Religion News Service monkeys around with Pope Francis evolution speech

Religion News Service monkeys around with 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 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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5Q+1 interview: From God and guns to Death Row salvation, JoAnne Viviano excels reporting on faith and values

5Q+1 interview: From God and guns to Death Row salvation, JoAnne Viviano excels reporting on faith and values

JoAnne Viviano covers faith and values for the Columbus Dispatch, a central Ohio newspaper with a daily circulation of 120,000 and an average Sunday circulation of about 230,000.

Her Godbeat writing earned her the 2014 Cornell Religion Reporter of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association. That award honors excellence in religion reporting at mid-sized newspapers.

"I grew up in suburban Detroit, where my mom fostered in me an early love for books by taking me to the library regularly and teaching me to read as a kindergartener," Viviano said.

She received a bachelor of arts degree in English and communication from the University of Michigan ("not very popular here in Columbus!") before starting working as a reporter. She recalls "an amazing mentor there named Jon Hall, who helped me find the confidence I needed to turn my writing abilities into a career as a reporter."

Her first writing job came with her Michigan hometown weekly, The Romeo Observer, followed by stints with The Macomb Daily in Mount Clemens, Mich., the New Haven Register in Connecticut and The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio. Along the way, she covered beats ranging from general assignments to municipal governments to state courts to education to crime.

Shortly before a strike hit The Vindicator, she left an earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. That led her to The Associated Press, where she worked for several years, starting in the Detroit bureau before moving to Columbus, eventually serving as a breaking-news staffer.

"I came to The Columbus Dispatch in 2012 because I missed beat reporting and being part of a metro newsroom," Viviano said. "It was a scary choice, with the way the industry has been, but I’m glad I made it. The Dispatch has remained strong and is a supportive, positive place to work."

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Is it a fact? Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley converted to Islam, New York Times reports

Is it a fact? Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley converted to Islam, New York Times reports

After James Foley's beheading by the Islamic State militant group two months ago, the American's Catholic background made headlines.

But in a massive, 5,000-word story Sunday, The New York Times reported that Foley converted to Islam soon after he was taken hostage.

The Times quoted 19-year-old Jejoen Bontinck of Belgium — identified as "a teenage convert to Islam who spent three weeks in the summer of 2013 in the same cell as Mr. Foley":

Mr. Foley converted to Islam soon after his capture and adopted the name Abu Hamza, Mr. Bontinck said. (His conversion was confirmed by three other recently released hostages, as well as by his former employer.)
“I recited the Quran with him,” Mr. Bontinck said. “Most people would say, ‘Let’s convert so that we can get better treatment.’ But in his case, I think it was sincere.”
Former hostages said that a majority of the Western prisoners had converted during their difficult captivity. Among them was Mr. (Peter) Kassig, who adopted the name Abdul-Rahman, according to his family, who learned of his conversion in a letter smuggled out of the prison.
Only a handful of the hostages stayed true to their own faiths, including Mr. (Steven J.) Sotloff, then 30, a practicing Jew. On Yom Kippur, he told his guards he was not feeling well and refused his food so he could secretly observe the traditional fast, a witness said.
Those recently released said that most of the foreigners had converted under duress, but that Mr. Foley had been captivated by Islam. When the guards brought an English version of the Quran, those who were just pretending to be Muslims paged through it, one former hostage said. Mr. Foley spent hours engrossed in the text.
His first set of guards, from the Nusra Front, viewed his professed Islamic faith with suspicion. But the second group holding him seemed moved by it. For an extended period, the abuse stopped. Unlike the Syrian prisoners, who were chained to radiators, Mr. Foley and Mr. (John) Cantlie were able to move freely inside their cell.

Given the circumstances, however, should Foley's "conversion" really be presented as a fact? That was my question as I read the story.

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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:

rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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God news? Pope Francis gets earthy talking about 'family;' mainstream press ignores him

God news? Pope Francis gets earthy talking about 'family;' mainstream press ignores him

I would have thought that, in the wake of the recent media storm about the Synod on the Family, almost anything that Pope Francis said in public on that topic would be big news in the mainstream press.

Turns out, that is not the case. But I will plunge on. 

What if Pope Francis -- media superstar, par excellence -- even said something blunt and controversial about the meaning of a word like "family"? What if, in said quote, he even used a typically earthy Francis term like "bastardized"? Surely that would draw coverage?

