Pre-smoke: Was the pope born again?

It's time for a last glance at some memorable pre-conclave stories as we watch the press try to handle the hours (or perhaps days) of waiting before the white smoke starts another blitz. One of my favorites reports was by Tony LaRussa in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, telling the story of evangelical talk radio gabber Marty Minto and what happened when he engaged in a bit of on-the-air speculation about the current location of the soul of Pope John Paul II. This was one of those symbolic-detail stories that captures, in a snapshot, a sea change in religious attitudes.

In this case, the focus is on evangelical feelings about the papacy, or at least the work of this pope. Minto learned the hard way.

Following a week's worth of conversation on his WORD-101.5 FM show that questioned whether Pope John Paul II's Roman Catholic beliefs could be an impediment to entering heaven, station management pulled the plug. . . .

"I was called into the office after my show Friday and told that I was being let go because I was alienating the listeners," said Minto, 39, of New Castle, Lawrence County, who previously did talk-radio shows in Albany, N.Y., Phoenix and Denver. Minto also is senior pastor of the 100-member Turning Point Community Church in New Castle.

Minto defended himself by saying that he tried to focus on Catholic beliefs -- such as the veneration of Mary and purgatory. He insists that he didn't lash out at Pope John Paul II, the man.

Then the question of salvation came up. Minto defended the franchise -- saying that heaven is for those who have been "born again." And what about the pope?

"I said the question of whether a person is born again is something personal, something between an individual and the Creator," Minto said. "I believe it was a legitimate topic to discuss."

But that punched the button and the station let him go.

There may actually be another interesting story hidden here. I wonder how many conservative Catholics have, these days, started listening to conservative Protestant radio, searching for niche-market news and commentary on the Culture Wars. If that percentage has risen in the past quarter-century, and I predict it has, then that would mean Protestant media leaders need to think about how traditional Catholics see and hear their work.

Meanwhile, anyone interested in more coverage -- waves of it -- about evangelical attitudes on John Paul and Rome need only surf over to the amazing Christianity Today weblog for several months worth of reading. Click here for the big hat tip, and here.

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