Dawn Eden

Religion News Service monkeys around with that Pope Francis evolution speech

Religion News Service monkeys around with that Pope Francis evolution speech

If the mainstream media had a mantra these days, it would be "The Pope Is Just Like Us!" A recent variation on the meme of Francis as an earth-shattering revolutionary is the press's guiding interpretation of the pope's address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.

As Catholic blogger Damian Geminder observes, MSNBC Community Editor Daniel Berger had "the most popular article on msnbc.com for much of Tuesday, featuring this completely-not-sensationalistic-and-totally-journalistic headline"

Look whose byline is leading the front page of @msnbc ...
— danielhberger (@danielhberger) October 28, 2014

No need to give details here on where the MSNBC spin goes off the rails, as Geminder has done a serviceable (albeit highly polemicized) job. So too has Time's Elizabeth Dias, whose story bears the catchy headline "Sorry, But Media Coverage of Pope Francis Is Papal Bull."

I have praised Dias here before; her work is excellent proof that one does not have to personally sympathize with orthodox (i.e. Catechism-carrying) Catholics in order to do responsible reporting on church issues. Perhaps the New York Times' Ross Douthat had her in mind when he sent out this tweet:

Grateful to the terrible media coverage of @Pontifex on evolution for supplying a sorely needed occasion of Catholic unity today.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) October 28, 2014

The core observation of Dias's piece is that

the media has gone bananas in its coverage of Pope Francis.

Dias' words, while borne out by articles such as Berger's, are exemplified most dramatically by the truly bizarre hijinks that the pope's evolution speech sparked at Religion News Service. Granted, the story by Josephine McKenna avoids the "going rogue" angle, but what it did say was far more irresponsible. As you can see from this archived version, it gave a bungled translation that had the pope denying God is a "divine being":

Francis said the beginning of the world was not “a work of chaos” but created from a principle of love. He said sometimes competing beliefs in creation and evolution could co-exist.
“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” the pope said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Got that? Pope Francis, according to RNS, said, "God is not a divine being."

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New twists in Jahi McMath case -- but same old generic religion in media coverage

New twists in Jahi McMath case -- but same old generic religion in media coverage

Jahi McMath -- the teenage girl from California whose family is fighting to keep her alive against a hospital's brain-death diagnosis -- is back in the headlines.  Yet, even as Jahi's family says she is showing new signs of brain activity,  there is little sign that mainstream journalists feel the need to exercise their brains when describing the family's faith. Instead, they continue to keep the faith angle as generic as possible, chalking up the persistence of the teen's family to vague "religious grounds."

The San Jose Mercury News clearly sees recent developments in McMath's case as newsworthy, highlighting their novelty:

OAKLAND -- Her attorney calls her "Patient No. 1," a groundbreaking test of widely accepted standards defining brain death as a form of irreversible mortality. Indeed, as far as brain-dead patients go, Jahi McMath has entered uncharted territory.
Most families, according to medical experts, come to terms with a medical diagnosis of brain death within days. Loved ones gather to say goodbye as machines are shut off, organ donation decisions are made, funeral services planned.
Not so for Jahi, who would have celebrated her 14th birthday on Friday. Almost 11 months after she was first declared brain dead and became the subject of a national debate, the Oakland 13-year-old remains on machines -- a case unlike any recorded in the United States since the medical establishment first recognized brain death as a form of death in the past century, experts said. ...
Jahi's doctors say original tests performed on the girl were accurate but contend that, over time, the swelling in her brain has receded, and tests now show different results. Videos released by Dolan also show her limbs moving when her mother commands her to move.

The story doesn't link to the videos. Here is one in which Jahi appears to kick her foot at her mother's prompt.

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By George, I think she's got it: Chicago Tribune reporter has in-depth questions for outgoing archbishop

By George, I think she's got it: Chicago Tribune reporter has in-depth questions for outgoing archbishop

Chicago Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear Pashman, past subject of a GetReligion interview, asks all the right questions of Cardinal Francis George OMI, the soon-to-retire Chicago archbishop, and is rewarded with newsworthy answers.

Pashman starts with a punchy lede and then launches right into a quote in which the cardinal offers some potent media criticism:

In a sweeping interview weeks before he steps down, Cardinal Francis George expressed frustration that his defense of church doctrine has ever caused offense, discussed the story behind his successor's selection and voiced concerns that expectations placed upon the popular Pope Francis could backfire.

"They've got the pope in a box now. … The danger of that is he's like a Rorschach test, sort of," George, 77, said Monday during an hourlong conversation at the archbishop's Gold Coast residence in which he expressed both pride and remorse about his 17 years as archbishop.