With all of that in mind, consider the top of this Vatican City report from the Catholic News Agency (as opposed to The New York Times, NPR, Comedy Central or something mainstream):

In an audience with members of an international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a mere association, and urged participants to be witnesses in a secular world.

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience. He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it's an association. But it's not marriage! It's necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed. He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

OK, that was blunt. Did he get into any specifics?

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Ebola-free nurse Nina Pham thanks God, and The Dallas Morning News takes notice

Ebola-free nurse Nina Pham thanks God, and The Dallas Morning News takes notice

At first glance, nurse Nina Pham's return home to Texas after beating the often-deadly Ebola virus failed to raise my GetReligion antenna.

A medical story? Definitely.

A political story? Perhaps, given Pham's Oval Office hug with President Barack Obama. 

But a religion story? Probably not.

The straightforward lede of The Dallas Morning News' front-page story on Saturday gave no indication of a faith angle: 

Nurse Nina Pham, the first person to contract Ebola in the U.S., returned home to North Texas late Friday with a clean bill of health, reassurance from President Barack Obama and the promise of a reunion with her dog, Bentley.
CareFlite pilot Jason Davis confirmed about midnight Friday that Pham had arrived at Fort Worth's Meacham International Airport: "She seemed good -- super nice family. She's in good spirits."
Pham, one of two Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas nurses who caught Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, was declared virus-free and sent home by the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Officials also confirmed Friday that her colleague Amber Vinson has tested free of the disease, but they said they didn’t know when she’d be ready to leave Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Before Pham visited the Oval Office and got a hug from Obama, she expressed gratitude as she left the NIH facility.

But then I read Pham's own words — the next two paragraphs of the story.


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After the synod: Was 'confusion' caused by the press, the pope or the devil?

After the synod: Was 'confusion' caused by the press, the pope or the devil?

Let's walk into this minefield very slowly and carefully.

This week, "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I talked about the recent Synod on the Family at the Vatican and some of the themes that emerged out of it. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Truth be told, that primarily meant discussing the tsunami of news coverage about a draft report earlier in the week that was hailed by a major gay-rights group, and thus the elite media, as a "seismic shift" in Catholic attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, the divorced, cohabiting couples, etc. By the end of the week, following blasts of input from cardinals and bishops from around the world, the synod's more modest official report placed a heavier emphasis on affirming Catholic doctrine and, thus, drew far less coverage.

Once again, many Catholics were asking a familiar question: Is there some way for the Catholic church to let the public, especially the world's Catholics, hear the full sweep of what the pope is actually saying? The pope keeps talking about sin, penitence, mercy and salvation, with a strong emphasis on the symbols and language of mercy, and elite news headlines usually report him as saying something like, "Who knows what sin is, anymore, let's show mercy -- period."

After that, criticism of what the press reported the pope as saying -- including attempts to note the content and context of whatever Pope Francis actually said -- is hailed in the same news outlets as criticism of the pope or a rejection of his alleged new direction for the church.

Rinse. Cycle. Repeat.

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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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Why can't the pope just change everything? CNN gives (mostly) good answers

Why can't the pope just change everything? CNN gives (mostly) good answers

The bishops "bickered" during the recent synod at the Vatican on families -- yes, the article by CNN said "bickered" -- and a lot of people wondered why Pope Francis doesn't just order changes, rather than call a two-week debatefest.

Good question, and CNN's Daniel Burke has a good answer. Actually, four good answers, highlighting the variety of sources and factions within the Roman Catholic Church. And he lays them out in mostly even-handed fashion. We'll look at the exceptions in a bit.

The Vatican synod, as you may know, was called to spot new ways of helping stressed-out families. The bishops also were charged with seeking out the possibility of providing Eucharist and other Church services to gay couples and to Catholics who had divorced and remarried.

Burke alertly reports Francis' silence throughout the quarrels, as a pope who wanted to encourage dialogue rather than hand down decrees. The reporter even quotes a Latin saying by a Vatican cardinal: Roma locuta, causa finita, or "Rome has spoken, the case is closed." Ergo, if Francis had volunteered opinions, the conferees would have fallen silent.

The bishops, as reports said, considered a passage on accepting gays as members, then watered it down and then erased it altogether. As Burke reports, Francis still tried to prod the meeting his way:

In a widely praised speech, he told them the church must find a middle path between showing mercy toward people on the margins and holding tight to church teachings.

What's more, he said, church leaders still have a year to find "concrete solutions" to the problems plaguing modern families -- from war and poverty to hostility toward nontraditional unions. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for next October in Rome.

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