Vatican

The Womenpriests march on in the headlines, producing the usual issues of church history and Associated Press style

The Womenpriests march on in the headlines, producing the usual issues of church history and Associated Press style

Week after week they march (or liturgical dance) foward, leaving in their wake a river of YouTubes and mainstream media reports.

Oh, and Associated Press style questions: Are they the "Women Priests," the "WomenPriests" or the "Womenpriests"? At some point, will they be the "Womynpriests"? Right now, at the official site, it is "Womenpriests."

Your GetReligionistas have written quite a bit about this tiny movement because the mainstream media have spilled oceans of ink on coverage of it. Also, the Womenpriests denomination -- and coverage thereof -- really gets under the skin of Catholics who read this blog.

Yes, I just referred to the Womenpriests as a new denomination, because historically that is what this is. This is a new Protestant denomination and the ordination of these women is totally valid to the people who are members of this flock, along with the rites they perform. The problem, of course, is that many reporters continue to refer to these women as Roman Catholic priests -- because they say that they are.

Well, in terms of Catholic tradition, you can't be a Catholic priest unless the Catholic pope says you are a Catholic priest. Ditto for major-league shortstops. You can't say that you are the shortstop for the New York Yankees unless the Yankees have hired you to play shortstop.

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Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

As he so often does, Deacon Greg Kandra looked at a news story about the Catholic church and summed it up in a crisp one-liner, a skill honed to a fine edge during his quarter of a century with CBS News. At his "The Deacon's Bench" blog (must reading for journalists on the Godbeat) he proclaimed: "BREAKING: The pope is still Catholic."

Pope Francis is Catholic? As opposed to what?

That's a big issue in the mainstream press, these days. Kandra's ironic headline pointed readers toward this Associated Press report from the recent papal stop in the Philippines, which began like this:

Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception, using a Friday rally in Asia's largest Catholic nation to urge families to be "sanctuaries of respect for life."
Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued the Philippines for decades and urged officials to instead work to end its "scandalous" poverty and social inequalities during his first full day in Manila, where he received a rock star's welcome at every turn.

The "sanctuaries" quote led into a very interesting passage that deserves close attention. You see, it is one of those doctrine-affirming statements that Francis often makes, yet these affirmations tend to draw minimal mainstream media coverage, especially in comparison with the waves of coverage that have followed some papal remarks that, when edited, seem to undercut orthodoxy.

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Francis gives 'Charlie Hebdo' quotes, and mainstream media don’t freak!

Francis gives 'Charlie Hebdo' quotes, and mainstream media don’t freak!

Gol' durn. Do the mainstream media finally "get" papal coverage?

You no doubt recall the circus after Pope Francis answered a question about gays -- “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” -- a circus that is still ongoing in some outlets. But most journos seem to realize their favorite Catholic has not, in fact, rewritten centuries of teaching on sexuality.

Well, we had another near-viral experience this week, when Francis was flying from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. A French reporter asked about religion and free speech, apparently without mentioning the jihadi massacre of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. According to the much-quoted account in the Associated Press, Francis used the example of papal trip organizer Alberto Gasbarri:

"If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

This time, though, most mainstream media didn't seem to freak. AP noted that Francis has also denounced religious violence as an "aberration" and has called on Muslim leaders to speak out against religious extremism.

The Washington Post folds the AP piece into its own report on Francis' remarks. The newspaper then updated its piece with a Vatican statement:

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Correction? Associated Press misses a key detail in story about canonization of Joseph Vaz of Sri Lanka

Correction? Associated Press misses a key detail in story about canonization of Joseph Vaz of Sri Lanka

Papal tours are, in many ways, the Olympics of the religion-news beat and, in each and every one, there are complicated stories that require even the most experienced of reporters to improve the quality of their research folders.

And so it is with the Associated Press team that cranked out a "Pope Watch" feature the other day on some of the colorful details of the Pope Francis visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. This version ran in The New York Times.

In one case, the editors got a bit too eager to find yet another example of this charismatic, superstar pope being willing to push traditions aside and do his own thing. This led to a mistake that I hope they correct.

The subject is the canonization of the Blessed Joseph Vaz as Sri Lanka's first saint. The background on Vaz notes that:

... He was actually born an Indian in 1651 in what was then the Portuguese colony of Goa. Vaz spent 23 years ministering to the Catholic community in Sri Lanka, sometimes working in secret because of the threat of persecution by the island's Dutch rulers, who were die-hard Calvinists.

Note the persecution reference.

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RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

If you were to ask me the easiest part of writing for GetReligion, I would say it is coming up with items for "What is this?" --  the label we give to stories that are presented as hard news, but are so biased as to be indistinguishable from commentary. 

Religion News Service, which lately has unfortunately become a reliable source for "What is this?" items, presents another example of the genre with "Cardinal Raymond Burke: ‘Feminized’ church and altar girls caused priest shortage." The story's facts are straight, but the language is charged in such a way that it manipulates the reader into making negative conclusions about the cardinal. 

