Catholicism

How to die well: Talking to Jesuit, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel omits a key question

How to die well: Talking to Jesuit, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel omits a key question

I've been hearing and thinking about end-of-life and death issues a lot lately.

In recent weeks, my 90-year-old father has been in the hospital twice and while he's (thank God) coming home tomorrow, the prognosis we got on Wednesday is not good. My brother Steve wrote an amazing column for the Oregonian on my father's journey to Minnesota in July to see his 100-year-old sister, possibly for the last time. And of course there's friend-of-this-blog Rod Dreher's posts on the death of his father on Tuesday. There's a sadness that never goes away and death arrives in the midst of our lives.

We don't talk about it much, but to the people in my parents' retirement home, the imminent end of one's life is a reality they face all the time. This is true for us all.

Man knows not his time. Which is why I was intrigued by a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story on John Schlegel, a Catholic priest who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Dying well seems harder to do than ever, and here's one person taking the not-so-easy way out. 

The Rev. John Schlegel, pastor of the Church of the Gesu, has pancreatic cancer. He is foregoing medical treatment because he does not believe it would increase his quality of life. He has been visiting friends and carrying on his duties while he awaits the inevitable.
Since being diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in late January, the Rev. John Schlegel has given away most of his books, artwork and clothes.

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Papal souvenirs get a light-hearted look from the Washington Post

Papal souvenirs get a light-hearted look from the Washington Post

To this day, I regret something I didn't do in 1987. No, not some job choice or stock purchase. It was when I covered the U.S. tour of Pope John Paul II, and didn't buy one of those souvenir T-shirts with three faces: George, John Paul and Ringo.

Fortunately, for me and a new generation of pope-biliaphiles, a new crop awaits in the northeast U.S., where Pope Francis plans to visit in September. The Washington Post surveys the market in a sweeping, good-natured feature.

As the Post notes, the T-shirts, bobbleheads, keychains and more bizarre items have become a standard feature of papal tours; in 1987, I even saw ads for a John Paul lawn sprinkler, with water spraying from his hands. Such things are writ large again for the upcoming visit of Francis.

The newspaper surveys the dizzying array of items being churned out -- from jerseys to holy water bottles to "Papal Pleasure" beer to a toaster that burns Francis' face into bread.

I know from experience that it takes a light touch to make such stories work. You want to convey the silliness and excess, yet keep a respect for the devotion of the people who buy the stuff -- and some of those who make it. And the Post pulls it off, right from the lede:

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New York Post scrimps on lots of important facts in Womenpriests story

New York Post scrimps on lots of important facts in Womenpriests story

The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement is something lots of people feel strongly about. Opinions range from it being the best thing ever to happen to Catholicism, very broadly defined, to it being utter fraud.

Debates about press coverage of this movement have fueled waves of GetReligion posts over the years, far too many to list them. I am not joking. For starters, is it Women Priests, women priests, WomenPriests or Womenpriests? The group's own website says the latter. The words "Roman Catholic" are in the organization's name, even though these women have received ordination into their own movement, which has no standing with canonical Catholicism.

Partisans on both sides might agree that if a mainstream reporter writes about the movement, it helps to know the basics. A few days ago, a New York woman, who was ordained within the movement in 2014, had acid thrown in her face.

No, this was not South Asia, where such outrages happen in places like Pakistan and Bangladesh along with Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This was New York. The New York Post began as follows:

The man who attacked and seriously burned a Queens woman Wednesday night-- splashing her in the face with a Drano-like substance -- snuck up and ambushed her as she walked alone to her car, law-enforcement sources said.
“Can I ask you something?” the assailant said, before hurling an off-brand drain cleaner in the face of Dr. Alexandra Dyer, an ordained priest who has devoted her life to helping others.

The writer doesn’t identify Dyer’s denomination anywhere high in the story, leaving one to wonder if she was an Episcopalian, Lutheran or in some other category. Things get more confusing further on.

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Did you hear about ISIS razing an ancient monastery and desecrating saint's tomb?

Did you hear about ISIS razing an ancient monastery and desecrating saint's tomb?

