Vatican

European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

One would think that a major gathering of progressive Catholic leaders, a choir of voices seeking major changes in ancient church doctrines on marriage and sexuality, would draw lots of coverage from the mainstream press.

Yes, readers will obviously need to keep their eyes on the work of some of the official journalistic voices of the Catholic left. And it might pay to set a Google News alert for the following terms -- "Pontifical Gregorian University," "German," "French," "Swiss," "family" and "divorce." Including the loaded search term "shadow council" is optional.

So, what's up? Flash back to the news about the strangely under-covered May 25  gathering of progressive European Catholic bishops and insiders (including journalists) to discuss proposed changes in doctrines linked to marriage, family and sexuality. What happened? It's hard to say, since many of the journalists did not report about the event that they attended.

Now, Andrea Gagliarducci of the conservative Catholic News Agency, has a report online based on the texts of some of the "interventions" presented behind those closed doors.

This sounds like news to me. Yes, it's one take on these materials and the lede is pushy. However, this is why it's important for the mainstream press to dive in and -- trigger warning -- do some basic journalism, talking to articulate, qualified voices on both sides of the current doctrinal warfare over sexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.

Read on.

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LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

Once upon a time, journalists had a simple device that they used to signal readers when experts and insiders on one side of a story were not interested in taking part in a public debate about their work or their cause.

When dealing with a Catholic controversy, for example, journalists would write a sentence that went something like this: "A spokesperson for the archbishop said he could not comment at this time." Or perhaps this: "The (insert newspaper name here) made repeated attempts to contact the leaders of (insert name of activist organization here) but they declined to comment at this time."

In other words, it was clear that newspapers thought that readers -- if they were going to trust the content of a hot-button story -- needed to know that reporters and editors offered shareholders on both sides of the issue a chance to offer their take on key facts. It was important for readers to know that journalists were not interested in writing public-relations pieces for a particular cause.

The bottom line: Have you ever noticed that people on both sides of complicated or emotional stories almost always have different takes on the meaning of key events and quotations?

That was then. Today, there are journalists who clearly think that this kind of extra effort in the name of balance, accuracy and fairness is no longer a good thing when covering stories that touch on key elements of their newspaper's doctrines. This leads us, of course, to yet another five-star example of "Kellerism" -- click here for background -- in New York Times coverage of Pope Francis.

As is the norm, the story begins with a very emotional and complex anecdote about Catholic church life in which, it appears, there was no attempt whatsoever to talk to people on the other side.

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Back to Katy Perry and the nuns: Media may be getting actually factual

Back to Katy Perry and the nuns: Media may be getting actually factual

The tug-o-war continues between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and five religious sisters. Now, however, it looks like mainstream media snickering over "Katy Perry versus the nuns" is finally giving way to interest in the facts.

For Those Who Came In Late: The often-ribald pop star has had her eye for some time on the eight-acre hilltop convent belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which has dwindled to five elderly sisters. Perry struck a deal with the archdiocese, then found the sisters had already sold the place to a restaurateur. The archdiocese filed a lawsuit, saying the Vatican gave it control over the estate. The nuns countersued, saying the archdiocese had no right to sell their land to Perry or anyone else.

To be sure, a few outlets are still draining the last drops of "tee-hee." Take Perez Hilton (please!), with its headline "Holy Cow! This Katy Perry Convent Drama Is Heating Up! The Nuns Filed Papers To Fight For Ownership!"

"We always thought nuns were peaceful, but these ladies are prepared to fight!" Perez exclaims. "It'll be inneresting (sic) to see who comes out victorious is (sic) this buyer battle!"

At least the gossip blog got it right, that it was nuns against the archdiocese. Stories last month chortled over the (inaccurate) image of black-clad biddies fighting a flamboyant pop diva.

Better is the Los Angeles Times, whose columnist Steve Lopez  broke the story in late June. In contrast to the forced humor of that story, though, the new article sticks to facts. Note how it interweaves news and background:

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Pope Francis travels to South America to talk climate change (and, maybe, Jesus)

Pope Francis travels to South America to talk climate change (and, maybe, Jesus)

Once again, the pope is travelling. This means that, once again, readers get to observe one of the iron-clad laws that govern religion-news coverage at work.

This chunk of the mainstream journalism Grand Unified Theory states that, no matter what the pope cites as his reasons for visiting a land or region, he is actually there for political reasons. He is there in an attempt to impact the lives of real people through political ideas or actions (as opposed to through sacraments, biblical truth, etc.) Then again, he might be there because of something that is going on in church politics. Reporters are allowed to consider that option.

In this case, Pope Francis is back home in South America where, in a welcoming ceremony at Ecuador’s Quito International airport. he offered the following reasons for this trip:

Pope Francis ... spoke to a delegation which included Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, government authorities, and his fellow bishops. The Pope told the delegation that his reason for coming to Ecuador was to be “a witness of God’s mercy and of faith in Jesus Christ.”

Wait. That isn't the reason for the journey quoted in your main news source?

Oh, right. That quote is from the Catholic News Agency report, which actually used a lede that combined both the sacred and the secular language from the Pope Francis arrival rite.

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The papal encyclical: Challenging coverage and advancing the story

The papal encyclical: Challenging coverage and advancing the story

Remember Joseph Stalin's nasty and dismissive line, one version of which goes, "The pope? How many divisions does he have?”? Or maybe he actually said, “How many divisions does the pope of Rome have?”

Hard to say. Both versions are floating around the Internet.

No matter. The implication is clear in both instances. The Vatican long ago lost a considerable portion of its worldly power that once allowed it to impose its will not only on the preponderance of Roman Catholics, but on much of non-Catholic humanity.

