So this renegade Polish priest and an Episcopal bishop walk into a bar …

OK, not really. But you know how we’re always going on about stories that make people not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church seem like they are, in fact, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church? Well, here’s a great example of a religion journalist doing it right. Here’s the very top of St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion reporter Tim Townsend explaining part of a complicated scenario:

It has stood up to three Catholic bishops. It has weathered a decade-long legal storm. It has embraced doctrine far afield from its Roman roots.

Now St. Stanislaus Kostka Church is on the verge of aligning with a different denomination entirely, joining forces with the Episcopal church.

Awesome, right? The piece is chock full of good information, including doctrinal issues and the technicalities of a possible change. We learn that the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri has announced the possibile union and what it would mean for the historically Polish church (they’d get to keep their own rites and identity or choose to use Episcopal liturgies).

We get the background on where things stand on the near-interminable legal battle between St. Stanislaus and the St. Louis Archdiocese. The latter had appealed a 2012 decision that granted St. Stanislaus control to its own lay board, but later dismissed the appeal. Here’s how the tricky issue of affiliation is handled:

As part of the agreement, St. Stanislaus agreed to abstain from representing itself as affiliated with the Roman Catholic church. In the eyes of the Vatican, the church lost that affiliation in 2005, as part of a battle with then-St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke.

The Rev. Marek Bozek, the former Roman Catholic priest who has led St. Stanislaus since parishioners hired him in 2005, in violation of Roman Catholic canon law, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

But in a “September Reflection” letter posted on the parish’s website, he makes reference to the issue — posting a photo of Smith’s visit last month to the church to meet with parishioners.

Bozek said the church has lacked that kind of authority, and has been “struggling to survive without a bishop for over nine years.”

“One cannot be a Catholic without having a bishop,” he continued, citing a description of a bishop’s ministry in the “Book of Common Prayer.” “It is my hope that by the time this process is completed, we, St. Stanislaus Parish, will have a caring and wise bishop and that we will be a part of a diocese.”

I also like how we learn about St. Stanislaus’ need for a bishop, although it would be nice to know the particulars of why one is necessary. We then hear from parishioners about their mixed feelings about such a move (and that the Episcopal Church is just one of the contenders for affiliation).

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So, is Benedict XVI lying about motives for his retirement?

So let’s say that The Telegraph prints a story from its Rome bureau about the interesting new statements by Pope Benedict XVI about events surrounding his historic decision to retire. The top of the story, logically enough, starts with Benedict’s own point of view:

“God told me to do it,” the 86-year-old former pontiff told a friend, six months after his decision to step down shocked the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

God had implanted in his heart the “absolute desire” to resign and to devote himself to a life of prayer and reflection, Benedict told the anonymous confidante, according to Zenit, a Rome-based Catholic news agency.

“It was not because of any type of apparition or phenomenon of that sort,” he said, but instead the result of a “mystical experience” received during “a direct rapport with the Lord”. He said the more he sees the “charisma” of Pope Francis, his successor, the more he is convinced that it was “the will of God” that he became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.

So far, pretty normal stuff — journalistically speaking.

However, later in the story the omniscient editorial voice of the newsroom added:

Benedict returned to live in the Vatican in May, saying that he would remain “hidden from the world”, devoting the rest of his life to prayer and theological study. His remarks will do little to dampen speculation about the more worldly reasons for his departure.

Although old and frail, he does not appear to be suffering from any specific illness, prompting speculation about his true motives.

Etc., etc. Now, you put these two sections of the news report together and you can get this kind of distressed remark from a faithful GetReligion reader:

“So, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a liar?”

Actually, no, for at least two reasons — one journalistic and the other theological.

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Locking the two popes into one flawed news template

As has been our practice since day one, your GetReligionistas rarely write posts about editorials, op-ed pages or opinion stories.

There are exceptions, however. Unfortunately, the most common exceptions are when we write about opinion essays and analysis pieces that are supposed to be, or are alleged to be, news stories.

Another exception, however, is when a journalist or religion pro writes an editorial piece that is about a crucial issue directly linked to our turf — the state of religion-news coverage in the mainstream press. From time to time, we will pass along a chunk or two of that kind of piece and point readers toward the whole text.

This is one of those times.

As the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway noted the other day, Pope Francis has been doing a smashing job of freaking out mainstream journalists by serving up healthy doses of orthodox Catholic doctrine — often straight out of the Catechism — with a more casual and surprisingly quotable style and, above all, a more cheerful tone.

I read a lot of Catholic blogs and, truth be told, there are a few Catholic conservatives out there who are not fond of this new pope’s style. There are also scores of traditional Catholics online who are getting tired of the press producing blaring headlines suggesting that Pope Francis has uttered radical, progressive proclamations when a careful parsing of his words shows that he has not.