Understand, I am not denying that many readers could take offense at the cardinal's comments. Personally, I'm with Madeleine Teahan of the U.K. Catholic Herald, who notes the disconnect between his identifying discipline and strength as "manly" qualities while painting men as passive victims of feminists. But if I wanted a commentary on Burke's interview, I would read a story in the "commentary" section of the news outlet (as is Teahan's). RNS, however, markets its piece under the news label (though it did in fact run a commentary on Burke's interview as well; more on that in a moment). 

The first two paragraphs of the story are factual, though there are the little digs that Catholics have grown accustomed to seeing in stories about Burke:

(RNS) Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior American churchman in Rome who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Pope Francis’ push for reform, is roiling the waters yet again, this time arguing that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized.”
Burke, who was recently demoted from the Vatican’s highest court to a ceremonial philanthropic post, also pointed to the introduction of altar girls for why fewer men are joining the priesthood.

Right away, Burke is set in opposition to Pope Francis, who has "demoted" him. Readers are prepared to dislike him before they even read his comments.

 Then the comments come:

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Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Here is a question for reporters covering the big story down in Atlanta, where Mayor Kasim Reed has fired Fire Rescue Department Chief Kevin Cochran after he published a book in which it appears that he affirmed centuries of orthodox Christian doctrine on sex and marriage.

There are several issues to examine in some of the main reports, but let's start with the headline in The New York Times: "Atlanta Ousts Fire Chief Who Has Antigay Views."

This raises a crucial question linked to the labeling of religious believers in this day and age. For example: Is Pope Francis "antigay"? This is, of course, the leader of a church that affirms, in its most bulletproof volume of doctrine:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. ... Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Is that statement officially "antigay," which would make those who affirm the Catechism officially "antigay"? Ditto for millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others who embrace traditional, orthodox versions of their faiths.

In other words, at the level of headlines, when are believers being "anti" one thing, as opposed to being "pro" something else?

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Sitting down with the would-be assassin of St. John Paul II

Sitting down with the would-be assassin of St. John Paul II

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports that Mehmet Ali Agca was arrested after he returned to the scene of his May 1981 crime -- the attempted assassination of St. John Paul II. On Dec. 27, Agca attempted to place flowers on the grave of the late pope, and shortly thereafter was taken into custody by Italian immigration authorities for having entered the country illegally.

This interview does a fine job in reporting on an individual who might be crazy.

It presses and pushes Agca to explain his contradictions and places his claims in context -- testing them against provable facts -- yet it does not belittle or minimize his importance. The reader is allowed to judge the merits of Agca’s claim that he was God’s agent. 

There is no “snark” here. No cleverness, no sarcasm and no ignorance. La Repubblica has done a first-rate job.

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Looking ahead: From 'Cuomo Catholicism' to questions about Jeb Bush

Looking ahead: From 'Cuomo Catholicism' to questions about Jeb Bush

It's time for reporters to start preparing themselves for a new “religious issue” if, as expected, Jeb Bush runs for U.S. president.

Bush, a former Episcopalian who converted to wife Columba’s church in 1995, could become the first Roman Catholic to win the Republican nomination. In fact, his party has only chosen two Catholics for vice president and neither won that office (William Miller and Paul Ryan).
By contrast, the Democrats have named three for president (Al Smith, the sole Catholic president John F. Kennedy, and John Kerry) and four for vice president (Edmund Muskie, Sargent Shriver, Geraldine Ferraro, and the only one to serve, incumbent Joseph Biden).

Conservative writer Ira Stoll is right on top of things, pondering on Dec. 29 over at the libertarian reason.com site how Bush would handle the “Catholic question." 

For example, a 2013 Bush speech quoted in The Miami Herald said his views on immigration reflect “what my church teaches me.” That puts him to the left of the GOP field on the issue, and such remarks may trouble citizens who agree with President John F. Kennedy’s wariness toward any religious influences in public policy.

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End-of-2014 odds and ends: Including John L. Allen, Jr., on Pope Francis and the press

End-of-2014 odds and ends: Including John L. Allen, Jr., on Pope Francis and the press

Fire and brimstone? Wait for it.

I have a few odds and ends for you, on this strange Friday in between New Year's and the weekend that comes before, for many people, the Monday (Boo!) that marks the start of the new working year. Is there anyone out there near a computer?

As always, there have been many end of the religion-news year pieces to read. I thought two deserved a bit of attention here because they offered some interesting comments -- implied or direct -- on mainstream press coverage of this topic.

For example, the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., turned his usual "Vatican stories that were overlooked" theme on its head this year, for the simple reason that very few things get overlooked in the age of Pope Francis (other than his statements against, oh, abortion and in favor of religious freedom). More on that Crux list in a moment.

The simple fact of the matter, Allen noted, is that this pope's relationship to the press has become a force field that changes almost everything, including the public perception of this statements. Consider, for example, that "fake sugar coating" speech about Christmas and materialism, his annual address to the Curia and his Urbi et Orbi message on Christmas Day. Allen summarizes what happened in this manner:

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