Dawn Eden

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)

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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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Almost heaven: NBC News does a near-perfect report on religious sister's beatification

Almost heaven: NBC News does a near-perfect report on religious sister's beatification

It's not every day that the Catholic Church advances a Jersey girl towards canonization, and likewise it's not every day that NBC News gets religion. But miracles do happen, and NBCNews.com's Tracey Connor -- whose byline earlier ran atop a predictable take on the roundly misinterpreted "who am I to judge" -- offers a story on Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich's beatification that is almost perfection.

The story hooks the reader from the get-go with a tale of a misplaced missive:

A mystical New Jersey nun who took vows on her deathbed will become the first person beatified on American soil — a historic moment that might not have happened but for a misplaced letter that languished between two file folders for a quarter-century.
It was a note from a grateful mom who was convinced that prayers to Sister Miriam Teresa had cured her young son of encroaching blindness years before, a medical mystery that would eventually become the first of two miracles needed for sainthood.
"That letter sat there in the filing cabinet for 27 years," said Dr. Mary Mazzarella, a retired pediatrician who was recruited by the local church to investigate the mother's claim before presenting the findings to the Vatican. "Just finding it was some kind of miracle."

I like how Connor packs a lot of factual material into a short space, including two good quotes, and makes it flow. (Granted, the run-on sentence lead is a bit of a cheat, but I wonder how many people other than grammarians notice things like that nowadays.)

Then comes some background on the sainthood process:

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What is this? Seeing red over RNS piece on 'conservative' cardinals

What is this? Seeing red over RNS piece on 'conservative' cardinals

Is it news reporting, or is it David Gibson?

David Gibson's latest article on the Vatican's upcoming synod of bishops, while presented as straight news, crosses the line into opinion in a way we at GetReligion have come to expect from the Religion News Service reporter, who consistently writes as a columnist.

Let's start with the biased labeling. It's "conservatives" vs. "reformers," folks (emphasis mine):

Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday (Sept. 30), Burke, who currently heads the Vatican’s high court, singled out the leading proponent of reforms, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and his claims that critics of his proposals are really attacking Pope Francis. 
Kasper has said that the pope supports his efforts to find ways to fully reintegrate divorced and remarried Catholics into church life. The proposals have become a prime focus of the upcoming Vatican meeting, called a synod, which will convene on Sunday for two weeks to consider changes in family life in the modern world.

As my GetReligion editor tmatt has noted, "'reformers' ... is a problematic term for use in doctrinal disputes because it automatically assumes that something needs to be reformed. This term pretty much settles the issue, telling readers precisely who the good people are in this story, which means that folks on the other side are the kinds of blokes who are opposed to 'reform.'" 

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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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