Vatican

USA Today asks: Do private schools with doctrines have a right to the NCAA brand?

USA Today asks: Do private schools with doctrines have a right to the NCAA brand?

If you didn't see this big-time sports story coming then you haven't been paying attention.

During a radio talk show a few months ago, I speculated that if Baylor (one of my two alma maters) had qualified for the final four in football, it was highly likely that gay-rights groups would petition the NCAA powers that be to have the Bears (and other private schools with doctrinally based lifestyle covenants) kicked out of the association.

Not yet. But the arguments are beginning, as evidenced in the new USA Today feature that ran under the headline, "When religion and the LGBT collegiate athlete collide."

Now, if you believe in old-school journalism ethics -- think "American Model" of the press -- then the goal of this story is to accurately represent the beliefs of representatives on both sides of this debate. Want to guess how that turns out?

Meanwhile, it's crucial to remember that the NCAA is not a government agency and, as a private body, is not limited by the First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause. To further complicate matters, the NCAA includes both private and state schools. Thus, while there may be legal issues involved (television and conference contracts, for example) in this NCAA debate, this really shouldn't be called a religious-liberty debate. The NCAA rules.

This feature starts, of course, with a gay athlete -- swimmer Conner Griffin -- who attends Fordham University, a Catholic school that is clearly enlightened since it has chosen the spirit of the age over attempts to live out (some would say "enforce") Catholic doctrines on marriage and sex.

So right up top there is this exchange:

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Weekend think piece: Tips for how to think your way through Pope Francis coverage

Weekend think piece: Tips for how to think your way through Pope Francis coverage

Let's get one thing clear right up front about this post. I have no intention of comparing Adolph Hitler with Pope Francis. Got that?

However, long ago -- while at graduate school at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign -- I did a readings course about post-Holocaust trends in world Judaism. You can't read about that horror without reading about Hitler.

I wish I could remember who said this, because I would like to give full credit, but one of the authors I read said that, most of the time, commentaries about Hitler almost always tell you more about the writers than about Hitler. I know I ran into this concept again years later when I interviewed journalist Ron Rosenbaum, author of "Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil."

What does this have to do with Francis?

Journalists on the religion beat, news-consumers at large, please ask yourself this question: When you stop and think about the public impact of Pope Francis, how much are you reacting to the pope's own words, as opposed to news-media (and church media) commentaries about his words? When you read elite media coverage of a new statement by the pope, are you confident that you know what the pope said as a whole, as opposed to one or two sentences that have been used to create a headline?

With these questions in mind, please consider this new think piece from The National Catholic Register by Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, which ran under the headline, "5 Ways to Avoid Unhelpful Pope Francis “Mind Reading." Here is her overture:

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'Like a beautiful dream': Francis' rescue mission for Syrian refugees gets graceful coverage

'Like a beautiful dream': Francis' rescue mission for Syrian refugees gets graceful coverage

Pope Francis surprised news media yet again when he flew back from an ecumenical meeting last weekend with 12 new passengers: three families of Syrian refugees.

Francis said the Vatican would sponsor the families and get them settled in Italy, in a clear object lesson for other nations.  And the lesson was not lost on mainstream media, which covered the story with grace, sensitivity and intelligence. At least, when they got over being caught off guard again.

Francis came to the Aegean island of Lesbos to visit refugees from the war-ravaged Middle East along with two Eastern Orthodox leaders: Bartholomew I, patriarch of all Orthodoxy, and Ieronymos II, the archbishop of Greece.  But as NBC News and other media report, the pope got a last-minute idea to do more: to sponsor three families directly and set an example for the world.

Says NBC:

The religious leaders had lunch with eight refugees to hear their stories of fleeing war, conflict and poverty and their hopes for a better life in Europe. Then they prayed together, tossing a floral wreath into the sea in memory of those who didn't make it.
The pope vowed to continue helping refugees.
"Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such," he tweeted Saturday.

