Holy smoke! We're talking big Catholic news from the Archdiocese of Chicago!

Holy smoke! We're talking big Catholic news from the Archdiocese of Chicago!

We've all done it.

You are writing a story about a complex topic -- on religion or some other tough topic -- and you crank out what seems like a perfectly normal summary paragraph. You read over the story several times. So does your editor.

Things look normal. Then a reader sends you an email that basically says, "What the heck were you thinking?" Maybe this reader uses stronger language than that.

So you read said paragraph once again and the scales fall from your eyes. You immediately think, "What the heck was I thinking?" Maybe, silently, you use strong language than that.

Palm. Face.

When it comes to religion stuff, GetReligion readers often send us the URLs for stories of this kind. Consider, for example, the following story from The Chicago Tribute. The editorial train wreck in this hard-news story, focusing on a local Catholic scandal, doesn't take place until the very end. Still, here is the top of the story for some context:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

South Carolina flooding: Lots of 'biblical' references, but they don’t hold water

South Carolina flooding: Lots of  'biblical' references, but they don’t hold water

You know when mainstream media get interested in the Scriptures? When they have a chance to use a phrase like "biblical flood" over and over -- as several did in coverage of the disastrous flooding in South Carolina.

But that doesn't mean they’ll acknowledge where they got the phrase, or fill in any background. The shock value is more important than the power source of the words and concepts that provide the shock.

So we get USA Today with this mostly leaden lede:

The biblical flooding in South Carolina is at least the sixth so-called 1-in-1,000 year rain event in the U.S. since 2010, a trend that may be linked to factors ranging from the natural, such as a strong El Niño, to the man-made, namely climate change.

The Minneapolis Tribune piggybacks off USA Today with its own catchword headline, " 'Sept-ober' Weather Bliss Lingers -- Biblical Floods in South Carolina -- 6 Separate 1-in-1,000 Year Rains, Nationwide, Since 2010.' "

And another headline in a website called Celebcafe offers "a few unreal photos of South Carolina's biblical floods," even though the word "biblical" doesn't appear in the article itself.

But by now, reporters or editors are just tossing in "biblical" enroute to what word play and imagery really interests them. Mashable mentions "biblical rains and historic flooding in South Carolina this week," although the story is mainly about floating rafts of fire ants.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

From faith and forgiveness to a furor over finances at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church

From faith and forgiveness to a furor over finances at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church

Follow the money.

Adhering to that old journalistic adage pays off for Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jennifer Berry Hawes in yet another rock-solid story on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

This time, Hawes' coverage concerns not the faith nor the forgiving nature of a black congregation devastated by a white gunman's attack on a Wednesday Bible study.

Rather, the projects writer for The Post and Courier, Charleston's daily newspaper, digs into the touchy subject of church finances:

In the weeks after a suspected white racist gunned down nine worshippers in Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, applause for the Rev. Norvel Goff Sr. swelled as talk of forgiveness inspired mourners nationwide.
Praise poured in — even mention of the Nobel Peace Prize — along with millions of dollars in donations to Emanuel AME Church and the families of the victims.
But others are coming forward to paint a much different picture of the man named interim pastor and now overseeing how the donations are doled out.
Across Goff’s path of past churches, from New York to Columbia to Charleston, accusations of poor financial oversight swirl amid lingering questions about how he is handling the huge pot of donations at Emanuel AME.
Among them, a woman who served as secretary to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, slain pastor of Emanuel AME, said she was terminated after raising concerns about the oversight of incoming donations.
And several members of Goff’s most recent church, Reid Chapel AME in Columbia, contend their former pastor took out large mortgages against the church without proper permission while amassing federal and state tax liens that reached $200,000.
Similarly, the pastor who succeeded Goff at his previous church, Baber AME in Rochester, N.Y., said Goff also left it saddled with debt and hard feelings among members.

After that broad introduction, Hawes methodically presents the facts and accusations in a 2,700-word investigative piece that is both hard-hitting and fair.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

News hooks: Religion, politics and war and joining the home team's cheering squad

News hooks: Religion, politics and war and joining the home team's cheering squad

Organized religion can support personal piety very nicely. Ditto when it comes to performing good works. But then there's the flip side. Religion can also serve as a fig leaf for nationalism, political schemes and militarism. 

