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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More Washington Post editorial-page news: Stunning Reagan letter about faith and eternity

More Washington Post editorial-page news: Stunning Reagan letter about faith and eternity

I was never a Ronald Reagan fan. Like many blue dog, pro-life Bible Belt Democrats, I found it impossible to vote for him. One of my closest graduate school friends said that he lost his Christian faith (I am not joking) because he could not worship a God who allowed Reagan to reach the White House.

Reagan was a B-grade actor, a talented but shallow politico. Thus, I was surprised when the evidence began to emerge that Reagan did most of his own reading and writing. It turned out that all of those pre-politics Reagan radio commentaries were not produced by ghost writers and then read on the air by a PR pro. Reagan wrote them, in longhand. He wrote those punch lines. He wrote the paragraphs summarizing all of those books and journal articles.

As a Jimmy Carter-era evangelical, I also had doubts about the depth of Reagan’s Midwestern, old-school mainline Protestant faith.

I say all of that because of an amazing feature that ran the other day in The Washington Post under this headline: “A private letter from Ronald Reagan to his dying father-in-law shows the president’s faith.” It was written by editorial-page columnist Karen Tumulty.

Once again, we face a familiar question: Why was this a topic for an editorial-page feature, instead of the front page or, perhaps, in the newspaper’s large features section? Where would this feature appeared if a letter had emerged containing revelatory information about Reagan’s views on the Soviet Union, his thoughts on aging or even his views on abortion?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a fine essay and the subject material is gripping. The overture:

Something tugged at Ronald Reagan on that otherwise slow August weekend in 1982.

“Again at the W.H.,” the president noted in his diary. “More of Saturdays work plus a long letter I have to write to Loyal. I’m afraid for him. His health is failing badly.”

Loyal Davis, Reagan’s father-in-law and a pioneering neurosurgeon, was just days away from death.

Something else worried Reagan: The dying man was, by most definitions of the word, an atheist.

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Atlantic essay on Poland asks: Why do religious biases seem to accompany populist politics?

Atlantic essay on Poland asks: Why do religious biases seem to accompany populist politics?

“Who gets to define a nation?,” journalist Anne Applebaum asks in a piece she wrote for the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine. “And who, therefore, gets to rule a nation?

For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled — but why should they ever be?”

Newspaper, magazine and broadcast reports attempting to explain the moves toward nationalist-tinged political populism in a host of European nations, and certainly the United States as well, have become a journalistic staple, which makes sense given the subject’s importance.

Here’s one recent example worth reading produced by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat  that looks at the issue in light of the recent Swedish national election. His focus is whether the political center can continue to hold, and for how long?

So why single out this magazine essay by Applebaum, who is also a columnist for The Washington Post?

Because it’s a good example of how a writer’s deep personal experience of living within a culture for many years can produce an understanding that’s difficult to find in copy produced by the average correspondent who, at best, spends a few years in a region before moving on to a new assignment.

Granted, the American-born Applebaum has the advantage of being married to a Polish politician and writer. She herself has become a dual citizen of the U.S. and Poland, and is raising her children in Poland.

As a Jew, however, she retains her outsider status in Polish society. It's from this vantage point that she conveys how Poland’s shift toward right-wing populism has impacted the nation, and her. (Her piece is one of several published by The Atlantic grouped together under the ominous rubric, “Is Democracy Dying?”)

If it is dying, at least in the short run, she argues that in large measure it’s due to the sweeping demographic changes in Europe triggered by the large number of Muslim refugees and immigrants fleeing war, poverty and general chaos in Syria, Iraq, North Africa and elsewhere who have moved there.

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New York Times flashback: Is hiding sex scandals among bishops just the 'Roman way'?

New York Times flashback: Is hiding sex scandals among bishops just the 'Roman way'?

When you read the lede on the following USA Today report, it’s pretty clear which issue the editors think is at the heart of the 30-plus year long scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

Yes, I am sorry to bring this up again, but this information is important for reporters and editors who are trying to understand the current divisions inside the world’s largest Christian flock.

This has nothing to do with Donald Trump and Catholics who hang out with Steve Bannon. It a lot to do with statistics, doctrine and the contents of a good dictionary.

