Dawn Eden

AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

After I expressed concern that a Boston Globe story on the Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse left unanswered questions, Religion News Service's David Gibson tweeted to GetReligion:

@GetReligion @tweetmattingly Worth checking this out, @nwinfield did some asking around http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Top-US-Jesuit-defends-Vatican-sex-prosecutor-5917303.php …

The Associated Press's Nicole Winfield sought to fill in the blanks from the Globe story and uncovered a significant distortion:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The head of the Jesuits in the United States defended the Vatican's new sex crimes prosecutor Tuesday, saying he had virtually no role in the order's handling of a notorious pedophile now serving a 25-year prison sentence.
The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, spoke to The Associated Press after The Boston Globe reported that the prosecutor, the Rev. Robert Geisinger, failed to report the abuser to police when he was the second highest-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago province in the 1990s.
Kesicki said Geisinger only worked for the Chicago province for about 14 weeks, from late December 1994 through March 1995, and never again. He was brought in as a temporary executive assistant to the acting provincial while the regular provincial was in Rome for a big Jesuit meeting. Geisinger had no governing authority and was tasked mainly with maintaining correspondence for his boss, said Kesicki.

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Boston Globe story on Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse leaves unanswered questions

Boston Globe story on Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse leaves unanswered questions

The Boston Globe ran a story over the weekend alleging that the Vatican's top prosecutor on sex-abuse cases failed to report an abusive priest to civil authorities when he was a high-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago Province.

Given the legwork that reporter Michael Rezendes put into culling the sources for the story, the piece is well worth your time, but it leaves some unanswered questions. There's a lot of smoke here, to be sure, but it leaves me with the feeling that the Globe could have gone to greater length to locate the source and extent of the fire. 

Here's the lede, the wording of which suggests some delicate legal vetting:

A prominent American Jesuit recently named by Pope Francis to prosecute priests accused of sexually abusing minors under church law was himself one of several Catholic officials who allowed a notorious abusive priest to remain in ministry for years after learning of his long history of sexual abuses, legal documents show.
The Rev. Robert J. Geisinger, named in September as the Vatican’s “promoter of justice,’’ was the second-highest-ranking official among the Chicago Jesuits in the 1990s when leaders were facing multiple abuse complaints against the Rev. Donald J. McGuire, a globe-trotting priest with many influential supporters, including Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
But the Jesuits failed to notify police or take effective steps to prevent McGuire from continuing to molest minors.

Got that? Geisinger was "one of several Catholic officials" who knew about McGuire's abuse but "failed to notify police or take effective steps" to prevent him from re-abusing. What is being suggested is not that he actively sought to cover up, but that he enabled evil to perpetuate by failing to do the right thing.

The story continues:

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This Patti's got no beef with Francis: Daily News on rocker Smith's tangled road to Rome

This Patti's got no beef with Francis: Daily News on rocker Smith's tangled road to Rome

Veteran Daily News rock critic Jim Farber made a rare venture into Godbeat yesterday with a story on Patti Smith's response to criticism over her planned performance at the Vatican's Christmas concert. Although Farber bases his piece upon a report in The Guardian, he improves upon his source by adding substantial recent background on Smith's faith journey.

The lede is provocative, like Smith herself:

Patti Smith wasn’t sorry for her words then - and she isn’t sorry for her actions now.
Last week, the Godmother of Punk drew criticism from all sides after accepting the invitation of Pope Francis to sing at the Vatican’s upcoming Christmas concert.
One Italian Catholic organization labeled the star “blasphemous.” Meanwhile, some hipsters found Smith’s proposed appearance hypocritical, considering she opened her very first album, "Horses,” with the famous sneer, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine.”
On Tuesday, Smith answered her critics during a talk at the Museum of The Moving Image in New York. After being asked about the controversy by The Guardian’s Vivien Goldman, who was in the audience, the rocker said, “I like Pope Francis and I’m happy to sing for him. Anyone who would confine me to a line from 20 years ago is a fool.”

Farber then goes into rock-historian mode. By his own admission, he's been writing about music since the Ford Administration, and he's well familiar with Smith's oeuvre:

Actually, the line comes from 40 years ago, kicking off a song called “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo).” The track melded Smith’s own transgressive poetry with a cover of Van Morrison’s ‘60s hit with his band Them, “Gloria.”

Then comes the closest thing Smith offers to a mea culpa

“I had a strong religious upbringing and the first word on my first LP is Jesus,” Smith explained. “I did a lot of thinking. I’m not against Jesus, but I was 20 and I wanted to make my own mistakes. And I didn’t want anyone dying for me. I stand behind that 20 year old girl, but I have evolved. I’ll sing to my enemy! I don’t like being pinned down and I’ll say what the f--k I want - especially at my age.” (Smith is now 67).