What is there to say about the never ending Islamic State horrors being reported out of Syria? Clearly the soldiers of ISIS are equal-opportunity oppressors, when it comes to the lives and cultures of religious minorities unfortunate enough to cross their path.

When it comes to crushing truly ancient, irreplaceable wonders linked to the lives and histories of apostates, the ISIS jihadists may view one ruin or sanctuary as the same as the next.

The same, however, cannot be said of how most American journalists view these horrors. Apparently, some travesties are more important than others. Things are quite different on the other side of the Atlantic, however.

Right now, for example, journalists on both sides of the pond are -- as they should -- devoting quite a bit of coverage to the destruction of a priceless ruin in Palmyra. These was the news insiders had been fearing for weeks, especially after the shocking and disgraceful beheading of antiquities expert Khalid al-Asaad.

This solid Washington Post report -- pointing to the BBC -- was typical:

The Islamic State has reportedly destroyed another significant landmark in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.
The temple of Baal Shamin stood for nearly two millennia, honoring the Phoenician god of storms and rain, as the BBC reported. Destruction of the site would be directly in line with the Islamic State’s campaign not just against people of other faiths, but against their culture. 
“Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” one militant said of antiquities in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year. After the Islamic State captured Palmyra in May, Baal Shamin seems to have fallen to the group’s philosophy.

As I said, this is major news that deserved solid coverage. We've been dealing with the complexities of these topics for weeks, as in this Ira post.

However, did you hear about the destruction of the irreplaceable frescos and sanctuaries at the Mar Elian monastery?

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Commercialized cathedrals? Telegraph story has much to Compline about

Commercialized cathedrals? Telegraph story has much to Compline about

People are flocking again to England's grand old cathedrals, and the Telegraph says it knows why: The churches have adopted tactics from the world of retail.

Attendance is sliding at most U.K. parishes but rising at cathedrals, says the newspaper -- more than 10 million last year, up almost a quarter in a decade, says the Telegraph. The churches still boast their historic appeals, the article concedes, but they're also trying new things:

Cathedral clerics say people are often drawn by the traditional music, the contemplative atmosphere and the fact that large city-centre churches offer services at different times of the day and throughout the week.
But several cathedrals have benefited from moves to attract late-night shoppers by opening late themselves.

Like how? Prepare to be amazed, or not:

St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne, has introduced a “night church” idea, opening late on Fridays and inviting people to experience stillness and contemplation.
It also regularly attracts around 300 people for late night compline services.
Salisbury Cathedral has been offering late night classical concerts by candle-light during the summer and Liverpool Cathedral opens its tower late on Thursday evenings.

Not convinced? How about Truro Cathedral? Last Christmas the church "offered its own late night shopping, setting up charity stalls and opening its own Christmas shop and restaurant late, while inviting community music groups to play to lure shoppers in." As if churches have never done anything like that. Try googling "church bazaar" and "church night concert" and you'll find out differently.

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Your weekend think piece: A different take on America's shortage of minority journalists

Your weekend think piece: A different take on America's shortage of minority journalists

For several decades, one of the primary goals of those who run American newsrooms has been (and justifiably so, from my point of view) increasing the number of mainstream journalists who are African-American, Latino, Asian, Native Americans and part of other minority groups, defined by race.

At the same time, there have been less publicized debates -- mostly behind the scenes -- about the need to bring more intellectual and cultural diversity into our newsrooms. As one journalist friend of mine once put it, what's the use of bringing in more African-Americans, Latinos, etc., if they all basically went to the same schools as everyone else and have the same set of beliefs between their ears?

You can see these two issues collide in William McGowan's the much-debated 2003 book, "Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism." He argues that years of diversity training in American newsrooms has actually made them more elitist and narrow, purging many professionals who come from blue-collar and non-urban backgrounds.

Before you write that theory off as conservative whining, what was that statement near the end of the famous New York Times self-study entitled "Preserving Our Readers' Trust (.pdf)"?

Our paper’s commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason -- to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it.
The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting.
We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar). 

And also: 

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NPR leaves several big holes in report on non-Catholics struggling with Irish schools

NPR leaves several big holes in report on non-Catholics struggling with Irish schools

On American shores, attending a private religious school is an expensive privilege.

