Latin America

Should Amazon tribes be allowed to kill their young? Foreign Policy editors aren't sure

Should Amazon tribes be allowed to kill their young? Foreign Policy editors aren't sure

In recent years, certain tribes in the Amazon region have been in the news because of their unpleasant habit of killing deformed or handicapped children as well as twins, and even offspring of single moms, soon after birth. They also may kill transgendered individuals.

I thought the consensus was pretty clear that such practices were evil. But along came an article (it was a month ago, but I’m only getting around to it now) in Foreign Policy magazine that argued how saving the lives of these children was a western value that didn’t fit with the customs and lifestyle of these tribes.

Call it cultural appropriation, if you will.

Now, the question you know we are going to ask, here at GetReligion, is this: Did journalists pay any attention to religion angles in this story, in terms of critics of these customs or among those defending the tribes? The story begins:

More than a decade ago, Kanhu left the homeland of the Kamayurá, an indigenous tribe with some 600 members on the southern edge of the Brazilian Amazon. She was 7 years old. She never returned. “If I had remained there,” Kanhu, who has progressive muscular dystrophy, told Brazilian lawmakers last year, “I would certainly be dead.”

That’s because her community would likely have killed her, just as, for generations, it has killed other children born with disabilities.

The Kamayurá are among a handful of indigenous peoples in Brazil known to engage in infanticide and the selective killing of older children. Those targeted include the disabled, the children of single mothers, and twins -- whom some tribes, including the Kamayurá, see as bad omens. Kanhu’s father, Makau, told me of a 12-year-old boy from his father’s generation whom the tribe buried alive because he “wanted to be a woman.” 

 I know this is a bit long, but please stay with me.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Doctrine of Discovery: Still relevant when covering Pope Francis' outreach to indigenous tribes

Doctrine of Discovery: Still relevant when covering Pope Francis' outreach to indigenous tribes

In both Chile and Peru last week, Pope Francis addressed the plight of those two nations’ indigenous tribes that have been on the losing end of interactions with European colonizers since the dawn of the Age of Discovery.

In Chile, he spoke about the Mapuche tribe’s struggle, which has turned violent at times, to gain back some of its ancestral land in that nation’s south. This Associated Press piece (published here as it appeared in the Seattle Times) provides the background necessary to understand the issue.

It was in Peru, however, where the pontiff’s words about the worsening plight of the Amazonian tribes, received greater media attention.

That’s due in part to his equal emphasis on the ever-increasing intrusion by miners, ranchers and others intent, often with government complicity, on exploiting the Amazon basin, the world’s largest tropical rain forest.

Given the Amazon’s critical role in the debate over climate change, any mention of it by Pope Francis is sure to draw headlines.

But I wonder: Why did I find no mention in the mainstream news reports I read about the papal trip of Rome's huge role in the early colonization of the tribes and their land? Why no mention of the, to me, confused status of the Doctrine of Discovery, the papal documents by which the Vatican first officially blessed the ruthless takeover of newly “discovered,” non-Christian lands and any of their inhabitants in the New World?

Because just as the church's sex abuse scandal won't disappear, Vatican relations with indigenous peoples can't fully heal until Pope Francis -- or some future pope -- confronts the lingering anger over the doctrine’s unilateral claim to lands inhabited by non-Christian tribes.

The doctrine, you may argue, has a confusing history dating from a premodern mindset. Nor can it's damage simply be reversed -- so why dwell on it?

Such an argument may be made. But so can an argument be made for its further debate. After all, other Christian churches and even bodies within the Catholic church have repudiated the doctrine or asked that Rome officially take that step.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Los Angeles Times misses the boat on a key element (think religion) of diversity in Houston

Los Angeles Times misses the boat on a key element (think religion) of diversity in Houston

It’s been more than 25 years since I lived in Houston, but even in the early 1990s it was already quite the melting pot.

The city seemed evenly divided between black, Hispanic and white inhabitants and its religious diversity approached that of Los Angeles. And then there was the internationals. When I began my work at the Houston Chronicle in the mid-1980s, I was one of the few religion reporters covering Muslim immigrants, of which there were already a great deal in the country’s fourth largest city.

There was so much religion news happening in the area, the Chronicle hired two of us to be religion reporters. That was rare on newspapers. 

Now the Los Angeles Times has chronicled what this apex of diversity looks like in the second decade of the 21st century. The place is even more diverse than I remember it and one of its greatest hallmarks is its religious melting pot. Not for nothing did Pope Francis award a cardinal’s hat –- first one ever in Texas- – to then-Archbishop Daniel DiNardo..

But did the left-coast Times include faith in its paean to Houston’s multi-ethnic diversity?

Take a guess.

