Is Mehmet Ali Agca crazy or just a bad Catholic?

The upcoming canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II have generated some very good press for the Roman Catholic Church. While a few articles have sought to punch holes in the reputations of the soon to be saints — a frequent criticism I have seen is that John Paul was negligent in disciplining the serial abuser Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ — most converge has been positive.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel published an in depth piece on the miracles associated with John Paul, that treated the issue with sympathy and empathy. It is too early to tell how outfits normally hostile to the papacy such as the BBC or the European leftist press will present this story. However, interest in the canonization outside of religious circles appears to be very high.

On Friday Vatican Radio reported that 93 nations will send official delegations to the April 27 canonization service, while two dozen heads of state and as many as 150 cardinals and 1,000 bishops will be present at the Mass.

One oddball item that caught me eye amongst the flurry of articles was an interview conducted by the Italian wire service ANSA with John Paul’s would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca. Here the lede of the story that ran with the headline: “Foiled killer said sinful to ‘deify’ John Paul”:

Pope John Paul II is not a saint, because only God can be considered holy and attempts to “deify a human being” are sinful, Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate the pope in 1981, said Thursday in an interview with ANSA.

The article offers some background information on Agca, who in 1981 shot and nearly killed John Paul — a crime for which he served 20 years in an Italian prison, before being deported to Turkey, where he served a further ten years imprisonment for a 1979 murder. The article further notes Agca:

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‘Fred Phelps has been excommunicated’ and other gossip

OK, folks. We need to keep news over here and gossip over there.

First, we have multiple stories that Fred Phelps — of Westboro Baptist Church fame, of “God Hates Fags” fame, of picketing veterans’ funerals fame — is “on the edge of death”.

Now he was supposedly kicked out of the Topeka-based church for advocating “kinder treatment of fellow church members.”

And what are the sources for this “news”? Facebook postings by Nate Phelps, an estranged son, who left the church 37 years ago. Here’s what he says, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal:

On Nate Phelps’ Facebook page, Nate Phelps posted: “I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps Sr., pastor of the ‘God Hates Fags’ Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the ‘church’ back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

“I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

“I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.”

The other main source is another son who is also estranged:

However, a second Phelps brother estranged from Westboro Baptist Church confirmed Sunday morning that Fred Phelps Sr. is in poor health and has been excommunicated.

“Just a quick note to assure you the information you wrote and published this morning is accurate,” Mark Phelps emailed to The Capital-Journal at 10:30 a.m. “I do not know anything more than you know, at this time, but what you wrote I know to be true, personally, just as Nathan (Nate Phelps) knows to be true also.”

Not exactly the same as hard evidence, is it? Especially given that Nate now says he’s an “LGBT Advocate”?

Years ago, when I worked at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, an investigative reporter told me how he worked: Whenever a source denied something, he would have it confirmed by four other knowledgeable sources. Only then would he go with it.

The mainstream media I’ve checked today don’t meet that standard. Besides Nate Phelps’ assertions, all they have is Westboro spokesman Steve Drain — who has denied that Fred Phelps is dying:

Drain acknowledged Fred Phelps Sr. has been admitted to Midland Care Hospice, adding he “has a couple things going on” but disputed the gravity of his health.

“The source that says he’s near death is not well informed,” Drain said Sunday.

The Capital-Journal stories have been picked up uncritically by major media, including Reuters, Huffington Post and The Blaze.

Instead of looking critically, they’ve simply been piling on, like a particularly brutal football scrimmage.

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The Independent asks why report when you can reprint PR?

How do you respond to a smear? If you are the Independent you respond with a smear of your own, it seems.

The London-based daily has picked up a story from the web and without doing any investigation of its own, has concluded that what it reads on the internet is true. One would hope that they would know better than that. Or, might this be a British example of the Dan Rather school of journalism — a story that is so good that even though it is false,  it should be true.

The left leaning newspaper published an article this week entitled “UK evangelist says Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’”. (Tom Daley is a British sportsman who recently announced he was bi-sexual.) Reporters are seldom responsible for the headlines placed atop their stories, but this title does set the tone for the journalistic errors that follow.

An evangelist is different from an evangelical.  The subject of this story, Andrea Minichiello Williams, is an attorney by trade — not a cleric or lay preacher — and the founder of Christian Concern, a conservative Christian evangelical advocacy group. Confusing evangelist and evangelical is a common error, but it presages the troubles that are to come.

