Wait, did Pope Francis just change Catholic doctrine on abortion? Or did he simply tell people to go to confession?

Wait, did Pope Francis just change Catholic doctrine on abortion? Or did he simply tell people to go to confession?

I'm not Catholic.

So I was befuddled when I saw this Associated Press news alert this morning:

BREAKING: Pope to let all priests in Holy Year absolve people from `sin of abortion' if they repent.

I wondered: Can priests not forgive abortion under normal circumstances? Is abortion ordinarily an unforgivable sin for Catholics? (My apologies to tmatt for not paying close enough attention.)

In an email to GetReligion, a reader complained:

This is in the vein of "Breaking news! Pope Francis changing everything about the mean, backward Catholic church!" while Pope Francis reiterates the orthodoxy taught by all his successors. My head is exploding. May the truth reign in the hearts of all.

I started clicking links to see if I could make sense of this breaking news.

The full AP report provided important context:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis declared Tuesday he is allowing all priests in the church's upcoming Year of Mercy to absolve women of the "sin of abortion" if they repent with a "contrite heart."
Reflecting his papacy's central theme of mercy, Francis said in letter published Tuesday by the Vatican that he has met many women bearing "the scar of this agonizing" decision to abort. He said God's forgiveness cannot be denied to those who repent, and thus is giving all priests the discretion to absolve the sin in the Holy Year of Mercy running Dec. 8, 2015 until Nov. 20, 2016.
The church views abortion as such as grave sin that, until now, a Catholic woman who wanted to repent for an abortion could not simply go to her local parish priest. Instead, her diocese's bishop needed to delegate a priest, expert at dealing with such confessions, to hear the woman's confession.

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America's hidden nightmares: Where did Wes Craven's haunting visions come from?

America's hidden nightmares: Where did Wes Craven's haunting visions come from?

Does it really matter that the Rev. Billy Graham and Hollywood shock-master Wes Craven are both products of Wheaton College, one of America's most important and symbolic evangelical Protestant institutions of any kind?

Well, that depends. On one level -- as someone who has taught in Christian colleges -- I find it interesting that a school as good as Wheaton has not produced legions of excellent screenwriters, journalists, directors, popular musicians, etc. However, the school (and this is normal for the evangelical world) has produced many fine thinkers and scholars, along with armies of people who work in Christian magazines, Christian publishing, Christian video production, Christian public relations, etc.

In a lecture on faith and vocations linked to the creation of culture, I always ask my students to name 10 famous evangelical Hollywood film directors. Then I ask them to do the same with Catholic film directors (devout and struggling). It's not a fair fight.

But back to Craven. At the heart of his most famous work was an image of a monster created by the sins of PARENTS, coming back to slice and dice their CHILDREN, who are attacked while they are, as one critic put it, safe in the "womb" of sleep. And what are those things on the monster's fingers? Surgical curettes?

Craven insisted that the key to his success was an understanding of what Americans fear the most, the subjects that cause intense nightmares of guilt, pain, shame and terror. Children dying because of the sins of their parents? Now that's an interesting vision right after, oh, 1973 or so.

Thus, I was rather stunned that The Los Angeles Times obituary for Craven (1) does not even include a reference to his famous alma mater and (2) did so little to explore the creative urges of this particular superstar director. And the New York Times? Hold that thought.

Here's the key material from the Los Angeles Times piece:

For Craven, making a scary movie was far more than simply a matter of delivering cheap shocks. It was an exercise in societal catharsis, a foray into the audience's collective unconscious.

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New York Times unveils the lies and scams of fortunetelling -- or does it?

New York Times unveils the lies and scams of fortunetelling -- or does it?

It's nice when a newspaper answers its own questions so fast, even leading with a quote it repeats right away. Like when the New York Times ran a gleeful expose' on psychics, fortunetellers and others around the city. But the Times leaves other big questions unanswered.

The article is meant to show that the diviners are increasingly giving up and fessing up that it's all a scam. But the article doesn't prove the point -- either that it's all "baloney" or that growing numbers of psychics are coming clean.

