Vatican

AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

After I expressed concern that a Boston Globe story on the Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse left unanswered questions, Religion News Service's David Gibson tweeted to GetReligion:

@GetReligion @tweetmattingly Worth checking this out, @nwinfield did some asking around http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Top-US-Jesuit-defends-Vatican-sex-prosecutor-5917303.php …

The Associated Press's Nicole Winfield sought to fill in the blanks from the Globe story and uncovered a significant distortion:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The head of the Jesuits in the United States defended the Vatican's new sex crimes prosecutor Tuesday, saying he had virtually no role in the order's handling of a notorious pedophile now serving a 25-year prison sentence.
The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, spoke to The Associated Press after The Boston Globe reported that the prosecutor, the Rev. Robert Geisinger, failed to report the abuser to police when he was the second highest-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago province in the 1990s.
Kesicki said Geisinger only worked for the Chicago province for about 14 weeks, from late December 1994 through March 1995, and never again. He was brought in as a temporary executive assistant to the acting provincial while the regular provincial was in Rome for a big Jesuit meeting. Geisinger had no governing authority and was tasked mainly with maintaining correspondence for his boss, said Kesicki.

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Boston Globe story on Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse leaves unanswered questions

Boston Globe story on Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse leaves unanswered questions

The Boston Globe ran a story over the weekend alleging that the Vatican's top prosecutor on sex-abuse cases failed to report an abusive priest to civil authorities when he was a high-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago Province.

Given the legwork that reporter Michael Rezendes put into culling the sources for the story, the piece is well worth your time, but it leaves some unanswered questions. There's a lot of smoke here, to be sure, but it leaves me with the feeling that the Globe could have gone to greater length to locate the source and extent of the fire. 

Here's the lede, the wording of which suggests some delicate legal vetting:

A prominent American Jesuit recently named by Pope Francis to prosecute priests accused of sexually abusing minors under church law was himself one of several Catholic officials who allowed a notorious abusive priest to remain in ministry for years after learning of his long history of sexual abuses, legal documents show.
The Rev. Robert J. Geisinger, named in September as the Vatican’s “promoter of justice,’’ was the second-highest-ranking official among the Chicago Jesuits in the 1990s when leaders were facing multiple abuse complaints against the Rev. Donald J. McGuire, a globe-trotting priest with many influential supporters, including Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
But the Jesuits failed to notify police or take effective steps to prevent McGuire from continuing to molest minors.

Got that? Geisinger was "one of several Catholic officials" who knew about McGuire's abuse but "failed to notify police or take effective steps" to prevent him from re-abusing. What is being suggested is not that he actively sought to cover up, but that he enabled evil to perpetuate by failing to do the right thing.

The story continues:

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This Patti's got no beef with Francis: Daily News on rocker Smith's tangled road to Rome

This Patti's got no beef with Francis: Daily News on rocker Smith's tangled road to Rome

Veteran Daily News rock critic Jim Farber made a rare venture into Godbeat yesterday with a story on Patti Smith's response to criticism over her planned performance at the Vatican's Christmas concert. Although Farber bases his piece upon a report in The Guardian, he improves upon his source by adding substantial recent background on Smith's faith journey.

The lede is provocative, like Smith herself:

Patti Smith wasn’t sorry for her words then - and she isn’t sorry for her actions now.
Last week, the Godmother of Punk drew criticism from all sides after accepting the invitation of Pope Francis to sing at the Vatican’s upcoming Christmas concert.
One Italian Catholic organization labeled the star “blasphemous.” Meanwhile, some hipsters found Smith’s proposed appearance hypocritical, considering she opened her very first album, "Horses,” with the famous sneer, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine.”
On Tuesday, Smith answered her critics during a talk at the Museum of The Moving Image in New York. After being asked about the controversy by The Guardian’s Vivien Goldman, who was in the audience, the rocker said, “I like Pope Francis and I’m happy to sing for him. Anyone who would confine me to a line from 20 years ago is a fool.”

Farber then goes into rock-historian mode. By his own admission, he's been writing about music since the Ford Administration, and he's well familiar with Smith's oeuvre:

Actually, the line comes from 40 years ago, kicking off a song called “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo).” The track melded Smith’s own transgressive poetry with a cover of Van Morrison’s ‘60s hit with his band Them, “Gloria.”

Then comes the closest thing Smith offers to a mea culpa

“I had a strong religious upbringing and the first word on my first LP is Jesus,” Smith explained. “I did a lot of thinking. I’m not against Jesus, but I was 20 and I wanted to make my own mistakes. And I didn’t want anyone dying for me. I stand behind that 20 year old girl, but I have evolved. I’ll sing to my enemy! I don’t like being pinned down and I’ll say what the f--k I want - especially at my age.” (Smith is now 67).

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Pope Francis's defense of doctrine sends the Associated Press spinning

Pope Francis's defense of doctrine sends the Associated Press spinning

A colleague offers the following capsule summary of Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield's latest report on Pope Francis, in which the pontiff's defense of traditional church teaching seems to baffle the Vatican correspondent:

Francis is a RADICAL -- no, no, sorry about that--he is now a conservative who sounds just like Benedict -- NO, WAIT -- he really is a liberal at heart, but he is being FORCED by those evil, evil right-wing conservatives to cave--he is at WAR with his own CDF chief (you know, the one he re-confirmed -- but never mind) -- AT WAR, I TELL YOU!