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Pope Francis's defense of doctrine sends the Associated Press spinning

Pope Francis's defense of doctrine sends the Associated Press spinning

A colleague offers the following capsule summary of Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield's latest report on Pope Francis, in which the pontiff's defense of traditional church teaching seems to baffle the Vatican correspondent:

Francis is a RADICAL -- no, no, sorry about that--he is now a conservative who sounds just like Benedict -- NO, WAIT -- he really is a liberal at heart, but he is being FORCED by those evil, evil right-wing conservatives to cave--he is at WAR with his own CDF chief (you know, the one he re-confirmed -- but never mind) -- AT WAR, I TELL YOU!

I thought he was exaggerating -- until I read the actual story. "Pope Reinforces Traditional Family Values" is a classic example of the kind of story that makes us at GetReligion ask, "What is this?" Is it meant to be hard-news journalism, or is it meant to be advocacy or commentary? And if it's commentary, or analysis, why is it not labeled as such? Why is the AP selling it to news outlets as straight reporting?

Here's the lede:

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis is seeking to reassure the church's right-wing base that he's not a renegade bent on changing church doctrine on family issues -- weeks after a Vatican meeting of bishops initially proposed a radical welcome for gays and divorced Catholics.

Give the AP credit at least for not beating around the bush.

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RNS gives story of Kenya Catholic bishops' tetanus-vaccine standoff its best shot

RNS gives story of Kenya Catholic bishops' tetanus-vaccine standoff its best shot

Since I wrote about mainstream media ignoring the story of the standoff between Kenya's Catholic bishops and their country's government concerning a tetanus-vaccination program, two new developments have come up.

First, the Kenyan outlet CapitalFM reports that Kenya's government is taking the initiative to resolve the standoff by having independent testing of the vaccine in hope of quelling the bishops' fears:

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 12 -- Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia says plans are already underway to conduct joint tests on the tetanus vaccine with all stakeholders including the Catholic Church.

Macharia said Wednesday that the analysis will be carried out within the course of next week to identify the vaccine samples and allay fears that it is harmful to women’s reproductive health.

He explained that testing will be undertaken at the Kenya Medical Research Institute in a bid to dispel the dispute surrounding the vaccine.

“I was in Naivasha on Saturday launching the polio vaccine and I announced that we shall be having a joint exercise with not just the Catholic Church but all stakeholders to make sure that people get confidence that indeed what we are saying is true. Already, that committee has been formed and they had their first meeting on Monday,” he said.

His statement followed an order by the National Assembly Committee on Health on Tuesday for an investigation into the vaccine which the Catholic Church claimed was being used to secretly sterilise women.

Second, a few hours after my post appeared Tuesday morning complaining that the story had been overlooked by US media, news of the bishops' standoff finally made the headlines via Religion News Service.

The story by RNS Kenya correspondent Fredrick Nzwili highlights the news angle I had emphasized in my GetReligion post: What is of greatest significance from a journalism standpoint is not the supposed conspiracy, which has yet to be proven, but rather the conflict between the bishops and the government on an issue that concerns public health.

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Media ignore standoff between Kenya's Catholic bishops and its government over tetanus vaccine fears

Media ignore standoff between Kenya's Catholic bishops and its government over tetanus vaccine fears

Pia de Solenni last week drew the attention of the Catholic blogosphere to a story out of Kenya that has escaped mainstream-media notice in the United States. 

In her words, "the Bishops of Kenya issued what appeared to be a courageous statement exposing a clandestine population control program disguised as a tetanus vaccine program."

Now, read the following carefully. 

The bottom line is that if the bishops' allegations are true, it's a serious issue and a major news story. And if their allegations are false, it's a serious issue and a major news story. Either way, this is a journalism issue.

So where is the news coverage?

Pia de Solenni quotes the statement, which reads in part:

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Religion News Service's LGBT blogger omits a needed Q(& A)

Religion News Service's LGBT blogger omits a needed Q(& A)

Religion News Service has a new blog on being "Faithfully LGBT," and the first item by blogger Eliel Cruz (other than his introductory post) is a report on the "Gay in Christ" conference held last weekend at the University of Notre Dame.