Here is how the 1,100 words start:

Is it real? Or a bunch of baloney? It’s a question New Yorkers and visitors to the city may ask themselves when they pass any of the seemingly countless storefront fortunetellers.
Celia Mitchell, 38, was pointedly asked that exact question last year: “What is the psychic business? Is it real, or a bunch of baloney?”
She answered, “It’s a scam, sir.”
“The whole thing is a scam?”

Mitchell thereby "joined a very specific group: convicted psychics who, seeking an early release from prison, sit for interviews before the parole board," the Times says. Specific and limited, although the newspaper says "that number may soon grow."

In the article, Mitchell is one of four psychics who admit fakery to parole boards. She took $159,205 to banish a "dark spirit." Another psychic admitted telling customers what they wanted to hear.  A third got people to pay her to buy "charms and rituals," according to a previous Times story. Still another is charged with promising to reunite two lovers, even though the woman was dead.

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#RNA2015: Yes, Peter Smith wins again as Religion Newswriters Association honors best of the Godbeat

#RNA2015: Yes, Peter Smith wins again as Religion Newswriters Association honors best of the Godbeat

We don't play favorites here at GetReligion.

OK, sometimes we do — such as where Pittsburgh Post-Gazette religion writer Peter Smith is concerned.

When it comes to quality journalism on the religion beat, a Peter Smith byline generally is a slam dunk.

So we weren't surprised over the weekend when Smith won the Religion Newswriters Association's first-place award for religion reporting at metropolitan newspapers.


The Pittsburgh writer was just one of a number of Godbeat all-stars who received recognition at the RNA's annual awards banquet in Philadelphia (see the full list of winners).

You can find links to all the winning stories on RNA's website. 

Smith's first-place entry included his in-depth project on immigrant religion — the subject of a 5Q+1 interview last November.

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There he goes again? Pope Francis sends 'apostolic blessing' to gay writer and her family

There he goes again? Pope Francis sends 'apostolic blessing' to gay writer and her family

At various times and in many different ways, priests bless things.

Most notably, at the end of a liturgy, the priest blesses the whole congregation -- pretty much no matter who is out there in the pews or what these people may or may not have done. Priests have been known to entire bless crowds at other public events.

It's a blessing. Priests give out lots of them. So does the pope, come to think of it..

Most importantly, it's not the moment at the end of Confession when, after hearing the penitent confess his or her sins, the priest extends his hand over the person's head and says:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
The penitent answers: Amen.

This brings us to yet another one of those moments when Pope Francis takes an action that shocks people in the mainstream media, even though it is not all that shocking to people who are active in the Catholic Church.

Wait, is The Daily Beast mainstream media? Well, this particular story is pretty straightforward news, so let's go for it since it has the key information in one chunk. We'll jump in at the summary material:

The latest in a long list of dust-ups came this week when Francis apparently gave his blessing to Francesca Pardi, a children’s book author who happens to be lesbian and who has a title on the list of banned books in the Venice school district that has sparked a feud between Venice mayor Luigi Bugnaro and the likes of Elton John. 

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More on that 'omniscient anonymous' voice concept: Update and correction

More on that 'omniscient anonymous' voice concept: Update and correction

Thank you to all the readers who helped out by finding working URLs, online and in wayback machines, for the Associated Press story that I referenced -- by memory and in incomplete form -- in my post about what I called the emerging world of "omniscient anonymous" voice journalism.

Here's my theory as to what happened. The story -- "Pope Francis drawing criticism from some conservative Catholics" -- went up on Drudge report an caused so much traffic that Lodi News took it down. Thus, the broken URL for the story.

Now, let me state right up from that I was wrong about the key paragraph in that Associated Press story being an example of "omniscient anonymous" voice reporting. It's a remarkable paragraph, for the other reasons I listed, but it does include a kind of attribution in its interesting reference to "conservative Catholics."

Here is that passage, in context, as it ran at Newsday. Let's work through this, shall we?

Robert Royal, founder and president of the conservative think tank Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that he was "astonished by some of the things he's said about the public order. He's the pope least prepared to do public commentary in about 150 years, and yet he's waded in on Cuba, Scottish independence, Greece, Israel, international economics, etc., in which it's clear he knows very little."

