Abortion

Catholic scribe notes the hidden news story: This pope's emphasis on Confession

Catholic scribe notes the hidden news story: This pope's emphasis on Confession

We get all kinds of comments and email here at GetReligion, some of which readers see online, some of which we refer to in posts using careful language and some troll offerings -- few of which have anything to do with journalism -- that we trash before we start laughing or crying or both.

Quite a few -- critical and/or supportive -- come from working journalists, including religion-beat pros. I wish that I could share more of these, including the ones that are critical of the website, yet also constructive. It would be great to dialogue with these professionals, but most cannot let us use their real names.

As you would expect, we frequently hear from the same readers over and over. Quite a few of these people are professionals in religious or denominational newsrooms, the kinds of people who spot the errors and holes (real and, every now and then, not so real) in mainstream news reports about their own flocks.

For years, one of the website's most loyal and most constructive readers of the site has been Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz, the veteran Catholic scribe currently is a producer at The Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio. He is the former editor of The Catholic Times in the Diocese of La Crosse in Wisconsin. He has a degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

Earlier this week, during the latest media explosion on Pope Francis, abortion and moral theology (post by Bobby Ross, Jr., here and then Julia Duin here), he wrote us a note with some very precise reactions to the mainstream coverage. I asked him if he would flesh out his thoughts a bit, as a memo to reporters covering this story. Here is what he produced.

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Remember back in March of this year when Pope Francis told a gathering of seminarians and priests that Confession should not be a form of torture? The subsequent reporting featured a lot of emphasis on that torture part, but something was missed:

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Here's your up-to-date roadmap of the so-called American 'culture wars'

Here's your up-to-date roadmap of the so-called American 'culture wars'

On August 20, what was billed as an “unprecedented” alliance of 130 national organizations wrote President Barack Obama asking an end to federal grants for  religious social-service agencies that hire only employees who share their beliefs. The petition denounced the Bush administration Department of Justice’s “erroneous and dangerous” 2007 argument allowing such discrimination.  Ninety such groups sent a similar protest to then-Attorney General Eric Holder last year.

This is an important church-state issue that has entangled the Salvation Army, among others, in local situations, and a change in federal policy would certainly be news. Such petitions are a routine  feature of interest group maneuvers in Washington, but this particular one gives reporters an up-to-date roadmap of America’s “culture wars.” Like so:

The petition signers’ unnamed opponent is Evangelical Protestantism. The DOJ’s 2007 legal blessing responded to complaints about a $1.5 million federal grant to World Vision for mentoring, tutoring, and job training with “at-risk” youths. Like many evangelical organizations, World Vision famously hires staff members who agree with its religious beliefs and values, including traditional heterosexual marriage. 

The endorsers have been regular antagonists of Evangelicalism and also of Catholicism on a variety of issues.

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Wait, did Pope Francis just change Catholic doctrine on abortion? Or did he simply tell people to go to confession?

Wait, did Pope Francis just change Catholic doctrine on abortion? Or did he simply tell people to go to confession?

I'm not Catholic.

So I was befuddled when I saw this Associated Press news alert this morning:

BREAKING: Pope to let all priests in Holy Year absolve people from `sin of abortion' if they repent.

I wondered: Can priests not forgive abortion under normal circumstances? Is abortion ordinarily an unforgivable sin for Catholics? (My apologies to tmatt for not paying close enough attention.)

In an email to GetReligion, a reader complained:

This is in the vein of "Breaking news! Pope Francis changing everything about the mean, backward Catholic church!" while Pope Francis reiterates the orthodoxy taught by all his successors. My head is exploding. May the truth reign in the hearts of all.

I started clicking links to see if I could make sense of this breaking news.

The full AP report provided important context:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis declared Tuesday he is allowing all priests in the church's upcoming Year of Mercy to absolve women of the "sin of abortion" if they repent with a "contrite heart."
Reflecting his papacy's central theme of mercy, Francis said in letter published Tuesday by the Vatican that he has met many women bearing "the scar of this agonizing" decision to abort. He said God's forgiveness cannot be denied to those who repent, and thus is giving all priests the discretion to absolve the sin in the Holy Year of Mercy running Dec. 8, 2015 until Nov. 20, 2016.
The church views abortion as such as grave sin that, until now, a Catholic woman who wanted to repent for an abortion could not simply go to her local parish priest. Instead, her diocese's bishop needed to delegate a priest, expert at dealing with such confessions, to hear the woman's confession.

