Vatican

Of Catholics, RNS and Zika virus: Questions of original reporting

Of Catholics, RNS and Zika virus: Questions of original reporting

Like mosquitos that carry the disease, a story by the Religion News Service buzzes with Catholic concerns over how to address the Zika outbreak currently coursing through Latin America. The article strains mightily to provide a many-sided view of the matter, but not always successfully, and not always originally.

The headliner is a warning this week by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras not to use abortion in the fight against the virus.   As RNS says, Zika is a prime suspect in microcephaly, in which children are born with small heads and brains. If a pregnant woman is bitten by a mosquito that's carrying the virus, children may be born with the defect.

Apparently, Maradiaga read someone recommending so-called "therapeutic abortion," or terminating a pregnancy for risk of abnormalities like microcephaly. That freaked him, according to RNS:

"We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion," the cardinal said in his homily, according to Honduran media reports.
"Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist," he said. "Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives."

It hasn't come to that yet, but RNS notes that the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency. And some Latin American officials have recommended women there to delay pregnancy for up to two years.

RNS is right to highlight his words; as it says, he is a top adviser to Pope Francis as well as chief shepherd of Honduras. It could have added that Maradiaga was also considered a papabile, or papal candidate, in 2005 and 2013. That's especially rarefied atmosphere.

But the cardinal'ss comments were just the first few paragraphs of this article -- what we in journalism call a shirttail lede -- for a more indepth treatment:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

It is certainly the most important story of the day for the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians. Yes, even bigger than the announcement -- with the lengthy fast (no meat, no dairy) of Great Lent approaching -- that Ben & Jerry's is poised to begin selling vegan ice cream.

I am referring to the announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Any meeting between the pope and the patriarch of all Russia would be historic, simply because the shepherds of Rome and Moscow have never met before. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

The big question, of course, is: Why are they meeting? What finally pushed the button to ease the tensions enough between these two churches for their leaders to meet?

In terms of the early news coverage, the answer depends on whether you are one of the few news consumers who will have a chance to read the Reuters report, being circulated by Religion News Service, or one of the many who see the Associated Press story that is, I believe, deeply flawed. Alas, the majority of news consumers will probably see a shortened version of the AP report and will be totally in the dark about the primary purpose of this historic meeting.

So here is the top of the Reuters report:

MOSCOW -- The patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church will take part in an historic first meeting with the Roman Catholic pontiff on Feb. 12 because of the need for a joint response to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Orthodox Church said.
Senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said that long-standing differences between the two churches remain, most notably a row over the status of the Uniate Church, in Ukraine. But he said these differences were being put aside so that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis could come together over persecution of Christians.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

On same-sex unions in Italy: What did Pope Francis say and when did he say it?

On same-sex unions in Italy: What did Pope Francis say and when did he say it?

GetReligion readers: Please help me out on something. I am somewhat confused. Maybe.

Looking back in my email files from the past few days, I just reread a New York Times news story that ran under the headline, "Italy Divided Over Effort to Legalize Civil Unions for Gays." This story ran on Sunday, Jan. 24. Let's assume that this means the final edit was on the previous day (knowing that major weekend reports are usually planned days earlier).

OK, then I read a new analysis piece at Crux, written by the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., that ran under the headline, "Pope Francis sends mixed signals on civil unions for gay couples." This story ran on Jan. 27.

Both articles contain lots and lots of information about the complex cultural politics of Italy. I was, of course, primarily interested in what was said about the role of Pope Francis in the public debates about this hot-button issue in this highly symbolic land.

So let's take this in the order that I read these news material. Shall we?

The Times has this to say about papal moves on this issue:

In the past, the Catholic Church would probably have played a major role in opposing the legislation (as happened in France, where Catholic groups tried in vain to prevent passage of the country’s same-sex marriage law in 2013). But in promoting a more merciful, tolerant tone, Pope Francis has discouraged bishops around the world from diving into culture war issues that have alienated some faithful from the church.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Underground ghosts? Dallas Morning News goes inside convent, but buries good stuff

Underground ghosts? Dallas Morning News goes inside convent, but buries good stuff

After a year packed with news articles on religious orders, a Dallas Morning News feature on a convent in Texas stands out.

This piece is smart, insightful and multi-sourced. Unfortunately, the best stuff is buried five or more paragraphs deep. Here's how it starts:

There were once no vacancies at the Jesus the Good Shepherd Convent in Grand Prairie. Now there are plenty of open rooms.
In decades past, the convent, a sprawling complex on a large plot of land just off the Bush Turnpike, housed around 40 members from the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Fifteen women from the order live there now, with four of them ministering to the outside community.

Where have we read that before?

Pretty much everywhere. And that's a pity, because the 800-word Dallas story has much to offer.

It quotes six sources -- including a 51-year veteran, a sister who just took her vows in October, and the order's national director of vocations. It interviews two women who are exploring religious life over a weekend visit. And it includes details like:

The order’s dwindling numbers reflect a broader trend in the sisterhood across the U.S. In the past 50 years, researchers at Georgetown University reported, there has been a 75 percent decrease in the number of Catholic nuns in the U.S., from 180,000 in 1965 to fewer than 50,000 last year.
Perhaps more significant, there are now more sisters over the age of 90 than there are under the age of 60.

But these sisters aren’t just watching the falling numbers, as the Morning News reports.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Flashback 2015: Jewish news, an all-pope Top 10 list and trends on evangelical left

Flashback 2015: Jewish news, an all-pope Top 10 list and trends on evangelical left

OK, here is one final set of some Top 10 religion stories lists for the now distant 2015. If you have missed the previous installments, click here and then here to back up a post or two and catch up. There was also an end of the year "Crossroads" podcast.

