Pilgrimage: Normandy and Lourdes defy the stereotypes of France's ardent secularism

Pilgrimage: Normandy and Lourdes defy the stereotypes of France's ardent secularism

For such a secular country, there are certainly lots of religious symbols to be found in France and religious institutions and activities continue to make news.

The country and many of its citizens do pride themselves on the principle of laicite — French for secularism — but is there really an absence of religion in public life?

Not really. It’s true that Notre Dame, one of the biggest symbols of European Christianity for centuries, has been cordoned off for the past two months after a tragic fire, deemed accidental, destroyed the roof. The cathedral, which will undergo a major renovation, is off limits to tourists. Nonetheless, the towering house of worship remains a symbol of Paris and part of this beautiful city’s skyline. The city’s other churches worth a visit include the Church of Saint Sulpice and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, known as Sacre-Coeur.

Outside Paris, God’s visibility is even more pronounced. Two very different sites — Lourdes, one of the holiest in the world for Roman Catholics, and the U.S. cemetery at Normandy — have the ability to bring visitors closer to God in very different ways. There are reminders everywhere of the country’s religious past and how that symbolism continues to play a part in the lives of millions, both visitors and residents, who visit them. As a result, it’s not so unusual for tour operators to include packages to visit both sites.

It is worth noting that this notion of secularism, as it pertains to French government policies, was the result of a law passed in 1905 calling for this strict separation of church and state. While true that religious symbols have been removed from French public life (a possible reason why so many Muslims have found integration so difficult), Lourdes and Normandy may be the two places where this very human law seems to not apply.

First stop on this countrywide pilgrimage is Lourdes. A six-hour train ride (fares range from $134 to $193 roundtrip) from Paris gets you to Lourdes, a southern trip through the French countryside until finally pulling into the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. While many take trains into Lourdes to embark on their pilgrimage, many from across Europe (particularly those from neighboring Italy and Spain) board coach buses to get there.

Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site after a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to see the Blessed Virgin Mary on Feb. 11, 1858 through a vision. Soubirous would see Mary another 17 times near a grotto over the course of five months. Unaware she was having a vision, Mary told the girl: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”  

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Catholic school wars (yet) again: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

Catholic school wars (yet) again: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

What we have here is another one of those stories that your GetReligionistas have written about so many times that we have crossed over into a state of frustration.

Can you say “doctrinal covenant”?

At this point, it’s clear that many newsroom managers just can’t handle the fact that the Catholic Church is not (in many zip codes) a liberal democracy, which means that many Catholic bishops still think their schools should defend the contents of the Catholic catechism. OK, maybe the issue is whether people in Catholic schools get to attack the faith in symbolic ways in public.

Once again, no one thinks that journalists have to endorse the doctrines of the Church of Rome. The question is whether reporters and editors know enough about the contents of these doctrines, traditions and canon laws to cover them accurately. At a bare minimum, journalists need to know that there are experts and activists on both sides of these debates, but that — in the vast majority of cases — local bishops, representing the Vatican, are the “prevailing legal authorities.”

So here we go again. Let’s turn to USA Today, for a rather one-sided story about this latest conflict: “Cathedral High School terminates gay teacher to stay in Indianapolis Archdiocese.” As you will see, this story is Act II in a larger local drama:

Just days after the Archdiocese of Indianapolis cut ties with one Catholic high school over its decision to continue to employee a gay teacher, another school is firing one of its educators to avoid the same fate.

Cathedral High School, located on the northeast side of Indianapolis, announced Sunday it is terminating a gay teacher in order to avoid a split with the archdiocese, which stripped Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of its Catholic identity last week.

Brebeuf refused to fire its educator, who is in a public same-sex marriage.

Cathedral's board Chairman Matt Cohoat and President Rob Bridges posted a letter on the school's website announcing the decision to "separate" from a teacher in a public same-sex marriage. The letter is addressed to the "Cathedral family."

The archdiocese made it clear, the letter said, that keeping the teacher employed “would result in forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage.”

OK, let’s unpack this oh-so-typical conflict — yet again.

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Want religion coverage in Winnipeg? Readers need to be prepared to pay for it

Want religion coverage in Winnipeg? Readers need to be prepared to pay for it

We complain a lot about the dearth of full-time religion writers here in the USA, but our situation is positively lush compared to our neighbor to the north.

