Sex

Doctrinal questions? Chicago Catholics have fewer marriages, babies and, well, priests

Doctrinal questions? Chicago Catholics have fewer marriages, babies and, well, priests

The big Catholic news out of the Archdiocese of Chicago -- the nation's third-largest diocese -- has become shockingly normal, perhaps so normal that journalists aren't even asking basic questions about this trend anymore.

The Chicago Tribune put one of the big numbers right up top in its latest report, noting that the Chicago archbishop -- a man closely identified with the tone of the Pope Francis era -- is now facing a crisis that will literally cost him altars. How many churches will he need to shutter? The current estimate is 100.

It's hard to keep Catholic church doors open without priests:

A radical overhaul in the nation's third-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese could shutter many of the Chicago church's houses of worship by 2030 as it reckons with decaying buildings and an expected shortage of priests, the church's chief operating officer confirmed Friday.
Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich told priests and advisers in meetings in recent weeks that the shortage -- an estimated 240 priests available in 2030 for the archdiocese's 351 parishes -- could necessitate closings and consolidations. The archdiocese governs parishes in Cook and Lake counties.

So what are the basic questions here? Yes, obviously, there is the question Catholic leaders have been asking for several decades: Where have all the seminarians gone? Why is a larger church producing fewer priests?

Looking at the hard-news coverage of the Chicago crisis, other questions leap to mind (or to my mind, at least). People keep saying that the "demographics" of the church have changed. This is true, but that only raises more questions that link demographics and doctrine. Hold that thought.

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Facing the Sexual Revolution's impact, even among 'active' members of red-pew flocks

Facing the Sexual Revolution's impact, even among 'active' members of red-pew flocks

It happens to journalists every now and then. You are interviewing a source and suddenly this person says something strange and specific that completely changes how you see an issue that you are covering.

That happened to me back in the early 1990s when I was covering the very first events linked to the "True Love Waits" movement to support young people who wanted help in "saving sex for marriage." This happened so long ago that I don't have a digital copy of my "On Religion" column on this topic stored anywhere on line.

Anyway, I realize that for many people the whole "True Love Waits" thing was either a joke or an idealistic attempt to ask young people to do the impossible in modern American culture. But put that issue aside for a moment, because that isn't the angle of this issue that knocked me out in that interview long ago. (Yes, I have written about this before here at GetReligion.)

If you want to understand the background for this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I want you to think about something else.

What fascinated me was that, according to key "True Love Waits" leaders, they didn't struggle to find young people who wanted to take vows and join the program. What surprised them was that many church leaders were hesitating to get on board because of behind-the-scenes opposition from ADULTS in their congregations.

The problem was that pastors were afraid to offend a few, or even many, adults in their churches -- even deacons -- because of the sexual complications in many lives and marriages, including sins that shattered marriages and homes. Key parents didn't want to stand beside their teens and take the program's vows.

It was the old plank-in-the-eye issue.

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Washington Post: Priests have complex views on gay life, but why seek diverse voices?

Washington Post: Priests have complex views on gay life, but why seek diverse voices?

The recent "Social Issues" feature in The Washington Post with the headline, "‘I’m gay and I’m a priest, period'," was pretty much what one would have expected it to be in the age of Kellerism (definition here and here). Still, this essay deserves careful reading.

You see, it does contain one very important and accurate statement of fact that needs to be discussed, if our goal is to read this feature as hard-news journalism about a crucial issue in the Roman Catholic Church, rather than as an advocacy piece or editorial published in support of a cause.

This crucial statement is as follows:

Priests’ views of the church’s handling of homosexuality are not uniform.

That is certainly true and fleshing out that statement with interviews with priests from all over that spectrum of beliefs would have been a good map for producing a solid news story. But that is not what the Post team decided to do.

During my own work as a journalist, I have encountered several different stances among Catholic clergy on issues linked to sexual orientation and the moral status of sexual acts outside of the Sacrament of Marriage. Like what? I'll try to keep this short. I have encountered priests in the following camps.

There are Catholic priests who believe that the church's ancient teachings on sexuality:

* Are correct and that they should be defended. It is crucial to note, when considering this Post article, that there are gay priests (and other LGBT thinkers in the faith) who hold this stance.

* Are correct, but that the church is doing a terrible job of handling same-sex issues at the level of pastoral life and apologetics. Some would say that Catholics need to do a better job of addressing the lives and concerns of single people -- period.

* Are wrong and should be modernized to fit our evolving culture. They believe that this work should be done openly. Some would even be open about how they have embraced some rather loose definitions of "celibacy."

* Are wrong, but that they will have to work behind the scenes to gently push the church toward the modern world, since to do this work openly would be suicide in a homophobic church.