Hit pause for a moment.

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Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

It may be time to introduce a new term into the world of writing, and alleged hard-news journalism in particular.

First, a few notes about news craft. Normally, hard-news journalism is written in third-person voice in past tense, with a heavy emphasis on the use of clear attributions for quoted materials, so that readers know who is speaking. That crucial "comma, space, said, space, name, period" formula is at the heart of traditional, American Model of the Press journalism.

The bottom line: It's a key element in retaining the trust of readers. Traditional journalists are, as a rule, going to tell the reader the sources for the information they are reading. If something comes from the Family Research Council, say so. If something comes from Planned Parenthood or a company linked to Planned Parenthood, say so.

This is less crucial in opinion-based writing, since writers -- usually in first-person voice -- are sharing their own biases, beliefs, etc. The world of journalism needs both, in my opinion, but it is impossible to have good, healthy public discourse without lots and lots of basic, accurate, fair-minded, balanced hard-news journalism with clear, concise attributions.

In fiction, people can be very creative in terms of the point of view used in telling a story. In journalism? Basically, it's clear third-person or first person.

This brings me to what I see as a disturbing trend in journalism -- the creation of a point of view that could be called "omniscient anonymous" voice. Here is a sample from a new story in The Washington Post. I ask readers to look for the source of these stated facts about, yes, Pope Francis and his upcoming visit to the United States:

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Common modern dilemma for readers: Which Bible should I use?

Common modern dilemma for readers: Which Bible should I use?


I am no longer sure which Bible to use. I currently have the New American Standard Bible. How accurate is this? What are your thoughts on the New English Translation? 

Note: This is a direct response to our immediately preceding Religion Q & A : "Why were some verses removed from the New Testament?"


There are so many different English translations in today’s alphabet soup of a marketplace that Dale’s dilemma is common. Other responses to the August 16 Religion Q & A show there’s considerable anxiety out there, but the Religion Guy reassures readers they can rely upon any of the modern mainstream translations. That includes Dale’s NASB and NET. Not to say there aren’t important variations in wording that today’s Bible readers should know about and ponder, so it’s good to have a couple or three translations handy. And one blessing of our Internet age is that you can compare 52 English translations, verse by verse, at that familiar website -- www.biblegateway.com.

Loose paraphrases like “The Living Bible,” “The Message,” or J.B. Phillips’ elegant “The New Testament in Modern English” are valuable for fresh thinking and enjoyable reading. But they aren’t Bibles. Then we have actual Bibles that are not paraphrases but lean toward “dynamic equivalence” translation that aims at clear comprehension and flow of thoughts. That’s an OK choice but serious students and seminarians, at least, should own a translation with more literal renderings of the original Greek and Hebrew such as Dale’s NASB (more on that version below).

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Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

It's a comment that I have heard several times from historians who specialize in the history of American religion, especially Protestantism in the 20th Century.

The Rev. Billy Graham has not had a spotless career, and he would be the first to note that. In particular, there were the revelations in the Richard Nixon tapes about some of the evangelist's private opinions, which led to a season of public repentance. When you look at Graham's work, it's clear that the Nixon-era train wreck led him to focus more on Christianity at the global level and less on America, America, America.

However, stop and think about this question: Can you name an American in his era who had a higher-profile public career than Graham, becoming -- literally -- one of the most famous people in the world, yet who was involved in fewer scandals linked to morality, money or ethics? Turning that around, as one historian did, and ask yourself this question: If I had been in Graham's shoes, would I have done as well?

This brings us to Donald Trump. 

To be specific, if brings us to the new Crossroads podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I -- spinning off my Universal column this past week -- dug into mainstream press claims that the F5 category Trump (talking media storms) has become the GOP candidate with the most appeal to "evangelical" voters.

Why bring up Graham in that context? View the start of the video at the top of this post. That was where I started in my column:

When it became clear that normal venues were too small, Donald Trump met his Mobile, Ala., flock in the ultimate Deep South sanctuary -- a football stadium.
"Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable. Unbelievable," shouted the candidate that polls keep calling the early Republican frontrunner. "That's so beautiful. You know, now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because this is the same feeling. We all love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

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