The Margaret Long Wisdom High School soccer team hails from Central America, Mexico, Africa and points between. Its bench hums with Spanish, Kinyarwanda, Swahili and often English. But its real unifying language -- soccer, played hard -- is universal.
The high school is in southwest Houston, a city whose stunning growth and high-volume immigration have turned it into the most racially and ethnically diverse major metropolis in the country, surpassing New York in 2010.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

More married priests? This was the rare papal sound bite that received some calm, informed coverage

More married priests? This was the rare papal sound bite that received some calm, informed coverage

Of all the Catholic debates I have watched through the decades, I think stories about the ordination of married men have been the hardest for mainstream journalists to fit into the old left vs. right format.

Yes, it's easy to find priests and scholars on the left for whom changes of any kind are good. Thus, they say hurrah for married priests. Many of the priests who hit church exit doors to get married soon after Vatican II fit this model. Shake up the church is their mantra.

Obviously, you can always find conservative Catholics who will oppose just about any change in church life, just by reflex. Their dogma is to leave everything the way it is.

However, you will also find plenty of Catholic experts -- left and right -- who know that this issue is a matter of church order and tradition, not carved-in-stone doctrine. They know that married men now serve as priests, under certain circumstances, and they know that the celibate priesthood evolved over the centuries. I have interviewed many Catholics -- especially Latinos -- who for a variety of reasons believe the church needs married priests. I have long argued that Rome will ordained more men when conservatives seek the change.

In other words, this isn't really a Sexual Revolution issue. Thus, if you have been seeing generic left vs. right press coverage of the latest Pope Francis statement on this issue, then move on. Find a better story.

In this case, you can start with The New York Times, with the calm headline stating: "Pope Francis Signals Openness to Ordaining Married Men in Some Cases." This story sounds all the crucial notes right up top, in the overture or soon thereafter:

Pope Francis this week signaled receptiveness to appeals from bishops in the remote and overwhelmed corners of the Roman Catholic Church to combat a deepening shortage of priests by ordaining married men who are already committed to the church.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Brazil story tip: More than one recent election has some interesting religion angles

Brazil story tip: More than one recent election has some interesting religion angles

It doesn’t rank up there with America’s political earthquake, but there was a significant Oct. 30 election in Brazil that’s full of religious interest.

Senator Marcelo Crivella, the candidate of the young Republican Party who formerly worked as a bishop and gospel singer in a highly controversial church, was elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the city of 6.5 million that just hosted the Olympics.

He beat a socialist party opponent by a commanding margin of just under 20 points at the same time other conservative upstarts scored wins in local races across the nation. According to Britain’s The Guardian, the voting pattern “underscored the rise of religious conservatism” and the “demise” of the leftist Workers’ Party that dominated Brazilian politics over the past decade.

Crivella’s victory demonstrates the growing socio-political importance of evangelical Protestants. They now claim a fifth of the population in Latin America’s largest nation, which contains the world’s largest Catholic flock. Crivella won despite his past denunciations of Catholicism, homosexuality and popular Afro-Brazilian sects such as Candoble and Umbanda.

The mayor-elect is a follower of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), a sizable “independent” body (not tied to “first world” Protestantism) founded and led by his uncle Edir Macedo, a major radio-TV mogul. His denomination claims 5,000 churches and millions of adherents in Brazil and has expanded across Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe.

A story hook?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Killing priests: Religion News Service digs into some details about tragic trend in Mexico

Killing priests: Religion News Service digs into some details about tragic trend in Mexico

Murders and other atrocities have become so common in places like the Middle East, we Americans often overlook them closer to home -- for instance, in our next-door neighbor Mexico.

Thankfully, the Religion News Service does not. An incisive, indepth feature this week logs the series of murders of priests there in recent years. This exemplary article not only covers the details of some of the deaths; it also traces the ingredients of organized crime, priestly activism and government antagonism that made the killings possible.

The RNS team didn't get to the bottom of the matter, and it doesn't totally work its sources. But we'll get to that in a bit.

The story begins with the "bullet-riddled body of the Rev. Jose Lopez Guillen," found in Mexico's violence-plagued state of Michoacan. But rather than merely checking off his name, it quotes a member of his parish saying how he was "an excellent priest and very devoted to the community." It's a vital human touch.

RNS then broadens the scope, saying at least 15 priests have been killed over four years -- and 31 over the last decade. And it wisely adds context:

The murders come at a time of strained relations between church and state in Mexico, in part because Catholic bishops recently supported mass protests against a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
In the wake of the killings the church has also abandoned its normal reluctance to criticize the government and has publicly accused state officials in Michoacan and Veracruz of directing a defamation campaign against the priests.
Mexico is the country with the second-largest Catholic population in the world, with nearly 100 million people, or more than 80 percent of the population, identifying as Catholic. But the country has a long history of anti-clericalism and in the past century the government officially and often violently suppressed the church.

