office, and the process started all over again! What a traumatic experience for a 1o-year-old boy. Remember, we didn’t have 150 channels back then.

Surely I jest. A little.

Two decades later, I got my first major experience covering the Roman Catholic Church, as I shared in my introductory post for GetReligion three years ago:

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Fake bishop or episcopi vagantes?

Media outlets had a lot of fun with a recent story about a Vatican gatecrasher. A sample of the headlines include Time: Fake Bishop Tries to Sneak into Vatican Meeting; Vanity Fair: Theological Espionage! Fake Bishop Sneaks Into Vatican; NPR: At The Vatican, ‘No Rush’ To Set Conclave; And A Fake Bishop Tries To Get In; Daily Beast: Fake Bishop Sneaks Into Vatican; San Francisco Chronicle: Vatican not amused by fake bishop who posed with cardinals; and CNN: Fake bishop busted and booted from Vatican.

That story begins:

Move over, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the Virginia ex-couple who famously – or infamously – crashed President Obama’s first White House state dinner. There’s a new impostor posing with dignitaries, and he set his sights on an even more coveted gathering.

Meet Ralph Napierski, a German self-declared bishop who reportedly called himself “Basilius,” said he was with the nonexistent “Italian Orthodox Church” and set out to infiltrate a Monday meeting of cardinals at the Vatican.

The fake bishop donned a purple sash (really a scarf) over his vestments and mingled with cardinals and others who’d flown in from around the globe ahead of the conclave to pick a new pope. He smiled wide and posed for cameras while shaking hands with Cardinal Sergio Sebiastiana. He tried to blend in.

And here’s ABC News: Prankster Nearly Sneaks Into Meeting of Cardinals

The Swiss Guard promptly ejected the man, later identified as Ralph Napiersi, who told reporters his name was “Basilius.” Napierski said he belonged to an Italian Orthodox Church, which does not exist.

A website that appears to be associated with him describes him as a bishop of Corpus Dei, a fictional Catholic group. The site not only has a fanciful coat of arms for the fake bishop – the motto “Horse of Christ” – it traces his phony credentials all the way back to an 18th Century Patriarch of Babylon.

Napierski is a proponent of “Jesus Yoga” and claims to be a keeper of relics, items of religious veneration because they were touched by or belonged to a saint.

“We want to equip churches (especialy [sic] those with low income) with high class relics,” it says on his website. There are lots of spelling mistakes on the site.

Now what’s fascinating to me about the media coverage of this situation is how it is 180 degrees different from the coverage we see of Roman Catholic WomenPriests! In those stories, there is no such language mocking the individuals claiming to be Catholic priests or the group they’re aligned with. There’s no real questioning of the claim to being genuinely Catholic in at least some sense.

But, as could be said about many extreme positions, this coverage goes way too far in the opposite direction. To understand how and why, I’d recommend reading through Orthodox pastor Andrew Damick’s post “Media Discovers Episcopus Vagans at Vatican, Film at 11.”

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Free the cardinals!

Yesterday tmatt asked readers to submit links to papal coverage that was particularly good or bad. I’m going to go ahead and put my responses in a separate post.

It begins, as all our best material does, with a comment thread from last week:

Julia says:

Can’t find it now, but there was an article on MSNBC.com (I think) that said JPII, in the 1990s, changed the ancient conclave rules so that the Cardinals could be let out of the Sistine Chapel now and then to sleep and eat, if necessary. I’m not kidding.

And it said that in the new hotel/residence on the grounds, the Cardinals are locked into their rooms!!! Where do the get this stuff? There are plenty of reliable sources, people and authoritative websites with the basic information.

And then there was this:

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz says:

I couldn’t quite believe what you were saying, Julia, so I went looking — and you were right!It’s the last paragraph. Yikes!

Here it is, and it’s actually from NBC:

The conclave process, in which cardinals are locked into their rooms until reaching a decision, was a tradition that began in 1271 following frustration at the failure of the church to agree on a replacement for Pope Clement IV, who died in 1268. Eventually, cardinals were locked inside the papal palace in Viterbo by exasperated magistrates.

Pope John Paul II changed the conclave rules in 1996, allowing cardinals to leave the Sistine Chapel during conclaves to eat and sleep if necessary.

Wow is that quite the collection of Dan Brown-level conspiracy thinking and attention to historical detail.

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NPR ‘looks’ at role for Catholic women

Yesterday, reader Ivan (aka @SlavicPolymath) tweeted:

NPR Weekend Edition interviewing LCWR sister. Hoping beyond hope for balanced coverage, or I’ll sic @GetReligion on them.

I asked him how it went. He replied by linking to his subsequent tweet, which read, simply:


There was no transcript available at that time so I listened to the interview. You really have to listen to get the full Schweddy Balls effect. It is, if anything, even funnier than the Saturday Night Live sketch sending up public radio interviews. Both the host and the interviewee are so very quiet that I had to turn the volume up all the way on my computer. But it’s the pregnant pauses and exasperated sighs accompanying the questions that make them almost beyond parody.