We see this last dynamic at work today primarily within the Islamic world. However, it's certainly not confined to Islam. And its certainly not just a contemporary phenomenon. (Check your Bible, Qur'an or any number of history books about Europe, Asia and the Americas for ample examples.)

Moreover, we know the damage done by these dark-side impulses can linger in religious memories for decades and even centuries. And not just in connection with today's headline grabbers, such as when Islamists refer to Christians as crusaders. They're also there behind the scenes, providing the heat for simmering historical conflicts that can flare up without clear warning.

Take Japan's refusal to fully face up to it's shameful treatment of the so-called "comfort women," a euphemism for the women from occupied nations that World War II-era Japan forced into sexual slavery. (I'll get back to this below.)

What I view as the downside of organized religion is, I'm sure, no surprise to anyone who reads GetReligion.

However, it's always worthwhile to remember how easy it is for organized religions -- as well as the journalists who cover them -- to become part of the the home team cheering squad.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Can journalists handle questions about Catholic theology linked to LGBT issues?

Can journalists handle questions about Catholic theology linked to LGBT issues?

It's getting to the point where one is tempted to believe that many mainstream journalists simply have no interest in accurately reporting what the Roman Catholic Church, or many other traditional religious institutions, believe when it comes to doctrines linked to homosexual orientation and behavior.

Consider, for example, the top of this Associated Press report -- as posted at NBC News -- about that monsignor who staged a coming-out presser the other day. The headline: "Vatican Fires Gay Priest Who Came Out Before Global Meeting."

First of all, the Vatican doesn't "fire" a priest as a priest. He was fired from his position with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Now, might this priest eventually be "defrocked" for violating this vows? That's another issue altogether.

Anyway, here is the top of this warped little AP story:

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican on Saturday fired a monsignor who came out as gay on the eve of a big meeting of the world's bishops to discuss church outreach to gays, divorcees and more traditional Catholic families.
The Vatican took action after Krzysztof Charamsa, a mid-level official in its doctrine office, came out in newspaper interviews in Italy and Poland saying he was happy and proud to be a gay priest, and that he was in love with a man whom he identified as his boyfriend.

Now, was Charamsa fired because he was gay?

The answer would be "no." The Catholic church does not discipline priests who -- from the church's doctrinal viewpoint -- carry the burden of being sexually attracted to those of the same gender. Temptation is not a sin. The questions in play are (a) has this priest honored his vows of celibacy, (b) does he support the Catholic doctrines and (c) has he taken public actions opposing church doctrines?

So, again, was Charamsa fired because he was gay?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Human rights? Let's learn from Saudi Arabia. The UN does.

Human rights? Let's learn from Saudi Arabia. The UN does.

Headed to Manhattan? Be careful. It's that time of year again. The 70th annual Grand Debate of the United Nations General Assembly has descended upon Gotham -- and Bruce Wayne is no where to be found.

Once again, we're knee deep in speeches by world leaders who muddy their talks with agenda-driven half-truths and outright lies, and, on occasion, lofty goals that never seem to manifest. Not to mention the finger-pointing, buck-passing, and pleas from the world's have-not nations for help from the wealthy -- another reason for general disappointment.

Plus, it's the cause of massive midtown Manhattan traffic jams. So watch yourself. Better yet, join Wayne, where ever he is.

Monday's opening day featured dueling speeches by President Barack Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin. Guess what. Each had a better idea for turning the world toward the peaceable kingdom.

But this is GetReligion, so let's skip the headline-grabbing political theater and focus on another UN farce -- Saudi Arabia's growing role within the UN's Human Rights Council.

Why is this important to journalists, and religion writers in particular?

Because the skewed judgements and pronouncements emanating from the Human Rights Council are too often reported -- particularly in barebones wire-service stories -- as carrying legitimate moral authority with little or no information that adds important counter-balancing context.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Same-sex wedding cake wars draw more headlines — and more RNS snark

Same-sex wedding cake wars draw more headlines — and more RNS snark

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you're probably familiar with the Sweet Cakes case in Oregon.

