Arizona Republic gets lots of the Latin Mass details right

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It’s time for a simple test. Yes, this does involve some Latin.

True or false. The following quotation is taken from the Communion passages in the Latin Mass.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; miserère nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; miserère nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; dona nobis pacem.

Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccàta mundi.
Beàti qui ad cenam Agni vocàti sunt.

Yes, this is a bit of a trick question.

Actually, this is a short quotation from the modern Novus Ordo Missae, but drawn from the official foundation text — which is in Latin. Of course, millions of Catholics know this rite through its many official translations, from the Latin, into the languages common in their pews. There are parishes that, with the permission of their local bishops, perform this rite in Latin.

Thus, this quotation is taken from a Latin Mass. But it is not taken from the rite that is commonly known, for millions of older Catholics, as “The Latin Mass.”

Why do I bring this up? For this simple reason: The staff at The Arizona Republic recently waded deep into the details of Catholic liturgy in a lengthy feature story written as part of its coverage of the recent murder of a young priest named Father Kenneth Walker and the savage beating of another priest at the same parish, Father Joseph Terra.

Both were members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which, as the story explains, is dedicated to Catholic life and worship as expressed in the traditional Tridentine Mass. Here is some background from this long and very detailed story:

In 1988, about a quarter of a century after Vatican II was formed, the new pope, John Paul II, at the urging of conservative Cardinal John Ratzinger, who would later succeed John Paul as Pope Benedict XVI, allowed a limited return to the Tridentine Mass, but only with a bishop’s approval.

(In 2007, Pope Benedict issued what amounted to an executive order allowing any priest to celebrate the Tridentine Mass in any parish.)

Pope John Paul also approved the creation of a new priesthood order, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, named for the Apostle Peter, who is considered the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike other priestly orders, this one would be dedicated to maintaining the tradition of the Latin Mass.

So what is the problem in this story, which, frankly, is way better than the norm? From my perspective there are two issues.

First of all, while the historical details in the story are good, the Republic keeps switching back and forth between calling this rite the Latin Mass, when there are actually several Masses in Latin, and calling it the Tridentine Mass, which is much more specific. Trust me, I know that it is hard to get these details precisely right (I am sure that in this post I will use language that is not accurate enough for insiders), but it is important to be as precise as possible.

Consider the details in this passage. This is long, but crucial.

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Only one vision of the complex lives of two Vatican II saints

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So, what was that remarkable “day of the four popes” all about anyway? Prepare to be shocked, shocked, at the framing of this amazing event.

Here is the archetypal opening of the pre-event report in The Los Angeles Times:

One helped revolutionize the church, becoming an enduring icon among progressive Roman Catholics who view religion as a vehicle for justice and peace.

The other figured in a societal revolution outside the church, earning the adulation of conservatives by battling communism and contributing to the downfall of the Soviet Union.

So, St. John Paul II — many are already replacing that numeral with “the Great” — was not working for peace all of those years in the pressure cooker that was Eastern Europe, before and after the Nazis and Communists? He was not seeking justice when he talked about the Culture of Death and defined that in terms of Catholic doctrines protecting the sacred nature of the lives of the weak, the poor, the defenseless, the unborn and the elderly? His goals — even in the towering Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) — were merely geopolitical?

And the world-shaping agenda of St. John XXIII is best understood in terms of its impact on issues that matter only to “progressives”? He was not trying to reach out to a changing world on behalf of mission and evangelism, too?

Most of all, must professionals in the mainstream press insist on seeing this historic event strictly through a lens that assumes the savvy Pope Francis was merely trying to play a smart political hand? As a longtime GetReligion reader — yes, a Catholic — noted in a personal email:

There are not two visions here — there’s only one, that of Christ — but it’s impossible for these guys to see it because they only see the world through politically-tainted wrap-around glasses, without even the slightest possibility of a peek of the larger reality ever coming through.

However, there is the key Los Angeles Times passage, when it comes to describing the template that shaped most of the coverage (I would love to hear about exceptions, in our comments pages):

Some observers see Francis as keenly aware of the political minefield surrounding canonization, especially for those candidates whose legacies remain heavily contested. This has led to conjecture that Francis’ move was largely an act of reconciliation, aimed at healing deep divisions between Vatican II enthusiasts and those who favor John Paul’s more conservative approach to church doctrine. Some view the dual canonization as a means of freeing Francis from the ideological constraints of the two camps. …

Whether the canonizations will foster greater unity among conservative and progressive strains in the church is not clear. Francis, for all of his popular appeal and admiration for John XXIII, has not shifted from traditional Catholic doctrine on hot-button issues such as contraception, abortion, gay marriage, married priests and ordination of women.