But more than anything, lots of conservative Catholics are getting really tired of press reports that contrast the DOCTRINAL content of Pope Francis’ words and actions with the actual DOCTRINE proclaimed by, all together now, the bookish, formal and (insert derogatory adjective here) patriarch Pope Benedict XVI.

Over at the New Liturgical Movement website, editor Jeffrey Tucker finally blew a gasket. After praising the content of the new papacy, and admitting he is a bit tired of the style, he gets down to business:

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Yes, Pope Francis said: All are ‘redeemed!’ Is that news?

Let’s start with the actual words spoken by Pope Francis, in his much quoted, and often warped, sermon on Mark 9:38-40 and the work of Jesus Christ in redeeming all of creation, including the people in it.

The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. “But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.” Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. …

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! “Father, the atheists?” Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!

OK, here is what that turned into once it reached the cyber-pages of The Huffington Post, with this dramatic headline:

Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed By Jesus As Well As Catholics, Pope Francis Says

Pope Francis has delivered a homily in which he states atheists who do good are redeemed through Jesus.

Speaking at the Wednesday morning Mass in his Rome residence, he told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists were saved by Christ.

In the unprepared speech, he emphasized the importance of “doing good” as a principle which unites all humanity.

OK, what we have here is two crucial doctrinal concepts that have been jammed into a journalistic blender.

First of all, the pope is talking about “redemption” and he notes, of course, that Jesus Christ died and was raised and, as the Orthodox like to say, has thus “trampled down death by death.”

So all of creation has been redeemed. The issue whether everyone in that creation manages, through grace, to accept the reality of this redemption. At that point, the key term is not “redemption,” but “salvation.” And who is saved, through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ? Those who have embraced that redemption.

For another take on this, consider the following — the blunt take offered by the famous/infamous theologian Stephen Colbert at the end of his classic showdown with scholar Philip Zimbardo, author of “The Lucifer Effect”. By all means, click right here for the full video. Meanwhile, here’s the key exchange:

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Downplaying the canonization of Christians martyred by Muslim invaders?

In a recent post about an error in a story about a new saint, readers talked about the notable lack of media coverage of another set of new saints — Christians martyred by Islamic invaders.

One reader commented:

The mainstream media didn’t seem particularly interested in a group of Catholics martyred by Islamic invaders. Every brief account I saw gave only the information that those who did the killing were “Ottomans” or “Turks.” But how many Americans are historically savvy enough to know the Turks–or Ottomans- were Moslem–and that the killings were because the Italians wouldn’t convert to Islam?

Musn’t disturb the fiction that the only bad guys in the religious conflict between Islam and Christianity were the Christian Crusaders. In fact, repeatedly one reads in the media and some popular history books the false claim that Islam always respected the religion of those they conquered.

Another said:

I think it’s fair to move from the general to the specific and wonder how many American reporters are that historically savvy. While I’m certainly in the camp that is willing to have concerns about the fictions our media seems determined to maintain to protect what certainly appears to be a common “narrative,” the failure of the writer to connect the dots may simply reflect ignorance that there are connections. Given how things Catholic–and this Pope’s election, in particular–have been so routinely (and dare I say, predictably) covered lately, the focus of this article and its deficiencies is hardly surprising.

So I wanted to be sure to highlight an Associated Press story I came across in the Washington Post. It’s about the martyrs. What do you think of the headline?

Hundreds who refused to embrace Islam are new saints in pope’s 1st canonization ceremony

At first I thought it odd that their refusal to deny Jesus Christ was put in terms of a refusal to “embrace” Islam, but I think the headline writer was merely trying to make sure that Islam’s role in their martyrdom was highlighted. From the top of the story:

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Well here’s a new spin on female ordination

Let’s begin this post with this link to the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law:

Can.  1024 A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.

Now, keep that in mind as you read this Miami Herald story about Madre Laura, who was beatified by Pope Francis on Sunday:

In her lifetime, Laura Montoya’s stubborn determination to help Colombia’s indigenous people brought the reproach of society, the political elite and the church, which viewed her work with suspicion and accused her of being unstable.

But on Sunday, an adoring nation celebrated the woman, better known as Madre Laura, as this Catholic country’s first saint.

We learn about how her hometown celebrated the momentous occasion. We learn about some of her early life experiences before we get to this paragraph:

In 1914, even before she was ordained, Montoya organized an expedition of six women, including her aging mother, and took a 10-day trip into the wilderness to live with and minister to an indigenous Emberá Katío clan near the town of Dabeiba. Initially, the mission didn’t have the church’s backing, as officials thought that such risky ventures were best undertaken by men. Church leaders called her “crazy” and “visionary,” and suggested that she might be looking for a husband in the wilderness, according to her biographer Manuel Díaz Álvarez.

It’s all really interesting, but … “ordained?” What is the writer confused about, exactly? To what is he trying to refer?

The rest of the story is well done, including discussion of Laura’s legacy and how other women followed in her path, such as:

“Laura taught us that our teaching had to come from a place of love and respect for their customs and their beliefs,” Parra said.