We've posted on it more than once.

That case is back in the news this week.

The Oregonian newspaper in Portland has solid, balanced coverage of the latest news.

The lede:

The Oregon couple who made national headlines when they refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding are now refusing to pay state-ordered damages to the lesbian couple they turned away.
In response, state officials have gone to court to establish their right to place a property lien or attach other assets belonging to Aaron and Melissa Klein, proprietors of the Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery.
The Kleins filed an appeal of the state ruling in July but also have defied a Bureau of Labor and Industries order to pay $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, claiming financial hardship despite crowdfunding efforts that have raised more than $500,000 on their behalf.
Most recently, one of their lawyers wrote to the labor bureau to say: "Our clients do not have a bond or irrevocable letter of credit in place and have no further plans to obtain either one."
The Kleins' refusal to pay marks another chapter in the long-running controversy pitting their claims of religious freedom against enforcement of anti-discrimination laws requiring Oregon businesses to serve the public equally.

There does seem to be some dispute concerning the $500,000 figure reported by The Oregonian.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Perceptive, intelligent roundup of Pope Francis' U.S. visit by Associated Press

Perceptive, intelligent roundup of Pope Francis' U.S. visit by Associated Press

Explaining without judging, observing without opinionating, reporting without pretending to know more than you do -- these all make for a delicate balancing act. But the Associated Press achieves it with its roundup on Pope Francis' visit to the U.S.

Written by Godbeat pro Rachel Zoll, along with fellow AP vet Nicole Winfield, the indepth interweaves the now-familiar themes Francis sounded during his hectic six-day tour, including climate, morality, church life, economics, history, immigration. Yet it does so without the guesswork and political noodling on which so many such stories have fixated.

Setting the tone early in the article is this perceptive passage:

From his very first appearance, he wove together issues that are rarely linked in American public life.
At the White House with President Barack Obama, he upheld religious freedom while seeking urgent action to ease climate change. Addressing Congress, he sought mercy for refugees, while proclaiming a duty "to defend human life at every stage of its development," a challenge to abortion rights. Standing on altars before the nation's bishops, he acknowledged the difficulties of ministering amid "unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society," a recognition of gay marriage.
But he urged American Catholic leaders to create a church with the warmth of a "family fire," avoiding "harsh and divisive" language and a "narrow" vision of Catholicism that he called a "perversion of faith."
The statements amounted to a dramatic reframing of issues within the church and a hope for less polarization overall in the United States.

The way the writers spotted the way Francis joined issues that are seemingly disparate -- that strikes me as laser-like discernment worthy of seasoned professionals.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Huh!? Aboard papal plane, Francis backs Kim Davis, disputes notion of Catholic divorce?

Huh!? Aboard papal plane, Francis backs Kim Davis, disputes notion of Catholic divorce?

Some of our favorite Godbeat reporters -- exhausted after days and even weeks of chronicling Pope Francis' first-ever trip to the United States -- celebrated the papal plane's takeoff Sunday night.

But even in the air -- on his way home from Philadelphia -- Pope Francis keeps making headlines. As in, on some of the very topics that American journalists stressed that he avoided while on the ground in the United States.

And as always seems to be the case with Francis, his statements aboard the papal plane defied the easy media narrative of a pope at odds with conservative Catholics.

From Reuters:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday government officials have a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty, such as issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals, if they feel it violates their conscience. ...
On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licences to gays.
“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.
Earlier this month a city official in the U.S. state of Kentucky, Kim Davis, went to jail because she refused to issue a marriage licence to a gay couple following a Supreme Court decision to make homosexual marriage legal.
Davis’s case has taken on national significance in the 2016 presidential campaign, with one Republican contender, Mike Huckabee, holding rallies in favour of Davis, a Apostolic Christian, who has since joined the Republican party.
“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” he said, speaking in Italian.

Time religion writer Elizabeth Dias is a part of the press contingent that joined Francis on the papal plane:

Please respect our Commenting Policy