"People project onto him their own desires, and so you've got people who are expecting all kinds of things. Some of them might happen. A large number of them won't and so there will be great disillusionment. … People will write him off."

George's observation about people projecting their own desires onto the pope will ring familiar to anyone who has read GetReligion's coverage of media misinterpretations of Francis, especially our reminders that context is essential to understanding "Who am I to judge?" 

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CBS News looks for 'LGBTQ Catholics,' finds schismatics instead

CBS News looks for 'LGBTQ Catholics,' finds schismatics instead

In the wake of the Vatican family synod, as mainstream news outlets go searching for people angry over the failure of the bishops' meeting to produce hope 'n' change, CBS News joins the fray with a bizarre piece that attempts to represent the views of disgruntled "LGBTQ Catholics."

Just how disgruntled are these LGBTQ Catholics? So disgruntled that they attend a schismatic "Mass" at an Episcopalian church.

Although the story appears under the headline "We don't need Vatican affirmation, says gay Catholic congregation" its URL reveals that it was originally headlined, "We don't need Vatican affirmation, says gay Catholic priests." That suggests that the story's original angle was to highlight the discontent of "gay Catholic priests" with the synod's conclusion, and its sourcing bears this out. Two out of its three sources are alleged Catholic priests, and the lone layman's quote comes last.

The lede betrays astonishing bias, presenting the pope seething with "frustration" against his hard, unyielding bishops:

NEW YORK -- After Roman Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican failed to agree on the issue of homosexuality in the church, Pope Francis appeared barely able to contain his frustration, cautioning the bishops Saturday not to cling to doctrine with "hostile rigidity" and saying the next day that "God is not afraid of new things."

Now, you may well ask, how can it be biased for the reporter to quote Francis speaking against "hostile rigidity" if those were the actual words he used? It is biased if the pope is being selectively quoted in a manner that excludes his overall message, which was more akin to "a pox on both your houses." 

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Listen now: Concerning the Vatican synod's midterm report & media's wishful thinking

Listen now: Concerning the Vatican synod's midterm report & media's wishful thinking

It was, of course, the story of the week. And now the weekend.

In the latest GetReligion podcast, Todd Wilken interviews me about my post on the mainstream media's reaction to the Vatican Extraordinary Synod on the Family's midterm report.  

Among other things, I talk about how, amid the mainstream media's wishful thinking for hope-'n'-change in Catholic teaching -- which you can see in headlines asking whether the Church is "evolving" on same-sex marriage -- some mischaracterized the Vatican document as being focused on gay issues.

Witness this tweet from CNN Belief Blog:

An "earthquake." "Revolutionary." "Stunning." What people are saying about the Vatican's new report on #LGBT people http://cnn.it/1vXFC1Q 

As I wrote in this space, among mainstream reporters, only Time's Elizabeth Dias recognized the report for what it was: It's descriptive, not prescriptive, reflecting topics that are under discussion but are far from being resolved.

In comparison with Dias's level-headed analysis, even the usually reliable John L. Allen Jr. overemphasized the importance of the report. Although he noted it was not a definitive statement, he claimed, without evidence, that it reflected the views of a "majority" of the synod's participants:

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Kasper, the friendly religion ghost? Progressive cardinal's dismissive words on Africans go unreported (updated)

Kasper, the friendly religion ghost? Progressive cardinal's dismissive words on Africans go unreported (updated)

Editor's note: Dawn is away from her keyboard today and I have been on the move, as well. Yes, we know that all holy heck has broken loose on this story. For updates, check out this timely note from Deacon Greg Kandra, formerly of CBS News, and this commentary from Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress. (tmatt)


When German Cardinal Walter Kasper speaks in favor of communion for the divorced and remarried, the Associated Press calls him "a pre-eminent theologian." But when he speaks about how African bishops participating in the Vatican's Extraordinary Synod on the Family "should not tell us too much what we have to do," the AP, and U.S. mainstream media outlets at large, respond with ... crickets.

Kasper's comments to veteran Vatican reporter Edward Pentin, published in ZENIT (since taken down), have set the Catholic blog world aflame. But although they were noted in Italy by the AP affiliate ASCA, and in the U.K. by Damian Thompson at the Spectator, as of last night there was not a peep from Stateside mainstream-media outlets, which until now have seemed to hang on the "progressive" cardinal's every word regarding the Synod. In other words, so long as liberal journalists see Kasper as a "friendly," Pentin's interview is going to disappear into the ether like the proverbial "religion ghost."

