New York Times offers bizarre twist on Benedict XVI letters, while Crux sticks to the facts

New York Times offers bizarre twist on Benedict XVI letters, while Crux sticks to the facts

So here is the journalism question I offer to you today: What does a letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI written on Nov. 23, 2017, have to do with the written testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, which exploded into public view at the end of August, 2018?

If you look at this as a matter of logic, the answer is clear: Nothing.

Well, I guess one could argue that Benedict could have had a prophetic vision of what Vigano was going to do. But I think that’s a bit of a stretch. How about you?

Anyway, in this case it really helps to report the contents of the Benedict letter and look for the news contained therein.

That’s what the team at Crux did, under this recent headline: “Benedict XVI hits back at critics in leaked letters.” Note: The retired pope is speaking to his own critics.

Now hold that thought, while we look at the amazing and bizarre New York Times report about the same Benedict letters. The headline proclaimed: “In Private Letters, Benedict Rebukes Critics of Pope Francis.”

You see, everything has to be about conservative Catholics attacking Pope Francis. Got that? Here is the overture, which opens with — you got it — the Vigano letter:

ROME — The remarkable letter last month calling on Pope Francis to resign for allegedly shielding an abusive American cardinal also served as a public call to arms for some conservative Catholics who pine for the pontificate of the previous pope, Benedict XVI. For years now, they have carried his name like a battle standard into the ideological trenches.

Benedict apparently would like them to knock it off.

In private letters published on Thursday by the German newspaper Bild, Benedict, who in retirement has remained studiously quiet through the controversies over Francis’ fitness to lead the church, says that the “anger” expressed by some of his staunchest defenders risks tarnishing his own pontificate.

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Monday Mix: Kavanaugh, Tennessee church shooting, Baptist women, rainbow-banner burning

Monday Mix: Kavanaugh, Tennessee church shooting, Baptist women, rainbow-banner burning

If you slept this weekend, developments in the fight over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, kept coming at a lightning speed.

The details are not for the squeamish. Click here and here if you dare. And here if you’re skeptical of the claims.

Want a religion angle on Kavanaugh? Here is a New York Times story and one from Religion News Service.

Now, on to the Monday Mix, which focuses on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "We get strength from being with each other, and we want this to be just a place of comfort, but will it ever be what it was?" The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer offers a one-year anniversary update on the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn.

That is the church where a gunman opened fire as the Sunday morning service was letting out a year ago, killing one woman and injuring seven other people, including the minister.

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When reporting on tragic trends in Latin America, don't leave out Catholics and Pentecostals

When reporting on tragic trends in Latin America, don't leave out Catholics and Pentecostals

The headline drew me instantly: “Latin America is the murder capital of the world.”

Appearing in the Wall Street Journal (which, being behind a paywall, is not accessible to non-subscribers so I’ll cut and paste what I can), the piece said the entire continent is in a crisis mode because of the non-stop murders that happen nearly everywhere.

With only a few exceptions (Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba), it’s become a horrible place to live and a risky place to visit. The question, of course, is how religion fits into this picture, in terms of the history of the region, as well as life there right now.

The piece begins with a description of how Acapulco, once the vacation spot for the rich and famous, has become a a sharpshooter’s gallery.

Acapulco’s days as a tourist resort with a touch of Hollywood glamour seem long ago. In a city of 800,000, 953 people were violently killed last year, more than in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands put together.

It’s not just Mexico. There is a murder crisis across much of Latin America and the Caribbean, which today is the world’s most violent region. Every day, more than 400 people are murdered there, a yearly tally of about 145,000 dead.

With just 8% of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for roughly a third of global murders. It is also the only region where lethal violence has grown steadily since 2000, according to United Nations figures.

Nearly one in every four murders around the world takes place in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. Last year, a record 63,808 people were murdered in Brazil. Mexico also set a record at 31,174, with murders so far this year up another 20%.

The 2016 tally in China, according to the U.N.: 8,634. For the entire European Union: 5,351. The United States: 17,250.

I guess there are SOME advantages in China being a police state. It does keep the murders down, although God only knows what really goes on in prisons and prison camps in that country where people disappear and never return.

In this story, everyone gets to die, starting with elementary school-aged kids to surgeons who botched a plastic surgery operation on a drug lord. The latter were found encased in cement.

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Catholic crisis thinkers: What details change, when looking from the left and then the right?

Catholic crisis thinkers: What details change, when looking from the left and then the right?

This weekend’s think piece is two think pieces in one.

As a bonus, I think I have found a foolproof way to determine how editors of a given publication have answered the crucial question: What is the decades-old Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal all about?

