Dawn Eden

RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

If you were to ask me the easiest part of writing for GetReligion, I would say it is coming up with items for "What is this?" --  the label we give to stories that are presented as hard news, but are so biased as to be indistinguishable from commentary. 

Religion News Service, which lately has unfortunately become a reliable source for "What is this?" items, presents another example of the genre with "Cardinal Raymond Burke: ‘Feminized’ church and altar girls caused priest shortage." The story's facts are straight, but the language is charged in such a way that it manipulates the reader into making negative conclusions about the cardinal. 

Understand, I am not denying that many readers could take offense at the cardinal's comments. Personally, I'm with Madeleine Teahan of the U.K. Catholic Herald, who notes the disconnect between his identifying discipline and strength as "manly" qualities while painting men as passive victims of feminists. But if I wanted a commentary on Burke's interview, I would read a story in the "commentary" section of the news outlet (as is Teahan's). RNS, however, markets its piece under the news label (though it did in fact run a commentary on Burke's interview as well; more on that in a moment). 

The first two paragraphs of the story are factual, though there are the little digs that Catholics have grown accustomed to seeing in stories about Burke:

(RNS) Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior American churchman in Rome who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Pope Francis’ push for reform, is roiling the waters yet again, this time arguing that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized.”
Burke, who was recently demoted from the Vatican’s highest court to a ceremonial philanthropic post, also pointed to the introduction of altar girls for why fewer men are joining the priesthood.

Right away, Burke is set in opposition to Pope Francis, who has "demoted" him. Readers are prepared to dislike him before they even read his comments.

 Then the comments come:

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Ignatius, what happened? The Atlantic looks at 'rebranding' of Jesuit colleges

Ignatius, what happened? The Atlantic looks at 'rebranding' of Jesuit colleges

A new article in The Atlantic looks at how many Jesuit colleges are rebranding themselves to project an image of fidelity to so-called "Catholic values" without proclaiming fidelity to actual Catholic teachings.

There is a lot to chew on in Autumn Jones' "The New Brand of Catholic Universities," and more than a few religion ghosts -- that is, hints of valuable religion angles that are left unexplored. Key words? Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

Two points especially call out for clarification. The first is that of what happened to the Jesuits. Jones writes:

A fourth of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities currently have lay presidents, and the number of Jesuit priests who are active in everyday operations at the schools isn’t nearly as high as it once was.

That is putting it mildly. Here's how the Washington Post reported the decline in local Jesuit vocations in 2011, which reflects a global trend:

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Did Pope Francis really give his own Curia a 'blistering attack' for Christmas?

Did Pope Francis really give his own Curia a 'blistering attack' for Christmas?

Call it truth in advertising--though not in reporting. Religion News Service's story on Pope Francis's Christmas address to the Curia bears a headline that aptly sums up its spin: "Pope Francis to Curia: Merry Christmas, you power-hungry hypocrites."

The lede signals that we have before us the mainstream media's familiar "Francis as radical" meme:

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis launched a blistering attack on the Vatican bureaucracy on Monday (Dec. 22), outlining a “catalog of illnesses” that plague the church’s central administration, including “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and gossipy cliques. 
The pope’s traditional Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See was more “Bah! Humbug!” than holiday cheer as he ticked off a laundry list of “ailments of the Curia” that he wants to cure. 
In a critique that left many of the assembled clerics clearly uncomfortable, the 15 ailments in Francis’ “catalog of illnesses” reflected the take-no-prisoners approach he promised when he was elected nearly two years ago as an outsider with little direct experience in Rome. 

The pope is an "outsider" with a "take-no-prisoners approach"? Don't hold back, RNS; tell us what you really feel.

