Early Vatican tea leaves: Pope mentions 'pedophilia,' while a public memo includes some land mines

Early Vatican tea leaves: Pope mentions 'pedophilia,' while a public memo includes some land mines

So the tsunami of reporting from Rome has begun.

I hope there are lots of GetReligion podcast listeners reading this latest update on the event now known as “The Protection of Minors in the Church” — previously that was “The Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults in the Church” (italics added). If there are, let me note a few predictions about this event that I made in the past (for starters, here, here, here, here and here):

* The emphasis will be on the sexual abuse of “children,” with little or no public discussion of ephebophilia — intense sexual interest in post-pubescent young people.

* There will be some kind of high-profile penitential rite expressing sorrow and seeking forgiveness from victims, in part to help provide visuals for television newsrooms without religion specialists.

* It will be shocking if progress is made on this key issue: Creating procedures for dealing with the sins and crimes of bishops, archbishops and cardinals.

* The key word remains — “seminarians.” That is the door into discussions of secrecy and power networks within the church. What about this word, as well — “McCarrick”?

So now we have the first remarks from Pope Francis, as the event opened for business. The Vatican also handed out a “talking points” document that may have — in terms of public discussions — put several of the hot-button topics into play. Hold that thought.

There is a crucial translation issue in this Washington Post overture.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis opened a landmark summit Thursday on preventing clerical sexual abuse, saying Catholics were looking to church leaders not for “simple and predictable condemnations” but for “concrete and effective measures” to deal with the scourge. 

“May the Virgin Mary enlighten us as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of pedophilia has caused” in both children and believers, Francis said, according to an official Vatican translation.

He called sexual abuse a “scourge” and urged the prelates in attendance to “hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice.” He said the assembled Catholic leaders were obliged to discuss, frankly and in depth, “how to confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity.”

Ah, as often happens with remarks by Pope Francis, we may have a translation issue. Did he really say this is a “pedophilia” scandal?

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Biblical bombshell: Wheaton College scholar seeks to shelve Old Testament moral rules    

Biblical bombshell: Wheaton College scholar seeks to shelve Old Testament moral rules    

The unending debate over the Bible and same-sex relationships is the most troublesome one for U.S. Protestantism since the Civil War.

It first broke into the news agenda big-time 47 years ago at a conference of the large United Methodist Church.  As religion specialists well know, an emergency Methodist conference that opens Saturday in St. Louis is to weigh whether the UMC will split over this.   

Simultaneously, a book on sale next week has potentially explosive relevance: “The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context.” Of course, “Torah” in the title refers to the Old Testament’s first five books and also the material therein normally called biblical law.   

The book – nota bene -- does not emanate from liberal “mainline” Protestantism. The publisher, InterVarsity Press, is evangelical, and the authors are veteran Wheaton College (Illinois) Old Testament professor John H. Walton along with son J. Harvey, a University of St. Andrews doctoral student. 

“We cannot reconstruct a moral system from the Torah or any part of it,” they contend. “That is not what it [the Torah] is designed to do.” Rather, “order in society was the goal, and it was achieved through wisdom,” not biblical  “legislation” or “rules.”  The Old Testament God was simply not “imposing morality or social ideals on Israel through the stipulations of the Torah.” 

Writers should, of course, read the complete book to fairly grasp the argument, but chapter titles well summarize the key points.

“We cannot gain moral knowledge or build a system of ethics based on reading the Torah in context and deriving principles from it.”

“The ancient Israelites would not have understood the Torah as providing divine moral instruction.”

“Torah cannot provide proof texts for solving issues today.”

The Waltons specify that this holds for the venerated Ten Commandments, and for Leviticus 18, where God’s “statutes” abominate homosexual acts as well as adultery, incest and bestiality. Regarding same-sex activity and gender identity, the authors warn against extracting “biblical principles” to “substantiate a particular position today as if that position is thereby built on moral absolutes.”

That should provoke hot responses from traditionalists, Jews included. The book follows the shelving of Old Testament dictates proposed last year by another prominent evangelical, megachurch preacher Andy Stanley.

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'Abuse of minors' -- Rare chance to hear New York Times sing harmony with Vatican establishment

'Abuse of minors' -- Rare chance to hear New York Times sing harmony with Vatican establishment

Over the past 30-plus years or so, I have heard some Catholic conservatives try to blame the church’s “pedophilia” crisis on gays in the priesthood.