The lede states:

The head of a British evangelical Christian lobby group has angered gay rights campaigners by urging Jamaica to keep same-sex intercourse illegal and reportedly suggesting  that Tom Daley is in a relationship with a man because his father died. To the dismay of mainstream church leaders Andrea Minichiello Williams, the founder of Christian Concern, spoke at conference in Jamaica to lobby against the repeal of the Caribbean island’s controversial law banning gay sex.

Let us unpack this. Mrs. Williams, is the head of evangelical group (not an evangelist), who “apparently” urged Jamaicans not to change their country’s sodomy laws.  Her words have led to “dismay”, not in Jamaica, but among gay activists — no surprise there — and “mainstream church leaders”, e.g., more than one and not just activists on the margins.  We need to wait and see who these “mainstream” leaders are, but cognoscenti of Anglican affairs will see an allusion here. One of the chief conservative evangelical lobbying groups is “Anglican Mainstream.” Is the Independent being clever? Are they suggesting a rift within the conservative wing of the church?

The editorial voice of this article is that it is somehow beyond the pale to oppose the reform of sodomy laws. While this may be the received wisdom in the offices of the Independent, the world does not march to that tune. From this month’s ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that there is no constitutional right to gay sex, to Judge Antonin Scalia’s dissents in Bowers v Hardwick and Lawrence v Texas, there is an intellectually respectable body of opinion that disagrees with the innovations endorsed by the Independent.

This is not to say the Independent must raise the objections to its thinking each time it goes off on this issue, but a degree of self-awareness on the part of the newspaper would prevent it from making the silly errors found in this story.

After laying out the controversy, the article then goes on to quote Mrs. Williams. But the quotes are followed by the caveat that they have been taken from BuzzFeed. They are further hedged about with phrases such as “reportedly illustrated” and “she is said to have added …”.

The Independent provides a hyperlink to the BuzzFeed story, but cites no other sources. It does include a quote from Christian Concern saying Mrs. Williams was “unavailable due to a private matter.”

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Rihanna’s vague voguing in The Independent

What does “improper” mean when it comes to Rihanna — the Bajan pop star? The Independent in London circles hesitantly round this word in its report on Rihanna’s publicity stunt at a mosque in Abu Dhabi last week, but never quite explains what she did that violated Islamic taboos.

Did Rihanna pull the sort of stunt beloved by Madonna and Lady Gaga — actions that appear to have been undertaken to be provocative — theological  marketing ploys designed to sell concert tickets? Are we seeing the start of a new theme in the arts and religious mockery? Will Terrance McNally’s “Corpus Christi” or Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ” be joined by Islamic equivalents? Somehow I doubt it.

A 21 October 2013 story in The Independent entitled “Rihanna told to leave Abu Dhabi mosque over ‘improper’ photo shoot” begins in the breathless prose favored by celebrity gossip writers. This school of journalism works to a formula as strict as a murder mystery. A crime is committed:

Wearing a headscarf and with her body almost fully covered, Rihanna portrayed herself as a bad girl gone good this weekend. But it has emerged that the pop star was asked to leave Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque after posing for photographs.

The body discovered:

Mosque officials said they asked the pop star to leave the compound after she turned her visit into a photo shoot opportunity, which was considered to be at odds with the sanctity of the site.

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God, guns but not gays from The Independent

Hypocrisy pays. Reading about the foibles of the great and good, the rich and famous sells newspapers. When you have a story that combines religion and hypocrisy you can count on a nice bump in circulation.

Market forces determine newspaper content. It is difficult to sell church stories to an editor. A story on the dodgy theology of the head of the Episcopal Church may generate 125,000 views on a religion news website (earning it the church newspaper equivalent of double platinum status) but most secular papers will not touch it. However, if a church leader has been caught in a bad act (think sex or money) or if religious hypocrisy is involved, the newspaper that turned down a serious story will snap up the latest Jim and Tammy Faye escapade. Yes, I know I sound like a cynic, but I plead experience in my defense.

The Independent thought it had a winner last week with its story entitled “Church of England has up to £10m invested in arms firm”, as it combined the Church of England (always a soft target) with money and hypocrisy. But I am afraid the story will not pay. The Independent‘s hypocrisy charge does not jell because the complaint is weak and it does not distinguish between the different strands of Christian moral teaching on war and ethical investing.

The headline states the CoE has invested its money in an “arms firm”, and the accompanying photo shows a man inspecting a display of automatic weapons. Who is it? The lede does not tell us:

The Church of England has invested up to £10m in one of the world’s major arms firms, which supplies systems and technology for unmanned drones and jets to conflicts around the world. The discovery, on the eve of what is set to be the biggest day of protests against DSEi – the UK’s leading arms fair — in Docklands, London, tomorrow, has led worshippers to accuse church leaders of profiting from conflict.