This should be obvious to GetReligion readers. Should you require evidence, however, the recent vote legalizing same-sex marriage in once staunchly traditional, Catholic Ireland should serve as a clincher.

The Vatican's diminished influence is also obvious in much of the general media's coverage of Pope Francis' environmental encyclical, Laudato Si -- notwithstanding all the headlines it generated. 

Francis emphasized the moral challenge he believes is key to slowing human-influenced climate change and to furthering a sustainable global environmental policy that fosters economic justice. His moral argument -- a harsh critique of rapacious capitalist practices and unbridled consumerism -- warned of the negative consequences of current policies for all the world, but, in particular, for the poor and powerless. 

But get past the lede of most renditions of the story -- most prominently in the follow up coverage -- and you find that the Vatican's message was not the dominate theme.

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Welcoming sinners? Welcoming doctrinal change? Return of the pope as Machiavelli theory

Welcoming sinners? Welcoming doctrinal change? Return of the pope as Machiavelli theory

So the powers that be at the Vatican have released a crucial document -- a “instrumentum laboris” -- setting the table for this fall's much-anticipated gathering to hash out issues related to marriage and family life. The ever quotable blogger Rocco Palmo has called it the "fight card" for Rome's "Main Event of 2015."

So there.

As you would expect, that Palmo quote -- with many others from Vatican insiders and officials -- made it into the Religion News Service news feature about the document. Quite frankly, this piece does a decent job of quoting Catholics who yearn for doctrinal change, while also stressing that the document keeps repeating and affirming major chunks of the church's moral traditions that have stood for 2,000 or so.

It's not bad. It's not an editorial-page piece hidden under a news headline.

However, right at the top, the piece gently frames the whole debate -- as usual -- in a way that seems to pit Pope Francis against the basic doctrines of his church. Here's the top of this news feature. See if you can spot the key word that frames the piece (oh, right, while ignoring the art with this post).

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Vatican officials on Tuesday (June 23) released a document on family values -- a precursor to a major meeting in October -- that underscores the ongoing tension between Pope Francis’ desire for a more “welcoming” church and the need to hew to long-standing tradition and doctrine.

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Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

I realize that it's rare for your GetReligionistas to serve up one of our "think pieces" in the middle of the week, but, frankly, I am still digging out from the move to East Tennessee and missed this handy little essay this past weekend. So here we go.

Has anyone else been amazed that so much of the coverage of the papal encyclical Laudato Si (full English text here) has (a) tried to turn it into a truly radical political document and (b) seemed to suggest, as usual, that Pope Francis is the first occupant of the Throne of St. Peter to wade into these troubled waters.

I mean, this document has all kinds of things in it, including -- for liberals, surely -- some highly troubling language in which the pope's communitarian and Catholic moral vision is applied to, let's say, abortion:

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

Or how about that passage that many are interpreting as a statement addressing life choices facing those who see themselves as transsexuals?

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That other papal statement: Here's your rare 250-word RNS report on a gay-rights issue

That other papal statement: Here's your rare 250-word RNS report on a gay-rights issue

And now for something completely different. Let's take a glance at some mainstream news coverage of that other recent pronouncement by Pope Francis, the one that didn't get very much ink.

Why is that? Well, the problem is that the pope, in this case, warmly and publicly embraced a key element of Catholic moral theology linked to marriage and sexuality. This is not the sort of thing that ends up getting major play in major American newspapers.

What did the pope say? Speaking on issues linked to parenting, at a conference held by the Diocese of Rome, Francis noted the following while talking about the meaning of "communion," with a small "c":

… Being parents is based on the diversity of being male and female, as the Bible reminds us. This is the 'first' and most fundamental difference, constitutive of the human being. It is a wealth. Differences are wealth. …
"We men learn to recognise, through the female figures we encounter in life, the extraordinary beauty that women bear. And women follow a similar path, learning from male figures that the man is different and has his own way of feeling, understanding and living. And this communion in difference is very important also in the education of children”.

In the end, the pope issued a ringing affirmation of traditional marriage and the importance of children having both a mother and a father. In the current context, this is rather a rather shocking statement and worthy of coverage, even though it is basic, orthodox, 2,000 year-old Christian doctrine.

This is the kind of statement, in other words, that was granted a 250-word, bare-bones news report by the Religion News Service.

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Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

You may have heard of a spinning storm like Tropical Storm Bill -- but have you ever seen the spin before the storm?

You have if you’ve read much about Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. It hasn't even come out yet -- it's scheduled to be released today -- but already, tongues are waggin' and tweets are twittering.

Laudato Sii, or "Praised Be," is supposed to balance reflections on science, economics and compassion for the poor surrounding climate change. But the message is already in danger of being drowned out by spin doctors, both liberal and conservative -- and anger over media that leaked a version of the document.

Among the cheerleaders is the Los Angeles Times' breathless advance piece. The story throws a bone to conservatives who think the encyclical could "roil the American presidential race by injecting religion into the already contentious politics of global warming." But all the direct quotes go to liberals who applaud what they think Francis is about to say (remember, the letter hasn't even come out yet!).

And the newspaper's own attitude is evident from this:

Viewed by some as a bold act by the pope to sway opinion on a controversial issue, the encyclical in many ways reflects a movement that has been growing for decades, sometimes on the margins, with some Catholic and Christian academics and individual church leaders and congregations increasingly making “creation care” a theological pursuit and a central ministry. In some cases, the approach has helped churches reconnect with people who felt Catholicism and other denominations had become too concerned with divisive cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Many of those groups believe they have a formidable new ally.

Reuters chimes in, saying how "keenly awaited" has been the encyclical, which is "destined to become a signature document of his papacy."

Reuters puts Francis on the side of the angels, aka scientists:

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