Well, let me qualify that a bit: This journalistic test that I am proposing works really well with the drama surrounding ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, since he has been accused of several different kinds of sexual abuse with males of different ages.

The editorial test: Search an article for the word “seminary” or variations on that term.

Let’s start with the Atlantic essay that ran with this headline: “The Sex-Abuse Scandal Is Growing Faster Than the Church Can Contain It.” Here’s a sample of the language:

“Many strands are coming together,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a historian of Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “It does seem like we are reaching a watershed moment.” By Thursday, there had been so many new developments that she said she was having a hard time keeping up — and that the leaders at the Vatican probably were, too. “I think they’re scrambling. The news is coming on so many fronts. I think they don’t know quite what to do.” Here is some of what they nevertheless did this week.


The article does mention the controversial public testimony published by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, without really getting into the details other than to its call for Pope Francis to resign.

There is another summary statement later:

Pope Francis on Wednesday summoned bishops from around the world to a first-of-its-kind meeting in Rome in February. The focus will be on protecting minors, and bishops will reportedly receive training in identifying abuse, intervening, and listening to victims.

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That old media-bias question again: What will NPR call someone who performs abortions?

That old media-bias question again: What will NPR call someone who performs abortions?

As your GetReligionistas have explained many times, abortion is an issue that isn’t automatically religion-beat territory. However, most public debates about abortion (and euthanasia) end up involving religious groups and the arguments almost always involve religious language.

Yes, there is a group called Atheists Against Abortion and there are other groups on the religious and cultural left, such as the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians. I was converted to the pro-life position as a young adult through articles at Sojourners, including a famous essay by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

But in the mainstream press, liberal pro-lifers hardly exist, if they exist at all. You would never know that somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of Democrats (depending on how you word the question) hold positions on abortion that most journalists would call “anti-choice.”

Thus, questions about abortion have long been at the heart of surveys linked to religion and media bias, with journalists, especially in elite urban zip codes, consistently backing America’s current regime of abortion laws to a much stronger degree than the public as a whole. It’s been that way since I started studying the issue in the early 1980s.

If you were looking for a recent Armageddon moment on this topic (other than the current U.S. Supreme Court fiasco), it would have to be the media coverage, or non-coverage, of the criminal activity of Dr. Kermit Gosnell of Philadelphia.

Here at GetReligion, the blogging and chutzpah of M.Z. Hemingway played a key role in forcing debates about that topic out into the open.

In the past week or so, several GetReligion readers have sent me the URL of a commentary at The Daily Beast that ran with this headline: “Leaked NPR Emails: Don’t Call Kermit Gosnell an ‘Abortion Doctor’.”

This piece focuses on one of the key issues raised during the Gosnell trial — what professional title should reporters describe to this member of the abortion industry?

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Beyond 'administrative' affairs: Do bishops realize that anger in pews puts them in crosshairs?

Beyond 'administrative' affairs: Do bishops realize that anger in pews puts them in crosshairs?

In many ways, recent remarks by Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga at the Spanish-language website Religion Digital are the perfect summary of where we are, right now, in the various scandals linked to the life and times of ex-cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.

Not that you would know that, the first time you read the most important quotation in that report. This was one of those cases in which you had to read the quote three or four times — focusing on a few strategic turns of phrase — to understand what was going on.

It also helps to remember that Cardinal Maradiaga is the chair of the inner ring of cardinals who advise Pope Francis. This isn’t a quote from the Throne of St. Peter, but it’s very close.

Ready? Read carefully.

"It does not seem correct to me to transform something that is of the private order into bombshell headlines exploding all over the world and whose shrapnel is hurting the faith of many," said Cardinal Maradiaga, in a Religion Digital interview. "I think this case of an administrative nature should have been made public in accordance with more serene and objective criteria, not with the negative charge of deeply bitter expressions."

Now, what does the word “something” mean? This appears to have been a comment about the McCarrick case, as opposed to the wider world of clergy child-abuse scandals.

Apparently, this Francis insider believes that this case is “administrative” and “of the private order” and, thus, not something for public inquiry and headlines (or published testimonies by former papal nuncios to the United States). In my national “On Religion” column this week, I also noted this quote from Maradiaga:

On another "private order," "administrative" issue in church affairs, he said the "notion of a gay lobby in the Vatican is out of proportion. It is something that exists much more in the ink of the newspapers than in reality."

All of this, and much more, came up for discussion in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in). Think of it as our latest attempt to answer the question people keep asking: What is this Catholic mess really about?