But for every Catholic activist that I’ve heard veer in that direction, I have heard 100 or so stress that the “pedophilia” label is inaccurate and misleading.

Why? By definition, true pedophiles are driven to have sex with pre-pubescent children. While this ongoing Catholic scandal has involved cases of pedophilia, those crimes are relatively rare and it’s accurate to stress that true pedophiles act out against children of both genders. This fact frequently appears in news reports as evidence that homosexuality plays little or no role in this ongoing crisis.

Those who dig into the facts know that most Catholic sexual-abuse cases involve ephebophilia — intense sexual interest in post-pubescent teens. The overwhelming majority of Catholic clergy cases involve adult males stalking and abusing young males.

So what’s the big idea? To be blunt, men who want to have sex with teen-aged girls tend to have sex with teen-aged girls. Men who want to have sex with teen-aged boys tend to have sex with teen-aged boys. Men who want to have sex with women tend to abuse or have sex with women (including nuns). Men who want to have sex with men tend to abuse or have sex with men (including seminarians).

Right now, the Catholic establishment wants to talk about the sexual abuse of “children.” Conservative Catholics want to hear frank talk about the abuse of teen-agers and adults, including the sins and crimes of bishops, archbishops and cardinals.

With all of that in mind, let’s look at the New York Times coverage of a crucial press conference staged ahead of the Vatican’s much anticipated assembly, with this title, “The Protection of Minors in the Church.”

The original name for the gathering was “The Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults in the Church.” That’s a very, very important edit.

Here’s the headline on the Times story: “Vatican Hopes Meeting on Child Sex Abuse Will Be a Turning Point.” Spot the key word in that equation? Here’s the overture:

VATICAN CITY — In the decades since the crisis of clerical sexual abuse of children first exploded, the Roman Catholic church has struggled to resolve a scourge that has eroded its credibility, driven away the faithful and stained its priests, bishops, cardinals and popes.

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Catholic beat memo: Fuzzy math and the quest to estimate the number of gay priests

Catholic beat memo: Fuzzy math and the quest to estimate the number of gay priests

There is an old newsroom saying that I have found often holds true: journalist + math = correction.

This comical equation exemplifies how often people working in newsrooms just get math wrong in their stories. From polls and surveys to trying to quantify something by way of statistics, most reporters and editors find themselves befuddled — even fooled — by numbers.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been, especially in recent years, a large number of data journalists who excel in using math in their storytelling. Overall, that remains a small number. At least, I have found that to be the case anecdotally given my circle of former colleagues who work as general assignment reporters and news editors at mainstream news outlets.

What does math have to do with the Catholic church? Well, a lot if you’re trying to quantify how many priests are gay.

These days, the story about how much homosexuality has permeated the church at all levels — from cardinals and archbishops down to parish priests — remains very much a topic of much news coverage. Just how many men in the Catholic clergy are gay? Depends who you ask and who you read. Here’s where the math can be very fuzzy, a cautionary tale to anyone covering the events of this week and the sex-abuse scandal going forward.

The scandal remains very much in the news. The defrocking of former Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick and the upcoming Vatican’s sex-abuse summit means rehashing many past allegations, a slew of fresh ones and lots of fuzzy math. If the 2016 presidential election taught us anything, it is that polls and surveys are often not to be trusted.

Journalists keep trying to do the math. In April 2017, Slate put the number of gay U.S. priests somewhere from 15 to 50 percent, which the article points out is “much greater than the 3.8 percent of people who identify as LGBTQ in the general population.” The 15 percent the article cites comes from a 2002 poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times. The 50 percent figure comes from a figure from the same year, reported by USA Today, as coming from “some church experts estimate.”

The article doesn’t elaborate — a great example of how a number not given proper context or sourcing can be repeated without hesitation by journalists, thanks to searches with Google or LexisNexis.

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How the mighty are fallen: Press should keep asking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick's secrets

How the mighty are fallen: Press should keep asking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick's secrets

The ongoing demolition of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick came to a head last weekend as the Vatican announced that he was being defrocked — an action that didn’t surprise anyone.