I thought he was exaggerating -- until I read the actual story. "Pope Reinforces Traditional Family Values" is a classic example of the kind of story that makes us at GetReligion ask, "What is this?" Is it meant to be hard-news journalism, or is it meant to be advocacy or commentary? And if it's commentary, or analysis, why is it not labeled as such? Why is the AP selling it to news outlets as straight reporting?

Here's the lede:

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis is seeking to reassure the church's right-wing base that he's not a renegade bent on changing church doctrine on family issues -- weeks after a Vatican meeting of bishops initially proposed a radical welcome for gays and divorced Catholics.

Give the AP credit at least for not beating around the bush.

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Asahi Shimbun offers a lovely report on the making of saints

Asahi Shimbun offers a lovely report on the making of saints

The Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞), one of Japan’s five national newspapers with a circulation of roughly 8 million, ran a story this week that could serve as an example of how to report on religion for an audience unfamiliar with a complicated topic.   

The article entitled “Vatican to beatify Christian warlord Takayama Ukon" reports that the Catholic Church is expected to recognize as “blessed” a 16th Century warlord who converted to Christianity. 

Writing for a Japanese, and presumably highly secular audience, the Asahi Shimbun’s correspondent Hiroshi Ishida has crafted a lovely little story that succinctly tells, the who, what, when, where and why -- and leaves out any editorializing, preaching or “snark”.

The article opens:

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Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

It's logical, if you stop and think about it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, your GetReligionistas focus our time and efforts on news that is published in the mainstream press.

Note: This is news that is PUBLISHED in newspapers, wire services, websites, etc. As opposed to what? News that is NOT published? Precisely.

We do have our "Got news?" thing, which is when we note that something really interesting is happening somewhere in America or the world and the big, elite media (as opposed to, let's say, specialty websites) haven't noticed it yet. Readers send us notes about that kind of thing all the time.

That helps. But let's face it: It's hard to critique coverage that doesn't exist.

With that in mind, let's consider this week's Baltimore Sun coverage of the meetings -- in Baltimore, of course -- of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

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U.S. Catholic bishops quietly offer update on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the pews

U.S. Catholic bishops quietly offer update on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the pews

The U.S. Catholic bishops just heard a major -- terrifying is a better word -- presentation on the doctrinal state of life in their pews, especially among the young. I realize that arguments about Pope Francis and politics are fun, and all that, but this new survey offered some really crucial stuff, folks, if you care about the future of the church (and the news that it makes).

Good luck trying to find this in the news today. Am I missing something? What are the magic search terms?

Meanwhile, sink your journalistic teeth into the Catholic News Agency story, which ran with this headline: "Agree to disagree: Why young Catholics pose a unique challenge for the Church."

For more than three years, a working group at the bishops’ conference has conducted research aimed at finding ways to more effectively communicate the Catholic faith.  The research examined “Catholics in the pew,” looking at why they accept or disregard Church teaching on various subjects.  ...

Many engaged parishioners, regular Mass attendees involved in parish life, demonstrate great pride in their faith and are deeply tied to their community, the study showed. However, they have a tendency to set aside rules that they do not understand, complain about the Church being involved in politics, and avoid causes that they see as “judgmental.”

And among the young? 

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The dance continues: Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops and alleged confusion in the press

The dance continues: Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops and alleged confusion in the press

The U.S. Catholic bishops are meeting in Baltimore and, as you would expect, the coverage -- so far -- has been framed in terms of the the liberal, friendly, compassionate agenda of Pope Francis and the nasty, legalistic, orthodox point of view of the bishops who are "culture warriors" on abortion, marriage, religious liberty, etc.

The top of this Associated Press report is perfect, in terms of capturing this framework:

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are gathering at a moment of turbulence for them and the American church, as Pope Francis moves toward crafting new policies for carrying out his mission of mercy -- a prospect that has conservative Catholics and some bishops in an uproar.
The assembly ... comes less than a month after Francis ended a dramatic Vatican meeting on how the church can more compassionately minister to Catholic families.
The gathering in Rome was only a prelude to a larger meeting next year which will more concretely advise Francis on church practice. Still, the open debate at the event, and the back and forth among bishops over welcoming gays and divorced Catholics who remarry, prompted stunning criticism from some U.S. bishops.

Actually, that is the top of an earlier version of the AP story, recovered via Wayback Machine. That text is now missing and the current version of that AP story, at the same URL, can be found by clicking here. There are some interesting differences ...

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Journalists go rabbit hunting while covering news about Catholic doctrine

Journalists go rabbit hunting while covering news about Catholic doctrine

Who gets to define Catholic doctrine? That should be an easy one -- the Catholic Church defines doctrine for itself through its catechism, liturgy and through the statements of its magisterium.

This truism gets tricky for newspapers when individuals who are Catholic make claims about Catholicism that do not square with the church’s formal teachings. It is the problem of self-definition. I may believe myself to be the pope and call myself the true Bishop of Rome, but does that make it true?

Newspaper reports of female Catholic priests or of same-sex Catholic blessings are being faithful to the facts when they stated the participants claim to be Catholic and that their actions are in accord with Catholic teachings (or should be in accord if the teachings were only brought up to date). Yet these assertions conflict with the truth claims of the institutional church.

These Pontius Pilate-like musings were prompted by an article in the Limerick Post about animal cruelty and Catholicism. The story entitled “Anger over priest’s ‘offensive’ blessing of coursing club grounds in County Limerick” has animal rights activists defining the church’s teaching on animal cruelty. 

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