Dawn Eden

A tale of Twin Cities: Pioneer Press outdoes Strib with stellar story on bishop's meeting with abuse survivors

A tale of Twin Cities: Pioneer Press outdoes Strib with stellar story on bishop's meeting with abuse survivors

After I wrote in this space that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune 's over-reliance on SNAP marred an otherwise good story on Archbishop John Nienstedt's meeting with abuse survivors, I received an e-mail pointing me to the Pioneer Press's take on the same story.

The e-mail was from the meeting's organizer, Bob Schwiderski, and although he himself did not say which story he preferred, for me it is no contest. Pioneer Press columnist Rubén Rosario didn't look to SNAP, or any outside advocacy group, to tell readers how they should feel about the archbishop's meeting. Instead, he did all his reporting from the ground, gathering information only from those directly involved with the event. In this way, Rosario has composed an outstanding piece of journalism, hitting all the right notes while writing on a topic that is notoriously difficult to get right. What is more, he has achieved such balance even while being personally close to the issue, "[as] a victim of childhood sex abuse[, ...] raised Catholic." 

I could and will go on about some of the things about Rosario's article that particularly struck me, but I urge you to read the entire piece.

Like the Strib story, it begins with a dramatic vignette:

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'SNAP' decision mars a good story on outreach to clergy-abuse victims

'SNAP' decision mars a good story on outreach to clergy-abuse victims

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune comes a story on an event that the reporter calls "a first in Minnesota, and perhaps a first in the nation": a visit by Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt to a support group for survivors of clergy sex abuse. Although the reporting is mostly solid, the article has a notable factual error that betrays a near-universal problem with mainstream-media stories on clergy abuse: an over-reliance on the authority of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

The lede aims for drama:

It was a first in Minnesota, and perhaps a first in the nation. A support group for survivors of clergy sex abuse hosting the man who represents the church they believe betrayed them — Archbishop John Nienstedt.

The ground rules for last weekend’s meeting quietly were laid in advance. No media allowed. No robes or collar on the archbishop. The survivors would be respectful.

Held in a suburban library conference room, the unlikely meeting allowed survivors to share their painful stories with Minnesota’s top Catholic leader and provided Nienstedt a rare and inside look at the impact of abuse.

“I really didn’t think he’d be there until he actually showed up,” said Shawn Plocher, a Minneapolis man who was abused as a child. “This is a group of hurting people who want some sense of healing or closure. … I’m hoping things are heading in the right direction.”

Next there are some good quotes from Nienstedt expressing how moved he was by the meeting. After that come the obligatory remarks from SNAP's spokesman:

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he was unaware of any similar event elsewhere. Former Twin Cities Archbishop Harry Flynn met with Louisiana clergy abuse victims in a prayer group several times, he said. And SNAP met with some bishops at the 2002 U.S. Conference of Bishops meeting in Dallas that hammered out the church’s policies on clergy sexual abuse.
“In Dallas we heard, ‘This isn’t the last time you hear from us,’ ” said Clohessy. “Without exception, we heard nothing when we got home.”

If Clohessy is "unaware of any similar event elsewhere," he would do well to look at the website of the Diocese of Arlington, Va., which has been hosting similar events for several years running. He could also read Catholic San Francisco's September 2012 feature about how two auxiliary bishops of that diocese met with six victims to develop a policy for helping victims. That article quotes one of the survivors, Paul Fericano:

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'Blase'd and confused: Media overlook crucial factor in Francis's choice of Chicago archbishop

'Blase'd and confused: Media overlook crucial factor in Francis's choice of Chicago archbishop

If you have been following coverage of the news that Pope Francis has named Spokane, Wash., Bishop Blase Cupich to replace Cardinal Francis George as archbishop of Chicago, you know that the mainstream media is busily spinning the choice as a slap in the face to conservatives.

The adjective of choice being used to describe the prelate is "inclusive," as in the New York Times headline "Pope Sets Tone in U.S. by Naming Inclusive Prelate as Chicago Archbishop." In like fashion, the Times' lede exemplifies the joys and hopes of the liberal press:

In his first major appointment in the United States, Pope Francis named Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., on Saturday to be the next archbishop of Chicago, replacing a combative conservative with a prelate whose pastoral approach to upholding church doctrine is more in keeping with the pope’s inclusive tone.