Whereas Canadian religion reporters once featured the likes of Tom Harpur, Doug Todd, Bob Harvey., Gordon Legge and Harvey Sheppard, Todd now does religion plus a bunch of other beats. Other professionals have moved on, retired or died.

In the crunch that is today’s print newspaper world, dozens of religion writers have either been laid off or transferred to other beats. A younger generation of reporters, mainly Gen X’ers, never got to work full time because the beat was crashing in major regional newspapers from coast to coast just as they were coming into their prime.

But one newspaper: the Winnipeg Free Press, has a full faith page with local religion news. The reason?

Viewers are paying for it.

I want to draw your attention to a column (in J-source; the online publication for the Canadian Journalism Project) by Free Press religion freelancer John Longhurst, who explained how the Godbeat has appeared in the Winnipeg paper.

(A story about a local Catholic priest) is an example of the new approach the Free Press is taking to religion coverage, in a unique year-long pilot project in partnership with the city’s faith groups.

As editor Paul Samyn put it in a note to readers on March 2 when the project was launched: “Over the past nine months we’ve been on a mission, meeting with various members of the city’s faith groups to gauge their willingness to help fund the journalism we produce. The offer was simple: if you value faith coverage in your newspaper and you want to see more — help us do more.”

The faith community responded, contributing just over $30,000 to fund additional freelance writing by the Free Press’s two regular religion writers, along with other contributors.

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'I'm not an overly religious person, but there's something going on,' major-league manager says

'I'm not an overly religious person, but there's something going on,' major-league manager says

I was out of the country when this story was published, so I’m a bit behind in mentioning it.

It’s a Father’s Day feature by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Chris Woodward, manager of my beloved Texas Rangers.

The headline certainly grabbed me:

How fatherhood and adoption helped deepen Rangers manager Chris Woodward’s faith

And the lede offers definite potential:

Chris Woodward didn’t need a wake-up call or come to Jesus moment.

He was already living a life of purpose and passion.

The Texas Rangers manager was an infield prospect in the Blue Jays’ organization in the late 1990s despite the long odds of being selected in the 54th round of the 1994 draft.

Just as his baseball career was taking root, however, he was dealt a deeply personal blow that shook his world.

At just 21-years-old, Woodward had to deal with the death of his father. His faith was tested.

“He tried to reason his faith and faith doesn’t work like that,” said Erin Woodward, Chris’ wife.

But here’s the frustrating part: The Star-Telegram never really moves beyond vague references to faith and God.

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Alice Cooper's 'death pact' with wife? Press needed to include at least one crucial faith fact

Alice Cooper's 'death pact' with wife? Press needed to include at least one crucial faith fact

Hey GetReligion readers: Do we have any shock rock music fans out there?

When it comes to music, I am really a fanatic about a wide range of artists — pretty much everything except highly commercialized country, dance music (various kinds with one chord over and over) and most opera. However, I never really got into the whole glam-shock rock genre.

But it’s hard not to know the name Alice Cooper. What a long, strange road that guy has walked.

So what does this have to do with religion-news coverage? If you have read anything about Cooper in the past quarter century of so, you know that — strange as if may sound — he is a born-again evangelical Christian and very vocal about it. He’s an avid golfer, too. Those two facts may not be connected.

Anyway, a GetReligion reader recently spotted this dramatic headline at USA Today: “Alice Cooper clarifies story about 'death pact' with wife Sheryl Goddard: 'We have a LIFE pact'.

So what is this all about? Here’s the top of this short entertainment-beat story:

Alice Cooper would like to clear things up: He and wife Sheryl Goddard don't actually have a death pact.

"We have a LIFE pact. We love life so much," the 71-year-old rocker told USA TODAY in a statement.

Cooper made many a headline over the weekend following an article in the British tabloid the Daily Mirror that quotes him as saying he and his wife plan "to go together" when one of them dies, because there's "no way of surviving without each other."

"What I was meaning was that because we're almost always together, at home and on the road, that if something did happen to either of us, we'd most likely be together at the time," Cooper added to USA TODAY. "But neither of us has a suicide pact. We have a life pact."

