Pod people: Vatican gay lobby or a gay Lobby?

Where should the stress be placed in Pope Francis’ phrase the “gay lobby”? Upon the first word “gay” or the second, “lobby”?

This semantic game animated my discussion this week with Todd Wilken, the host of Lutheran Public Radio’s Issues, Etc program, as we did this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to listen). In our conversation we contrasted The New York Times coverage of Pope Francis’s comments that a gay lobby existed at the Vatican to the coverage in the European and religion press.

Wilken started off by asking if this whole topic was really new news? I was polite and responded that this issue is only 100 years or so old, which I admit was a misstatement on my part. But it would’ve been bad form to quote Pope Pius V on a Lutheran program.

In his Constitution Horrendum illud scelus of 30  August 1568, Pius stated:

In his That horrible crime, on account of which corrupt and obscene cities were destroyed by fire through divine condemnation, causes us most bitter sorrow and shocks our mind, impelling us to repress such a crime with the greatest possible zeal.

Quite opportunely the Fifth Lateran Council [1512-1517] issued this decree: “Let any member of the clergy caught in that vice against nature, given that the wrath of God falls over the sons of perfidy, be removed from the clerical order or forced to do penance in a monastery” (chap. 4, X, V, 31).

So that the contagion of such a grave offense may not advance with greater audacity by taking advantage of impunity, which is the greatest incitement to sin, and so as to more severely punish the clerics who are guilty of this nefarious crime and who are not frightened by the death of their souls, we determine that they should be handed over to the severity of the secular authority, which enforces civil law.

Therefore, wishing to pursue with greater rigor than we have exerted since the beginning of our pontificate, we establish that any priest or member of the clergy, either secular or regular, who commits such an execrable crime, by force of the present law be deprived of every clerical privilege, of every post, dignity and ecclesiastical benefit, and having been degraded by an ecclesiastical judge, let him be immediately delivered to the secular authority to be put to death, as mandated by law as the fitting punishment for laymen who have sunk into this abyss.

Pius did not mince words. Obviously.

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Got news? Is a global ‘war on Christianity’ newsworthy?

Would it be newsworthy if a U.S. Senator claimed in a public address that American taxpayer dollars are being used in a war against Christian believers in — to pick one key region — the Holy Land?

Apparently not, since Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made that claim yesterday at the Faith and Freedom Conference and the media has all but ignored it. As James Hohmann of Politico reports:

“There is a war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide,” he said. “And your government, or more correctly, you, the taxpayer, are funding it.”

Although it was noticed by a handful of the D.C.-based, politically oriented sites, few mainstream outlets picked up on the story (a mention by CBS News and the AP are the only ones I could find).

Why the silence?

Imagine if a senator — a potential candidate for president, in fact — had claimed we were funding a war on Islam, or Hinduism, or Judaism. Would that not be a front-page story? Why then the difference when it comes to Christianity?

Part of the reason, I suspect, is because few journalists understood what Sen. Paul is even talking about. The socially conservative Christians at the conference knew what he meant, but that is because they read alternative media sources. Religious media outlets mention persecution of Christians around the globe nearly every week, though such stories rarely find their way into mainstream news stories. Even when, earlier this month, the Vatican claimed that 100,000 Christians are killed annually because of their faith, no major media seemed interested enough to do a follow-up on the assertion.

Perhaps some journalists thought that by reporting on Sen. Paul’s statement they would be required to explain the context. But they needn’t have worried about that. Here, for example, is the entire mention by the Associated Press in their 900+ word article titled, “GOP leader says ‘a war on Christianity’ is funded by taxpayers”:

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The big questions facing that out gay Catholic priest

It is my experience, through my decades on the religion beat, that liberal Catholics genuinely love talking to mainstream news reporters.

That said, I have also observed — click here for a classic example — that liberal Catholics, especially if they are wearing collars or have the word “sister” in front of their names, do NOT enjoy answering doctrinal questions in the vicinity of recording devices.

Off the record chats? Sure. Background material for those wonderful paraphrased passages in The New York Times that go on and on with no hint of on-the-record attribution? Go for it. Discussions of “reform” in the church, with the questions all framed in precisely the terms they want to see them framed? You betcha.

You see, there is this place called the Vatican and, from time to time, non-liberal Catholics (many of them laypeople who own recording devices or know how to use Internet search engines) have been known to send troubling verbatim transcripts to the powers that be in Rome or to the headquarters of any local Catholic dioceses that happen to be quite loyal to Rome.

You can see this religion-beat reality, methinks, lurking in the background of the recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article about the openly gay Catholic priest who is doing what authors tend to do — doing lots of interviews and speeches about a book that he wants to sell. This book — “Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest” — used to have the word “Anonymous” on the cover, but Father Gary Meirer has put his name on a new edition.

So here is the opening of this news feature:

ST. LOUIS – Standing in front of a stained-glass window on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis earlier this week, the Rev. Gary Meier addressed a congregation of sorts. It had been nearly a year since the Roman Catholic priest had stood before a flock.

