Friday Five: Ethical question, 'Uncle Teddy,' faith-free aliens, Muslim swimmers and more

Friday Five: Ethical question, 'Uncle Teddy,' faith-free aliens, Muslim swimmers and more

I have a question for you, dear reader.

It's not directly related to religion, but it is about journalism — and GetReligion has a lot of smart readers who either work in the news business or care deeply about it.

Via Peggy Fletcher Stack, the religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, I came across a chilling column written by the widow of a reporter killed in the Capital Gazette shooting. 

I was struck by Andrea Chamblee's repeated references to news media — the New York Daily News, ABC's "Good Morning America," the Wall Street Journal — that contacted Chamblee right after the shooting even before she knew anything about the fate of her husband, John McNamara.

I know journalists have a job to do. I've interviewed countless loved ones of people killed in various tragedies. But must reporters call people such as Andrea Chamblee almost immediately? Is there not a better way to give victims a voice yet not intrude on their humanity in such a desperate time?

I'd welcome your thoughts and insights.

In the meantime, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: As GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly noted earlier today, the New York Times has a new story out on the latest accusation facing disgraced Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.

The Times story is a must read, as is tmatt's commentary ("Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6") and my colleague Julia Duin's earlier post ("Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story").

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6

Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6

The whole story of retired Cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick has reached the stage where reporters, as well as concerned readers, simply have to ride the waves of coverage and wait to connect the hellish dots. The victims are starting to tell their stories.

But let's pause to note a significant change in the shape of the clergy abuse story that has haunted Catholic leaders in America (and elsewhere) since the mid-1980s.

Reporters who have covered this story for decades -- such as my colleague Julia Duin -- have always known that this was a tragedy on three levels, in terms of law, science and even moral theology. But it's hard to tell the bigger story, when the victims remain silent, often because of pressure from parents and clergy.

Level I: Pedophilia -- The sexual abuse of prepubescent children. These cases have received the most news coverage.

Level II: Ephebophilia -- The widespreed sexual abuse of under-aged children and teens.

Level III: The sexual harassment and abuse of adults, often young seminarians.

A bombshell report from The New York Times -- "He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal" -- opened the floodgates, in terms of urgent discussions of sins and crimes at Level III. 

Now the Times team is back with a report that, in the words of Rocco Palmo of the Whispers in the Loggia website, is "a nuclear bomb." The Times headline: "Man Says Cardinal McCarrick, His ‘Uncle Ted,’ Sexually Abused Him for Years."

With a devastating three-word tweet -- "Millstone, neck, sea" -- columnist Ross Douthat of the Times (a pro-Catechism Catholic) has pointed readers to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, verse 6:


Please respect our Commenting Policy

San Francisco Chronicle's piece on RVs and the homeless is latest look at huge trend

San Francisco Chronicle's piece on RVs and the homeless is latest look at huge trend

I never knew there was a hidden population of people in church parking lots across the country. Then I read a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle about how some congregations were helping alleviate a crisis of homelessness on the West Coast.

It makes sense, actually. Most days a week, church parking lots are pretty much empty.

I thought the Chronicle’s story was unique until I did a search and found out that church parking lots-and-the-homeless have been covered quite a bit. KTVU, a local TV station, covered the same topic a month ago. Here's the Chronicle's piece:

Last year, Arnell Clark and his girlfriend, Mataele Robertson, moved their young family out of an East Palo Alto house because they could no longer afford the rent. The couple figured they’d get more room in a 34-foot recreational vehicle.

But the stigma hit hard. When they were renters, neighbors used to say hi. But in an RV on the street, “we’re invisible,” said 39-year-old Clark, a laid-off package handler. “It’s the unspoken that tells me how you feel.”

The solution: moving to a church parking lot. For months the couple have stationed their RV in the lots of local churches. They are currently on the East Palo Alto property of St. Samuel Church of God in Christ, an arrangement that Clark finds a blessing…

With no end in sight to soaring housing costs, several Bay Area faith organizations have become a sanctuary of sorts -- not just channeling donations and distributing food, but also offering a safe place for people living in cars or RVs. The arrangement has sometimes grated on neighbors, but for pastors, it’s simply an extension of their mission to serve humanity.

The newspaper offers a list of churches -– mainly in Silicon Valley -– that are letting either RVs or people sleeping in their cards take up space in their lots.

The "Safe Parking" sign that introduces this post is from Morgan Hill Bible Church that's well to the south of San Jose. Back to the feature itself:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Too-perfect storyline: El Salvador criminal gangs gain respect of evangelical churches, let members go

Too-perfect storyline: El Salvador criminal gangs gain respect of evangelical churches, let members go

Here's a fascinating story I missed during the Fourth of July week: NPR reports on an unlikely "respect" between criminal gangs in El Salvador and the nation's evangelical churches.

I really enjoyed the piece and felt like the writer did some excellent reporting.

After reading it all, though, I found myself wondering — and there's a chance this is just me being overly skeptical — whether the narrative is a bit too perfect. 

