The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

Details continue to emerge about the events surrounding the murder of the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest who was killed by ISIS terrorists at the altar of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church, France.

One of the worshipers taken hostage -- yes, a nun -- remains in serious condition.

French officials have also confirmed that one of the two attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was a known terrorist threat who had twice attempted to travel to Syria. He was being monitored with an electronic ankle tag, but his bail conditions allowed him to roam without supervision between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Mass was at 9 a.m. The follow-up story at The Daily Mail added:

Kermiche and his accomplice -- also known to French police -- forced 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel to kneel before filming themselves butchering him and performing a 'sermon in Arabic' at the altar of the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, according to witnesses.
Both were shot dead by police marksmen as they emerged from the building shouting 'Allahu Akbar' following the attack that also left a nun critically injured.
Sister Danielle, a nun who escaped, said: 'They told me "you Christians, you kill us". They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that's when the tragedy happened. They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror.'

Translated into safer New York Times language, in an obituary for the priest, that sounds like this:

Father Hamel was celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning when two men with knives entered the small church and slit his throat, an attack that horrified people across France and the world. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the two assailants -- who were shot dead by the police -- were “soldiers” retaliating against the United States-led coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

However, this wasn't what some GetReligion readers, via email, and lots of folks on Twitter wanted to know more about yesterday afternoon and last night.

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Can Christianity save China? There might be more to that question than westerners imagine

Can Christianity save China? There might be more to that question than westerners imagine

Tear your eyes away from the White House campaign for a moment and consider the coming 50 years in an officially atheistic land with the world’s biggest population.

The surprising question at the top of this post is the headline of a July 14 piece for The Week by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a France-based fellow of America’s conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Simultaneously we get the same point from prominent human rights activist Yu Jie, a 2003 convert to Christianity now living in exile near Washington, D.C. Writing in First Things, he contends that “neither the dead hand of Communism, nor the cynical imitation of Confucianism,” nor democracy, nor capitalism, will determine what happens to his homeland. “Christianity is China’s future.”

If that’s possibly so, such a cultural earthquake demands substantive journalism.  Why would Yu or Gobry think such a thing?

First, Yu says, Christianity is “the largest force in China outside the Communist Party.” Probably true, because Communism stamped out normal institutions of civil society.

Second, Purdue University sociologist Fenggang Yang estimates China’s Christians number 60 million plus.  (Believers often offer higher numbers.) Several million more convert each year, among them a notable number of urban intellectuals. He figures if this growth rate persists by 2030, the mainland’s 200 million would be the largest Christian population in any nation, surpassing the U.S.

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Denver Post team flubs a bunch of key details in a simple Catholic funeral story

Denver Post team flubs a bunch of key details in a simple Catholic funeral story

A 14-year-old boy who was standing on a sidewalk in south Denver as a car careened in his direction is dead. Denver media have been full of news about this tragedy, as it involved a soon-to-be-eighth grader who got mowed down by an 81-year-old driver who clearly did not need to be at the wheel of a moving vehicle.

The tragedy, which happened on July 13, involved a woman with some standing in the community -- since she had been in a hit-and-run a few months before. Not only are locals discussing the boy’s untimely death, but they’re also asking when it’s time to get many elderly drivers off the road. 

His funeral was Saturday. Now, this wasn’t just any funeral. It was a Mass for a 14-year-old that lots of people attended. With all the local interest in this story, you’d hope the Denver Post would send someone to cover the funeral who  has a clue about religion reporting. Alas, that's not what happened with this story. It starts OK:

On the day that relatives left the hospital for the last time after 14-year-old Cole Sukle died, the sky opened up and family members were suddenly pelted by lots and lots of white pellets. It was hail, said Sherri Potter, the boy’s aunt.
But the turbulent weather made Potter smile, remembering floors littered with white pellets after Cole would play with family using air-soft guns that shot soft, white pellets. It was one of Cole’s favorite games, she said.
“I thought later that maybe my playful dad and my nephew Donnie who went to heaven ahead of Cole were welcoming him, with a crazy game of air-soft,” Potter said. “I’m going to always think of Cole and smile every time I see a hail.”
Cole died after he and his friend got hit by a car as they stood along Yale Way in southeast Denver.