There’s a transcript now, so let’s look at some of the questions asked in the piece headlined “With Papacy In Flux, A Look At The Role Of Women“:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: We just heard Sylvia outline some of the issues facing the Catholic Church during this leadership transition, including the role and status of women within the church. This past week, I spoke with Sister Pat Farrell, the former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It’s the most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States. Last spring, the Vatican publically reprimanded the group for promoting, quote, “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic Church.”

I asked Farrell about the role of women and what she describes as a critical moment for the Catholic Church.

MARTIN: What do you see as the role of women in the modern Catholic Church? Here we are in 2013, what is women’s place when it comes to leadership in the church right now?

MARTIN: Would you go as far as to support women’s ordination? Or is that something you think is too far?

MARTIN: It’s worth noting, here in this very momentous chapter of the church – the papal conclave – of course the cardinals taking part in the conclave are all men. I wonder, is that frustrating to be a woman who has dedicated her life so much to this church, yet women are excluded from the most important decisions at that level.

I find it intriguing how obsequious some in the media are to leadership of progressive religious groups, particularly in comparison to the devil’s advocate position they tend to take on leaders or even just members of traditional religious groups. For instance, when Farrell uses a lot of words to not answer the second question, there’s no follow-up.

What’s interesting off the bat is the choice of interview subject. It’s pretty much impossible to achieve balance on the topic of the role of women in the Catholic Church when you’re interviewing only one source and it’s someone who is part of a group that has been chastised by the Vatican for, among other things, teachings that contradict the church on this topic. It would be less of a problem, I guess, to interview someone supportive of official church teaching (say, Christendom College’s Donna Bethell) — and only her — on the same topic. And yet it would still limit the instruction of the listening audience unduly. And yet I highly doubt you’d see a one-source story with a conservative woman who supports Vatican teaching.

In the same vein, if NPR were facing a change in leadership, I highly doubt we’d see a story where only one highly interested taxpayer — say James O’Keefe or other committed critics — were interviewed for his thoughts on what the future would be for, say, media treatment of conservatives. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a similar situation, we wouldn’t see any critics interviewed at all.

But more than all that, it’s that last question that I found so telling. I get that the host and probably the vast majority of people in the media hold the doctrinal position that women should be ordained in Christian churches. I really do get that. But is it so much to expect that they understand that many of us don’t hold that doctrinal view? Now, maybe it’s because I’m in a church body (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) that retains the practice of male ordination, but I’m kind of shocked at how disdainfully some folks dismiss these beliefs held by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, confessional Protestants and others. I was at a sponsored talk at a religion newswriters conference and one of the panelists flat-out said that women weren’t represented in churches that have male-only clergy. My tablemates and I — who happened to belong to such churches — gave looks to each other and quietly ate another bite of food. It seems so obvious to me that I have trouble explaining it.

The media seem to hold the position that women can only be represented by women and not by men. They fail to explain how, exactly, that works. I mean, in the same way that Martin doesn’t represent me, even though she and I both have lady parts, my pastor does represent me, because we share a confession of faith that, among other things, requires him to represent me and all other members of our congregation. There are so many assumptions wrapped up in that last question. And that might be fine, but it happens without any seeming awareness of those assumptions and how they don’t make sense to those who don’t share that particular theology.

I did think the final question was better:

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Self-described way-devoted super-Catholics and the press

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I already used this YouTube as art in a post last week but it really fits for this story. Really fits. In the clip above, Lutheran Satire makes fun of the type of “Catholic” used by the media in stories about the Roman Catholic Church.

Somehow this video was stripped of satire, transformed into print and placed directly onto the pages of the Washington Post. It’s uncanny.

You can watch the video above but some people had trouble hearing the dialogue, so I’ll sum up and quote from it. The premise is that we’re watching “the latest edition of everybody’s favorite ecclesiastical game show Choose Your Pope: the game where bishops compete for the right to be selected the supreme pontiff by a representative from the uneducated court of public opinion.”

The contestant is Kaylee McMurphy:

A recent college graduate, Kaylee earned a BA in Advanced Feng-Shui Marketing. A self-described way-devoted super-Catholic, Kaylee has attended mass almost 7 times — therefore making her opinions on the theological direction of the Catholic church entirely valid and perfectly worthy of public attention.

The contestants are Cardinals Ouellet, Turkson and Scola.

McMurphy: “Question #1: Since I have absolutely no interest in knowing the scriptural and historical reasons for the male only priesthood, and since my Religious Worldviews in the Feminist Paradigm professor told me that, like, five of the apostles were totally women, I think the Catholic Church is finally ready for women priests. You guys agree, right?”

Ouellet: “No.”
Turkson: “No.”
Scola: “No.”

McMurphy: “Whatever. Question #2: Like most devout Catholic women who don’t go to Mass and don’t believe anything the Church says, I use birth control because babies are a lot of work and my boyfriend and I totally need to re-tile our master bathroom. That’s cool with you guys, right?”

Ouellet: “No.”
Turkson: “No.”
Scola: “No.”

McMurphy: “You guys are lame. Question #3: I like the aesthetics of the Catholic Church but don’t like its theology. I support no-fault divorce, abortion rights, gay marriage, gender-neutral language, and think that it’s mean to criticize Islam. I couldn’t be more of a liberal Episcopalian if Katherine Jefferts-Schiori formed me from the dust from the ground, and yet I still inexplicably identify myself as a Catholic.”

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