Sourcing for this story is impressive.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Rio's Christ statue: Washington Post adds a delightful angle to the Olympics

Rio's Christ statue: Washington Post adds a delightful angle to the Olympics

The Olympics in Rio have already thrilled millions with the gold medal performances of champs like Michael Phelps and the Final Five gymnastic team. But the Washington Post takes the occasion to look even higher: at the statue of Christ who stretches his arms out over the city.

This delightful newsfeature, by the Post's veteran religion writer Michelle Boorstein, captures several sides of what she calls "the most recognizable Christian image in Latin America": the history, the sheer size, and the many meanings behind it.

Yes, meanings, plural. As Boorstein says, "Christ the Redeemer" stands high in that class of national symbols standing for many things to many people. And yes, religious and spiritual elements are on her list.

Her story smoothly blends background, color, humor and informed sources:

But Cristo’s meaning to Brazilians varies. Some see it as a tribute to Catholicism while others consider it a salvo against secularism. Still others in the rapidly diversifying country consider it a general symbol of welcome, with arms open wide. One of its original creators called it a "monument to science, art and religion."
Cristo is an iconic image of Brazil. It is "reproduced everywhere," read a 2014 BBC feature, "in graffiti art, sand sculptures on Copacabana beach — and even on skin." During Carnival, there is a street party called Christ’s Armpit, or ‘Suvaco do Cristo," that weaves its way at the base of the mountain, called Corcovado.

I can even forgive her for writing "iconic image of Brazil." Whenever I see that worn adjective "iconic" these days, it looks like a flag for "Creative Shortfall Here!" But this time, the subject matter deserves it.

This story has a lot of what we old-school journalists used to call the "Hey, Mabel!" -- fun facts you'd want to tell your mate right away. We imagined a husband reading the paper over coffee and saying, "Hey, Mabel! Did you know that …"

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Los Angeles Times on abortion: Does media bias bother anyone any more?

The Los Angeles Times on abortion: Does media bias bother anyone any more?

Just over 25 years ago, the Los Angeles Times’ media writer, David Shaw, did a four-part series on media bias covering abortion. This landmark effort, by a reporter who didn't hide his support for abortion rights, took 18 months and involved 100 interviews with journalists and activists on both sides. It concluded that there was consistent mainstream-media bias favoring the abortion-rights side.

For an elite mainstream news publication to admit that fact was unusual, to say the least.

More than two decades and numerous court rulings later, the Times has come out with another package on abortion, but this time it’s an investigation into how the Center for Medical Progress did a lot more coaching with their undercover agents on how to get Planned Parenthood officials to make inflammatory statements than was first thought.

The Times had student journalists with an investigating reporting program at University of California at Berkeley help them with the research. It begins thus:

She was subdued and sympathetic on camera. Her recollections of collecting fetal tissue and body parts from abortion clinics in northern California lent emotional force to the anti-abortion videos that provoked a furor in Congress last summer.
In footage made public last July, Holly O’Donnell said she had been traumatized by her work for a fetal-tissue brokerage. She described feeling “pain ... and death and eternity” and said she fainted the first time she touched the remains of an aborted fetus.
Unreleased footage filed in a civil court case shows that O’Donnell’s apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed. David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist who made the videos, is heard coaching O’Donnell through repeated takes, instructing her to repeat anecdotes, add details, speak “fluidly” and be “very natural.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Of Catholics, RNS and Zika virus: Questions of original reporting

Of Catholics, RNS and Zika virus: Questions of original reporting

Like mosquitos that carry the disease, a story by the Religion News Service buzzes with Catholic concerns over how to address the Zika outbreak currently coursing through Latin America. The article strains mightily to provide a many-sided view of the matter, but not always successfully, and not always originally.

The headliner is a warning this week by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras not to use abortion in the fight against the virus.   As RNS says, Zika is a prime suspect in microcephaly, in which children are born with small heads and brains. If a pregnant woman is bitten by a mosquito that's carrying the virus, children may be born with the defect.

Apparently, Maradiaga read someone recommending so-called "therapeutic abortion," or terminating a pregnancy for risk of abnormalities like microcephaly. That freaked him, according to RNS:

"We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion," the cardinal said in his homily, according to Honduran media reports.
"Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist," he said. "Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives."

It hasn't come to that yet, but RNS notes that the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency. And some Latin American officials have recommended women there to delay pregnancy for up to two years.

RNS is right to highlight his words; as it says, he is a top adviser to Pope Francis as well as chief shepherd of Honduras. It could have added that Maradiaga was also considered a papabile, or papal candidate, in 2005 and 2013. That's especially rarefied atmosphere.

But the cardinal'ss comments were just the first few paragraphs of this article -- what we in journalism call a shirttail lede -- for a more indepth treatment:

Please respect our Commenting Policy