OK, we will come back to that Daily Mirror story.

However, something important seems to be missing here, even in the short USA Today report.

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'Bullets Rarely Miss': Rolling Stone offers faith-free vision of suicides in the American West

 'Bullets Rarely Miss': Rolling Stone offers faith-free vision of suicides in the American West

To the extent that it’s possible to write beautifully about suicide, with sympathetic portraits of people who have killed themselves and of the survivors who must live with the wreckage and agonizing questions of what they could have done differently, Stephen Rodrick has achieved it in “All-American Despair,” a 9,000-word report for Rolling Stone.

This is the type of longform reporting — comparable to the magazine’s field reports from the counterculture’s dance of death at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969 and the trampling of Who fans at a general admission concert in Cincinnati in 1979 — that for many decades made Rolling Stone more than a source for record reviews and lots of first-person-voice (“ … as I drove down the highway with Julia Roberts, I noticed that …”) visits with celebrities.

Yet in these 9,000 words, any concept of God or of a meaningful spiritual side of life is nebulous. The first sentence mentions Toby Lingle’s funeral at Highland Park Community Church after he shot himself.

That’s poignant. Yet there’s no indication of why Highland Park was the host of this somber gathering. Was Lingle an occasional visitor? Was his sister a member? Was it simply a matter of seating capacity?

We learn deeper into the story that whatever faith Lingle had was extinguished by the death of his mother, who protected him from verbal lashings by his father:

Toby and his older brother, Tim, and his sister, Tawny, grew up in the one-gas-station town of Midwest, Wyoming, about 40 miles outside Casper. His graduating class was just 16 kids. His mom was an EMT who answered the doctorless town’s medical questions at all hours. His father was a mean alcoholic who worked in the nearby oil fields before retiring on disability. Often cruel, according to Tawny, their dad took particular pleasure in tormenting his youngest son. When a teenage Toby quit a hard, unforgiving job in the oil fields, his father sneered, “We’re not going to have Christmas this year because of you.”

Toby’s brother joined the Navy, and his sister had a baby and moved away. It was just Mom, Dad and Toby in the small house. Toby’s mom tried to protect him the best she could. But she had her own problems: long, unexplained crying jags that scared her kids. Then, at just 46, a lifetime of smoking caught up with her, and she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Toby took her to Casper for doctor appointments and begged her to stop smoking, but she couldn’t. She died six months later; Toby was 19. Talking to his friends and family, it’s clear that Toby’s emotional growth ended the day his mom and protector died. (His father died two years later.)

“He said, ‘God couldn’t exist if he took our mom,’” Tawny told me at her tidy Casper apartment where Lingle would crash when he was having one of the crying spells that tormented his adult life. “He could never see any good in the world after that.”

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Bias? New York Times calls pro-choice source and quotes pro-life source via social media

Bias? New York Times calls pro-choice source and quotes pro-life source via social media

In a Twitter post today, Matthew Hennessey, deputy op-ed editor for the Wall Street Journal, complained about a New York Times story on a British court ruling that a mentally disabled woman must have an abortion.

“Reporter calls abortion rights group for comment on big story but harvests pro-life quotes from social media. Another totally fair report from our great journalist advocate class,” Hennessey tweeted with obvious sarcasm.

In a follow-up tweet, he added, “It’s almost — almost — as if making the phone call, talking to real pro-lifers and respectfully recording their views is so disgusting and legitimizing as to repel the average journalist.”

Before I analyze the Times story in question, a quick note on the case itself: The Catholic News Agency reports that the forced abortion has been overturned on appeal.

Back to Hennessey’s complaint, which has been retweeted 125 times and liked 272 times as I type this post: I’ve read numerous news reports over the years where I would have said “Amen!” and agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, in an email chain with my GetReligion colleagues, I called dibs on critiquing this story before reading it.

It seemed like a quick-and-easy case to make the highly relevant journalistic point that we often do here: That is, ample evidence supports the notion of rampant news media bias against abortion opponents, as noted in a classic Los Angeles Times series by the late David Shaw way back in 1990.

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New York Times team explains black Democrats in South Carolina -- without going to church

New York Times team explains black Democrats in South Carolina -- without going to church

If you’ve been reading the political coverage in The New York Times lately, you’ve had a chance — if you are patient and willing to dig deep — to learn a few complex realities about life in today’s complex and often splintered Democratic Party.