In other words, life is complicated, and the NPR storyline is simple. Perhaps too simple.

I'll explain what I mean in a moment. But first, let's set the scene with the opening paragraphs:

In El Salvador's capital, San Salvador, people drive around with their car windows closed to avoid petty theft. But when they enter neighborhoods controlled by gangs, they keep their car windows open, to show their faces. That way the gangs know they're not an enemy.

In the center of one such neighborhood, known as La Dina, a tiny Baptist church sits on a narrow street. In a neighborhood notorious for violence, it is the one place gangs leave alone.

The church underscores the growing ties between gangs in El Salvador and evangelical Christianity. In a country where Roman Catholicism has traditionally predominated, evangelicalism is growing and has gained the respect and endorsement of gangs — a rare point of agreement even for rival groups like Barrio 18 and MS-13, the country's two biggest gangs.

It has also left many boys and men growing up in gang-controlled areas with stark choices: According to academic research and interviews with pastors and former gang members, their only alternative to joining a gang — or getting out of one — is to become a devoted member of an evangelical church.

Later, NPR quotes an expert who has studied the relationship between the gangs and the churches — and he's certainly a strong source:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

When the queen dies: What, precisely, will cause England to slide into grief?

When the queen dies: What, precisely, will cause England to slide into grief?

I guess it is sort of strange to complain about a heavy emphasis on business and economics in a story published at BusinessInsider.com.

Nevertheless, I found myself wanting to know more after reading the recent feature that ran with this headline: "The death of Queen Elizabeth will be one of the most disruptive events in Britain in the past 70 years." Yes, I sense a religion ghost here.

I have read several reports about the planning that is going on behind the scenes, as British leaders brace themselves for this seismic shift in their culture. There are so many details to describe and, yes, lots of them are linked to economics and trade.

England's currency will need to change, along with all passports. God Save the Queen will, of course, return to God Save the King. Police uniforms will be tweaked. Old questions will resurface about the status of the monarchy and the British Commonwealth. The public events linked to her death will cost billions of pounds.

Check out this overture. It may even help to read it out loud, to get the reverent tone right:

Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, is not going to live forever.

Since ascending to the throne in 1952, the monarch has seen 13 prime ministers serve Britain and lived through another 13 US presidents. She's now 92. At some point -- not for many years yet, we hope -- Queen Elizabeth II's reign will come to an end.

But what happens then? For at least 12 days -- between her passing, the funeral and beyond -- Britain will grind to a halt. The chaos will cost the UK economy billions in lost earnings. The stock markets and banks are likely to close. And both the funeral and the subsequent coronation will become formal national holidays, each with an estimated economic hit to gross domestic product of £1.2 billion to £6 billion($1.6 billion to $7.9 billion), to say nothing of organisational costs.

Yes, that's a lot of money and that's part of the story.

However, there are even larger issues lurking in the background that, frankly, have to do with history and national identity.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

A recent item by GetReligion colleague Bobby Ross posed this perennial issue facing journalists and others writing about religion: “Which Bible to quote?

News articles had quoted Eugene Peterson’s The Message -- one man’s popular paraphrase and not quite a Bible -- and the New King James Version, a conservative fave that was an odd choice for a piece about liberal Protestants.

Once upon a time the (original) King James Version from 1611 sufficed. Its wordings were  familiar to a broad swath of English readers, indeed often memorized. Though the King was Protestant, generally similar verbiage appeared in Catholicism’s old Douay-Rheims translation (1609), and even moreso in the Jewish Publication Society’s The Holy Scriptures (1917).  

Today, however, a dozen or more modern options are in regular use, thus creating our tricky problem. Ross, who like The Guy is an Associated Press alum, noted that the wire’s influential Stylebook offers ample guidance about the Bible but doesn’t address how to decide which version to quote. “Please help me out here, friends,” Ross asked, so the ever-friendly Religion Guy responds herewith. 

When The Guy was teaching an adult Bible class recently, one participant brought along The Message. Its differences with standard Bibles sparked some pointed discussions. Such personal paraphrases -- also including Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible and J.B. Phillips’s elegantly British New Testament in Modern English -- are useful for private study and devotions. But they’re not really Bible translations, so a more literal version should also be consulted for comparisons.

Likewise, in most situations writers should cite a Bible closer to the original text that expresses the consensus from a panel of experts.  

Obviously, if a person is quoting a Bible passage verbatim you’ll go with that wording, even if it’s a paraphrase.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?' Yes, do take the time to read this excellent piece of journalism

'Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?' Yes, do take the time to read this excellent piece of journalism

A conversational, informative lede that draws readers immediately into the story.

An impartial, fact-based narrative that quotes intelligent sources on both sides.

A solid chunk of analysis from an independent expert with impressive credentials.

A Kansas City Star story on the question of "Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?" boasts that winning trifecta — and it makes for a quality, satisfying piece of daily journalism.

"This piece by Judy L. Thomas is the best report I've read on the subject," Star reporter Laura Bauer tweeted about her colleague's work. "Definitely take the time to read."