As a member of the faithful in the archdiocese that is to be Cupich's new home, I find such facile, "inclusive"-vs.-"conservative" analysis simply irresponsible. It doesn't do justice to Cupich, who, as Thomas Peters has said, has robustly defended Church doctrine on marriage and human life. It certainly doesn't do justice to George, who, as Rocco Palmo observed, has labored hard to uphold the Catholic social-justice teachings that the media considers "liberal," particularly civil rights. Most of all, it doesn't do justice to Francis, who, as Cupich has noted, often warns against "ideological interpretations of the Gospel."

 

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Francis's feast is media's famine: Key detail omitted from coverage of Vatican wedding

Francis's feast is media's famine: Key detail omitted from coverage of Vatican wedding

In the media's rush to draw conclusions from the mass wedding at the Vatican last Sunday, where some of the couples being wed had been cohabiting, one point seems to have been overlooked by nearly everyone: Pope Francis's choice of date for the nuptials.

On the Catholic calendar, the Church is currently in the midst of what is called ordinary time. During all of this July, August, and September, there is only one Sunday in which a feast takes precedence over the normal Sunday liturgy.

Pope Francis had his pick of Sundays to preside over the mass wedding, and he chose that very Sunday. It would seem, then, that he wished that the couples would, from then on, remember that feast every year as the one upon which they were married. There is something about the nature of that feast that Pope Francis wanted the couples to associate with their vows.

What feast was it? The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

I believe the pope's choice of date is significant. Currently the media is abuzz with speculation concerning the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, particularly with regard to a push among certain cardinals to permit Holy Communion for civilly divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Much of the debate concerns the question of how much the Church should expect members of the faithful to sacrifice. This was also an issue at the time of the contraception debate during the 1960s. At that time, those favoring relaxation of doctrine argued that it was simply too difficult for Catholic couples to follow the Church's ban on artificial methods of birth control. Pope Paul VI responded with Humanae Vitae, in which he quoted Jesus' words in Matthew 7:14: "the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life."

Perhaps Francis is indicating a similar attitude to that of Paul VI by officiating at the mass wedding on the feast marking Jesus' self-sacrificial outpouring, and by making the Cross the center of his homily.

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Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

I wrote in this space on Tuesday that the New York Times' coverage of the Archbishop Sheen body battle was missing information on why relics are important to Catholics. By contrast, a recent article by Anne-Gerard Flynn at MassLive.com, although light on theology, captures the sense of the faithful who see in relics a living connection to saints.

Flynn seeks to capture the atmosphere of devotion among those venerating a relic of St. Anthony of Padua on loan to a local parish. She begins with an adept verbal snapshot of one woman paying her respects to the 13th-century Franciscan friar:

Springfield resident Brenda Madison was among the first area residents to venerate the relic of St. Anthony of Padua, and the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary containing the bone fragment of the saint, born in Portugual in 1195, left her in an emotional state.
"I teared up. I was just so happy. All of these years I have prayed to Anthony, and now I got that close to a part of the saint," said Madison, who attended a brief prayer service, Sept. 6, marking the reception of the relic into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, at St. Michael's Cathedral.

Flynn's line about how "the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary ... left [Madison] in an emotional state" is subtle and powerful. Instead of asking an expert in Catholic theology about what it means to venerate a saint, she is trying to capture in words what such veneration means to the believer: physical contact with a person who, although dead to this present world, is alive in heaven.

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Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

The New York Times took its time getting around to the news that broke Sept. 3 concerning the dispute over the remains of saint-in-the-making Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, but Sharon Otterman's story that went online yesterday is worth the wait.

Otterman, the Times' Metro religion reporter begins with a soft lead before getting to the, ahem, body of the story:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill., has already constructed a museum in honor of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a native son whose Emmy-winning television show during the 1950s brought Catholicism to the American living room. It has documented several potential miracles by him and compiled a dossier on his good works for the Vatican.