Besides offering his opinions of what went on at the conference -- which is fine, that's his job -- Cruz attempts to give a report of what went on. In the course of doing so, he makes an observation about an audience member:

Courage, a familiar Catholic organization that claims to help people with same-sex attraction or “homosexual desire,” was not officially involved with the conference. Some tension arose when a member of Courage—who seemed to only attend the very first night specifically for Ron Belgau’s presentation—vocally pushed back at the idea that Courage’s twelve step program to help overcome homosexual desires was not effective or even “Catholic enough.” 

My eyebrows went up when I read Cruz's comment that "a member of Courage...seemed to only attend the very first night specifically for Ron Belgau's presentation. I knew that was wrong -- because the member in question, Daniel Mattson, is a personal friend of mine. In fact, I was seated next to him as he "pushed back" during the Q&A after Belgau's talk. 

When I alerted him to Cruz's odd inferral, Mattson, who lives more than two hours' drive from Notre Dame's South Bend, Indiana, campus, responded in an e-mail:

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MassLive.com offers a rare glimpse into the life of an African-American Catholic priest

MassLive.com offers a rare glimpse into the life of an African-American Catholic priest

MassLive.com, which I praised in this space a couple months back for Ann-Gerard Flynn's thoughtful piece on locals' veneration of a touring relic of St. Anthony, has shown once again that it gets religion, this time with a sensitive and nuanced look at the vocational journey of an African-American Catholic priest.

Reading "African-American priest from Springfield finds his place in Catholicism, on campuses," I was surprised to discover that reporter Dan Warner does not normally cover the religion beat; his articles run the gamut of local topics. Judging by this engaging soft lede, he has a talent for storytelling:

WESTFIELD -- The Italian woman knelt in a front pew, twisting her neck to look at the man in the back of the Catholic church. She leaned to her husband.
"Guarda--look," she whispered in Italian. "Nero" (black).
He must be Baptist, she said. She went back to praying, nervously glancing over her shoulder.
The man in the back row finished praying and stood.
"Buon giorno," he said on his way out of the church.
He walked out the front door, along the side of the church and around back into the sacristy, put on his vestments and walked out to the altar to begin saying mass.
The man is the Rev. Warren Savage. And the moral of this true story, Savage said, is that we don't know people. Too often, people make assumptions based on appearance, and then miss a chance to learn and make a connection with someone else.
They never know what conversation they could have had. They never know that the African-American man in the back pew attended the Pontifical North American College in Rome and speaks Italian.

I like the delicacy with which Warner approaches Savage's experience as a member of a clerical culture in which he has relatively few African-American peers. Another reporter might taken advantage of the race angle to focus on occasions when Savage faced bigotry and prejudice. Warner doesn't shy away from discussion of the outsider aspects of Savage's experience, but he also avoids reducing the priest to a stereotype. Savage comes off as neither a plaster saint, nor a cassocked crusader. He is rather a very human priest, conscious of his own failings as he pursues holiness and serves his flock.

Particularly nice is this observation debunking a popular prejudice that has nothing to do with race:

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Lost in translation: Mainstream media ignores significant error in English version of Vatican synod's final report

Lost in translation: Mainstream media ignores significant error in English version of Vatican synod's final report

Three days after the Vatican belatedly released the English-language version of the final report of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Commonweal blogger Robert P. Imbelli wrote yesterday that he found a "particularly egregious" error in the translation:

Here is the English paragraph:
3. With these words in mind, we have gathered together the results of our reflections and our discussions in the following three parts:listening, looking at the situation of the family today in all its complexities, both lights and shadows; looking, our gaze is fixed on Christ to re-evaluate, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty and dignity of the family; and facing the situation, with an eye on the Lord Jesus, to discern how the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family.
 And here is the Italian:
4. Alla luce dello stesso discorso abbiamo raccolto i risultati delle nostre riflessioni e dei nostri dialoghi nelle seguenti tre parti: l’ascolto, per guardare alla realtà della famiglia oggi, nella complessità delle sue luci e delle sue ombre; lo sguardo fisso sul Cristo per ripensare con rinnovata freschezza ed entusiasmo quanto la rivelazione, trasmessa nella fede della Chiesa, ci dice sulla bellezza, sul ruolo e sulla dignità della famiglia; il confronto alla luce del Signore Gesù per discernere le vie con cui rinnovare la Chiesa e la società nel loro impegno per la famiglia fondata sul matrimonio tra uomo e donna.
One notices at once the difference in paragraph numeration which can certainly cause confusion. But more serious is the omission from the last sentence of the English of the all-important: "the family founded upon the marriage between man and woman."

Now, this error would seem to be news, as it follows an earlier incident in which a confusing translation resulted in embarrassment for the Vatican. Here is how Catholic News Agency reported the controversy regarding the synod's midterm report

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