  Seriously, did Francis's tone in speaking to the Curia actually warrant such hyperbole? A GetReligion reader who read the full text of the pope's address says no:

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To the AP, there are no 'liberal' Catholics — just 'rank-and-file' faithful

To the AP, there are no 'liberal' Catholics — just 'rank-and-file' faithful

Readers of the Associated Press's coverage of the release of the Vatican's report on its probe of American religious sisters will note a curious juxtaposition, one that has, alas, become all too familiar in AP reporting on Catholic issues. Here are the relevant paragraphs; the italics and boldface are mine:

The probes also prompted an outpouring of support from rank-and-file American Catholics who viewed the investigations as a crackdown by a misogynistic, all-male Vatican hierarchy against the underpaid, underappreciated women who do the lion's share of work running Catholic hospitals, schools and services for the poor.
Theological conservatives have long complained that after the reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council, women's congregations in the U.S. became secular and political while abandoning traditional prayer life and faith. The nuns insisted that prayer and Christ were central to their work.

Got that? The faithful who saw the probe of the sisters "as a crackdown by a misogynistic, all-male Vatican hierarchy" aren't liberals--they're just "rank-and-file American Catholics." On the other hand, those complainers who knock women's congregations for "abandoning traditional prayer life and faith" are "theological conservatives" who apparently don't even deserve the title "American."

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Listen now: How a fake story about Pope Francis landed the New York Times in the doghouse

Listen now: How a fake story about Pope Francis landed the New York Times in the doghouse

At first glance, the New York Times story sounded like a pet lovers' dream. Upon closer examination, however, it wasn't even fit for lining a birdcage. 

In the latest GetReligion podcast, I talk about why, in my post here last Friday, I had a bone to pick with the Times story that claimed Pope Francis suggested pets go to heaven. Among other errors, the article included a made-up quote that the reporter attributed to John Paul II.

Shortly after I gave the interview and published the post, David Gibson did some more digging and found that the error I had noted was just the tip of the iceberg.

The headline of Gibson's story says it all: "Sorry, Fido. Pope Francis did NOT say our pets are going to heaven." I'm surprised, though, that RNS didn't go with the headline he used when he tweeted the story:

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Tin foil hats at NYTimes as fake JP2 quote on animals becomes conspiracy fodder

Tin foil hats at NYTimes as fake JP2 quote on animals becomes conspiracy fodder

The problems with the New York Times story "Dogs in Heaven? Pope Francis Leaves Pearly Gates Open" begin with the fact that the article itself is a mutt. Although reporter Rick Gladstone uses a recent quote from Pope Francis as a news hook, the body of the piece reads like a domestic rewrite of the U.K. Guardian's Nov. 27 article "It’s a dog’s afterlife: Pope Francis hints that animals go to heaven."

Both the Times and Guardian's main point may be gathered from the satirical headline of Mark Shea's excellent rebuttal to the Guardian"Pope Discusses New Heaven and New Earth for Very First Time in Catholic History." The Times, however, adds a new, conspiratorial wrinkle: John Paul II said that animals had souls, but the Vatican failed to "widely publicize" this, perhaps because it contradicted Pius IX, under whose pontificate the doctrine of papal infallibility was defined.

You can't make this stuff up. Or, rather, you can, and Rick Gladstone, or his editor, has done so.

Saith the Times:

The question of whether animals go to heaven has been debated for much of the church’s history. Pope Pius IX, who led the church from 1846 to 1878, longer than any other pope, strongly supported the doctrine that dogs and other animals have no consciousness. ...
Pope John Paul II appeared to reverse Pius in 1990 when he proclaimed that animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are.” But the Vatican did not widely publicize his assertion, perhaps because it so directly contradicted Pius, who was the first to declare the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1854.

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Say what? Associated Press twists Francis's admiration for theologians into 'near disdain'

Say what? Associated Press twists Francis's admiration for theologians into 'near disdain'

Today at GetReligion, it's deja vu all over again.

Once again, a story on Pope Francis by Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield has us asking, "What is this?" As I wrote the last time around:

Is [the article] 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?

This time, the AP article is on Francis's address to the International Theological Commission, "Pope to Theologians: Listen to the Ordinary Faithful." It begins:

Pope Francis urged the Catholic Church’s top theologians on Friday to listen to what ordinary Catholics have to say and pay attention to the “signs of the times,” rather than just making pronouncements in an academic vacuum.