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America's hidden nightmares: Where did Wes Craven's haunting visions come from?

America's hidden nightmares: Where did Wes Craven's haunting visions come from?

Does it really matter that the Rev. Billy Graham and Hollywood shock-master Wes Craven are both products of Wheaton College, one of America's most important and symbolic evangelical Protestant institutions of any kind?

Well, that depends. On one level -- as someone who has taught in Christian colleges -- I find it interesting that a school as good as Wheaton has not produced legions of excellent screenwriters, journalists, directors, popular musicians, etc. However, the school (and this is normal for the evangelical world) has produced many fine thinkers and scholars, along with armies of people who work in Christian magazines, Christian publishing, Christian video production, Christian public relations, etc.

In a lecture on faith and vocations linked to the creation of culture, I always ask my students to name 10 famous evangelical Hollywood film directors. Then I ask them to do the same with Catholic film directors (devout and struggling). It's not a fair fight.

But back to Craven. At the heart of his most famous work was an image of a monster created by the sins of PARENTS, coming back to slice and dice their CHILDREN, who are attacked while they are, as one critic put it, safe in the "womb" of sleep. And what are those things on the monster's fingers? Surgical curettes?

Craven insisted that the key to his success was an understanding of what Americans fear the most, the subjects that cause intense nightmares of guilt, pain, shame and terror. Children dying because of the sins of their parents? Now that's an interesting vision right after, oh, 1973 or so.

Thus, I was rather stunned that The Los Angeles Times obituary for Craven (1) does not even include a reference to his famous alma mater and (2) did so little to explore the creative urges of this particular superstar director. And the New York Times? Hold that thought.

Here's the key material from the Los Angeles Times piece:

For Craven, making a scary movie was far more than simply a matter of delivering cheap shocks. It was an exercise in societal catharsis, a foray into the audience's collective unconscious.

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Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

It may be time to introduce a new term into the world of writing, and alleged hard-news journalism in particular.

First, a few notes about news craft. Normally, hard-news journalism is written in third-person voice in past tense, with a heavy emphasis on the use of clear attributions for quoted materials, so that readers know who is speaking. That crucial "comma, space, said, space, name, period" formula is at the heart of traditional, American Model of the Press journalism.

The bottom line: It's a key element in retaining the trust of readers. Traditional journalists are, as a rule, going to tell the reader the sources for the information they are reading. If something comes from the Family Research Council, say so. If something comes from Planned Parenthood or a company linked to Planned Parenthood, say so.

This is less crucial in opinion-based writing, since writers -- usually in first-person voice -- are sharing their own biases, beliefs, etc. The world of journalism needs both, in my opinion, but it is impossible to have good, healthy public discourse without lots and lots of basic, accurate, fair-minded, balanced hard-news journalism with clear, concise attributions.

In fiction, people can be very creative in terms of the point of view used in telling a story. In journalism? Basically, it's clear third-person or first person.

This brings me to what I see as a disturbing trend in journalism -- the creation of a point of view that could be called "omniscient anonymous" voice. Here is a sample from a new story in The Washington Post. I ask readers to look for the source of these stated facts about, yes, Pope Francis and his upcoming visit to the United States:

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So the first Jesuit pope comes to D.C. and visits one not-so-scary Catholic campus

So the first Jesuit pope comes to D.C. and visits one not-so-scary Catholic campus

If you follow religion news at all, you have probably heard of this Pope Francis fellow. You may even have heard that he is coming to the United States this fall, including a series of media-friendly events in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Readers may even have heard that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope. Hold that thought.

Detail-oriented folks may want to inspect the actual details of the schedule by clicking here. Yes, we are talking about a hug from President Barack Obama, an address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, an address to the United Nations and other events that are automatically "news," on every conceivable level.