It has drawn up blueprints for an elaborate shrine in its main cathedral to house his tomb and sketched out an entire devotional campus it hopes to complete when its campaign to have him declared the first American-born male saint succeeds.

There has been just one snag in the diocese’s carefully laid veneration plans: the matter of Archbishop Sheen’s body.

We are then given some straight-up details: Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky recently announced that the effort to canonize Sheen -- who was nearing beatification -- is being stalled because Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, refused to permit his body to be released from its crypt at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

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There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

The BBC this week ran an article with the misleading headline "Israeli police bust 'messianic' prostitution ring." 

It's a misleading headline because normally when the word "Messianic" is used in relation to Jews, it refers to adherents of Messianic Judaism -- but that is not the case with the cult described in the story. Unfortunately, the rest of the story does not make this clear.

Some background: Messianic Judaism is a form of Protestant Christianity that strongly identifies with Jewish ritual, prayers, and cultural identity. In other words, Messianic Jews believe the Jewish Messiah has already come, and his name is Yeshua -- Hebrew for "Jesus." (My own faith journey included brief involvement with the Messianic Jewish community.)

The BBC's story, although not identifying the cult as Christian, reinforces the implication that Messianic Jews were behind the prostitution ring when it refers to women being forced by a "messianic sect" to have sex with "non-Jews":

Details have emerged from Israel about a prostitution ring in which Jewish women were allegedly forced into having sex with non-Jews by a messianic sect.

Two men and two women are being detained on suspicion of exploitation.

Police say the victims were brainwashed into believing that having sex with non-Jews would "save the Jewish people and bring about redemption".

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RNS (cherry-)picks a cardinal: More on that Dolan & St. Pat's story

RNS (cherry-)picks a cardinal: More on that Dolan & St. Pat's story

My GetReligion post on Religion News Service's article concerning Cardinal Dolan and the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade has caught the attention of RNS blogger Mark Silk, who counters my claim that the article conflates news with opinion.

Calling me "the latest horse in Terry Mattingly’s GetReligion stable" (to which I say "neigh"), Silk writes that, in my book, "[RNS reporter David] Gibson’s journalistic crime is to suggest in a piece of reportage that the cardinal’s position is of a piece with Pope Francis’. "

Well, yes, that is my claim, and you can read my post here to see how I back it up. Silk argues that I am misjudging Gibson, "because the offending sentence points beyond the issue at hand":

It’s not just that Francis’ widely reported remarks about not taking criticism from the Vatican too seriously, about not overemphasizing abortion, about the dangers of an excessively purist church provide more than enough evidence for such a “more inclusive posture.” Or that Catholic conservatives have been upset with Francis for exactly that reason. It’s that Dolan himself is quoted specifically pointing to the pope’s inclusiveness. Which makes Gibson’s characterization a journalistic statement, pure and simple.

Here is the section Silk cites from Gibson's piece that quotes Dolan on Francis:

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What is this? If you're down on Dolan, then you're down on Francis, says RNS

What is this? If you're down on Dolan, then you're down on Francis, says RNS

The headline of Religion News Service's piece on backlash against the official admission of gay group OUT@NBCUniversal into the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade reads: "Are Catholic conservatives turning on Cardinal Timothy Dolan?"

If that alone were the theme of the article by RNS correspondent David Gibson, it would be old news indeed. Catholics who uphold the Church's teachings on life issues and sexual morality have criticized Dolan for years over his welcoming stance toward public figures who contradict such teachings. Witness the reaction to Dolan's permitting abortion-rights supporter Vice President Joe Biden to receive Holy Communion at St. Patrick's Cathedral, saying "bravo" to out-and-proud football player Michael Sam, and inviting President Obama to the annual Al Smith dinner.

But there is one difference between the above-cited instances of Dolan's irritating conservatives and the latest case: This time, Catholic League Bill Donohue is taking a public stand against that of the cardinal. The RNS story doesn't mention that this is a first for Donohue, but its opening paragraphs play up his concerns:

NEW YORK (RNS)  Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s positive reaction to this week’s decision by organizers of New York’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade to allow gay groups to march under their own banners initially drew charitable responses in many Catholic Church circles.
But it didn’t take long for conservative church critics to turn.

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