But when we get to the service, problems arise.

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Path to sainthood: Slain Oklahoman could be first U.S.-born priest beatified, paper reports

Path to sainthood: Slain Oklahoman could be first U.S.-born priest beatified, paper reports

Sometimes, old news is worth reporting again.

Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's daily newspaper where I worked for nine years. She had a nice story Sunday on Oklahomans traveling to Guatemala to mark the 35th anniversary of a slain priest's death.

Thirty-five years, huh!?

So why is this front-page news all these years later?

I'm not privy to The Oklahoman's news meetings, where editors decide what stories to give the most prominent play, but here's my guess: This is a case that many Oklahomans — particularly the state's religious community — have followed for a long time. The editors know that the story of the upcoming pilgrimage will appeal to those readers.

As for those unfamiliar with the Rev. Stanley Rother's death, Hinton shares the history and the path that has led to this week's anniversary commemoration in an extremely compelling way. It's just an interesting weekend read for those with coffee in one hand and the thick Sunday paper in the other:

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Priest murdered by terrorists during Mass: Yes, hellish details matter in this story (updated)

Priest murdered by terrorists during Mass: Yes, hellish details matter in this story (updated)

So an elderly Catholic priest was killed by terrorists in France. These basic facts are at the heart of the latest horror story from the very tense continent of Europe.

As you would imagine, a story of this kind will almost certainly include a number of poignant details that, for those with the eyes to see, are loaded with symbolism.

How many of the details should journalists include? To what degree are the religious details relevant and where should they be placed in a mainstream news report?

As you would expect, the religious details were highly relevant to a "conservative" publication on the other side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, they were not as important to editors at America's most elite mainstream publication. Perhaps religion is viewed as "tabloid" material?

For example, let's look at the top six short, punchy paragraphs at the top of the story in The Daily Mail:

An 86-year-old priest has been 'beheaded' by two ISIS knifemen who cut his throat after bursting into a French church and taking nuns and worshippers hostage before being shot dead by police.
Five people including the priest, two nuns and two parishioners were held by assailants who raided the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy at 9 am.
The clergyman, named as Jacques Hamel, is believed to have been beheaded during the attack while another hostage is fighting for life in hospital.

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Scare-quotes update: Yes, The Telegraph actually put 'pregnant' inside you know what

Scare-quotes update: Yes, The Telegraph actually put 'pregnant' inside you know what

At this point, I would say that GetReligion readers have their "scare quotes" detection meters set on 11. (Yes, that's a reference to the movie "Spinal Tap.")

We are, of course, talking about the difference between laws affecting religious liberty, as in decades of court cases centering on the First Amendment's protection of the free exercise of religious convictions, and "religious liberty" laws that clash with evolving cultural standards on sexual liberty. Square quotes equal "so-called" or "allegedly."

You can also have scare quotes on the cultural right, such as conservative websites framing "marriage" in quotation marks in the term same-sex marriage.

Or how about "natural" family planning? Anyone for "physician-assisted suicide"? How about a female Catholic "priest"? Not that long ago you even had editors refusing to print the words "partial-birth abortion" -- even when they were in the name of a bill being debated in Congress.

So here is the latest example that punched buttons for several readers, after the case heated up on Twitter. This is a story straight out of the heart of the religious and cultural tensions in Germany, since we are dealing with an attack by a Syrian refugee on a woman from Poland. Fill in the blanks there.

Here is the headline in question, atop a story published by The Telegraph:

Germany machete attack: Syrian asylum seeker murders 'pregnant' woman in Reutlingen

Say what?

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A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

Ah, you tame Americans, with your talk about "idols" and "hero worship."  Until you know something of the frenzy around Indian movie star Rajinikanth, you ain't seen nothin'.

Stories abound about the action hero, who has just turned out his first film in two years. But few western news media have captured the fevered fervor like the Washington PostAnd it does so right from the start, with the headline: "India’s biggest action-movie star isn’t just an actor. ‘He is god.’ "

The religion ghosts are dancing right out in the open, in this report. Why didn't the Post team ask specific questions about that? We will return to that subject.