Montoya required her nuns to learn the local languages and live, sleep and eat in the same conditions as their congregation. That sometimes meant living in abject poverty.

The story does a good job of personalizing Montoya and describing her not just as a saint but a humorous and down-to-earth person as well. One nice detail is that one of the two people involved in the miracles attributed to Laura presented Francis with Montoya’s relics on Sunday.

I also thought this might have been a buried lede:

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Hey! So who is calling the new pope ‘unorthodox’?

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So, a faithful GetReligion reader was working his way through a story printed by The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., when a most unorthodox turn of phrase reared up and slapped him in his Catholic face.

The story focused on the fact that the sudden death of the local Catholic shepherd, Bishop Joseph McFadden, was going to provide Pope Francis his first opportunity to oversee the full process of selecting a new diocesan leader.

The outcome would offer the experts another opportunity to see what makes this pontiff tick, in terms of church doctrine and tradition. Thus, in that context, the story noted:

A few weeks ago, Francis marked the 50th world day of prayer for vocations by ordaining 10 men to the priesthood to serve in the Diocese of Rome.

Francis, who is widely considered a reformer, has received early criticism in some circles for his lack of doctrinal orthodoxy. He has selected eight cardinals to find ways to reform the Church.

Now wait just a minute!

Yes, there are people who have raised questions about the new pope’s less formal approach to liturgy, especially in comparison with the very traditional Pope Benedict XVI. But very few Catholics have raised their criticisms to the level of doctrine. In terms of his actions in the past, Francis has been a very solid Catholic on issues of morality and doctrine.

What was going on here? Didn’t the team at The Patriot-News realize it was making a very, very serious accusation?

Thus, Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz sent a note to the reporter in question (while also copying your GetReligionistas). The note said, in part:

In your article headlined “Naming successor to Bishop McFadden: For Pope Francis it will be a first of sorts,” you stated the following: “Francis, who is widely considered a reformer, has received early criticism in some circles for his lack of doctrinal orthodoxy.” I would like to know who has made that criticism. I read widely in Catholic circles and I have yet to see anyone criticize him for lacking doctrinal orthodoxy. I have seen him criticized because of how he conducts his liturgy and because he has put aside many of the trappings of the papal office, but to my knowledge, no one has said that he lacks doctrinal orthodoxy.

You may not realize it, but that’s a huge statement. For a pope to be unorthodox in doctrine would be huge news.

To the newspaper’s credit, the story was quickly tweaked — with a correction at the end.

Thus, if you visit the newspaper’s website to read that particular story, this is what you will now find:

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So what was Pope Francis up to on Holy Thursday?

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So, this pope vs. pope theme has been building, in mainstream coverage, during the amazing early days of Pope Francis. Have you noticed? One of the world’s top reporters on all things Catholic has noticed, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Here’s a classic example of the genre, drawn from a Reuters report:

Since his election on March 13, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina has broken with the more esoteric and, some would say, ostentatious style of his predecessor Benedict, saying he wants to move the Church closer to the poor and suffering.

The key word, of course, is “ostentatious,” as in:

ostentatious … adj

characterized by pretentious, showy, or vulgar display

Combine that with the dreaded phrase “some would say” and you have journalistic quicksand. Who are these alleged voices of authority caught up in that word “some”? As a regular GetReligion reader noted in a private email:

You don’t see this kind of thing on Catholic news sites — Benedict might have been more traditional but so was JPII and certainly the beloved John XXIII who still was carried around on a chair and had flabella waived at him to keep flies away. It was Benedict who got rid of the crown on the coat of arms, after all. Why no disparaging comments about the exotic outfits of the folks from the East at the Installation Mass?

This Francis vs. Benedict theme has become so popular in the news over the past few weeks that it is almost normative.

Now, the more important conflict in recent days concerned the Holy Thursday rite in which the pope washed the feet of two women, along with 10 other inmates, in a juvenile detention center. The Associated Press noted that this has driven “traditionalists” — who loved the liturgical and personal style of Pope Benedict XVI — absolutely bonkers, or words to that effect.

It is clear that some conservatives are watching these events with interest, as opposed to fear. The AP story did include this commentary from an important conservative, as opposed to “traditionalist.”

The church’s liturgical law holds that only men can participate in the rite, given that Jesus’ apostles were all male. Priests and bishops have routinely petitioned for exemptions to include women, but the law is clear.

Might I add, at this point, that it would have been good to quote the actual “law,” which I would assume is actually a liturgical rubric linked to church tradition. This actually interests me because I have never been in a Holy Thursday rite in Eastern Orthodoxy in which the clergy did not wash the feet of a wide variety of worshipers, male and female.

Back to the AP story:

Francis, however, is the church’s chief lawmaker, so in theory he can do whatever he wants.

Popes simply make or decree laws? That’s a new one for me, as well. Reading on:

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