That was last June, when Meier told his parishioners at Saints Teresa and Bridget Church in north St. Louis that he would take a leave of absence “to discern what ministry God was calling me to do.” Meier, 49, had talked to St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson and told him that he could no longer teach the Catholic church’s stance on homosexuality.

“I have tried over the years to reconcile my silence as a gay priest with that of the Church’s increasingly anti-gay stance. I have been unsuccessful,” Meier writes in his book “Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest.” “I was hopeful that I could find a way to have integrity while remaining part of a hierarchy that is anti-gay — I was unsuccessful.”

Now, this story does include a brief, accurate, summary of what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality. As always, the key is that the church draws a bright red line between issues linked to “sexual orientation” as a condition and the moral status of homosexual acts. This has obvious implications for debates about the priesthood. Thus:

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Why was Vatican mentioned in Womenpriest story?


The editor will be announced in an LA Daily News board meeting. The printing press, symbolizing publishing, will be made out of lollipops. The staff will agree to follow the direction of “our editor and blackjack dealer.”

But the real departure from Los Angeles Times tradition will be evident when Maria Eitz approaches the computer to write her first story.

Does any of that make sense to you? How about this lede to a story that ran in the Los Angeles Times this week?

SAN FRANCISCO — The priest will be ordained in a purple Lutheran church. The Communion bread, symbolizing the body of Christ, will be gluten-free. The congregation will pray to “our mother our father in heaven.”

But the real departure from Roman Catholic tradition will be evident when Maria Eitz approaches the altar Sunday for the laying on of hands that turns parishioner into priest.

So, according to the logic here, you can deny transubstantiation, get ordained in, literally, a Lutheran church (no, not my kind!), and get all gender-weird about God the Father and that’s totally cool and not even a “real” departure from Roman Catholic “tradition?” In what world? Why is Roman Catholic even mentioned here? Seriously?

Also, these aren’t items of tradition, but doctrine. Someone who doesn’t understand the difference between Christian doctrine and Christian tradition has no business writing a story on non-Catholics getting ordained in non-Catholic ceremonies. Period. When editors and reporters are so unfamiliar with Christian doctrine — and tradition — that they produce stories such as this, we all lose.

These stories have been so bad for so long that I’m beginning to wonder if journalists didn’t, like, sign a pact with some agent of journalism darkness to see how much idiocy could be spread under one story topic. It’s just that bad.

Take the headline:

Women becoming priests without Vatican’s blessing
Small numbers of Catholic women are ignoring the ban on female priests and are ordained without the church’s acknowledgment.

The Roman Catholic church is an organization that sets it’s own rules. This headline makes no more sense than saying:

Auto mechanics becoming professors without UCLA’s blessing
Small numbers of auto mechanics are ignoring the rules on who becomes professors and are given tenure without UCLA’s acknowledgement

or

Golfers becoming infielders without Yankees blessing
Small numbers of golfers are ignoring MLB rules and are being named infielders without the Yankees’ acknowledgment

I’m sure you could do better than me at this game.

The story is riddled with errors and weirdness.

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Pope Francis’ ‘obsession’ with the devil

It’s kind of charming that all popes have to deal with bad media coverage and global press frenzies. This week we’ve seen some awful media coverage of Pope Francis, including coverage of his blessing of a man after Mass on Sunday. Part of the blame must go to the Italian press, which really went crazy with the story in a way that might not be prudent. But I’ll restrict myself to the English-language media. Let’s begin with the Telegraph (U.K.):

Pope Francis appears to have been captured on video performing an exorcism in St Peter’s Square.

The astonishing footage, taken immediately after Pentecostal mass on Sunday 19th May, shows the Pontiff approach the second of two wheelchair bound people, whose face is pixelled out.

After a priest leans across the boy or young man to tell Francis something, the Pope’s expression becomes more serious, the voice-over notes. He then grips the top of the subject’s head firmly and is seen pushing him down into his wheel chair. As this is happening the Pontiff recites an intense prayer, and the boy’s mouth drops wide open and he exhales sharply, Italian press reports added this morning.

Where to begin? Let’s begin by pointing out that Sunday was Pentecost. Not Pentecostal, which suggests something else entirely.

OK, as for this exorcism, it would be a curious exorcism indeed since it was relatively quick and spontaneous, compared to the rites and protocols used by Roman Catholics and other traditional Christians. How to analyze these claims, which seem to be fueled largely by the claims of one Fr. Gabriele Amorth? Usually the media are really good at being skeptical of the claims of any Catholic and it would be wise to reach deep for just a tad of that skepticism when covering this one, as Mark Shea explains here. I’m not saying his claims shouldn’t be covered, but they should be placed in context of previous claims he’s made and how he’s viewed by, say, traditionalist Catholics.

I’m perhaps most disappointed by various reports I saw under the Associated Press. Take, for instance, how WHPTV headlined its AP story on the matter:

Pope Francis accidentally performs exorcism

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis’ obsession with the devil has taken on remarkable new twists, with a well-known exorcist insisting Francis helped “liberate” a Mexican man from four different demons, despite the Vatican’s insistence that no such papal exorcism took place.

