Last night I was having dinner with friends and neighbors and we got talking about GetReligion. Our hostess wondered whether local religion reporting was better than what you see and read at the national level. I suggested it was not -- since flashes of truly horrific and uninformed local religion stories came to mind immediately. But one of my favorite religion reporters, who is at a significant Midwestern paper, sent along a really interesting local story. And it reminds me that sometimes local reporters are able to treat their subjects better than national reporters. The story is about the Roman Catholic Church offering central Pennsylvanians a plenary indulgence that will reduce the time their souls spend in purgatory. The details:
The Catholic Church teaches that souls of those who have died in grace must expiate their sins in purgatory before ascending to heaven. Those who receive a plenary indulgence have all temporal punishment for sin removed up to that point in their lives.
To earn a plenary indulgence, followers must visit St. Patrick Cathedral, the mother church of the Harrisburg Diocese. They also must repent their sins, take Communion, go to confession and pray for the pope's intentions on the day they visit or within several days of visiting the cathedral.
The story is full of helpful information like that. It explains which office in the Vatican grants the indulgence opportunities and how long it will last. But the story could use a few more details. A bit of historical context is certainly in order (and I'm not just saying that because I'm Lutheran and the 95 Theses and stuff like that).
The story provides no insight into why indulgences are controversial or how the offering of indulgences sparked a major conflict within the church. And the story claims that indulgence granting is rare but then later says Pope Benedict XVI has approved indulgences for everything from the World Day of the Sick in Australia to the World Meeting of Families in Spain. And it's not even the only diocese in Pennsylvania to have an indulgence offering going on right now. The Philadelphia Archdiocese is celebrating its 200th anniversary and celebrating with indulgence offerings. There aren't all that many dioceses in Pennsylvania.
Still, a great idea for a local story. Just one begging out for a bit more context. And it's so nice to see a story about a church body with a nonpolitical religious angle.
UPDATE: Reader Chris Duckworth writes:
The article from the Harrisburg Patriot-News is lousy -- no context! It reads like a community paper's review of a local parish's vacation bible school program.
Again, let me commend this article -- Philadelphia archdiocese offers indulgences -- from the Philadelphia Inquirer dated June 25. It cites the historical clashing point on the issue of indulgences, and the ongoing theological problems that indulgences represent to Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.