Catholic scribe notes the hidden news story: This pope's emphasis on Confession

Catholic scribe notes the hidden news story: This pope's emphasis on Confession

We get all kinds of comments and email here at GetReligion, some of which readers see online, some of which we refer to in posts using careful language and some troll offerings -- few of which have anything to do with journalism -- that we trash before we start laughing or crying or both.

Quite a few -- critical and/or supportive -- come from working journalists, including religion-beat pros. I wish that I could share more of these, including the ones that are critical of the website, yet also constructive. It would be great to dialogue with these professionals, but most cannot let us use their real names.

As you would expect, we frequently hear from the same readers over and over. Quite a few of these people are professionals in religious or denominational newsrooms, the kinds of people who spot the errors and holes (real and, every now and then, not so real) in mainstream news reports about their own flocks.

For years, one of the website's most loyal and most constructive readers of the site has been Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz, the veteran Catholic scribe currently is a producer at The Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio. He is the former editor of The Catholic Times in the Diocese of La Crosse in Wisconsin. He has a degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

Earlier this week, during the latest media explosion on Pope Francis, abortion and moral theology (post by Bobby Ross, Jr., here and then Julia Duin here), he wrote us a note with some very precise reactions to the mainstream coverage. I asked him if he would flesh out his thoughts a bit, as a memo to reporters covering this story. Here is what he produced.

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Remember back in March of this year when Pope Francis told a gathering of seminarians and priests that Confession should not be a form of torture? The subsequent reporting featured a lot of emphasis on that torture part, but something was missed:

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About that quick trip to Iran by an American Jewish journalist. Great job, but ...

About that quick trip to Iran by an American Jewish journalist. Great job, but ...

This Is a delicate one. How do I praise an esteemed colleague for scoring a breakthrough, attention-grabbing, complicated, and perhaps even dangerous story while also cautioning readers to be suspicious of his story's content?

My hope is to make a point about the tough task facing journalists who swoop into a place run by a dictatorship known for its masterful media manipulation, and are expected to produce definitive reports based on their limited time in-country?

I'm speaking about the recent stories published in The Forward  by Larry Cohler-Esses, who recently visited Iran at Teheran's invitation, making him the first journalist from an American Jewish, pro-Zionist publication to do so since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The mere fact of his trip was mainstream news, and understandably so. The New York Times, NPR, CNN, The Guardian, Haaretz, and other big names in American, European and, of course, Israeli journalism rushed to interview him about his experience. 

A personal note: I have known Larry for a quarter century -- yup, I'm dispensing with AP style here; it seems too formal for a colleague. We met when he worked for a Jewish weekly in Washington, D.C., and I toiled for the competition in Baltimore, but we are not close. I know him to be a stickler for accuracy and a reporter with superb journalistic instincts who excels in tackling difficult subjects. I'm sure he accurately reported what he saw and was told.

Currently The Forward's assistant managing editor, it took Larry two years to get his visa for Iran, a sign of his tenacity. But perhaps also a sign of Iran's ability to time its moves to squeeze the most it can out of a situation.

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For Boston Globe, a crazy question concerning New Hampshire and John Kasich's faith

For Boston Globe, a crazy question concerning New Hampshire and John Kasich's faith

The headline from the Boston Globe grabbed my attention:

In N.H., talk of faith from Kasich

So I clicked the link and read the lede:

HENNIKER, N.H. — It was one of the last questions at a town hall meeting, and it happened to come from a recent retiree from Ohio: How had Governor John Kasich’s time as that state’s chief executive prepared him to be president?

“Early in your administration, my colleagues in the public and private sector, kind of viewed you as rather intense and kind of dictatorial,” Jeff Weber said inside of New England College’s Simon Center. “They said you’ve mellowed some.”

“How has the job changed me?” asked the governor who is beginning to break through in a Republican primary field packed with 17 candidates, the most noted of whom is businessman and reality TV showman Donald Trump. “Number one, my faith has gotten deeper. Why does that matter? Because it’s given me perspective.”

