Vatican

The 21 beheadings in Libya: Why edit 'Orthodox' from name of the Coptic Orthodox Church?

The 21 beheadings in Libya: Why edit 'Orthodox' from name of the Coptic Orthodox Church?

What can be said about the images that are coming out of Libya, in that hellish Islamic State video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians -- explicitly for their faith and their connection to "crusaders"? This is a story with so much religious imagery and language in it that there is no way for journalists to avoid the ghosts.

Religion News Service, and some other news outlets, are using a very important quote from Pope Francis:

“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks during an audience with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland. The pope, switching to his native Spanish, noted that those killed only said “Jesus help me.”
“Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn’t matter: They’re Christian! The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ,” Francis said. He said their deaths bore witness to “an ecumenism of blood” that should unite Christians, a phrase he has used repeatedly as the Islamic State continues its bloody march.

The radicals hailed Jesus as a prophet respected in their Muslim faith, then beheaded followers of Jesus.

Now, who -- precisely -- were the victims?

Let me stress that it's true that, in Egypt (and in Libya), Christians of all kinds are often simply known as "Copts," because of a similar ancient heritage. So there are, for example, small numbers of Protestant Copts and Catholic Copts. However, the vast majority of Coptic Christians are Orthodox Christians.

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Brian Williams, Saint John Paul II, Charlton Heston, Kevin Bacon and, well, me

Brian Williams, Saint John Paul II, Charlton Heston, Kevin Bacon and, well, me

Remember that game that was so hot a few years ago, the whole "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" thing? One of the fun things about hanging out with experienced journalists is that you can play a similar game, based on who has interviewed who.

For example, as a religion writer I have interviewed Billy Graham. That puts me one degree of separation away from, what, half of the famous people in world culture in the second half of the 20th century? Or, in music, I have interviewed Dave Brubeck. Stop and think about that one, in terms of links to music royalty dating back into the early 20th century.

However, journalists do like to sweat the details.

For example, I have asked Tom Hanks a question in a live press conference. Is that the same thing as "meeting" Hanks? Perhaps you shook hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury and asked a quick question. Is that the same thing as "interviewing" him? How about a telephone interview with Robert Duvall? Twice? Is that the same as "meeting" him?

I attended the 1987 meeting between St. John Paul II and media leaders in Hollywood and greater Los Angeles, sneaking in with a pass from a Rocky Mountain News editor (a national officer in a press association) who was not able to attend. At the end, the pope moved down the aisle greeting people and shaking hands. I had a chance to shake his hand but, well, I let Charlton Heston get in front of me. You can't fight the voice of God, right? I did speak a greeting to the pope and he nodded. But is that "meeting" the pope?

Where am I going with this? To the latest wrinkles in the sad story of Brian Williams, of course.

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RIP David Carr: A struggling Catholic voice at The New York Times is gone

RIP David Carr: A struggling Catholic voice at The New York Times is gone

If you closely followed the career of media critic David Carr, then you knew that he was a practicing Catholic, yet he also made it clear that he wasn't sure if he was a faithful Catholic. For many readers -- fans and critics -- this made him the perfect New York Times Catholic.

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote about some of this in a GetReligion post back in 2011 and, in one of her first bylines at The Washington Post, she produced a quick piece on the religion-angle in Carr's death. Try to ignore this, from the new Post piece:

New York Times journalist David Carr, who died Thursday, had a complicated relationship with religion. In his 2009 book “The Night of the Gun,” Carr wrote about his father’s faith compared with his own.
“My father is a man who swears frequently goes to church every day, and lives his towering faith,” Carr wrote. “I am a man who swears frequently, goes to church every Sunday, and lives in search of faith. He is a man who believes that I am not dead because nuns prayed for me. I am a man who believes that is as good an explanation as any.”

A kind of brass-tacks, but vague, faith shows up again in the most famous passage from that book, in which Carr rips into his own life, exposing a man so hooked on drugs that he would place his own children at risk. How many of you have already seen a piece today in which the following passage -- with good cause -- is featured?

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There Pope Francis goes again: Madonna of the rabbit

There Pope Francis goes again: Madonna of the rabbit

Pope Francis’ remark about Catholics breeding like rabbits is a joy.

Just when I reach the point of indifference and exhaustion with religion reporting, the pope breathes life into journalism. He makes me laugh. What a grand fellow he is, and a misunderstood one.

The casual comment given to the press during his flight home from Manila has sparked great press interest. One might have heard the rabbit remark from Ian Paisley and other hard-nosed Protestants a generation ago. Today such comments are heard in the last bastions of anti-Catholic prejudice: the faculty lounge and press room.
 
Reuters has a nicely written report on Francis and rabbits, which summarizes the story and the difficulties of reporting on Pope Francis. He combines high and low culture in his comments, mixing pastoral and theological categories, church and secular language. The problem for reporters is discerning into which category to place his words.
 
The Reuters piece begins:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) -- Catholics should not feel they have to breed "like rabbits" because of the Church's ban on contraception, Pope Francis said on Monday, suggesting approved natural family planning methods.

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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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