Two months ago, the Times ran a very interesting piece with this headline: “The Democratic Electorate on Twitter Is Not the Actual Democratic Electorate.”

The thesis is right there in the headline. Lots of Democrats, especially in the Bible Belt, call themselves “moderates” or even “conservatives.” Lots of them are African-Americans. Yes, it would have been nice if this feature had addressed moral and religious concerns. Here is a key chunk of this must-read report that is based on data from the Hidden Tribes Project.

In recent decades, most of the candidates who have found their core strength among the party’s ideologically consistent, left-liberal activist base have lost. … Establishment candidates won the nomination by counting on the rest of the party’s voters.

The rest of the party is easy to miss. Not only is it less active on social media, but it is also under-represented in the well-educated, urban enclaves where journalists roam. It is under-represented in the Northern blue states and districts where most Democratic politicians win elections.

Many in this group are party stalwarts: people who are Democrats because of identity and self-interest — a union worker, an African-American — more than their policy views. Their votes are concentrated in the South, where Democratic politicians rarely win.

Then there was that interesting Times feature about grassroots pro-life Democrats — in Pennsylvania, of all places (as opposed to the Bible Belt). Check out Julia Duin’s post on that topic: “New York Times finally profiles pro-life Democrats but forgets to add what religion they might be.” I followed up on her must-read post by pointing readers to a New York Post essay that noted that a high percentage of pro-life Democrats in the South are African-Americans who go to church — a lot.

The bottom line: If you are interested in what Democrats in the South think, especially African-American Democrats, it really helps to explore their views on issues linked to religion. Reporters might even want to go to church.

This brings me to a new Times political feature with this headline: “ ‘The Black Vote Is Not Monolithic’: 2020 Democrats Find Split Preferences in South Carolina.

What’s so interesting about this story? Well, for starters it is absolutely faith-free, other than a passing reference to Cory Booker’s style as an orator. This whole story is framed in Democratic Twitter lingo.

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In heavily Catholic Guam, press struggles to find Catholics to quote on abortion issues

In heavily Catholic Guam, press struggles to find Catholics to quote on abortion issues

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has shown no signs of overturning Roe v. Wade, you’d think — from all the press coverage that’s out there — it’s going to happen tomorrow.

One place where these debates have gone almost unnoticed is the U.S. territory of Guam, the South Pacific home to a U.S. naval base where women wanting abortions have a 7-hour flight (to Hawaii) ahead of them. That makes any difficulties faced by women in the lower 48 pale in comparison.

The few news stories done about life on this island mention that it is “heavily Catholic;” which translates to 80 percent of the island’s 165,000 residents.

Press coverage has been pretty light. In all the stories I’ve seen, only one Catholic woman is quoted. Surely with more than 100,000 Catholics on the island, there must be more than one person willing to speak to the press. The photo atop this article shows Catholics in Guam demonstrating against abortion in January.

Here’s another question to think about: What is the religious identity of Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero?

We’ll start with what the Associated Press has written:

(HONOLULU) — Lourdes Leon Guerrero vigorously defended abortion rights as she campaigned to become the first female governor of Guam. She won, but now no doctors are willing to perform the procedure she fought so hard to defend. The last abortion provider in the heavily Catholic U.S. territory retired in May 2018. That’s forcing women seeking to end their pregnancies to fly thousands of miles from the remote Pacific island — a costly and sometimes prohibitive step.

“I truly believe that women should have control of their bodies,” Gov. Guerrero, a former nurse, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m very sad and very nervous about what’s happening across the nation.”…

A Catholic anti-abortion group protested the recruitment idea at the governor’s office on Friday. Patricia Perry, co-chair of the group, sent invitations encouraging people to attend a prayer rally.

“If the governor is not convinced, we’ll do other measures to further our cause,” Perry said. “We will not stop until all abortion is outlawed and all anti-life laws will be abolished.”…

The archdiocese on the heavily Catholic island said in a statement it was appealing to the governor to change her position.

Meanwhile, are there any other religious groups on Guam — liberal or conservative — that may have an opinion on these issues?

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