My response: Amen!

As we've noted repeatedly here at GetReligion, mainstream news coverage often favors abortion rights supporters. In case you missed our previous references, see the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against abortion opponents.

Given the typical imbalanced coverage, the Star's fair, evenhanded approach is particularly refreshing from a journalistic perspective.

The lede sets the scene with a history lesson:

Almost half a century has passed, so forgive Dave Heinemann if he doesn’t remember every single detail of how things went down that long spring day in Topeka.

But one thing the former Kansas lawmaker hasn’t forgotten is the intensity of the 1969 debate on a measure that made abortion more accessible in the state.

“The Legislature was rewriting the state’s criminal code, and there was one section on abortion,” said Heinemann, then a Garden City Republican serving his first term in the Legislature. “That was the only section that really became a lightning rod.”

At the time, Kansas — like most states — banned abortion except to save the life of the woman. But some states had begun to propose measures to loosen the restrictions.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Bias flashback: Should religious leaders risk talking to reporters? (A tmatt response)

Bias flashback: Should religious leaders risk talking to reporters? (A tmatt response)

The other day, our own Bobby Ross Jr. wrote a post that included a very strong dose of opinion from a reader. The headline on that post: "Why ignoring a reporter's call probably isn't the best media relations strategy for a religious leader."

As you can tell, this is a topic linked to an assumption, and a safe one at that: Many religious leaders are scared to talk to journalists.

Now, why might that be? Why the fear? Here's that reader comment, once again:

It boggles this Catholic’s mind that you are surprised that any of these pastors would talk to the reporter.

This blog has existed on the premise that the media, by and large, are hostile to any kind of religion. The hero of these pastors, President Trump, paints the press as the enemy rather than a guardian of the people’s right to know. And then you are surprised when that actually manifests itself in the real world.

Ah, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

You see, no one here thinks that the vast majority of news-media pros are "hostile to any kind of religion." To be blunt about it, many journalists don't care enough about religion to work up a decent case of hostility about the subject. Some journalists love some forms of religion and, well, aren't fond of others.

Also, apathy is not hostility. Ignorance is not hostility, either. Some editors are scared to try to cover religion. That isn't hostility, either.

Well, Bobby told readers that I might want to respond at some point. This is rather ironic, since I am currently in Prague, lecturing at the European Journalism Institute at the historic Charles University. My third and final lecture is relevant to this discussion: "The Four Biases that Shape Religion News Coverage."

The quickest way for me to share my thoughts on this complicated topic is to cut and paste a section of an essay that I wrote long, long, long ago for The Quill, published by the Society of Professional Journalists. So here goes.

After nearly two decades of studying this issue, in academic settings and while working in the media, I am convinced four different forms of bias are to blame for this media blind spot.

Update! Make that four-plus decades of studying this issue!

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story

Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story

I’d heard that at least one major newspaper was at work on l’affaire McCarrick. On Tuesday, there it was: A double-bylined piece in the New York Times.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the now-retired head of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was famous in his prime for being a mover, shaker and chief fundraiser in the church. He was also a sexual molester of young, handsome male seminarians; something several of us reporters knew at the time. But, as I explained here, none of us could prove it, and the victims who could have helped us refused to go on the record.

Then in June, two dioceses released the shocking news that McCarrick had been credibly accused of sexually molesting a 16-year-old altar boy 47 years ago.

Now, the Times, via its Sunday magazine, already had this story in 2012 when a freelancer managed to document a number of the important details.

But that story never ran. Six years later -– and with McCarrick in his dotage, and out of power -– the nation's most powerful newspaper has finally published this 3,054-word piece.

Better late than never, I suppose. But there are some odd holes in this narrative.

As a young man studying to be a priest in the 1980s, Robert Ciolek was flattered when his brilliant, charismatic bishop in Metuchen, N.J., Theodore E. McCarrick, told him he was a shining star, cut out to study in Rome and rise high in the church.

Bishop McCarrick began inviting him on overnight trips, sometimes alone and sometimes with other young men training to be priests. There, the bishop would often assign Mr. Ciolek to share his room, which had only one bed. The two men would sometimes say night prayers together, before Bishop McCarrick would make a request — “come over here and rub my shoulders a little”— that extended into unwanted touching in bed.

Mr. Ciolek, who was in his early 20s at the time, said he felt unable to say no, in part because he had been sexually abused by a teacher in his Catholic high school, a trauma he had shared with the bishop.

“I trusted him, I confided in him, I admired him,” Mr. Ciolek said in an interview this month, the first time he has spoken publicly about the abuse, which lasted for several years while Mr. Ciolek was a seminarian and later a priest. “I couldn’t imagine that he would have anything other than my best interests in mind.”

I’m glad the Times finally got Ciolek to fess up. I called him nine years ago and he refused to comment. Other reporters had called him, too.

The Times story later says he was paid an $80,000 settlement by the Church in 2005 that insured his silence on what McCarrick had done to him. Seriously?

Please respect our Commenting Policy