There were religious overtones to many of Kasich’s remarks on everything from climate change to the national debt Wednesday morning as he wrapped up a five-event, two-day swing through a state that usually doesn’t embrace overtly religious candidates. Yet the Ohio Republican is appealing to voters in New Hampshire with its first-in-the-nation primary.

So far, so good.

The Globe spotted a key religion angle on the campaign trail and went for it. 

I kept reading, excited about getting to the meat of the story. I just knew — or at least I hoped — the Globe would provide important context on the role of religion in Kasich's personal life and presidential aspirations. Alas, such details never came.

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Slut-shaming the Christian convert in Kentucky who is open to compromise?

Slut-shaming the Christian convert in Kentucky who is open to compromise?

So The Washington Post has another news report out about the woman of the day, which would be Rowan County clerk Kim Davis in the hills of Kentucky. And, once again, readers who dig into this news feature will find it hard to learn a crucial fact about this embattled Democrat, who converted to Christianity four years ago.

Sorry to repeat myself, but I am going to have to repeat a pair of questions that I asked in my earlier post on this topic. I'm seeing the same gap in the basic facts about Davis and the stand she is taking.

Let's flash back to that:

To spot this gap, ask yourself this question as you read the news coverage on this story in the next few days: Is Ms. Davis trying to stop gay citizens from getting married? Yes or no. In fact, is her primary goal to stop them from getting married in he county?

I have heard for some readers who are saying, "Yes, Davis is trying to stop gay marriages."

At that point I have asked: "Then why is she backing efforts to promote political compromises that would allow gay marriages in Kentucky and in her own county?" If you dig a bit deeper, you'll find out that her primary goal is not to prevent gay marriages, but to prevent these marriages from taking place with her signed consent, in violation of the traditional Christian doctrines on this subject that she embraced four years ago.

The Post piece does offer more information on this woman who is under the gun, but it was silent at crucial points. Here is a crucial passage:

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Talking Trump & God, in a tall building in the Big Apple that Trump doesn't own

Talking Trump & God, in a tall building in the Big Apple that Trump doesn't own

So are you had your fill of talking about God and Donald Trump?

I realize that I wrote an "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate about the alleged armies of evangelicals who think The Donald is the candidate blessed by God to get this nation back on the path to something or another, something EPIC, something GREAT, again.

Then we did a GetReligion podcast on this subject (click here to listen) and then I turned around and backed that with a GetReligion post offering more background. It was all pretty shameless.

Then I came to New York City to spend two weeks teaching at The King's College, the home of the rebooted version of the full-semester student journalism program that I ran for years in Washington, D.C. We are at Broadway and Wall Street and, thus, around a corner or two from, you got it, the Trump Building in lower Manhattan.

Right, but there hadn't really been a GetReligion-linked exploration of Trump and God that included lots of '70s dance music and one-liners. In other words, early this week I hopped on the R train and headed to the Empire State Building to spend an hour with my friend Eric Metaxas on his national radio show.

Want to listen? Click right here.

This was right after Metaxas -- a very funny man in a Yale University sort of way -- bombarded Twitter with all kinds of jokes riffing on what the Bible would sound like if Trump had written it.

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Francis' U.S. visit: About that (mostly) exemplary Associated Press advance story

Francis' U.S. visit: About that (mostly) exemplary Associated Press advance story

Friendly and perceptive and literate? The Associated Press' advance on Pope Francis' U.S. visit forms almost a shopping list of things that should go into such a story.

Written by Godbeat veteran Rachel Zoll, along with Nicole Winfield out of Rome, the article looks at the rift between the Argentinian Jesuit pontiff and the nation he'll visit Sept. 22-27 -- for the first time in his life, the story points out.

This nearly 1,300-word piece notes that previous pontiffs like John Paul II knew the place well. Why doesn't Francis? For answers, AP asks its sources about Francis' mindset, his South American heritage, and how politics and economics may influence his relations with the United States.

"Francis’ lack of firsthand experience of the United States stands out for many, especially those struggling to absorb his unsparing critique of the excesses of global capitalism and wondering whether this first Latin American pope harbors resentment about the history of US policies in his native region," AP says.