So the only path to unity is, of course, to shift forward on 2,000 years of Catholic teachings on moral theology and sacraments. Yup. That will certainly produce unity. Note the implication that this is the path that St. John XXIII would have pursued, if he had been allowed to live longer and finish his work. Right?

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The Atlantic slips — somehow — inside mind of Benedict XVI

During the annual pre-Easter season of snarky or mildly negative religion stories, I think that I received more personal emails about the Pope Benedict XVI vs. Pope Francis story in The Atlantic than any other item (even more than the Mrs. Jesus media blitz, if you can believe that).

Quite a few readers wanted to critique some of the alleged facts in the story or note some of its inconsistencies. For example, at one point Benedict is portrayed as an all-dominating doctrinal bully. Flip a few pages and readers are then told that he was a totally hands-off leader who, when it came to governing the church, “didn’t interfere even when he was pope!” Yes, the exclamation mark is in the text.

Most of the emails missed the point. You see, “The Pope in the Attic: Benedict in the Time of Francis” isn’t really a work of journalism.

Oh, the author makes it clear that he went to Rome and, apparently, he even drove around and talked with some people. But the result isn’t a work of journalism built on clearly attributed information. No, this is something else — it’s a work of apologetics.

Do you remember that famous Peggy Noonan quote about Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing,” a show for which she served as a consultant?

A reporter once asked me if I thought, as John Podhoretz had written, that “The West Wing” is, essentially, left-wing pornography. I said no, that’s completely wrong. “The West Wing” is a left-wing nocturnal emission — undriven by facts, based on dreams, its impulses as passionate as they are involuntary and as unreflective as they are genuine.

That’s kind of what we are dealing with here, especially in the passages in which essayist Paul Elie all but claims to have read the mind of Benedict, perhaps while driving past his abode (I am not making that part up, honest). This piece is a love song to all of the Catholics who suffered so much during the terrifying reign of the soon-to-be St. John Paul II and his bookworm bully, the future Pope Benedict XVI. Here’s a sample, right up front:

Pope Francis lives only a few hundred meters down the hill, in the Casa Santa Marta: the guesthouse where the cardinals stay while electing a new pope. He arrived there for the conclave of 2013 as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Jesuit cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires. After his election, he surprised everyone by taking the name of Francis, the saint of radical simplicity — and then by refusing to move into the palace, and staying on at the guesthouse instead. All the world acclaimed the act as if he had pitched a pup tent in St. Peter’s Square.

Benedict was as surprised as anybody. In a stroke, the Argentine had outdone him in simplicity.

Interview? Quote? A second-hand reflection from a key aide, even an anonymous aide? And then there is the thesis statement:

And so it has come to pass that, in his 88th year, he is living at the Mater Ecclesiae, served by four consecrated laywomen and his priest-secretary, with a piano and a passel of books to keep him occupied. Here he watches the Argentine, prays for him, and keeps silence — a hard discipline for a man who spent his public life defining the nature of God and man, truth and falsehood.

It’s odd enough that there are two living popes. It’s odder still that they live in such proximity. But what’s most odd is that the two popes are these two popes, and that the one who spent a third of a century erecting a Catholic edifice of firm doctrine and strict prohibition now must look on at close range as the other cheerfully dismantles it in the service of a more open, flexible Church.

Dismantles? Pope Francis has dismantled orthodox Catholicism?

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Rolling Stone thinks it <3′s this pope (plus, Mark signs out)

For reasons probably more associated with my age than anything else, the old Dr. Hook song, “(On the) Cover of the Rolling Stone,” which equated placement on the front of rock’s top magazine with true accomplishment in life, ran through my mind when I first learned that Pope Francis would get pride-of-place in the magazine’s Feb. 13 issue. The comparisons with Dr. Hook (who eventually got their cover) end there, however. This piece is pretty much an early Valentine to its subject.

Mark Binelli, a “novelist and contributing editor to Rolling Stone,” as his bio notes, got the nod to proffer a pontifical profile, and as might be expected from a truly non-conservative publication, Francis comes off closer to Dorothy Day than to George Weigel:

Up close, Pope Francis, the 266th vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, a man whose obvious humility, empathy and, above all, devotion to the economically disenfranchised has come to feel perfectly suited to our times, looks stouter than on television. Having famously dispensed with the more flamboyant pontifical accessories, he’s also surprisingly stylish, today wearing a double-breasted white overcoat, white scarf and slightly creamier cassock, all impeccably tailored.

