Doing right by the pope — and by the readers

What a pleasure it is to see a writer do it right. So it’s a pleasure to read John L. Allen Jr.’s interview with Cardinal Sean O’Malley in the Boston Globe.

Allen, an associate editor of the Globe, brings years of skill and experience in having covered the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter in interviewing the archbishop of Boston.

The story, which Allen wrote along with religion reporter Lisa Wangsness, picks the brain of Pope Francis via the man who, as it says, “is widely considered to be Pope Francis’ closest American adviser.” The journalists set a balanced tone right from the first three paragraphs:

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley says he shares in the sense of wonder at how swiftly Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention and softened, with his sometimes startling words and personal gestures, the image of the Roman Catholic Church.

But he cautions that those with high expectations that the shift in tone presages major changes in church teachings on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and other flashpoint issues are likely to be disappointed.

“I don’t see the pope as changing doctrine,’’ O’Malley said in an interview with the Globe, though he said the pontiff’s focus on compassion and mercy over doctrinal purity has reverberated powerfully throughout the church.

That’s another sign of an original reporter. Allen is aware of the tone in many secular media, anticipating liberal changes in the Roman Catholic Church. But unlike many colleagues, he chooses reporting over parroting.

He is also scrupulous in telling us what limitations he accepted for the interview. One is not to bring up a flap at a local Catholic school, where someone wasn’t used to provide food service after revealing that he’s gay. That’s analogous to Bob Costas’ agreement to confine his Wednesday interview with President Obama to matters related to the Winter Olympics.

Nor does Allen assume everyone knows O’Malley’s prominence in clerical circles. He offers this crisply written background:

O’Malley’s read on Francis carries special weight.

He is the only American cardinal Francis knew well before his election. O’Malley has traveled widely in Latin America, and once stayed at the Buenos Aires residence of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. They conversed comfortably in Spanish, a language O’Malley speaks fluently.

The 69-year-old archbishop is the only American on the pontiff’s all-important “G8” council of eight cardinal advisers, who will have their third session with Francis later this month to ponder reform of the Vatican bureaucracy and other matters.

He adds later that it was O’Malley who announced in December that Francis was forming a commission to deal with sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

The interview offers some tantalizing tips on future developments under Francis. One is to boost women’s leadership, even at the Vatican level:

[Read more...]

Newsflash! Not all Catholics think alike!

Hey! Did you know that a lot of Catholics actually disagree with church teachings?

To put it another way: Have you been ignoring all polls, and not talking to any Catholics, on the matter for the last quarter-century or more?

If so, let Univision and the Washington Post get you up to speed. A brand-spankin’-new poll reveals that “Most Catholics worldwide disagree with church teachings on divorce, abortion and contraception,” according to a breathless article in the Post.

Well, OK, it’s more nuanced than that. The article says the poll shows divisions among Catholics worldwide and a challenge for their still-new Papa:

Between the developing world in Africa and Asia, which hews closely to doctrine on these issues, and Western countries in Europe, North America and parts of Latin America, which strongly support practices that the church teaches are immoral.

The widespread disagreement with Catholic doctrine on abortion and contraception and the hemispheric chasm lay bare the challenge for Pope Francis’s year-old papacy and the unity it has engendered.

A companion piece in the Post lays out some of the numbers in big, colorful tiles, rather like the Windows 8 “Metro” desktop. Among the results:

  • 87 percent of Catholics say Pope Francis is doing a good or excellent job.
  • 99 percent of Ugandan Catholics oppose gay marriage, compared with 27 percent of Catholics in Spain.
  • 78 percent of Catholics support the use of contraception (but what kinds, they apparently weren’t asked).
  • 65 percent of Catholics say abortion should be allowed in some or all cases.
  • 30 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage.

It sounds pretty systematic, but the Post, to its credit, notes a weakness:

The poll, which was done by Bendixen & Amandi International for Univision, did not include Catholics everywhere. It focused on 12 countries across the continents with some of the world’s largest Catholic populations. The countries are home to more than six of 10 Catholics globally.

What I sought in vain was a comparison with some previous polls. Just before Pope John Paul II’s 1987 U.S. visit, a New York Times-CBS News poll indicated that most American Catholics respected the pope but disagreed with him on issues like divorce, birth control and women’s ordination. I.e., rather like the freshly minted poll.

The Post did note — around the last quarter of the story, long after the lede — that the Univision poll “mirrored ones that show U.S. Catholics support married priests, female priests, abortion and contraception.” It made no direct comparisons on findings, though.

The article uses a think-tanker for context, but not very well:
[Read more...]

Francis is the right kind of pope, at least for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone has done gaudy before. Its writers have weathered Lady Gaga’s meat gown, Madonna’s frills and external bras, Bowie’s androgynous alien Ziggy Stardust and more. Yet its cover story gets goggle-eyed at Catholic trappings — the “absurd, impossibly baroque backdrop of the Vatican” — just to show Pope Francis as moderate and low-key. And a liberal, modern, progressive (i.e., good) pontiff.

