Dawn Eden

Say what? Associated Press twists Francis's admiration for theologians into 'near disdain'

Say what? Associated Press twists Francis's admiration for theologians into 'near disdain'

Today at GetReligion, it's deja vu all over again.

Once again, a story on Pope Francis by Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield has us asking, "What is this?" As I wrote the last time around:

Is [the article] meant to be hard-news journalism, or is it meant to be advocacy or commentary? And if it's commentary, or analysis, why is it not labeled as such? Why is the AP selling it to news outlets as straight reporting?

This time, the AP article is on Francis's address to the International Theological Commission, "Pope to Theologians: Listen to the Ordinary Faithful." It begins:

Pope Francis urged the Catholic Church’s top theologians on Friday to listen to what ordinary Catholics have to say and pay attention to the “signs of the times,” rather than just making pronouncements in an academic vacuum.

If this is meant to be straight news story, then the first question is, did the pope really say that? And the answer is no -- at least, not exactly. He did mention the "signs of the times." However, having read his entire speech, the claim that he decried "making pronouncements in an academic vacuum" strikes me as pretty far-fetched. 

Moreover, Francis's reference to the signs of the times was actually in reference to the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes. In context, it does not seem to mean what Winfield takes it to mean. As a Twitter user noted, it's not about blowing with the wind, but rather about evaluating contemporary voices "in light of the word of God":

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The missing angle in news of Obama's pick for top defense post, Ashton Carter: his faith

The missing angle in news of Obama's pick for top defense post, Ashton Carter: his faith

The Washington Post's profile of Ashton Carter includes the eyebrow-raising detail that the longtime Washington insider, whom President Barack Obama is expected to nominate to succeed ousted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, "wrote an undergraduate thesis at Yale on the Latin writings of 12th-century Flemish monks." It also quotes Carter as saying:

Public service at senior levels in Washington is a little bit like being a Christian in the Coliseum. ... You never know when they are going to release the lions and have you torn apart for the amusement of onlookers.

Hmm… he is fluent in Latin, took an academic interest in the writings of medieval monks, and jokes casually about identifying with a Christian in the Coliseum. You think he might be… oh, I don't know… Christian?

The WaPo doesn't say. Neither does The New York Times in its profile of Carter. In fact, in a few minutes scouting the Interwebs, I couldn't find anything, anywhere, indicating that Carter had any faith, or no faith. 

I did, however, find a fact about Carter that, as of this writing, has been overlooked by all the print media covering his planned nomination: In the aftermath of 9/11, he was among the prominent endorsers of a "Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty" created by the Campaign to Ban Torture. (Click here to read the declaration.) According to its website, the campaign was:

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NYTimes finds 'signs' of life in imperiled parish catering to deaf

NYTimes finds 'signs' of life in imperiled parish catering to deaf

Having expertly covered the Fulton Sheen body battle, the New York Times' Sharon Otterman turns her reporter's eye to a new conflict taking place in Manhattan's Catholic community: the efforts of an Upper East Side parish to convince the Archdiocese of New York to allow it to stay open so that it might continue its ministry to the deaf.

The story's headline is long and pensive -- "On the Upper East Side, Silent Prayers to Save a Sanctuary for the Deaf" -- and so is the lede, but it pays off:

The choir members filed up to the altar in robes the color of the red roses of Saint Elizabeth, the patron saint of their beloved church. They arrayed themselves on two risers and looked to the choir director for a cue. Then they raised their hands in unison and began to sign.
“Jesus,” they signed together, touching their middle fingers to their opposite palm to represent the crucifixion. “Lord,” they signed, sweeping their fingers in an “L” formation across and off their chests. When it came time for the congregation to give the sign of peace, the worshipers, about 75 of them, raised their palms with their ring and middle fingers pointed down. They waved exuberantly. “I love you,” their hands silently said.
The deaf were celebrating Mass on a recent Sunday in the intimate Upper East Side sanctuary where they have prayed since 1980, when Cardinal Terence Cooke named the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary on East 83rd Street New York’s Roman Catholic parish for the deaf.
The church has become a haven to nearly 500 deaf New Yorkers, who not only pray there, but also come through the week to study religion, meet with clergy members and socialize. That era is about to end. On Nov. 2, the Archdiocese of New York announced that St. Elizabeth’s would be among 31 churches closing for regular use by next August, part of a sweeping series of parish mergers and closings.