Meanwhile, one fan speaks of an "unmatchable energy" in a theater during a showing. Another compares viewing a Rajinikanth film with seeing his wife's baby for the first time. And in India, some companies are treating the release of one of his films like a religious holiday:

In Chennai, some companies gave employees the day off Friday so they could go see "Kabali," Rajinikanth’s first film in two years. Others had booked entire cinemas for their staff. Air Asia flew 180 fans to the city for the first-day showing in a plane ­custom-painted with the star’s likeness. One county was giving away free tickets to people who pledged to install an indoor ­toilet, taking advantage of the movie’s popularity to address the issue of widespread public defecation.
"Rajinikanth is not a human being. He is not an actor. He is [a] god," said S. Thanu, the producer of "Kabali."

And no, the producer isn’t the only one who talks like that.

Indiaglitz calls him a "demigod." 

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A year after Boy Scouts' decision to allow gay adult leaders, some awkward language from AP

A year after Boy Scouts' decision to allow gay adult leaders, some awkward language from AP

Is the awkward, passive language intentional or just bad writing?

That's my question about a single line that stands out to me in an Associated Press story on the Boy Scouts of America.

A few of our posts at that time: here, here and here.

Kudos to the AP for revisiting the decision at the one-year mark. 

However, this is one of those stories that feels squishy — as in broad, sweeping statements supported by quicksand — from the beginning. Throughout the piece, there are more anecdotes than hard data. Feel free to read the whole piece and tell me if I'm wrong.

The lede:

NEW YORK (AP) — There were dire warnings for the Boy Scouts of America a year ago when the group's leaders, under intense pressure, voted to end a long-standing blanket ban on participation by openly gay adults. Several of the biggest sponsors of Scout units, including the Roman Catholic, Mormon and Southern Baptist churches, were openly dismayed, raising the prospect of mass defections.
Remarkably, nearly 12 months after the BSA National Executive Board's decision, the Boy Scouts seem more robust than they have in many years. Youth membership is on the verge of stabilizing after a prolonged decline, corporations which halted donations because of the ban have resumed their support, and the vast majority of units affiliated with conservative religious denominations have remained in the fold — still free to exclude gay adults if that's in accordance with their religious doctrine.

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For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

Look at it this way: When it comes to the death penalty, The New York Times is to the left of Sen. Tim Kaine. That appears to have been the key factor in producing a rather nuanced news feature on Kaine that, for many liberal Democrats, may be a sobering read.

Then again, maybe not. The message of the Times story("On Death Penalty Cases, Tim Kaine Revealed Inner Conflict") appears to be that Kaine is a strong Catholic, but when push comes to shove he gives voters what they want. That may comfort Democrats on the left, since the nation (or the courts at least) appear to be swing their way on moral and social issues.

The key -- according to the contents of this story -- is that Kaine's Catholic faith is right where the Times editorial page would want it (other than on the death penalty). It's in his heart and in his campaign ads.

That whole "be doers of the word, and not hearers only" thing? Not so much.

Before we move on, let me confess (once again) that I am a pro-life Democrat who -- believing that life is sacred from conception to natural death -- is opposed to the death penalty. Kaine is, or was, the kind of Democrat who once gave me hope that there might be ways to at least compromise on the hot-button moral issues that have dominated American politics most of my life.

The point of that Times piece is that Kaine remains that guy -- in appearance. That's why Hillary Clinton picked him. But read carefully:

For Mr. Kaine, now a senator and Hillary Clinton’s newly named running mate, no issue has been as fraught politically or personally as the death penalty. His handling of capital punishment reveals a central truth about Mr. Kaine: He is both a man of conviction and very much a politician, a man of unshakable faith who nonetheless recognizes -- and expediently bends to, his critics suggest -- the reality of the Democratic Party and the state he represents.
He opposes both abortion and the death penalty, he has said, because “my faith teaches life is sacred.” Yet he strongly supports a woman’s right to choose and has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. And Mr. Kaine presided over 11 executions as governor, delaying some but granting clemency only once.

Note that 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. Now read on:

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