The topic of Francis’ catechesis, or teaching, is Judgment Day, though, true to form, he does not try to conjure images of fire and brimstone. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, speaking on the topic, once said, “Today we are used to thinking: ‘What is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count; in the end God will be good toward all.’ It’s a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame.”

Francis, 77, by contrast, implores the crowd to think of the prospect of meeting one’s maker as something to look forward to, like a wedding, where Jesus and all of the saints in heaven will be waiting with open arms. He looks up from his script twice to repeat key lines: avanti senza paura (“go without fear”) and che quel giudizio finale è già in atto (“the final judgment is already happening”). Coming from this pope, the latter point sounds more like a friendly reminder. His voice is disarmingly gentle, even when amplified over a vast public square.,

Yes, sports fans, time for another long, slobbering kiss from a media outlet inclined to see Papa Francesco as their own theological Rorschach test, an ideological ink-blot that shows what they want to see.

There are, approximately, 7,600 words in this account — I knocked off about 125 words from what Microsoft Word tallied because of links and other bits Rolling Stone inserted in the text — and it would take a post of almost the same length to diagram and dissect the article fully. For starters, suffice it to say that Binelli wasn’t a fan of Francis’ predecessor:

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Pod people: What was top 2013 story for Pope Francis?

I am sure that GetReligion readers will be shocked, shocked to know that the Godbeat professionals in the Religion Newswriters Association selected the election of Pope Francis Superstar as the top religion-news story of 2013. It goes without saying that Pope Francis was also named Religion Newsmaker of the Year.

Click here to read the official RNA release about the Top 10 stories of the year.

Faithful GetReligion readers will also be shocked, shocked to know that I understood the logic of the RNA vote, but had a slightly different take on the top news event or trend in 2013.

And finally, GetReligion podcast patrons will be shocked, shocked to know that host Todd Wilken and I dissected all of this material, and more, in this week’s “Crossroads” episode. Please click here to listen to that.

So here is my logic about this No. 1 story vote.

Of course I understand that the election of Pope Francis produced more headlines and glowing ink over the last year than any other religion-beat story. In terms of mainstream news coverage, the election of the charismatic, yet walk-his-talk humble, pope had to be one of the most powerful earthquakes in this past year’s news — period.

But stop and think about it.

How long has it been since the occupant of St. Peter’s throne resigned his post? That would be 600 years or so, right? Thus, one could make the case that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was one of the most important stories in Catholicism, and thus, Western Christianity in, well, decades — at the very least. Try to imagine the long-term ramifications of Benedict’s astonishing exit.

So how can a story be one of the most important stories in Western religion in DECADES and not be the most important religion story of the YEAR?

I know, I know. Pope Francis was the religion-news earthquake of 2013 and that’s that. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI finished in second place.

Well, I have one more angle I would like readers to pause and consider. Here’s how I put it in this week’s “On Religion” column for the Universal Uclick syndicate:

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NYTimes: Just WHO you callin’ a ‘conservative’ Catholic?

Sometimes I wonder if the leaders of The New York Times,among other media titans, take the late Justice Potter Stewart approach to obscentiy when deciding who is a “conservative” Roman Catholic.

The famous jurist, you may recall, said of so-called “hard-core” pornography:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” [Emphasis added.]

While many of our readers would probably place Pope Benedict XVI in the Catholic Church’s conservative wing, they’d also know he isn’t, say, in the “ultra-traditionalist” camp of, say, the Society of St. Pius X, a group whose relations with the Vatican are tenuous at best. His differences with Pope Francis, so far, are best described as differences of emphasis and style.

Hang in there with me: I do have a journalistic point to make.

The journalists who produced the recent Times piece under the headline, “Conservative U.S. Catholics Feel Left Out of the Pope’s Embrace” pin one label on all sorts of people who are disappointed in one way or another with the work of Pope Francis, without making much distinction as to who fits where under that broad label. They seem to “know it when [they] see it,” but the rest of us are left guessing.

The beginning is poignant enough:

When Pope Francis was elected in March, Bridget Kurt received a small prayer card with his picture at her church and put it up on her refrigerator at home, next to pictures of her friends and her favorite saints.

She is a regular attender of Mass, a longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement and a believer that all the church’s doctrines are true and beautiful and should be obeyed. She loved the last two popes, and keeps a scrapbook with memorabilia from her road trip to Denver in 1993 to see Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day.

But Ms. Kurt recently took the Pope Francis prayer card down and threw it away.

