If you know anything about the history of religion news in the mainstream press, then you know the name Richard N. Ostling. During his four-plus decades on the beat -- primarily with Time and the Associated Press -- Ostling was a pro's pro who was known for meticulous accuracy, balance, fairness and all of those other old-school journalistic values. He is still active in news projects as a consultant and reporter.
During the "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion" project, I leaned on Ostling quite a bit in my "Getting It Right" chapter on ways for newsrooms to improve their work on this oh-so-complicated beat.
But some things are not that complicated.
I asked Ostling early on to name an example of a basic error -- a sin of omission or commission -- that he kept seeing in the news that really got under his skin. So what did the trick? He was very tired of seeing news reports stating that the Church of Rome does not ordain married men.
"It would be accurate," noted Ostling, "to say that the overwhelming majority of men ordained as Catholic priests are not married. It would even be accurate to say that 'almost all' priests are not married. But what about Eastern Rite Catholicism, where you have married priests? Then there are the married men who have been ordained in the Anglican Rite, who used to be Episcopal priests. You have a few Lutherans, too.
"Now some people would say that little mistakes like this do not matter all that much. Well, they matter to the people who read the story and know that what they are reading is wrong. What does this say about our journalistic standards?"
OK, now that you have read that, try to make sense out of this chunk of an Associated Press report that is sending ripples through the world of online news.
BERLIN -- In a rare move that needed the pope's approval, a Lutheran convert is being ordained as a Catholic priest in Germany and is being allowed to remain married to his wife -- who has already become a nun.
The Cologne archdiocese said 61-year-old Harm Klueting is to be ordained as a Catholic priest Tuesday. Pope Benedict XVI gave him a special permission to remain married to his wife Edeltraut Klueting, who became a Catholic Carmelite nun in 2004. The couple has two grown children.
Stop right there. Anyone want to bet that the wife is a lay sister in a Third Order relationship with a Carmelite order? In other word, she has not taken the full vows to be a nun. Back to the AP report:
Klueting and his wife were both Lutherans when they married in 1977 and both converted to Catholicism several years ago.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's chief spokesman, says the exception is rare but there have been similar cases. He says "it doesn't happen every day."
Similar cases? Like most of the priests in the Eastern Rite? Like the Anglicans entering Catholicism in England? How old is this exemption law anyway? Isn't it half a century or so?
It that doesn't ring your bell, check out this strange story in The Daily, the new iPad newspaper. Here's the link. Now here's the lede:
After 34 years of marriage, is celibacy so hard anyway?
I think that's quite enough. Read it all if you want to laugh or cry.
UPDATE: The quite precise Father John Zuhlsdorf -- a convert from Lutheranism -- does a total take down on the AP piece.