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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So a Chicago priest who was once abused burns a rainbow-cross flag: All heck breaks out

So a Chicago priest who was once abused burns a rainbow-cross flag: All heck breaks out

Well, here is a hot-button story if I’ve ever seen one. Take a look at this headline atop the report at NBCNews.com: “Parishioners defy Chicago Archdiocese, burn rainbow flag in 'exorcism' ceremony.”

Just to give you a hint of how complicated this case is, that headline actually jumps the gun and settles one of the issues that is in dispute. According to parish leaders, the archdiocese ordered the church not to burn the rainbow flag in a ceremony in front of the sanctuary. So parish leaders burned it privately, without a public media show.

One other thing about that headline: It’s crucial to know that this is more than a rainbow flag. This particular flag combined the LGBTQ symbolism with a cross — a move that raised the theological stakes much higher.

So let’s look at a few key sections of this story. Here’s the overture:

In a church bulletin posted this month, the Rev. Paul Kalchik, a Roman Catholic priest at Resurrection Parish in Chicago, announced that he would burn a rainbow pride flag that had once been prominently displayed at the church.

“On Saturday, September 29, the Feast of Saint Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, we will burn, in front of the church, the rainbow flag that was unfortunately hanging in our sanctuary during the ceremonial first Mass as Resurrection parish,” Kalchik, who joined the church 11 years ago, wrote.

A footnote on his announcement stated, “US Church homosexual scandal is a sequel to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

A bit of translation: Obviously, at one point in its history, this parish was on the left side of the American Catholic spectrum. The flag, for example, was prominently displayed during a Mass led by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a leader whose memory is cherished by gay and progressive Catholics.

Clearly, times have changed at this parish. Here is another crucial passage:

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Does the celibacy rule underlie Catholic scandals? Here's an angle reporters could pursue

Does the celibacy rule underlie Catholic scandals? Here's an angle reporters could pursue

Beginning with the pioneering National Catholic Reporter survey by Jason Berry and colleagues 33 years ago on priests molesting under-aged boys and girls, and on through the current devastating crisis, there have been continual disputes over whether the celibacy tradition bears blame and eliminating it would help prevent scandals.

It’s common for media to state that the Catholic Church requires priests to be celibate, but as beat specialists know that’s not fully accurate.

A handful of already-married Protestant clergy converts are Catholic priests. Far more important, married priests are allowed in Catholicism’s Eastern Rite jurisdictions across Eastern Europe, the Mideast and Asia (whereas the West’s Latin Rite has made its celibacy tradition mandatory for all since 1123).

The Religion Guy chatted about this mess with a New Jersey university professor who’s an active Eastern (Ukrainian) Catholic. Neither of us could recall hearing of any molesting scandals with Eastern priests. No doubt there are some, and The Guy has doubtless missed a few references.

But that raises the following: Does the track record of the 11,000 parish priests (not counting those in celibate religious orders) serving 17.7 million Eastern Catholics indicate marriage acts as a preventative and that there’s a link between celibacy and the abuse scandals? Does the Vatican have numbers on molesting cases with married Catholic priests these 33 years compared with clergy bound by celibacy?

If nobody knows, are there plans to research this question? If not, why not?

Whatever the church might do, how about journalists?

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Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

First, here is yet another tmatt confession: I am so old that I attended one of the original “Jesus music” rock festivals held in Texas in the early 1970s. Then I went to Baylor University during the era when various branches of Word Records in Waco were releasing early albums linked to what would become Contemporary Christian Music.

There’s more. Anyone digging into the roots of “folk” and later “rock” music inside church doors will eventually hit a 1967 landmark — the “Good News” folk musical by Bob Oldenburg. Who played the role of the “skeptic” the first performances? That would be my big brother, Don, who was playing a ukulele before it was cool.

As a journalist, I have been covering the “Christian music” wars since the late 1970s and, of course, that topic ended up in my book “Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture.” The key theme: CCM is music defined by unwritten rules about lyrics and the belief that all “Christian art” should, in reality, be evangelism in disguise.

Hold that thought. I wrote all of that to add punch to my praise for an almost unbelievably good New Yorker feature by Kelefa Sanneh that just ran with this epic headline:

The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock

The genre has been disdained by the church and mocked by secular culture. That just reassured practitioners that they were rebels on a righteous path.