All that and more goes into the cover story of the current Rolling Stone, painting Francis as a huge surprise to a dusty, arthritic institution: a sweet man bursting with idealism, pushing the Roman Catholic Church to shed its benighted notions of politics and morality.

GetReligionista Mark Kellner wrote a breezy, well-deserved diss to the Rolling Stone article. Now let’s peel a few layers off this onion.

What Stone writer Mark Binelli gives us is an expanded version of hopeful chatterings last year by liberal media, when Francis was elected. Granted, Rolling Stone celebrates colorful writing, but Binelli’s story reads like an odd mix of naïvete and cynicism. Case in point:

Against the absurd, impossibly baroque backdrop of the Vatican, a world still run like a medieval court, Francis’ election represents what his friend Elisabetta Piqué, an Argentine journalist who has known him for a decade, calls “a scandal of normality.”

Whatever Piqué meant (and her articles aren’t linked from the Rolling Stone piece), it’s doubtful that she would have mixed periods centuries apart, like Baroque and medieval, in a single sentence.

It gets worse — nine times worse, according to Damon Linker of The Week, who lists nine ridiculous claims in the Rolling Stone article. Linker rightly scorns, for instance, the incredible comparison of Pope Benedict XVI with Freddy Kreuger:

After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis’ basic mastery of skills like smiling in public seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic.

Comments Linker: “Let’s ponder the spectacle of a journalist likening a head of state and the spiritual leader of about 1 billion people to Freddy Krueger. Not because he made a habit of terrorizing teenagers, mind you. But because of what he ‘looked like.’ ”

And when Binelli wades into politics, he’s clearly out of his depth. Now, no one expects seasoned political writers at Rolling Stone; but theoretically, someone at the magazine should have copyread his piece. They might have caught this:

The touchingly enduring Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Bulworth/Aaron Sorkin fantasy in which a noble political figure finally tells the American people the truth tends not to happen in real-life democracy, you may have noticed. There’s too much money, too many special interests infecting electoral politics. Such a scenario could probably take place only in an arcane throwback of an institution like the Vatican, where secret ballots and an utter absence of transparency made the rise of an unknown quantity like Bergoglio possible. Had the race instead been for an obscure House seat in Kentucky, the opposition research team would have reduced his campaign to rubble within a couple of weeks.

Leaving aside the 18th century-style first sentence, the paragraph contradicts itself. First it says that too many dollars and special interests taint American democracy. Then it says the dysfunction can happen only in a “secret” institution like the Vatican.

And keep in mind that this is supposed to be a bad thing that forces the election of a bland, traditional pope rather than a colorful reformer.

[Read more...]

Concerning AP and the Vatican’s ‘glass ceiling’ for women

Your GetReligionistas received several angry emails this past week about the following Associated Press story, each of them triggered by a single unattributed term in the piece. In The Washington Post, this piece ran under the following headline:

Pope: Women should play expanded role in Church

Nothing unusual there of course, unless you, like me, were surprised to see the Post copy desk go with an upper-case “C” on the word Church, which is Catholic tradition but not AP style.

No, what set our readers off — some of them non-Catholics, by the way — was a pair of words near the top of this alleged work of straightforward news copy.

Can you spot the red flag?

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis … lauded women for their sensitivity toward the society’s weak and “gifts” like intuition, insisting they take on greater responsibilities in the Catholic church, as well as in professional and public spheres.

Francis was full of praise about female talent and untapped potential in a speech at the Vatican to an Italian women’s group. But the pope gave no sign that the Vatican glass ceiling against ordaining women for the priesthood might see some cracks during his papacy.

From day one of his papacy in March, Francis has been trying to make the Catholic church more welcoming, but it forbids women from becoming priests, arguing among other things, that Jesus and his apostles were men.

Actually, there are several groaners in there, including the fact that anyone would need to argue about the fact that Jesus and the 12 apostles were all males.

Argue? Isn’t that something like someone needing to “argue” about whether the moon travels around the earth or that the Mother of God was a woman? (Personal note: Yes, I am an Eastern Orthodox layman and accept the teachings of the ancient church on this matter, although that was not the case when I was a Protestant.)

What the AP team meant to say is that arguments about women serving as priests center on what that historical fact MEANS and whether or not 2,000 years of tradition in the ancient churches is still binding on modern believers.

So there is that.

[Read more...]

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:

[Read more...]

‘Moderate’ cardinal does some brash media criticism

As always, the annual March For Life has unleashed waves of debate and criticism about the news coverage, or lack of coverage, of this event.