Take a moment and read those first two paragraphs again. That is the kind of classic, relaxed, Sunday morning writing one hardly sees in any newspaper save for the New York Times on a good day. It is meant to be read in bed over coffee and a toasted bagel.

I like it that Otterman, in presenting the archdiocese's reasons for closing the parish, simply gives the facts rather than painting the diocese as insensitive, as one of her colleagues did in in a similar story:

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AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

After I expressed concern that a Boston Globe story on the Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse left unanswered questions, Religion News Service's David Gibson tweeted to GetReligion:

@GetReligion @tweetmattingly Worth checking this out, @nwinfield did some asking around http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Top-US-Jesuit-defends-Vatican-sex-prosecutor-5917303.php …

The Associated Press's Nicole Winfield sought to fill in the blanks from the Globe story and uncovered a significant distortion:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The head of the Jesuits in the United States defended the Vatican's new sex crimes prosecutor Tuesday, saying he had virtually no role in the order's handling of a notorious pedophile now serving a 25-year prison sentence.
The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, spoke to The Associated Press after The Boston Globe reported that the prosecutor, the Rev. Robert Geisinger, failed to report the abuser to police when he was the second highest-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago province in the 1990s.
Kesicki said Geisinger only worked for the Chicago province for about 14 weeks, from late December 1994 through March 1995, and never again. He was brought in as a temporary executive assistant to the acting provincial while the regular provincial was in Rome for a big Jesuit meeting. Geisinger had no governing authority and was tasked mainly with maintaining correspondence for his boss, said Kesicki.

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Boston Globe story on Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse leaves unanswered questions

Boston Globe story on Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse leaves unanswered questions

The Boston Globe ran a story over the weekend alleging that the Vatican's top prosecutor on sex-abuse cases failed to report an abusive priest to civil authorities when he was a high-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago Province.

Given the legwork that reporter Michael Rezendes put into culling the sources for the story, the piece is well worth your time, but it leaves some unanswered questions. There's a lot of smoke here, to be sure, but it leaves me with the feeling that the Globe could have gone to greater length to locate the source and extent of the fire. 

Here's the lede, the wording of which suggests some delicate legal vetting:

A prominent American Jesuit recently named by Pope Francis to prosecute priests accused of sexually abusing minors under church law was himself one of several Catholic officials who allowed a notorious abusive priest to remain in ministry for years after learning of his long history of sexual abuses, legal documents show.
The Rev. Robert J. Geisinger, named in September as the Vatican’s “promoter of justice,’’ was the second-highest-ranking official among the Chicago Jesuits in the 1990s when leaders were facing multiple abuse complaints against the Rev. Donald J. McGuire, a globe-trotting priest with many influential supporters, including Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
But the Jesuits failed to notify police or take effective steps to prevent McGuire from continuing to molest minors.

Got that? Geisinger was "one of several Catholic officials" who knew about McGuire's abuse but "failed to notify police or take effective steps" to prevent him from re-abusing. What is being suggested is not that he actively sought to cover up, but that he enabled evil to perpetuate by failing to do the right thing.

The story continues:

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This Patti's got no beef with Francis: Daily News on rocker Smith's tangled road to Rome

This Patti's got no beef with Francis: Daily News on rocker Smith's tangled road to Rome

Veteran Daily News rock critic Jim Farber made a rare venture into Godbeat yesterday with a story on Patti Smith's response to criticism over her planned performance at the Vatican's Christmas concert. Although Farber bases his piece upon a report in The Guardian, he improves upon his source by adding substantial recent background on Smith's faith journey.

The lede is provocative, like Smith herself:

Patti Smith wasn’t sorry for her words then - and she isn’t sorry for her actions now.
Last week, the Godmother of Punk drew criticism from all sides after accepting the invitation of Pope Francis to sing at the Vatican’s upcoming Christmas concert.
One Italian Catholic organization labeled the star “blasphemous.” Meanwhile, some hipsters found Smith’s proposed appearance hypocritical, considering she opened her very first album, "Horses,” with the famous sneer, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine.”
On Tuesday, Smith answered her critics during a talk at the Museum of The Moving Image in New York. After being asked about the controversy by The Guardian’s Vivien Goldman, who was in the audience, the rocker said, “I like Pope Francis and I’m happy to sing for him. Anyone who would confine me to a line from 20 years ago is a fool.”