Strong stuff. The Independent has made the “discovery” that the Church of England has enriched itself by financing the merchants of death. From the photo accompanying we might think it was Kalashnikov. Are they now in the drone business? Maybe — the Russian government last week sold a 50 per cent share of the rifle manufacturer to private investors. Could these investors be the C.o.E.? Are we seeing a modern twist on the church militant?

The identity of the modern day Krupp is given in the story’s second paragraph.

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Removing religious voices from ‘right to die’ debate

YouTube Preview ImageThe Court of Appeal for England and Wales has upheld the blanket ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide, holding there is no “right to die” under British and European Community law. The court in Nicklinson & Anor, R (on the application of) v A Primary Care Trust [2013] EWCA Civ 961 held there was no legal, moral or social need to rethink Parliament’s prohibition on euthanasia.

However, if you turned to The Independent to find out what happened you might well be excused for thinking this was an exercise in unthinking, hard-hearted judicial tyranny. The article “Barbaric and inhumane: Paralysed man Paul Lamb hits back after judges dismiss his right-to-die appeal” is unbalanced and ill-informed. It may well be that The Independent wanted a news story to accompany an op-ed piece entitled “Comment: Case for assisted dying is overwhelming”, but I am hard pressed to tell which is news story and which is the special pleading of one of the parties.

The story opens with:

Britain’s right-to die laws are “barbaric and inhumane” a paralysed man said after three of the country’s most senior judges today rejected his appeal to be allowed assistance to help him end his own life.

Paul Lamb, 57, has spent the past 23 years receiving round-the-clock care following a car crash which left him with only a tiny degree of movement in his right arm. He said politicians were “scared to death” to bring the UK in line with other countries where assisted suicide was legal.

Having framed the story in terms of the feelings of one of the appellants the article states:

Mr Lamb said he had no plans to take his life at present. But he said: “I am doing this for myself as and when I need it. I’m doing it for thousands of other people living what can only be described as a hell. Many of them have been in touch with me begging me to continue this fight. The more it goes on the stronger I am getting,” he said.

This case tells us a great deal about the opinions of Paul Lamb and the British Humanist Association. It is not until the very last paragraph of the story that we hear the voice of someone who believes the court decidedly wisely. And we hear almost nothing as to what the court said and why it said it.
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The Independent rings for the Church Police

YouTube Preview ImageSon: (Graham Chapman, coming in the door) ‘Ello Mum. ‘Ello Dad.

Klaus: (Eric Idle) ‘Ello son.

S: There’s a dead bishop on the landing, dad!

K: Really?

Mother: (Terry Jones) Where’s it from?

S: Waddya mean?

M: What’s its diocese?

S: Well, it looked a bit Bath and Wells-ish to me.

K: (getting up and going out the door) I’ll go and have a look.

M: I don’t know who keeps bringin’ ‘em in here.

S: It’s not me!

M: I’ve got three of ‘em down by the bin, and the dustmen won’t touch ‘em!

K: (coming back in) Leicester.

M: ‘Ow d’you know?

K: Tattooed on the back o’ the neck. I’ll call the police.

M: Shouldn’t you call the church?

S: Call the church police!

K: All right. (shouting) The Church Police! ….

And now for something completely different — a news report from The Independent on this week’s meeting of General Synod of the Church of England.

But, that is not exactly true. Not the news report from York on the meeting of the Church of England’s legislature — that is correct. Rather the suggestion that the story entitled “Disruption at General Synod as man arrested on suspicion of assaulting steward” is not a farce akin to the Monty Python Church Police skit.

I sympathize with generalist reporters who are assigned to cover religion news stories. It presents a golden opportunity to make an ass of oneself. Alas, this story is an example. I do not mean the mangling of titles … The Archbishop of Canterbury is called on second and third reference “Mr. Welby” and “the Most Rev Welby”. Need I say that this is an error.

It is not this naming error that prompted me to push this piece out in the Get Religion public eye. Rather it is the author’s assumption that churches in England are  prisons or military installations. Let me take you through this story to show you what I mean.

The lede gives the basic details:

A meeting of the General Synod was disrupted when a man, described by the Church of England as having “personal health issues”, was arrested for allegedly assaulting two stewards.

A spokesman for the Church said a man was asked to wait as the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu moved in procession to the front of York Minster. He reportedly then lashed out, leaving a member of Dr Sentamu’s staff Dave Smith requiring treatment from ambulance staff.

The story adds further details, insinuating the man a the heart of the fray was a loon. The story then shifts to a discussion of the issues before synod using this bridge.

 

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