One of the reasons that journalists dig into these kinds of lists, especially those prepared by leaders in specific religious flocks, is to learn about stories that may not have made headlines at mainstream news sites -- yet.

So here are three lists of this kind. Once again, please put any 2015 Top 10 lists that I missed in our comments pages.

We will start with A. James Rudin, a name familiar to all journalists who cover events and trends among Jews in North America and elsewhere. This Top 10 Jewish news events list was prepared for Religion News Service, but the link is to The Washington Post. You have Bernie Sanders, Nostra Aetate and a rabbi scandal or two. However, his top story is one that has been growing in importance for more than a decade, one sure to grow in importance with the rise of the Islamic State.

1. Anti-Semitic attacks escalate across Europe.
In January an Islamic terrorist killed four Jews inside a Paris kosher market, and in February a terrorist killed a synagogue guard in Copenhagen. The number of French Jews moving to Israel grew during the year.

Then there was this story, which our own Ira Rifkin flagged early on:

3. The BDS campaign gathers force.

In June, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ approved a resolution calling for the denomination to divest and boycott certain companies doing business with Israel.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Flashback 2015: New Religion News Service editor goes global (PBS looks to 2016)

Flashback 2015: New Religion News Service editor goes global (PBS looks to 2016)

So we know how the Religion Newswriters Association poll viewed the Top 10 news stories of the year (commentary here and "Crossroads" podcast here). The original RNA press release is right here. So what did other mainstream religion-news outlets have to say?

I will let veteran reporter Kim Lawton and a panel of experts at the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly broadcast speak for themselves. The video is up top and the transcript is here.

So how does the broadcast open? Well, it's about 2015, so I'm afraid that we are talking ISIS, terrorism, refugees and Donald Trump. And then Pope Francis.

Over at Religion News Service, Jerome Socolovsky -- the wire service's the new editor -- offered a list of what he billed as the "most consequential religion stories of the past year."

I think that is "consequential" in the sense of "important or significant," as opposed to "self-important; conceited." All I know is that this is a very thoughtful and well-developed list and I recommend it highly, especially if you are interested in the global angle on religion news over the past year. In particular, I thought the wording on the No. 1 item is especially strong:

ISIS and the lure of the apocalypse

We had already been introduced to the unspeakable cruelty of this group called the Islamic State, or Daesh in Arabic. And it continued this year: Coptic Christians were slaughtered on a Libyan beach in an act shown to the world in high-definition video.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Top 10 religion stories for 2015: How would Pope Francis have voted?

Top 10 religion stories for 2015: How would Pope Francis have voted?

No doubt about it, journalists really love Pope Francis. In many cases, they love the version of this pope that they have created through misquotes, partial quotes and by ignoring much of what he has to say. Hey, but who am I to judge?

Pope Francis had a lot to say during 2015 and, frankly, I thought that most of it was somewhat predictable, in terms of what we already knew about him. His sermons and addresses during the visit to Acela land in the media-rich American Northeast had lots of substance, but very few surprises.

So here is my question: Would Pope Francis think that he was the world's most important news story in 2015? I think not.

If you were looking for remarks by Francis that received little coverage, consider his steady stream of remarks about the persecution of religious minorities worldwide -- especially Christians in the Middle East. In the following quotes, drawn from a July sermon in a Mass with Eastern Catholics, he even comments on how the powerful have been ignoring this truly historic massacre:

“Dear brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without persecution. Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it. We are facing this Christian fate: go on the same path of Jesus.”
The Holy Father also remembered the broader persecution of Christians in the present day. “We now, in the newspapers, hear the horror of what some terrorist groups do, who slit the throats of people just because [their victims] are Christians. We think of the Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus.”

During this week's "Crossroads" podcast, host Todd Wilken and I -- as is our end-of-the-year norm -- worked out way through the Religion Newswriters Association poll to pick the Top 10 religion-beat stories. Click here to tune that in.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

One key word missing in Detroit Free Press sermon on behalf of gay Catholic couple

One key word missing in Detroit Free Press sermon on behalf of gay Catholic couple

You pretty much know, when you read a headline that says "How a married gay Catholic couple lives their faith," that the story under that statement is going to be a sermon on behalf of progressive Catholics who want to modernize the teachings of their ancient church.

So the contents of this Detroit Free Press story didn't surprise me, especially since the Religion News Service picked it up, as well. So bah, humbug, to all of you pro-Catechism Catholics out there.

Actually, in this age in which Kellerism is becoming the newsroom norm in coverage of moral and social issues, it was unusual that the the story features a short passage quoting an articulate, qualified voice for church teachings. It's also unusual that (a) this person is not a public-relations officer and (b) that the Free Press team appears to have actually interviewed her -- as opposed to featuring one quote from a weblog or printed statement. More on that later.

The story also, as is now the norm, acknowledges that Pope Francis continues to defend the church's teachings on sex outside of the sacrament of marriage. However, it follows the now-established news logic that his "tone" on gay issues has changed everything and made his own words irrelevant. The story never quotes Francis defending the church's doctrines.

So what makes this story worthy of comment, if it is so predictable? Let's start with the lede and look for the key word that is missing.

DETROIT -- Because their Catholic faith is against same-sex marriage, Bryan Victor and Thomas Molina-Duarte made their wedding vows this summer before a Protestant minister in a Detroit Episcopal church.

So these men were married in an Episcopal parish, but they have not done the logical thing and joined that parish -- which affirms the doctrinal changes that they have affirmed.

The second paragraph introduces the man who may be the key player in the story. It's hard to tell, and that is the point.

Please respect our Commenting Policy