This isn’t journalism. It’s very embarrassing. That word “accidentally” is scandalously untrue as is every other word in the headline. And how about that lede? Obsession? Obsession? Excuse me? What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is this?

A longer version of the story is headlined, at Newser.com,

 The pope and the devil: Francis’ obsession with Satan leads to suspicion he performed exorcism

The story is written, according to that link, by the AP’s Vatican reporter, which is somewhat difficult for me to believe. I mean, all reporters should know this, but religion reporters should definitely know that Satan figures prominently in Christian thought. You want to write about someone completely over-the-bend obsessed about Satan? How about this guy?

I mean, is the Pope being Catholic really something we want to have straight news writers present as “obsession?” And, what’s the substantiation for this sick compulsion that Pope Francis has? Let’s see what’s in the story:

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That’s one very, very poor headline about the pope

As I have stressed many times here at GetReligion, it’s important for readers to understand that reporters rarely write the headlines that accompany their stories.

Editors and specialists at copy desks write the headlines. It’s tough work, and I say that as someone who did that job for several years early in my career.

A good headline can really help a story. A bad one can warp the framework in which the reader encounters the ideas and fact in the text. Alas, that’s just the way the business works.

I often wonder if your GetReligionistas need to develop a special feature or slug-line for bad headlines about religion, especially bad headlines about stories that are either really good or, at the very least, solid.

Take, for example, that Huffington Post headline that dominated a Reuters report about yet another interesting statement — from remarks made without a prepared text — by Pope Francis. Let’s look at a key chunk of the text first:

“If we step outside of ourselves, we will find poverty,” he said, repeating his call for Catholics to do more to seek out those on the fringes of society who need help the most,” he said from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Today, and it breaks my heart to say it, finding a homeless person who has died of cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals, that is news, but the many children who don’t have food — that’s not news. This is grave. We can’t rest easy while things are this way.”

The crowd, most of whom are already involved in charity work, interrupted him often with applause.

“We cannot become starched Christians, too polite, who speak of theology calmly over tea. We have to become courageous Christians and seek out those (who need help most),” he said.

This is yet another example of the pope attempting to promote that has been called a “religious sense” or a “religious sensibility” that surrounds the events of everyday life. See my recent Scripps Howard column for some additional examples.

His point is that true faith is found in words matched with deeds, not with words alone.

So what was the headline at HuffPo?

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Womenpriests again: The people vs. paper scenario

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Anyone who has ever worked on the religion beat knows the drill.

You are writing a story about a controversial topic, a topic that people in the establishment of a religious body are not anxious to talk about. The rebels, on the left or the right, are anxious to tell their story.They will talk your ear off, as long as you don’t ask them any challenging questions.

Meanwhile, the establishment leaders — on the left or the right — just want the subject to go away. Rather than granting an interview or two, they hand out a printed press release making the usual old arguments against the rebels.

In other words, you end up with a story in which real people get to debate a piece of paper. It is rarely a fair fight.

I think this is what happened in the following Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal story about another ordination in the Womenpriests Movement, but I am not sure about that.

(By the way, the movement’s website spells their name “Womenpriests,” as opposed to “Women Priests” or “WomenPriests.” I keep seeing variations, but, in the future, “Womenpriests” it will be here at GetReligion — unless they change it again.)

The top of this story hits all the familiar points, in a people vs. paper scenario. But here is my question: Did the real Catholic officials refuse to tell their side of the story or did the newspaper’s leaders make a decision to turn this into a people vs. paper scenario? In other words, did the Courier-Journal team refuse to talk to the Catholics, or did the Catholics refuse to talk to the Courier-Journal? More on that later.

But here is the usual personal-voice opening for a Womenpriests story:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Rosemarie Smead sees herself as preparing all her life for the step she’s about to take.

She was brought up a devout Catholic. She lived for a short time as a cloistered nun. She has theology and counseling degrees. She marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala. — then worked with troubled children there for years. She forged a career as an Indiana University Southeast professor, training school counselors.

Now the petite 70-year-old from Bedford, Ky., is preparing for what she freely admits is a flagrant defiance of Roman Catholic law — specifically Canon 1024, which restricts the priesthood to baptized men. …

Smead is scheduled to be ordained by the dissident Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The service will take place in a Protestant sanctuary.

It will be the first such ordination in Louisville by the decade-old Women Priests group, which has been holding such services around the world.

“It’s illegal, but it’s valid,” said Smead. “In order to challenge this law, we have to break it.”

The story includes other information. Active Catholics support church teachings on this subject, while inactive Catholics want to see women ordained. And the pieces of paper from the local archbishop say what they say. No humans are interviewed on the side of the church.

It is also interesting to note — once again — that the story does not question in any way the apostolic succession of the women bishops, nor does it talk about the role of Old Catholic splinter groups in the history of the Womenpriests ordinations.

Instead, readers are simply told:

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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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