Words matter. By the end of this post, we’ll see — in a 2009 case study — that this has always been the case. Using the right words, and avoiding others, helps people keep secrets.

Let’s begin. Read the following carefully:

VATICAN CITY — The latest — and most serious — wave of pedophilia and cover-up allegations to hit the Vatican is shining a new light on the gap dividing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. And almost none of it is about the charges of widespread clerical abuse scandals.

Dozens of commentators and Vatican watchers have pointed to the wide gap between the views of conservative, traditional Catholics in the mold of Pope Benedict XVI and those of reform-minded Catholics like Pope Francis. Many media have referred to what is happening as a kind of “civil war.”

Yes, that passage does include another example of journalists using “reform” as a dog whistle to make sure that readers know which Catholics are good and which Catholics are evil. However, we need to move on, in this case (click here for more information on that bias issue).

The lede clearly states that “pedophilia” is the crucial issue in this crisis. Now, what does that word mean, when you look it up in a dictionary? Here is the online Merriam-Webster:

pedophilia noun

: sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object

specifically: a psychiatric disorder in which an adult has sexual fantasies about or engages in sexual acts with a prepubescent child

Note the specifics attached to the general information and then ask this question: Statistically speaking, are most of the victims in this abuse crisis “prepubescent” children?

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Monday Mix: #RNA2018, Hurricane Florence faith, Botham Jean justice, Beth Moore vs. Trump

Monday Mix: #RNA2018, Hurricane Florence faith, Botham Jean justice, Beth Moore vs. Trump

It’s the post-#RNA2018 edition of the Monday Mix.

Look for a link below concerning a letter submitted this past weekend at the Religion News Association’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, by seven former presidents of that professional association. Yes, the letter relates to the controversy earlier this year when Religion News Service’s former editor in chief, Jerome Socolovsky, was fired.

For those needing a refresher on this new GetReligion feature, Monday Mix focuses on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

We'll mention this again, too: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "It’s easy to say, ‘I love God,’ but put on your boots, get your hands dirty." The faith-based response to Hurricane Florence is front-page news in today’s New York Times.

The Times offers an excellent overview of the crucial role people of faith play in disaster relief:

From the first moments of the rolling disaster of Florence, there has been no sharp divide separating the official responders, the victims and the houses of faith.

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Reporters miss great religion angle on Southwest Airlines story about a Down Syndrome girl

Reporters miss great religion angle on Southwest Airlines story about a Down Syndrome girl

Every once in awhile, a piece of religion news slips by that shows a writer’s complete ignorance of basic stuff in American religious culture.

For instance, most of you have heard of “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren, right?

There’s a reason for that. This was the 2002 devotional book that was on the New York Times Bestseller List for more than 90 weeks; sold 30 million copies by 2007 and basically broke all sorts of records for a Christian product. We’ve all seen it for sale in the supermarkets.

So when someone involved in a news story says that they are “purpose-driven,” there is a very good chance that this person has some knowledge of that book, yes? It would be worth asking about, at the very least.

You’d think. Recently we found this heartwarming story on inc.com — although I believe it originally aired on one of the Sacramento TV stations -- about a stewardess written by a clueless reporter when it comes to such terms. To wit:

This is the tale of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, whose gesture literally helped a passenger achieve a lifelong dream. The passenger: Tracy Sharp, a Sacramento woman who has Down syndrome. The flight attendant: Vicki Heath.

The two met on a flight Sharp was taking home after visiting family in Houston a few months ago, and they had a conversation in which Sharp shared with Heath that it was her lifelong dream to be a flight attendant herself. … According to news reports, she started making phone calls within Southwest to get permission to bring Sharp on another Southwest flight, and have her work alongside Heath as a sort of assistant flight attendant.

“ …on Friday, Sharp flew with Heath on a flight from Sacramento to Seattle, wearing a red uniform, helping to greet passengers and do a few other things that Sharp thought would be really cool, and even getting flight attendant wings for her service. …

"You're going to make me cry!" Heath replied when a reporter asked how she felt about bringing the whole thing together. "I feel like I'm living my purpose-driven life. And that's huge."

Now where have we heard that before?

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