Nor does the article just pontificate, as it were. It gets live quotes from its sources:

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God vs. god: In reporting on religion, sometimes a typo really is just a typo

God vs. god: In reporting on religion, sometimes a typo really is just a typo

Anecdotally at least, we at GetReligion have noticed an increasing use of "god" — as opposed to "God" — in mainstream media content.

We've seen the same thing related to "bible" — as opposed to "Bible."

We are, of course, nerdy enough about religion journalism and style that we occasionally focus on such intricacies of the Godbeat.

As we've mentioned before, the Associated Press Stylebook — the journalist's bible (with a lowercase "b") — has this entry concerning when to capitalize God:


gods and goddesses Capitalize God in references to the deity of all monotheistic religions. Capitalize all noun references to the deity: God the Father, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, Allah, etc. Lowercase personal pronouns: he, him, thee, thou.
Lowercase gods and goddesses in references to the deities of polytheistic religions.
Lowercase god, gods and goddesses in references to false gods: He made money his god.

Concerning "bible" vs. "Bible," AP says:

Bible Capitalize, without quotation marks, when referring to the Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Capitalize also related terms such as the Gospels, Gospel of St. Mark, the Scriptures, the Holy Scriptures.
Lowercase biblical in all uses.
Lowercase bible as a nonreligious term: My dictionary is my bible.

The Religion Newswriters Association's Religion Stylebook is another excellent resource for questions:

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Washington Post looks at Kentucky same-sex marriage wars, sees only two armies

Washington Post looks at Kentucky same-sex marriage wars, sees only two armies

If you are following the mainstream media coverage of the case of Kim Davis, the elected clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky, then you have basically been reading about a dispute with two sides.

On one side are the gay citizens who want to get married in this county. On the other side is an outspoken Christian who, as an act of Christian conscience, has stopped handing out marriage licenses to anyone, rather than be forced to hand them out to those planning same-sex unions.

The mainstream coverage has been very vivid and full of human details. However, there is an interesting void in the stories that I am seeing in elite media (and let's not even talk about television). To spot this gap, ask yourself this question as you read the news coverage on this story in the next few days: Is Ms. Davis trying to stop gay citizens from getting married? Yes or no. In fact, is her primary goal to stop them from getting married in he county?

Now, let's look at some of the Washington Post coverage, starting with an update filed late in yesterday's news cycle. The following passage gives readers both a status report in the standoff and a look at the drama on the scene:

U.S. District Judge David Bunning has set a hearing for 11 a.m. Thursday to determine whether to hold Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt, a charge that could carry with it a fine or jail time.
Davis’s decision came on a day of heated protests here. Dozens of supporters -- and critics -- of the county’s elected clerk gathered outside the courthouse, and at times inside the lobby, as gay couples tried, unsuccessfully, to get marriage licenses. After one couple was rebuffed, Davis emerged from a back office to explain that she would not be issuing any licenses.

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MSNBC wins for worst headline on pope, confession, forgiveness and abortion

MSNBC wins for worst headline on pope, confession, forgiveness and abortion

 Those of us who aren’t Catholic or haven’t had abortions -- or both -- may not be familiar with the intricacies of how the Catholic Church forgives women who have had them. A woman is automatically excommunicated if she has an abortion, but if the sin is confessed and she repents, the normal policy has been that a bishop must be involved in restoring her to the church. The same policy has applied to men and women directly involved in performing abortions.

Most bishops in the United States have delegated such power of absolution to their priests, so it’s not huge news that Catholic clergy have the power to forgive abortions during confessions.

But apparently not all priests around the world have that latitude. Thus, Pope Francis, who has an amazing ability to gauge what the public wants together with what his church's doctrines will allow, announced Tuesday morning that:

I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.

The press coverage of this act has been interesting to say the least -- as you can see in the art at the top of this post. Our own Bobby Ross, Jr., dove into the topic early yesterday and here is your update on what happened later.

First, there’s the New York Post, which ran a story under this headline: “The Catholic Church will now forgive your abortion.” Well … not quite. The church has been forgiving abortions for quite some time, so that snark was undeserved. The text of the article was a bit more precise but still carried a few digs:

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