In this case, one of the most interesting quotes this week came from Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and it related to the ongoing interest in what Pope Francis meant when he offered that famous — all together now — quotation that said:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. … The teaching of the church … is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

And, of course, he also said that the church:

“… cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. … We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

In the mainstream press, this has evolved into a sound bite in which the pope says Catholics are “obsessed” with abortion and it’s time for Catholics to stop marching, stop counseling at abortion facilities, stop teaching their doctrines to their children in Catholic schools, etc., etc.

Enter Cardinal O’Malley, who is usually seen as one of the more moderate or even progressive voices at the top of the American Catholic hierarchy. He certainly has his share of conservative Catholic critics. Also recall that, as the leader of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Boston prelate also delivered the pre-march homily that annually serves as a kind of state of the union address for the pro-life movement.

Thus, it is interesting that O’Malley, in an interview with The Boston Herald, offered this bit of media criticism about mainstream news coverage of Pope Francis and, in particular, that “obsessed” quotation:

The normal Catholic in the parish might hear a sermon on abortion once a year. They’ll never hear a sermon on homosexuality or gay marriage. They’ll never hear a sermon about contraception. But if you look at the New York Times, in the course of a week, there will be 20 articles on those topics. So who is obsessed?

Yes, there is more:

[Read more...]

Pope Francis to the media: Try being good neighbors

Think of this as a one-time GetReligion commentary from a guest who is an expert, in many ways, on the behavior of the professionals who work in the world’s news media. This is, of course, the annual papal message for World Communications Day, marking the feast of St Francis de Sales — the patron of writers and journalists.

Click here for the full document.

Now, parts of this text raise some interesting question. The pope is, clearly, serving as a good cop and a bad cop at the same time, in terms of his commentary on the news business.

But which point of view gets the upper hand in this essay? That’s where I would like to hear from GetReligion readers in the comments pages (those of you who are patient enough for the whole Disqus process).

Let’s start here:

In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.

Would the people charged with moderating the comments pages at The National Catholic Reporter agree? Times have been rather rough over there.

Now, only a few words later, there is the flip side of the coin, with @Pontifex offering some thoughts — plus and minus — on (I’m reading between the lines) everything from that MSNBC vs. Fox News thing to Twitter:

The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.

While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement. What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding? We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.

Some would consider that final statement to be quite wise.

Others in the world of social media will simple scream: LOL!

[Read more...]

Concerning that Milbank column and the WPost news report

YouTube Preview Image

First of all, to those who have written or tweeted on this: Yes, your GetReligionistas saw the Dana Milbank column in The Washington Post, the one in which he goes all Pat Robertson on the March For Life faithful. You know, like this:

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family asked Christians to pray for rain to fall on Barack Obama in 2008 when he accepted the presidential nomination. Various religious conservatives have said that hurricanes, earthquakes and other meteorological phenomena were divine punishment of wayward humans.

So what are we to make of Wednesday’s March for Life on the Mall in Washington? The temperature was 12 degrees at the start of the annual antiabortion event, the wind chill below zero, and participants were trudging about in snow and ice from the previous day’s storm. …

(If) there are weather gods, they may have been making a pointed comment about a movement that has become frozen in time.

The problem, of course, is that Milbank is a full-time liberal columnist and he is on the Post payroll to voice his opinions, not to cover the news. GetReligion rarely focuses on opinion pieces. If guess one could also argue that there is another problem linked to this reality, which is that the roster of full-time columnists on the payrolls (as opposed occasional columnists from think tanks and/or syndicated columnists) in the news-and-editorial departments of the Post contains zero cultural conservatives. Have I missed someone?

The other problem is that the non-satirical point in this opinion column — that the movement to oppose abortion on demand has become “frozen in time” — doesn’t mesh very well with the actual sidewalk-level reporting in the Post about this year’s events. As the main report noted, near the top:

The world’s largest anti­abortion event, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, grows younger each year. The Mall between Seventh Street and the Washington Monument was full for a few hours with youth groups from across the eastern half of the country.

Abortion has been legal in the United States for these young people’s entire lives, and the movement’s leaders say the latest generation of activists is creating a more upbeat culture. Graphic images of fetuses and angry sermons shouted through bullhorns were rare Wednesday. Instead, the Mall was filled with people holding placards with such slogans as “We are the pro-life generation” and large images of a smiling Pope Francis. Speakers pumped out dance music.

Although most marchers are Catholic, particularly members of high school and college groups from parochial schools and Catholic universities, organizers closed the event with a well-known non-Catholic — evangelical leader James Dobson, who appeared with his adopted son.

The Post team did, as mentioned in an earlier post, miss crucial content related to the tone and content of the march when it failed to cover the pre-event homily by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a major voice in the middle of the Catholic leadership spectrum at the start of the Pope Francis era. The advance text of that “state of the union” address to the pro-life movement can be found right here.

But the transition at the front of the march was covered in other ways, including crucial material in that calm and newsy event story on page A2. For example:

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X