Big questions remain, of course. They are the same questions your GetReligionistas and lots of other people have been asking for months. Who promoted McCarrick? Who protected him, as reports about his private affairs circulated for years? And finally, who did McCarrick promote, in his role as a powerbroker in U.S. Catholic life?

Rocco Palmo, wizard of the Whispers in the Loggia blog had one of the better summations of what the issues are. Gone are the days, he wrote, when clergy sexual involvement with adults, ie the seminarians McCarrick preyed upon, were dismissed by the higher-ups.

“(Such) acts with adults are listed among the graviora delicta (grave crimes) warranting McCarrick's dismissal – specifically "with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power" – represents a massive sea-change in the church's handling of allegations beyond those involving minors, one which could well have significant ramifications going forward, both in Rome and at the local level.

With his laicization now imposed, McCarrick – a particular favorite of Popes John Paul II and Francis alike – loses all the titles, responsibilities and privileges of a priest and hierarch, except for one emergency role: namely, the faculty to absolve a person in imminent danger of death. As for his descriptor going forward, he should be referred to as "the dismissed cleric Theodore McCarrick," with the ranks or offices he once held only used after his name to reflect that they no longer apply.

Given his dismissal, it remains to be seen whether the now-former cleric will keep his residence at the Capuchin friary in Kansas where Francis ordered McCarrick to live in prayer and penance pending the outcome of Rome's investigation; as a result of today's decree, the onetime cardinal is no longer bound by obedience to his now-former superior.

That does bring up an interesting possibility; what if McCarrick decided to slip his bonds and walk away?

McCarrick’s hometown paper, the Washington Post, had quite the busy day on Feb. 16, producing a trifecta of pieces.

This story by the newspaper’s Rome bureau chief was first out of the gate:

The top part of the piece was mostly material we’ve heard before but further down was this note:

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Five key facts from five different news reports on SBC president's call for sex abuse reforms

Five key facts from five different news reports on SBC president's call for sex abuse reforms

Pastor J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, made national headlines Monday night with remarks on how his denomination can address its ongoing sexual abuse crisis.

Greear made 10 recommendations, and I found it interesting how various major news organizations reported on them.

Both the Houston Chronicle — which, with the San Antonio Express-News, published a bombshell investigative series on Southern Baptist abuse cases last week — and Religion News Service’s Bob Smietana led with the possibility of 10 churches facing expulsion from the SBC.

The Chronicle’s lede:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The president of the Southern Baptist Convention on Monday evening called for a "season of lament, sorrow, and repentance" over a sexual abuse crisis, and provided a list of 10 churches, including Second Baptist Church in Houston, that he said should be scrutinized for their handling of sexual abuses and potentially removed from the nation's largest Baptist group.

And that of RNS:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) — J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the denomination’s Executive Committee should immediately investigate 10 churches named in a report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, including Second Baptist in Houston — one of the largest churches in the SBC.

If any churches were found to have covered up abuse and refused to mend their ways, Greear told a gathering of Southern Baptist leaders on Monday (Feb. 18), then the convention should consider removing them from the denomination, a process known as “disfellowshipping.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, focused on the likelihood of the SBC creating a database of abusers:

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Beyond Thorn Birds (again): Vatican confirms there are rules for priests with secret children

Beyond Thorn Birds (again): Vatican confirms there are rules for priests with secret children

Is it just me, or does anyone else suspect that this is a great time for journalists to ask Vatican officials hard questions about the sins of priests who want to have sex with females?

I am not joking about this, although I will confess that there is a rather cynical twist to my question.

Let me also stress that we are talking about serious stories, with victims who deserve attention and justice. We are also talking about stories that mesh with my conviction that secrecy is the key issue, the most powerful force in Rome’s scandals tied to sexual abuse by clergy (something I noted just yesterday).

Still, the timing is interesting — with Vatican officials doing everything they can to focus news coverage on the abuse of “children,” as opposed to male teens, and a few young adults, as opposed to — potentially — lots and lots of seminarians. I am talking about this week’s Vatican summit on sexual abuse.

So first we had a small wave of coverage of this totally valid story, as seen in this headline at The New York Times: “Sexual Abuse of Nuns: Longstanding Church Scandal Emerges From Shadows.”