I could go on, but that's a start.

Now, as you read this Post feature -- here is that link again -- look for evidence that the journalists who worked on this piece have included material that demonstrates the truth contained in that crucial sentence: "Priests’ views of the church’s handling of homosexuality are not uniform." Or, is the article dominated by one of these perspectives, or maybe two, with other points of view deliberately left out?

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Essay on CNN.com asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Essay on CNN.com asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Yes, this is a post about legal issues linked to the Planned Parenthood videos. But that is not where I want to start.

If you followed the twisting legal arguments surrounding the Westboro Baptist Church protests -- especially the horrible demonstrations at the funerals of military veterans -- you know that most of the headlines focused on freedom of speech.

However, journalists had a lot at stake in this fight, too (whether they felt comfortable about that or not). Why is that? Here is how I described the crucial press-freedom issue in a post -- "Why journalists love Westboro Baptist" -- back in 2010. I asked readers to glance at the coverage of Westboro's arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court and:

Then answer these questions. In addition to telling the story of the grieving family, which is essential, does the report in your local news source tell you (a) that the protests were moved to another location that was not in view of the church at which the funeral was held and that mourners did not need to pass the demonstration? Then, (b) does it note that the grieving father's only viewing of these hateful, hellish demonstrations took place when he viewed news media reports or read materials posted on the church's website? Those facts are at the heart of this case, when you are looking at the legal arguments from a secular, legal, even journalistic point of view. This is why so many mainstream news organizations are backing the church.

In other words, when push came to shove journalists had to defend their own right to cover these hateful demonstrations. People who thought of themselves as "liberals" kept shooting at Westboro and hitting the First Amendment, instead. As a statement at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press put it, in 2011:

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Update from hot world of Bikram yoga, where scandal still haunts a secular savior

Update from hot world of Bikram yoga, where scandal still haunts a secular savior

Once upon a time, many professionals who covered religion in the mainstream press argued that the future of the beat was covering "spiritual" forces in the lives of average people that played the role of organized religions. Even though the "spiritual, but not religious" slogan was overused, in my opinion, this approach was valid for quite a few stories.

There are people for whom running has become their religion. I know people for whom good wine and cooking serve what has to be a sacramental function in their lives. Ditto for some of the semi-religious movies and online games that all but take over the lives of congregations of young males.

This brings me to another activity that, in every sense of the word, is "spiritual" for many of its followers -- yoga. This is especially true when you are dealing with yoga masters who -- even though they insist their work is "secular" -- fill a guru role in the lives of their disciples, promising to help them change their lives in every sense of the word.

Yet, for some reason, many people (including journalists) think it is controversial to talk about the Hindu roots of yoga, perhaps because yoga has its share of Christian critics who see it as a false religion. Christian critics are always wrong, you know, and thus should not be quoted.

This brings us back to a Los Angeles Times update on the alleged sex scandals surrounding the life and work of the yoga superstar Bikram Choudhury. This is one of those stories that, if there is no "spiritual" hook in it, I'd like the Times team to show me why that is true. As I said in an earlier post about coverage of this scandal, "Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga":

... As all modern urbanites and even suburbanites know, yoga has nothing to do with religion. We're talking about secular gurus, secular healing, secular philosophy, secular transformations and, well, secular spirituality?

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Journalists must look to the left, as Anglican Communion goes into 'stoppage time'

Journalists must look to the left, as Anglican Communion goes into 'stoppage time'

Over time, mainstream journalists around the world have gradually come to realize that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not the "Anglican pope." In most news coverage these days, he is referred to as the "symbolic" leader of the global Anglican Communion or as the "first among equals" when the Anglican archbishops are doing business.

Let's focus on that second image for a moment, as I point out one or two elements of the flood of news coverage of the "special," as opposed to normal, gathering of the Anglican primates in Canterbury the last few days.

If Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is the first among equals, then it is important for journalists to realize that the other archbishops really do see themselves as, well, equal among the equals. Thus, when you are working through the tsunami of global coverage of the vote by the Anglican primates to "suspend" the U.S. Episcopal Church from many official roles in the Anglican Communion (don't forget Father George "GetReligionista emeritus" Conger at Anglican Ink), it helps to focus on the previous actions taken by the primates on issues linked to the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions.

Yes, we are back to that complicated Anglican timeline thing. There is no way to avoid it.

When you look at the current events in the context of an accurate timeline, it's clear that (a) the Episcopal Church has merely been placed in "time out," (b) that the global primates really do think this dispute is about the Bible and marriage, (c) that the state of sacramental Communion among Anglican leaders remains as broken as ever and (d) that all Canterbury has really achieved, with this meeting, is send the contest into extra innings (or perhaps "stoppage time" is a better term among global Anglicans).