“It seems he’s focusing on bringing back the left that’s fallen away, but what about the conservatives?” said Ms. Kurt, a hospice community educator. “Even when it was discouraging working in pro-life, you always felt like Mother Teresa was on your side and the popes were encouraging you. Now I feel kind of thrown under the bus.”

All right, it’s clear that Kurt doesn’t like something that the pope has said.

However, this article doesn’t specify which statement made her upset — readers can only presume, given the “longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement” tag. I’d sure like to know a bit more of her thinking, and why she’s dubbed a “conservative” Catholic. There are and were, after all, politically “liberal” Catholics who also opposed abortion. Dorothy Day comes to mind here, and even Day might have been disappointed in some of the pope’s comments.

Perhaps there was more detail when the story was turned in. We’ll probably never know.

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Logic! What are they teaching at the NYTimes copy desk?

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Let’s carefully think our way — one step at a time — through this rather outlandish little story from The New York Times, the one that ran under the headline, “Funeral for Ex-Nazi in Italy Is Halted as Protesters Clash.”

It would be hard to imagine a more controversial figure in the context of modern Europe than an unrepentant Nazi. Thus, using the logic often associated with the powers that be at the Times, this man must have something to do with the hard-right Roman Catholic Church. Here’s the top of the story:

ROME – To shouts of “assassin” and “murderer,” the hearse bearing the corpse of Erich Priebke, the former Nazi who died under house arrest in Rome last Friday, wound on Tuesday through the streets toward a church in a tiny hilltop town 20 miles south of Rome. Police officers in riot gear had to hold back enraged citizens who kicked and punched the vehicle as it passed.

Eventually, the funeral was halted, Italian news media reported. Afterward, protesters and hard-right sympathizers battled in the streets. It was unclear when — even whether — it would actually take place.

For a while, it did not seem as if the former SS captain, associated with one of the most gruesome massacres of civilians in World War II, would find anyplace to rest in peace. The Diocese of Rome refused Mr. Priebke a public funeral in a church.

So, step one. The Diocese of Rome — as in the real local Catholic diocese — said “no.”

Let’s continue — carefully.

… (Up) stepped the Society of St. Pius X, a Roman Catholic group that rejects the church’s modernizing overhauls — in particular, the teaching that absolved Jews of responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus — and agreed to celebrate a furtive funeral in the town of Albano Laziale.

Now you remember the Society of St. Pius X, of course. This is a group of radical traditionalists that has been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

In this case, strangely enough, we know that because of the very next statement in this Times report.

The Society of St. Pius X is no stranger to controversy. During his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI devoted considerable energies to bringing the group into the fold, and the church has never fully abandoned that effort.

Logic! Perhaps it is best to paraphrase the wise Professor Digory thoughts in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” in the classic C.S. Lewis series “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

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Der Spiegel: Never let a good @Pontifex go to waste

The clear differences in the style of Pope Francis as opposed to his predecessors, both as Bishop of Rome and in his former position as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, have electrified the world media. Here, they exclaim, is a clergyperson who is “walking the talk” about living to serve others.

Few places seem to relish this new approach more than Der Spiegel, the German newsweekly issued forth from Hamburg, in the mostly-Protestant north of the country. On Sep. 14, in an article now translated into English, the magazine declares:

Last week Rudolf Voderholzer, 54, the bishop of the Bavarian city of Regensburg and one of Germany’s younger church leaders, was taken to task at the Vatican by the pope himself. In an admonishment to the German bishop and others attending a seminar for new bishops in Rome, Francis said: “Be close to the people and live as you preach. Always be with your flock, do not succumb to careerism and ask yourselves whether you are truly living as you preach.”

Now, there’s nothing in the official text of the speech to suggest a direct attack on Voderholzer or anyone else. In fact, the official text doesn’t even contain the exact words Der Spiegel is quoting here, though the English Spiegel text is a translation from the German; there might have been some modification in the process.

Regardless of translation, the current pope’s emphasis on austere and authentic living is clear, and it gives Der Spiegel a chance to bash both the German Catholic hierarchy and Francis’ predecessor, who just happens to be German as well:

“This is a new message for German princes of the church. Many of them have long cultivated a lifestyle oriented toward strict dogmas, prestige and a career within the church, much like former Pope Benedict XVI. But now that his successor arrives at meetings in an old car, there has been a fundamental shift. Loyalty to the pope is being completely redefined, and not just in Regensburg, where Voderholzer’s predecessor Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a fervent devotee of former Pope Benedict, alienated many Roman Catholics.”

After repeating the much-told bit about Pope Francis’ eschewing of the papal apartments for more modest quarters, Der Spiegel again hones in on national Catholic officials:

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