Those elusive Devout Catholics™ are back

We have another Devout Catholic™ sighting! That legendary creature, best known to reporters in mainstream media, is rarely spotted in real life, but they seem to show up in the news all the time. (See the attached photo.)

One appeared in a Los Angeles Times article about a campaign to loosen up laws in Oregon against same-sex marriage. This was a small herd in Portland that wanted to sport big white buttons for "marriage equality" while attending Ash Wednesday.

Brave move or childish stunt? That would be a subjective call. Almost as subjective as, say, this Times article.

More on that later. Right now, here are a couple of offending paragraphs -- the first two in the story, in fact:

When Jackie Yerby and a small band of devout Catholics go to the cathedral for Mass this Ash Wednesday, they will be sending an unmistakable message. Pinned to their lapels will be big white buttons that proclaim, "Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality."

The newly formed group wants to show that "just because we're Catholic doesn't mean we don't support same-sex marriage," said Yerby, who served on the board of Catholic Charities of Portland for six years. "We support same-sex marriage because we are Catholic."

It's a decidedly quirky species. For one, it always seems to differ with the leaders of the pack. Their own shepherd, Archbishop Andrew K. Sample of Portland, has urged his folks to prevent changing state law to allow gay marriage. Devout Catholics™ may not be more Catholic than the pope, but more Catholic than an archbishop ain't bad.

The new Devout Catholics™ are rare even in Portland. Yerby's organization first met last month and has a mere "few dozen members," according to the Los Angeles Times article. Significantly, those relevant facts are buried in the 26th paragraph of the 34-paragraph story -- after the reporter has gotten max mileage from their devout disagreement with Sample.

Longtime readers of tmatt, of course, know that he and GetReligion specialize in Devout Catholic™ spotting. Five years ago, he asked why a couple of odd characters -- a horoscope columnist and a voodoo high priest -- have gotten the label.

When Archbishop Donald Wuerl was made a cardinal, tmatt saw the label appended onto loud-mouthed TV commentator Chris Matthews. And late last year, tmatt observed that some media are using "practicing Catholic" in ways just as loose and fuzzy.

Therefore, tmatt fumes:

Of all the labels used by journalists to describe believers -- from “apostate” to “zealot” -- surely “devout” has become one of the most meaningless. While this is true in a variety of world religions, for some reason things get especially interesting when “devout” appears in front of “Catholic.”

The bottom line: What’s the difference between a “practicing” Catholic and a “devout” Catholic? Do journalists simply know one when they see one?

For myself, I think reporters use Devout Catholic™ in two ways: (1) "Doing more Catholic things than I do"; (2) "Claiming to be good Catholics while breaking with the Church over major doctrines."

The species arose early, perhaps in 1999. That's when director Kevin Smith turned out the movie Dogma, which at times seemed to be a catalog of ways to offend Catholics. Many news stories on the film blithely proclaimed him a Devout Catholic™ -- except for the Baltimore Sun, which went one better (or worse) and called him a "devout blasphemer." That story even bore a groveling subhead: "Kevin Smith's new film makes fun of the church, but the issue of his faith was never in question."

Nor does the Los Angeles Times article out of Oregon ask a lot of penetrating questions. Much of it, in fact, amounts to classic card stacking. One instance is quoting an LGBT historian that "there have been an estimated 35 ballot measures, local or statewide, that have attempted to circumscribe the rights of gays and lesbians." Note how it assumes the existence of such rights, despite the absence of laws in Oregon that establish them.

Yes, the story quotes an Oregon group that’s trying to get a personal-freedom law passed like the one that was just vetoed in Arizona. But it also quotes the LGBT historian, a group called Oregonians for Marriage Equality, and another called Oregon United for Marriage. This is not exactly a model of balanced reporting.

The piece ends with a sympathetic look at a lone campaigner for same-sex marriage:

One recent, chilly afternoon, Lakia Davis tramped along tree-lined avenues near Reed College, knocking on doors and explaining the rapidly shifting landscape. Wrapped tightly in a scarf and wool coat, the 27-year-old outlined the ballot measures, the court cases, the optimism, the peril:

"Do you know anything about what's been going on in the past couple of weeks?"

"If you've heard about Arizona, our opposition is looking to replicate that."

"We're hoping you would be able to contribute."

How about a matching sympathetic passage about a Devout Catholic™ who happens to agree with the Catholic stance? Nope, not here. Or in many other mainstream media.

That would be an even rarer sighting.

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