 

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Friday Five: Top religion journalists, Christian rock, rainbow-cross flag burning, Sarah Sanders doctrine

Friday Five: Top religion journalists, Christian rock, rainbow-cross flag burning, Sarah Sanders doctrine

We’ve mentioned a few of the winners in the Religion News Association’s annual Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence — including Ann Rodgers, Kimberly Winston and Rachel Zoll.

But be sure to check out the entire #RNA2018 contest list for more familiar, deserving names. Some names I recognized: Peter Smith, Peggy Fletcher Stack, Tim Funk, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Emma Green, Elizabeth Dias, Bob Smietana, Jeremy Weber and Ted Olsen.

Congratulations to all of those honored for their work on the Godbeat!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

(1) Religion story of the week: Seriously, a story on Christian rock music is the story of the week!?

Hey, when GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly refers to a New Yorker piece on the Christian rock wars as “stunningly good,” pay attention. And as his post urged, read it all.

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Three months in, more newsrooms need to get serious about Catholic sex abuse coverage

Three months in, more newsrooms need to get serious about Catholic sex abuse coverage

As of today, we’re moving into the fourth month of Cardinal-gate or whatever one wants to call the flood of revelations, regrets, resignations and just plain revulsion over the re-awakened sex abuse crisis.

Reporting on the first phase of this crescendo of bad news started kind of slowly in June as news of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s penchant for finding sex partners among his seminarians started leaking out. During that first month, only the New York Times and the Washington Post did much of anything on it and then mostly by their religion and-or Vatican reporters.

Fast forward to this recent Post piece, by an investigative team designated to look into the actions of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Yes, there should have been a team put on the case way before this, but better late than never. You can tell that news executives are taking a story seriously when they start throwing staff at it.

A dozen years before he became a top leader in the Catholic Church, Donald Wuerl was weighing a fateful decision. It was 1994, and Wuerl, then a bishop, had removed a priest accused of child sex abuse from a Pittsburgh-area parish. But the priest refused to get psychiatric treatment, and instead asked Wuerl for time off…

The case, one of hundreds mentioned in a groundbreaking Pennsylvania grand jury report released last month, sheds light on how Wuerl handled sex abuse claims in the Pittsburgh Diocese from 1988 to 2006 — a period that now threatens to rewrite his legacy and hasten the end of his career. Wuerl, 77, announced recently that he would go to the Vatican to discuss his possible resignation with Pope Francis, and although it is not clear when that meeting will take place, Wuerl is scheduled to be in Rome this weekend.

While Wuerl built a reputation as an early advocate for removing pedophile priests from parishes, a Post examination found that at times he allowed accused clerics to continue as priests in less visible roles without alerting authorities or other officials. The review focused on the 25 priests whose cases, according to the grand jury, Wuerl handled directly.

The grand jury report is what moved reporting from just the religion team on these two papers to a much broader newsroom effort with more resources. There’s good solid reporting in the Post piece. And how can one ignore news like what Vox.com said about eight states taking up investigations into hidden clerical abuse within their borders?

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In coverage of Hurricane Florence, faith-based disaster relief is, again, an important part of the story

In coverage of Hurricane Florence, faith-based disaster relief is, again, an important part of the story

I wrote a news story for Christianity Today this week on “The Crucial Role of the ‘Faith-Based FEMA’ After Florence.”

The piece is actually an update of an article I first reported for CT back in 2013 after a killer tornado struck the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

In both cases, I focused on an umbrella group of 65 faith-based agencies and secular charities called the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, known as National VOAD. As USA Today noted in a story highlighted here at GetReligion last year, about 75 percent of those groups are faith-based. They include a number of Christian groups, from Catholic Charities to Samaritan’s Purse, as well as Tzu Chi (Buddhist), ICNA Relief USA (Islamic), the Jewish Federation of North America and others.

Suffice it to say that faith-based disaster relief is an important story, as always, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

So I was pleased to see this headline — “In the Carolinas, Churches Provide Spiritual Refuge and Shelter From the Storm” — in the New York Times on Monday.

I mentioned that front-page report briefly in the Monday Mix roundup of weekend news, but I wanted to offer a bit more commentary on it.

The lede was fantastic:

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Services at Manna Church, a big nondenominational congregation on the west side of town, began at 9 a.m. with announcements.

“We’ve got 10 port-a-potties.”

“They’re setting up showers in the back.”

Pastor Michael Fletcher, standing at the entrance, welcomed the pilgrims arriving out of the pounding rain: A man with his belongings gathered in a soaked towel on his back. A grandmother fleeing her probably flood-doomed house, along with her daughter and five young children.

The largest church in Fayetteville had become the city’s eighth official storm shelter.

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