So where to start?

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Those 1989 Act-Up protests: The key events were OUTSIDE St. Patrick's Cathedral?

Those 1989 Act-Up protests: The key events were OUTSIDE St. Patrick's Cathedral?

This is not a post about what the Catholic Catechism teaches about sexuality.

It is also, in a way, not a post about the ongoing issues of LGBT groups being allowed to march in the famous St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City.

This is a post about a basic issue of balance and accuracy in some crucial background material in a recent New York Times update about events linked to that parade, which has been a flashpoint in conflicts between LGBT activists and Catholic leaders for decades.

So, first things first, what is the news hook for this news report?

George J. Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader who presided over negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and power sharing in Northern Ireland, has been chosen as the grand marshal for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The parade’s organizers plan to announce the selection of Mr. Mitchell on Monday. But it is not clear whether Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat who skipped the parades in his first two years in office because organizers had barred openly gay groups since the 1990s, would take part. A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said on Friday that the mayor was reviewing whether to march this year.

As you would expect, the Times team included several paragraphs of background material to let readers know a little bit about the history of these tensions. This is where I want GetReligion readers to focus their attention.

Let us attend (especially to the fine details):

The controversy began in December 1989, when thousands demonstrated outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral over statements made by Cardinal John J. O’Connor on abortion, homosexuality and AIDS.

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How to write a perfect 'Kellerism' story about a complex debate in Catholic news

How to write a perfect 'Kellerism' story about a complex debate in Catholic news

The other day a Catholic who is a longtime GetReligion reader, and a media professional, sent me a note to say that he had spotted a perfect example of the "Kellerism" worldview that is blurring the line in some elite newsrooms between hard-news coverage and unbalanced, advocacy, editorial analysis.

This particular story wasn't in The New York Times. Instead, it ran on the Crux website that The Boston Globe operates to cover Catholic news. That caught me off guard, since anyone who reads this weblog knows that the Crux team runs lots of fabulous stuff and is usually quite careful when it comes to marking news as "news" and analysis as "analysis."

Before we dissect this news report a bit, let's take a short refresher course on "Kellerism.."

The term is a nod to the statement by Bill Keller of The New York Times, days after he left the editor's chair, that his newspaper had been committed to balanced coverage on matters of politics -- but not on moral, cultural and religious issues. Click here for more on that and here's a link to the video of the event in Austin, Texas.

The bottom line: Why should journalists do fair, accurate coverage that shows respect for traditional religious believers whose ancient views are clearly wrong, according to the modern doctrines affirmed by the priests of Kellerism? Why cover two points of view when one is right and the other is wrong?

This particular Crux story focused on a hot news topic -- whether Catholic institutions have a right to employ only people who affirm (or do not publicly attack) the doctrines of the faith. The headline: "Rally planned to support fired gay church worker in Maryland."

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Gays and Georgia: Mainstream media ignore the religious angle

Gays and Georgia: Mainstream media ignore the religious angle

The gay rights/religious rights battle is back in Georgia, where a religious freedom bill died in the last legislative session. As the next session opens today, mainstream media -- some from far away -- are watching closely at this embryonic state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The battleground of religious rights versus gay rights is back in Georgia, where a religious freedom bill died in the last legislative session. As the next session opens today, mainstream media -- some from far away -- are watching closely at this embryonic state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Unfortunately, all of that close watching misses the usual religious ghosts, and other stuff.

How many people have Georgia on their minds? Apparently they do in Portland, Maine, where the Press Herald ran a Tribune News Service advance on the Georgia session. It says RFRA is actually one of three such bills coming up.

But for a news organization once known for its conservatism, the article starts out awfully skewed toward the opposition:

ATLANTA — A public campaign by some of the biggest companies in the world launched Wednesday in Georgia, aimed at assuring gay employees and customers ahead of one of the latest legislative battles over religious freedom and gay rights.
Google, banking giant SunTrust and AT&T joined stalwarts including Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and UPS among nearly 100 businesses and universities that have signed on to the effort so far, which they have jointly dubbed "Georgia Prospers."
It marks the first organized effort by business and education leaders against a "religious liberty" push at the state Capitol that many in the gay community fear could allow discrimination – and that the corporate world fears would make an economic pariah of the Peach State. Religious liberty supporters, however, cast it as a new line of defense to protect people of any religion from interference.

To TNS, then, the important part is not that the bill is back, threefold; it's that corporations say these issues of principle will hurt business. Note also that the article puts "religious liberty" in sarcasm quotes, but not gay rights.

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