Such schools only accept certain people and tuition per student easily eats up $5,000 or more a year. My daughter was briefly enrolled in a kindergarten at a classical Catholic school and although we were allowed in on the “Catholic rate” versus the extra $3,000 most non-Catholics were charged, the extras really added up. We’re talking uniforms, mandatory contributions to the school operating fund and required volunteer hours by the parent.

But what if the only school available to you was Catholic? That’s what NPR tried to describe in this broadcast

In the U.S., parents who want to give their children a religious education have to pay for it for the most part. In Ireland, it's the opposite -- 92 percent of state schools are run by the Catholic Church. That's even though growing numbers of people in Ireland no longer identify as Catholic. And this is creating new tensions for parents trying to find schools for their kids. Miranda Kennedy has been digging into this from Dublin. ...
MIRANDA KENNEDY, BYLINE: Nikki Murphy is showing me around the small house she shares with her husband, Clem Brennan, and their two young children. She loves their neighborhood. … But when their older son Reuben turned 4, they discovered a problem with their neighborhood.
MURPHY: One huge obstacle is trying to get Reuben into school. Yeah, it's been horrendous.
KENNEDY: Nikki and Clem chose not to baptize their son.

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Pope Francis and abuse victims: Washington Post pro shows how to report

Pope Francis and abuse victims: Washington Post pro shows how to report

To harp on a favorite theme of mine, you need experienced specialists to cover religion news. Today's case in point is a positive one: the Washington Post's in-depth piece on Catholics who want Pope Francis to address clerical sex abuse during his upcoming U.S. visit.

Rather than relying cheap shots from pressure groups, the Post's Godbeat veteran Michelle Boorstein draws her sources from Catholic authorities or those who have had direct experience with the abuse problem -- some as victims. Their viewpoints range from support to opposition, and the usually neglected points in between.

In the 1,800-word article, victims of priests confess their hopes of pressing a single point to Francis during his September visit to Philadelphia: Do more to root out sex abuse and bring justice to the abused. But the piece adopts an attitude that is not skeptical but adversarial.

The Post gives about half the story to John Salveson, an abuse survivor who has been pressing church authorities for answers off and on since the early 1980s. It reports Salveson's initial letters to his bishop, which got non-answers; then his part in a class-action lawsuit against his diocese, which failed because of a statute of limitations; then his creation of a pressure group, "which advocates for longer criminal statutes of limitations and expanded civil windows for victims to sue."

The article also quotes others, in varying tones of rage and hope.

For rage, we have the father of a deceased victim: "All he does is talk. . . . You think this guy ever worked a day in his life? How could he have empathy for people like us?”  

For hope, another victim: “I think he’s a rock star. He really seems to be someone who genuinely seems to want to get to the bottom of this and stop it.”

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Uh, that historic church that burned down? We are missing a key fact ...

Uh, that historic church that burned down? We are missing a key fact ...

Every now and the, a GetReligionista (or in this case a GetReligionista emeritus) reads a short news report about some religion event or topic then pauses, a bit perplexed. It's like something basic is missing.

Consider the following perfectly ordinary story from The Argus Leader, a smallish Gannett newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D. Does anything strike you as strange about the top of this story? Is something missing?

Three Dewey County men have been federally charged with arson and burglary, accused of burning down a nearly 100-year-old historic church.
Cody Yellow, 27, Robert Grindstone, 28, and Ake Kyle Eagle Hunter, 28, are charged with third-degree burglary and arson. Each faces 30 years in federal prison if convicted.
According to court records: Eagle Hunter told authorities he picked up Yellow and Grindstone in Eagle Butte then drove to the church on July 19. He said he went to the church to visit a friend’s grave.
Eagle Hunter said he was walking from the cemetery towards the front of the church when he heard a crash. He said he walked back to the front of the church a saw Yellow going into the church and knocking things over.
Grindstone, then, came in with some diesel fuel and started dumping it everywhere. Then, Yellow leaned down and lit the fuel, starting the fire.

OK, this is an interesting event. Perhaps even some kind of hate crime? Is this a church burning or merely a church that was burned? 

But what very basic, key fact is missing? How about this: What is the NAME of this historic little church? Isn't that a rather crucial detail?

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