Now, the pope will also do some obviously Catholic stuff, which led to a recent report in The Washington Post that focused on one interesting college detail, when comparing this papal Beltway trip with others in the recent past:

For the Catholic faithful, a papal visit is always historic. For one university in the nation’s capital, the upcoming visit of Pope Francis provides special bragging rights: It will be the third papal stop at the Catholic University of America in less than 40 years.
Pope John Paul II came in 1979, and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, came in 2008.
The university in Northeast Washington is a natural destination for a traveling pontiff. Founded in 1887 under a papal charter, Catholic U. is overseen by a board that includes numerous bishops and other church clerics. It is not just affiliated with the church; it is the church’s national university in the United States.

Bragging rights? Hold that thought, too.

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There's religion ghosts a'plenty in Sacramento Bee story on conjoined twins

There's religion ghosts a'plenty in Sacramento Bee story on conjoined twins

Every so often there comes a story that cries for a faith element; wherein you strongly suspect that there are lots of religion ghosts floating about, but which frustrates because the reporter simply didn’t go there. 

That's what happened, for me, when reading a lengthy story released by The Sacramento Bee on a Mexican-American family in which the mother becomes pregnant in her mid-40s with Siamese -- or conjoined -- twins. The story appeared on the one-year anniversary of the twins’ birth. As always, there are medical and ethical issues involved in this kind of pregnancy, as you can hear in the Bee video featured above.

The overture of the story:

ANTELOPE, Calif. -- Their mother calls it “the butterfly,” because its shape and symmetry remind her of a delicate winged insect.
The tiny foot -- a fusion of bone, muscle and skin with three toes on each side -- is attached to a third leg shared by Erika and Eva Sandoval, 11-month-old conjoined twins who also share a liver, some intestinal tract and much of their reproductive systems. Joined at the pelvis and sternum, they sit face-to-face at all times.
The sisters, born at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, in Palo Alto, Calif., last August, spent their first seven months in intensive care before coming home this spring, having trumped the slim survival odds for conjoined twins – a phenomenon that occurs about once in every 200,000 births.

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Win for M.Z. New York Times issues late, late correction on Planned Parenthood

Win for M.Z. New York Times issues late, late correction on Planned Parenthood

So how many of you assumed we would never, ever see a New York Times correction on the Planned Parenthood video-story error that GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway has been protesting for several weeks? 

GetReligion has been seconding her motion over and over, too. We are talking about the original David Daleiden video of the encounter with a Planned Parenthood leader named Dr. Deborah Nucatola.

Now, the Times has a reputation for having one of the best correction desks in all of journalism (GetReligion folks used to get actual calls from real, live human beings there all the time), so this correction is, on one level, not surprising. The error was clear, after all.

As M.Z. wrote, using the Times online correction form:

Phrase in Question: "Mr. Daleiden released what he called the full recording last week after Planned Parenthood complained of selective, misleading editing."

Your Concern (please limit to 300 words): –- This is completely in error. The full recording was released 21 seconds after the edited version, according to YouTube records, many hours before Planned Parenthood tried the public relations spin accepted by some reporters. ...

So now, late, late, late -- after most readers have surely moved on -- we can see that the following text has been added at the end of the online story.

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Abortion in China? Bad karma, some Buddhists say

Abortion in China? Bad karma, some Buddhists say

The ongoing drama of the Planned Parenthood videos has attracted the attention of an international audience, not the least of which are pro-lifers in the world’s most abortive country. That would be China, whose 13 million abortions a year is more than 10 times the amount of similar pregnancy terminations in the United States. Foreign Policy just posted this piece on how China’s Christians and Buddhists are trying to get those numbers down.

On July 14, a U.S. anti-abortion group released an undercover video of an employee of abortion provider Planned Parenthood casually discussing, over wine and salad, the harvesting and donation of fetal tissue for medical research...The news quickly reached China, and within days the video had been posted to Chinese video streaming site iQiyi, where it received more than 170,000 views.

China has the highest number of abortions in the world, with an estimated 13 million performed annually. Many in China view abortion as a purely personal decision, a necessary if sad option for people in difficult situations. Unlike in the United States, where abortion clinics face tight restrictions in some areas, similar facilities in China are readily available and widely publicized.

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