Farber then goes into rock-historian mode. By his own admission, he's been writing about music since the Ford Administration, and he's well familiar with Smith's oeuvre:

Actually, the line comes from 40 years ago, kicking off a song called “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo).” The track melded Smith’s own transgressive poetry with a cover of Van Morrison’s ‘60s hit with his band Them, “Gloria.”

Then comes the closest thing Smith offers to a mea culpa

“I had a strong religious upbringing and the first word on my first LP is Jesus,” Smith explained. “I did a lot of thinking. I’m not against Jesus, but I was 20 and I wanted to make my own mistakes. And I didn’t want anyone dying for me. I stand behind that 20 year old girl, but I have evolved. I’ll sing to my enemy! I don’t like being pinned down and I’ll say what the f--k I want - especially at my age.” (Smith is now 67).

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Pope Francis's defense of doctrine sends the Associated Press spinning

Pope Francis's defense of doctrine sends the Associated Press spinning

A colleague offers the following capsule summary of Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield's latest report on Pope Francis, in which the pontiff's defense of traditional church teaching seems to baffle the Vatican correspondent:

Francis is a RADICAL -- no, no, sorry about that--he is now a conservative who sounds just like Benedict -- NO, WAIT -- he really is a liberal at heart, but he is being FORCED by those evil, evil right-wing conservatives to cave--he is at WAR with his own CDF chief (you know, the one he re-confirmed -- but never mind) -- AT WAR, I TELL YOU!

I thought he was exaggerating -- until I read the actual story. "Pope Reinforces Traditional Family Values" is a classic example of the kind of story that makes us at GetReligion ask, "What is this?" Is it meant to be hard-news journalism, or is it meant to be advocacy or commentary? And if it's commentary, or analysis, why is it not labeled as such? Why is the AP selling it to news outlets as straight reporting?

Here's the lede:

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis is seeking to reassure the church's right-wing base that he's not a renegade bent on changing church doctrine on family issues -- weeks after a Vatican meeting of bishops initially proposed a radical welcome for gays and divorced Catholics.

Give the AP credit at least for not beating around the bush.

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RNS gives story of Kenya Catholic bishops' tetanus-vaccine standoff its best shot

RNS gives story of Kenya Catholic bishops' tetanus-vaccine standoff its best shot

Since I wrote about mainstream media ignoring the story of the standoff between Kenya's Catholic bishops and their country's government concerning a tetanus-vaccination program, two new developments have come up.

First, the Kenyan outlet CapitalFM reports that Kenya's government is taking the initiative to resolve the standoff by having independent testing of the vaccine in hope of quelling the bishops' fears:

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 12 -- Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia says plans are already underway to conduct joint tests on the tetanus vaccine with all stakeholders including the Catholic Church.

Macharia said Wednesday that the analysis will be carried out within the course of next week to identify the vaccine samples and allay fears that it is harmful to women’s reproductive health.

He explained that testing will be undertaken at the Kenya Medical Research Institute in a bid to dispel the dispute surrounding the vaccine.

“I was in Naivasha on Saturday launching the polio vaccine and I announced that we shall be having a joint exercise with not just the Catholic Church but all stakeholders to make sure that people get confidence that indeed what we are saying is true. Already, that committee has been formed and they had their first meeting on Monday,” he said.

His statement followed an order by the National Assembly Committee on Health on Tuesday for an investigation into the vaccine which the Catholic Church claimed was being used to secretly sterilise women.

Second, a few hours after my post appeared Tuesday morning complaining that the story had been overlooked by US media, news of the bishops' standoff finally made the headlines via Religion News Service.

The story by RNS Kenya correspondent Fredrick Nzwili highlights the news angle I had emphasized in my GetReligion post: What is of greatest significance from a journalism standpoint is not the supposed conspiracy, which has yet to be proven, but rather the conflict between the bishops and the government on an issue that concerns public health.

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Media ignore standoff between Kenya's Catholic bishops and its government over tetanus vaccine fears

Media ignore standoff between Kenya's Catholic bishops and its government over tetanus vaccine fears

Pia de Solenni last week drew the attention of the Catholic blogosphere to a story out of Kenya that has escaped mainstream-media notice in the United States. 

In her words, "the Bishops of Kenya issued what appeared to be a courageous statement exposing a clandestine population control program disguised as a tetanus vaccine program."

Now, read the following carefully. 

The bottom line is that if the bishops' allegations are true, it's a serious issue and a major news story. And if their allegations are false, it's a serious issue and a major news story. Either way, this is a journalism issue.

So where is the news coverage?

Pia de Solenni quotes the statement, which reads in part:

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