Video clips tell the story even more vividly. One from Euronews shows a man falling at Francis' feet, sobbing "Thank you, thank you." On CNN, a little girl clutches his ankles, apparently in overwhelming gratitude. He then gently lifts her to her feet.

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On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

So we have another major document from Pope Francis, with yet another wave of coverage in which the pope's intentions -- just as much as his words -- are the focus of a tsunami of media coverage.

Of course, "Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family)" wasn't just another 60,000-word church document. This apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis followed tumultuous synods on issues linked to marriage, sex and family life. The stakes were higher.

After reading waves of the coverage, and commentaries by all kinds of Catholics, I was struck by the degree to which journalists continue to view the work of Pope Francis through a lens that was perfectly captured in the following Associated Press statement (note the lack of attribution) about an earlier papal media storm:

Francis has largely shied away from emphasizing church teaching on hot-button issues, saying the previous two popes made the teaching well-known and that he wants to focus on making the church a place of welcome, not rules.

The "Amoris Laetitia" coverage offered more of the same formula, which can be summed up as,"The pope didn't change any church documents, but it's clear that he's trying to change such and such (wink, wink)." Thus, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) returned to a familiar question: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever, stealth-mode liberal Machiavelli?

To be perfectly frank with you, I was intrigued by the degree to which traditional Catholics were divided on this issue, in their discussions of this document -- especially on the issue of Catholics receiving Communion after second, civil marriages. I am always intrigued when conservatives take stands that make other conservatives nervous and liberals take stands that make other liberals nervous.

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What?!? Pope Francis (again) backs right to conscientious objection for believers

What?!? Pope Francis (again) backs right to conscientious objection for believers

Time for a pop quiz on some facts linked to a major religion-news event from last year.

OK, gentle readers, do you remember Kim Davis?

That's a dumb question. Of course you remember the infamous Kentucky county clerk who, citing a faith-based conflict of interest, asked that other state officials be allowed to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, in her place.

Next question: Do you remember that whole Pope Francis visiting America thing? It was a blitz of headlines that lasted for days. Then, on the flight back home to Rome, the pope was asked a question about Christians (wink, wink) being allowed to decline to cooperate with same-sex union rites. In an "On Religion" column at that time, I noted the crucial Francis remarks:

Pope Francis said he could not address all such cases, thus avoiding a reference to Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who secretly met with the pope in Washington, D.C.
"If a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," said Francis. "Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying 'this right has merit, this one does not.' …
"If a government official is a human person, he has that right."
Rather than discuss current events, the pope added: "It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, … the Chancon Roland, when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font -- the baptismal font or the sword. And, they had to choose. They weren't permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights."

Now, remember that meeting between Davis and Pope Francis?

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Surprise! Catholic League spotted other flaws in New York Times abuse story

Surprise! Catholic League spotted other flaws in New York Times abuse story

I will admit right up front that much of the following information is not shocking. The Catholic League upset at The New York Times? Never!

So here is the background. The other day I praised, in a modest sort of way, a Times piece about the clergy sex-abuse scandal that is still unfolding in the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, in Western Pennsylvania.

I raised questions, however, about some vague language in this report, especially focusing on legislation being pushed by Representative Mark Rozzi, a Democrat, who experienced abuse by a priest in his childhood. Concerning the legislation, the Times report noted, the time-frames defining windows of opportunity for new lawsuits:

These window laws can leave the church and other institutions open to legions of suits. Lobbyists with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the insurance industry have pressed lawmakers to hold the line, and they were working the Capitol’s corridors last week.

Other institutions?

Often, people fighting sexual abuse of children and teens go after the church and fail to target abuse taking place in other major institutions, such as public schools. Thus, I argued that the key vague phrase in that Times passage was "and other institutions." So what other institutions are we talking about? I continued:

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That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

Wow, they didn’t rely on clichés.  Major media scrambled today after Pope Francis pulled off a Friday surprise, releasing his eagerly awaited statement on the family. And they didn’t fall back on the tried-and-untrue "Who am I to judge?" and "Pope Francis broke with centuries of tradition, saying that …"

Well, most didn’t. More on that later.