It opens with a quotation that left me stunned. I have read shelves full of books about “Christian rock” and have never been clubbed over the head with these words.

Try to guess the minister who had this to say in 1957, addressing whether gospel music could be wedded to rock ‘n’ roll. This Baptist pastor from the South was blunt:

Rock and gospel were “totally incompatible,” he explained: “The profound sacred and spiritual meaning of the great music of the church must never be mixed with the transitory quality of rock and roll music.” And he made it clear which he preferred. “The former serves to lift men’s souls to higher levels of reality, and therefore to God,” he wrote. “The latter so often plunges men’s minds into degrading and immoral depths.”

Who said that? That would be the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Take it away, Aretha Franklin.

It’s hard not to quote every other passage in this must-read piece, which punches all the right buttons — from the copycat “Jesus is my boyfriend” style of worship music to battles over loud drums and heavy-metal guitars. Yes, U2 is in here. Ditto for Bob Dylan.

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Is Beth Moore really taking on the 'evangelical political machine,' whatever that is?

Is Beth Moore really taking on the 'evangelical political machine,' whatever that is?

I arrived in Houston in 1986 as a freshly minted religion reporter for the Houston Chronicle. This was about the same time as Bible teacher Beth Moore was becoming known as a master teacher of women. This was an era, in lots of evangelical churches, when women weren’t supposed to be teaching men in any way, shape or form.

She wasn’t famous at that point, although I vaguely remember hearing about her. She got her start leading aerobics classes at First Baptist Church in Houston, one of several megachurches in the city. By the time I arrived she was segueing into teaching Bible studies for women and the rest is history.

Well, almost. For 30-some years, she’s been a best-selling Christian author who hasn’t said much that’s controversial — until Donald Trump started running for president. According to a new profile on her in The Atlantic, 2016 was the year when everything changed.

These days, the profile says, Moore is taking on “the evangelical political machine” — singular. But is she really? Is there one group of evangelicals active in American politics, or is the reality more complex than that?

When Beth Moore arrived in Houston in the 1980s, she found few models for young women who wanted to teach scripture. Many conservative Christian denominations believed that women should not hold authority over men, whether in church or at home; many denominations still believe this. In some congregations, women could not speak from the lectern on a Sunday or even read the Bible in front of men. But Moore was resolute: God, she felt, had called her to serve. So she went where many women in Texas were going in the ’80s: aerobics class. Moore kicked her way into ministry, choreographing routines to contemporary Christian music for the women of Houston’s First Baptist Church. …


Her Bible studies were what made her famous.

A publishing career followed, further magnifying Moore’s influence. She was the first woman to have a Bible study published by LifeWay, the Christian retail giant, and has since reached 22 million women, the most among its female authors. Today, her Bible studies are ubiquitous, guiding readers through scriptural passages with group-discussion questions and fill-in-the-blank workbooks. “It would be hard to find a church anywhere where at least some segment of the congregation has not been through at least one Beth Moore study,” Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (and no relation to Beth) told me.

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Religion News Association honors AP religion writer Rachel Zoll, one of the best on the beat

Religion News Association honors AP religion writer Rachel Zoll, one of the best on the beat

Rachel Zoll, national religion writer for The Associated Press, is impossible not to like.

That’s true even for her competitors, said Jeff Diamant, a former religion writer for The Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

“Her expertise on the beat is really something to behold, and when you get to know her, you see that she has one of the great personalities in the profession or really anywhere,” Diamant, contest chairman for the Religion News Association, said at the association’s annual awards banquet Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio.

“This makes it really hard to get mad at Rachel Zoll,” he added, “even when she beats you on a story in your hometown or when you're a source and she writes something you don't like because the story was fair.”

The RNA gave Zoll, who has terminal brain cancer, a Special Recognition Award, which AP deputy managing editor Sarah Nordgren accepted on her behalf.

Diamant noted that colleagues praised Zoll as a reporter, a writer, a colleague and a person — “the total package.” See a video of the presentation and Nordgren’s acceptance remarks at about the one-hour, nine-minute mark of this video.

It’s not the only honor she has received recently:

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