Now there is this semi-Thorn Birds headline, also from the Gray Lady, the world’s most powerful newspaper: “Vatican’s Secret Rules for Catholic Priests Who Have Children.” Here’s the overture:

ROME — Vincent Doyle, a psychotherapist in Ireland, was 28 when he learned from his mother that the Roman Catholic priest he had always known as his godfather was in truth his biological father.

The discovery led him to create a global support group to help other children of priests, like him, suffering from the internalized shame that comes with being born from church scandal. When he pressed bishops to acknowledge these children, some church leaders told him that he was the product of the rarest of transgressions.

But one archbishop finally showed him what he was looking for: a document of Vatican guidelines for how to deal with priests who father children, proof that he was hardly alone.

“Oh my God. This is the answer,” Mr. Doyle recalled having said as he held the document. He asked if he could have a copy, but the archbishop said no — it was secret.

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Political and religious fallout from Rep. Omar's AIPAC remark won't fade, nor will social media let it

Political and religious fallout from Rep. Omar's AIPAC remark won't fade, nor will social media let it

Let’s start with the political bottom line — or at least how it stands as of this writing.

The furor kicked up in recent days by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar will not — I repeat, will not — turn the Democratic Party into the American equivalent of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party, which has a clear and significant anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic problem.

At least not for the foreseeable future. Or to be more precise, at least not as I perceive the immediate future unfolding.

For this, the Democrats, the majority of American Jews and Israel can thank President Donald Trump. As long as the Republican Party remains in his firm control and that of his morally and culturally conservative congressional enablers, American Jewish voters are more than likely to stay firmly Democratic.

Too many of them are just too liberal in their social outlook to vote Republican as the party is currently configured. Period.

This, and because of the substantial Christian Zionist support for Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politically expedient bromance with this president.

Both Christian Zionism, which tends to back the most right-wing elements in Israeli political society, and the aforementioned bromance are, again, anathema to the majority of American Jews.

Christian Zionism, regardless of how well it is actually understood by the rank-and-file, is a complete turn off for the preponderance of American Jews because it sounds to them like Christians wanting to control Jews simply to foster their own theological beliefs and yearnings. And when has that ever turned out well for Jews?

As for the bromance, well, need I say anything more than if Trump’s for it most folks on the American center-left, Jewish or not, find it suspicious. Nor do they like Netanyahu, who is viewed as entirely unwilling to give Palestinians any of what they want for the sake of a peace agreement.

(This latter aspect is far too complex to get into here. Suffice it to say that a lot of Israeli Jews believe the Palestinian leadership cannot be trusted to upheld such an agreement, making it too risky to try.)

For those reasons and more — including the not inconsequential staunchly pro-Israel stance of the current Pelosi-Schumer Democratic leadership — large numbers of American Jewish Democratic voters and their representatives are not about to abide a party takeover by anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian activists and politicians, who they are also likely to paint as anti-Semitic.

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'Dad did not make it and is in heaven with Jesus': There's a strong religion angle after Aurora shooting

'Dad did not make it and is in heaven with Jesus': There's a strong religion angle after Aurora shooting

As you probably heard, a workplace shooting in Aurora, Ill., claimed the lives of five people on Friday.

One of the victims was a husband and father named Josh Pinkard.

Now, a moving Facebook post by Pinkard’s grieving wife, Terra, is making national headlines. And yes, there’s a strong religion angle. By the way, be sure to grab a tissue before reading the rest of this post.

I learned of the wife’s post when I saw a tweet this morning by Daniel Darling, vice president for communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“Unbelievably tragic story,” wrote Darling, linking to a compelling Chicago Tribune report.

Amen!

The Tribune — like national media such as CNN and USA Today — opens with the gripping revelation that Josh Pinkard texted his wife in his final moments:

For Terra Pinkard, the nightmare began with an ominous text from her husband: “I love you, I’ve been shot at work.”

Pinkard would soon learn that her husband, Josh Pinkard, was among the five people killed when a co-worker who was being terminated from Henry Pratt Co. opened fire. Pinkard, 37, was the manager of the plant, where water valves are made.

In a Facebook message posted on Sunday, Terra Pinkard said it took her “several times reading it for it to hit me that it was real.”

Keep reading, though, and the wife’s Christian faith becomes readily apparent. After describing the wife’s various attempts to find out information about her husband‘s status, the Tribune notes that she ended up at a staging area for victims’ families:

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