The cardinal raised the topic of African bishops to Pentin after the reporter asked him about the five bishops Francis chose to join Cardinal Peter Erdo in composing the Synod's much-discussed midterm report, none of whom were from Africa. The omission is significant since, as the AP's Nicole Winfield notes, African bishops tend to be more "conservative" (i.e. doctrinally faithful) on family issues. Here is the relevant part of Pentin's interview: 

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Wha' happened? NYTimes, RNS report on 'real or implied' 'earthquake' at Vatican that 'may or may not' have an effect

Wha' happened? NYTimes, RNS report on 'real or implied' 'earthquake' at Vatican that 'may or may not' have an effect

What exactly happened at the Vatican's Extraordinary Synod on the Family yesterday? NewsBusters' Ken Shepherd observes that, if you look to "many liberal media reporters" for the answer, you will find them "giddy as schoolchildren" at the  synod's midterm report on its discussions about gays and divorced Catholics. A check of Twitter bears this out:

From @CNN:

The Catholic church should welcome and appreciate gays, a new Vatican report says http://cnn.it/1qk9xwt

From @CNNbelief:

An 'earthquake.' [Revolutionary.' 'Stunning.' What people are saying about the Vatican's new report on #LGBT people http://cnn.it/1vXFC1Q

From @JosephineMcK:

#Catholic conservatives furious as bishops propose 'welcoming' gays

Did the earth really move? It did for Josephine McKenna of Religion News Service (author of that last tweet), whose own story on the synod's report breathlessly describes "the real or implied changes that may or may not materialize" in the Church. 

Say what?

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Gibson unleashed: RNS reporter openly evangelizes for Kellerism

Gibson unleashed: RNS reporter openly evangelizes for Kellerism

First Things columnist William Doino Jr., a friend of this blog, finds echoes of the past in Religion News Service National Reporter David Gibson's coverage of the Vatican's Extraordinary Synod on the Family:

During Vatican II, the New Yorker’s “Xavier Rynne” (aka Fr. Francis Murphy), famously depicted the Council as an epic battle between backward, conservative reactionaries, and broad-minded, liberal reformers. This popular but highly misleading style of reporting continues to this day.

At the indispensable Get Religion website, Dawn Eden catches and corrects a recent report by David Gibson, of the Religion News Service, published just before the Synod opened, that falls into this trap.

“In Gibson’s report,” writes Eden, “we have the conservative meanies against the proponent of ‘reforms’ who want to ‘fully integrate divorced and remarried Catholics into Church life.’”

But, as Eden notes, this is quite misleading, for the Catholic Catechism (no. 1651) emphasizes, rather, “that the divorced, and remarried, even with the sacramental restrictions, ‘can and must’ participate in Church life.”

Further Gibson’s report “does not acknowledge ways in which [Cardinal Raymond] Burke and others are seeking to show compassion while upholding Church teaching,” continues Eden. Instead, it depicts Burke as merciless, and repeats “unsourced datum that Burke is reportedly set to be sidelined by Francis,” which Eden regards as “a cheap shot, pure and simple.”

Doino goes on to make distinctions regarding true and false ideas of reform, asserting that

misleading labels aside, moral laxity is not reform, dissent is not enlightenment, and rebellion is not renewal.

How did Gibson respond to being characterized as a modern-day Rynne? 

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USA Today: 'Conservative' friar dies -- oh, and did we mention he was 'conservative'?

USA Today: 'Conservative' friar dies -- oh, and did we mention he was 'conservative'?

USA Today has picked up an obituary of Father Benedict Groeschel that ran in the Westchester County (N.Y.) Journal News, thereby giving readers a classic example of the Department of Redundancy Department, Godbeat style. 

I'm not talking about the lede, which is fine, albeit with the detail overload that has become typical in dailies:

LARCHMONT, N.Y. -- The Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a writer and preacher who became one of the country's best-known Catholic priests, long operating out of a tiny bedroom in Larchmont, died Friday at the age of 81 after a long illness.

The redundancy arrives in the second and third paragraph -- emphasis mine:

Groeschel spent decades leading retreats, writing books and offering his conservative perspectives on EWTN, the Catholic television network. He founded a religious order, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, ran a retreat house for priests in Larchmont and taught pastoral psychology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers.
He was a hero to conservative Catholics – a wise-cracking friar in a gray robe who shuffled among the elite of the Catholic Church, always speaking of the need to serve the poor.

Got that? So, Groeschel offered "conservative perspectives" on television, and in case you didn't know, he was a hero to "conservative Catholics."

Why does he qualify as "conservative"? Concern for the poor? Alas, no, I fear the implication is that Groeschel was a hero to conservative Catholics because he "shuffled among the elite of the Catholic Church" to express his concern for the poor. Because, you know, conservative Catholics are all about the elites ... or something.

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