The book-length, 256-page Amoris Laetitia makes for hefty weekend reading, and church officials are calling for careful consideration. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said today:

Amoris Laetitia is unusual for its size – more than 250 pages – and the Holy Father himself cautions us to read it with patience and attention.  This is sound guidance, especially in the scramble that always takes place to stamp a particular interpretation on important papal interventions.  My own more developed thoughts will be forthcoming.  In the meantime, we can be thankful for the Holy Father’s thoughts on an issue of real gravity.  Nothing is more essential to any society than the health of marriage and the family.

In the letter, Francis strikes balance between law and grace, restating both church doctrine and an understanding of what contemporary families go through. In turn, media seem to take a sympathetic view of the document -- for now, at least.

Despite a tight deadline, the Washington Post produced an almost feature treatment:

He called for divorced and remarried Catholics to participate more fully in church life. But he closed the door on gay marriage. He quotes Jorge Luis Borges and Jesus Christ. There is an entire chapter on love.
But more than anything, Pope Francis’s long-awaited document on family life, released Friday by the Vatican, amounts to an exultation of traditional marriage while recognizing that life, in his own words, isn’t always “perfect.” Yet rather than judging, he commanded, the church should be a pillar of support.

WaPo sees an ambiguity in Francis' words on divorced and remarried Catholics. It says he maintains that some are living in an “objective situation of sin,” but " he seemed to suggest that such cases should be studied and ruled on one by one."

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New York Times pre-thumbsucker on Francis and family COULD be ... what?

New York Times pre-thumbsucker on Francis and family COULD be ... what?

So, journalists and news consumers, how do you feel about newspaper headlines published before major events that pivot on the word "could"?

As the clock ticks toward the family synods document by Pope Francis, journalists are rushing -- in what are often billed as news stories, as opposed to editorial commentary -- to tell readers all about the blockbuster doctrinal revelations that COULD be in the document.

Take this New York Times headline, for example: "How Pope Francis’ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Could Affect Families and the Church."

In what could be an important moment for his leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis is scheduled to issue a major document on Friday regarding family issues. It is titled “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love.”
In the document, known as an apostolic exhortation, the pope could change church practice on thorny subjects like whether divorced Catholics who remarry without having obtained annulments can receive holy communion. He might address debates over same-sex relationships, cohabitation and polygamy, an issue in Africa. Or, he could sidestep such divisive topics and stick to broader philosophical statements.

For those who are paying close attention, that would be "could," "could, "might" and "could."

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News trends in latest numbers from Italy: What is going to happen to all those churches?

News trends in latest numbers from Italy: What is going to happen to all those churches?

Several years ago, I had a chance to go to Italy for a quick first visit. The work I was there to do involved lots of churches, naturally, and riding around in a van that seemed to pass 100 churches for every church that we went in.

For two days, I kept thinking the same thing: In a land with a sinking birthrate of about 1.40 -- that number would be lower for non-immigrant populations -- who was going to be worshiping in all of these lovely sanctuaries? You know, the whole demographics (and doctrine) is destiny equation.

This led to another thought: If there were no people to worship in these buildings, then what (Hello P.D. James) was going to happen to these treasures?

So with that in mind, reporters in the audience, look at this amazing little Religion News Service story from the other day.

ROME (RNS) -- Italy may be the spiritual home of 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church around the world, but a new poll shows only 50 percent of Italians consider themselves Catholic.
The poll, published in the liberal daily L’Unita ... challenges long-held perceptions that Italy is a ”Catholic” country, despite the popularity of Pope Francis and the historic role of the Vatican City State in the heart of Rome.

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