The pope, the media and balance on pro-life ministries

It was the telephone call heard around the world, because the pope made the call. On the other end of the line was a single woman in central Italy, who mailed Pope Francis a confused, anguished letter after learning she was pregnant by a man who turned out to be married. The man demanded that she have an abortion and she refused. Then a strange telephone number appeared on her caller ID screen. It was the pope, who called to say that she made the right decision because the "child was a … [Read more...]

Rather faith-free WPost story about ministry to the hungry

As happens about this time every summer, tmatt headed to the Southern Highlands to take a week off. Thus, there was no new Scripps Howard column. There was, however, this post from GetReligion.org that I think will interest the readers of my weekly column. Enjoy. For the past two decades, I have spent quite a bit of time driving the back roads of the Southern Highlands, which is one of the many names that locals use to describe the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee and Western North … [Read more...]

The life and Times of John McCandlish Phillips

The word on the Brooklyn streets in 1959 was that a crazy preacher from Pennsylvania was helping addicts find the power to kick heroin and gang members to trade their weapons for Bibles. Reporter John McCandlish Phillips heard the talk in local churches and took the tip to his metro editors at The New York Times. This was more than a religion story, he argued. This was something truly new in urban ministry in a rough corner of the city. The editors just didn't get it. "The New York … [Read more...]

Old religion-beat questions linger, even after 25 years

Every year or so, editors are asked to sit patiently while market researchers dissect thick reports about what consumers say they want to see in their newspapers. That was already true back when Harry Moskos was editor of The Knoxville News Sentinel. But he immediately noticed something strange, when handed the executive summary of one late-1980s survey. Two words near the top of the subjects valued by readers caught his attention -- "religion" and "family." Yet the professionals … [Read more...]

‘Tis this pope’s gift to be simple

The rise of Pope Francis has certainly raised new questions for Vatican watchers, such as: How significant is it that he has not been wearing cufflinks? In the past, this kind of detail "would be seen as frivolous," noted Rocco Palmo of Philadelphia, whose "Whispers In The Loggia" site is must reading for Catholic insiders. Now, this pope's commitment to beyond-symbolic simplicity is causing religious leaders, journalists, diplomats and Catholics at every level to wrestle with the importance … [Read more...]

Why Chuck Colson spent Easter in prison

It wasn't the typical Bible text for an Easter sermon, but the preacher knew what this congregation needed to hear. Never forget, he said, what Jesus proclaimed in his first sermon: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed." This isn't the sermon that many believers hear on Easter, but it's the one that prisoners need to hear, … [Read more...]

2012: It’s religion news deja vu

The late, great Associated Press religion reporter George Cornell noticed a striking pattern as he dug into a 1981 survey of journalists in elite newsrooms such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, ABC, CBS and NBC. In the space marked "religion," 50 percent of these elite journalists wrote one word -- "none." "They wrote 'none' and many even underlined that word," said Cornell, in an interview conducted for my graduate project at the University … [Read more...]

BBC leader says race trumps religion

The full-page New York Times advertisement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation was certainly blunt -- starting with its headline telling "liberal" and "nominal" Catholics that "It's Time to Consider Quitting the Catholic Church." Conservative Catholics were outraged and called the newspaper's leaders hypocrites, claiming they would never dare to run such a fierce and offensive ad that targeted believers in other faiths, especially Islam. Sure enough, a group called Stop Islamization of … [Read more...]

God and The New York Times, once again

When it comes to the daily news, the recently retired editor of The New York Times has decided there is news and then there is news about religion and social issues. When covering debates on politics, it's crucial for Times journalists to be balanced and fair to stakeholders on both sides. But when it comes to matters of moral and social issues, Bill Keller argues that it's only natural for scribes in the world's most powerful newsroom to view events through what he considers a liberal, … [Read more...]

Bill Keller vs. the religious aliens

Less than a year after 9/11, a New York Times columnist stunned the newspaper's remaining conservative readers by suggesting that both the Vatican and Al Qaeda were on the wrong side in the global war against oppression. "The struggle within the church" in recent decades, he argued, is "interesting as part of a larger struggle within the human race, between the forces of tolerance and absolutism. That is a struggle that has given rise to great migrations (including the one that created this … [Read more...]