If this is meant to be straight news story, then the first question is, did the pope really say that? And the answer is no -- at least, not exactly. He did mention the "signs of the times." However, having read his entire speech, the claim that he decried "making pronouncements in an academic vacuum" strikes me as pretty far-fetched. 

Moreover, Francis's reference to the signs of the times was actually in reference to the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes. In context, it does not seem to mean what Winfield takes it to mean. As a Twitter user noted, it's not about blowing with the wind, but rather about evaluating contemporary voices "in light of the word of God":

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The missing angle in news of Obama's pick for top defense post, Ashton Carter: his faith

The missing angle in news of Obama's pick for top defense post, Ashton Carter: his faith

The Washington Post's profile of Ashton Carter includes the eyebrow-raising detail that the longtime Washington insider, whom President Barack Obama is expected to nominate to succeed ousted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, "wrote an undergraduate thesis at Yale on the Latin writings of 12th-century Flemish monks." It also quotes Carter as saying:

Public service at senior levels in Washington is a little bit like being a Christian in the Coliseum. ... You never know when they are going to release the lions and have you torn apart for the amusement of onlookers.

Hmm… he is fluent in Latin, took an academic interest in the writings of medieval monks, and jokes casually about identifying with a Christian in the Coliseum. You think he might be… oh, I don't know… Christian?

The WaPo doesn't say. Neither does The New York Times in its profile of Carter. In fact, in a few minutes scouting the Interwebs, I couldn't find anything, anywhere, indicating that Carter had any faith, or no faith. 

I did, however, find a fact about Carter that, as of this writing, has been overlooked by all the print media covering his planned nomination: In the aftermath of 9/11, he was among the prominent endorsers of a "Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty" created by the Campaign to Ban Torture. (Click here to read the declaration.) According to its website, the campaign was:

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NYTimes finds 'signs' of life in imperiled parish catering to deaf

NYTimes finds 'signs' of life in imperiled parish catering to deaf

Having expertly covered the Fulton Sheen body battle, the New York Times' Sharon Otterman turns her reporter's eye to a new conflict taking place in Manhattan's Catholic community: the efforts of an Upper East Side parish to convince the Archdiocese of New York to allow it to stay open so that it might continue its ministry to the deaf.

The story's headline is long and pensive -- "On the Upper East Side, Silent Prayers to Save a Sanctuary for the Deaf" -- and so is the lede, but it pays off:

The choir members filed up to the altar in robes the color of the red roses of Saint Elizabeth, the patron saint of their beloved church. They arrayed themselves on two risers and looked to the choir director for a cue. Then they raised their hands in unison and began to sign.
“Jesus,” they signed together, touching their middle fingers to their opposite palm to represent the crucifixion. “Lord,” they signed, sweeping their fingers in an “L” formation across and off their chests. When it came time for the congregation to give the sign of peace, the worshipers, about 75 of them, raised their palms with their ring and middle fingers pointed down. They waved exuberantly. “I love you,” their hands silently said.
The deaf were celebrating Mass on a recent Sunday in the intimate Upper East Side sanctuary where they have prayed since 1980, when Cardinal Terence Cooke named the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary on East 83rd Street New York’s Roman Catholic parish for the deaf.
The church has become a haven to nearly 500 deaf New Yorkers, who not only pray there, but also come through the week to study religion, meet with clergy members and socialize. That era is about to end. On Nov. 2, the Archdiocese of New York announced that St. Elizabeth’s would be among 31 churches closing for regular use by next August, part of a sweeping series of parish mergers and closings.

Take a moment and read those first two paragraphs again. That is the kind of classic, relaxed, Sunday morning writing one hardly sees in any newspaper save for the New York Times on a good day. It is meant to be read in bed over coffee and a toasted bagel.

I like it that Otterman, in presenting the archdiocese's reasons for closing the parish, simply gives the facts rather than painting the diocese as insensitive, as one of her colleagues did in in a similar story:

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