Pod people: abortion, confession, absolution

On this week's Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I talked about media coverage of Rick Perry's appeal to evangelicals, the role of religion in the U.K. riots and World Youth Day. It's interesting to watch how unhinged media types get when dealing with an evangelical politician, but it's also somewhat wearying, isn't it? No matter your views or preferences? Will they have the energy to keep up with these attacks through 2012 on all of the evangelicals in the race? Are they shooting their wad too early? I guess we'll have many long months to look at those questions in depth.

World Youth Day coverage, on the other hand, continues to be weak. I thought Dan, a commenter to our previous post put it well:

What strikes me is the complete disinterest in the content of the event. What might Pope Benedict be planning to say to the youth? What themes will he be developing? What is his goal? Why do so many young people want to hear him, and what is the sociological profile of these young people?

As reported by the secular press, it as though 1.5 million people were descending on Madrid for no discernible reason other than to hold a pep rally for the Pope. No wonder then that the focus is on the nuisance and the cost. For those who lack any interest in, or ability to understand, what the event is about, it must indeed seem like nothing more than a money-wasting nuisance.

Reporters may not have been interested in telling a story about more than one million young people descending on Madrid (it does run counter to the narrative, I guess), but some did pick up the story about the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid granting all the priests attending the event the special power to lift excommunication and grant absolution to those who confess abortion. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how well that story was told.

The Guardian's subhed was:

Pope dangles 'fruits of divine grace' to excommunicated Catholics who admit, during Madrid event, to terminations

Now, when I first heard this abortion/excommunication story, I was sure it was wrong. If a Lutheran confesses to having procured an abortion or any other sin of which we're repentant, the pastor doesn't need special permission to absolve us. I spoke to a few canon lawyers and they explained that this is not the way it works in Catholicism. In that church, not all priests may absolve an abortion with its automatic excommunication. Some priests do have that power but if a person goes to one that doesn't, that priest has to go back and get permission to lift the excommunication. When the penitent comes back, he or she is absolved then.

The Guardian actually explains this briefly by quoting Father Lombardi:

"Normally, only certain priests have the power to lift such an excommunication, but the local diocese has decided to give all the priests taking confession at the event this power," said the pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.

That part is handled fine, although I would love to know if my suspicions about why Catholics handle it this way are true. We need more information. But check out this paragraph:

At a time when church attendances in Europe are dipping Lombardi denied the deal on abortion had been dreamed up to attract waverers back to the church. "With so many young people attending there may be those who have had problems of this kind and it makes sense to reach out to them."

The language is so bizarre -- "denied," "deal," dreamed up" -- come on! (And yes, some Catholics are crying foul at the general coverage.)

Let us know if you see any particularly good or bad coverage of the remainder of World Youth Day. It's bound to improve, right?

As for the podcast, we also discussed a good example of media coverage from this week -- the way in which British outlets recognized the role Islam played in one father coping with his son's death from the riots there.

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