Fired gay priest: AFP article packs two distortions into one story

Gotta hand it to Agence France-Presse. Its story on the Rev. Krzysztof Charamsa neatly packs two distortions in one lede.

In advancing Charamsa's interview with a TV channel, the article starts off limping:

Rome (AFP) - A high-ranking Polish priest who was fired after coming out as gay before the Vatican's key synod on the family said on Sunday that there was no "gay lobby" in the Church.
Krzysztof Charamsa told a private Italian television channel that he has "never met a gay lobby in the Vatican", referring to rumours of a network of homosexual priests.
"I met homosexual priests, often isolated like me... but no gay lobby," said Charamsa, adding that he also met gay priests who were "homophobes" and had "hatred for themselves and others".

You could almost use this story for a seminar on how not to write news.

To start: Charamsa was not fired as a priest. He was fired from his position as an assistant secretary in the Vatican-level Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Other media, like the New York Daily News, said more accurately that he was "dismissed from his post at the Vatican." The News also pointed out that Charamsa hadn't lost his credentials as a priest; that decision was left to his bishop.

Nor was Charamsa fired merely for coming out. He was fired for coming out at a press conference beside his male partner, calling for a change in church doctrine about homosexuality. He even issued a 10-point "liberation manifesto" against "institutionalised homophobia in the Church."

Oh, and Charamsa also announced plans to write an expose about his 12 years at the Vatican. And he did all of this a day before a session of the Synod of Bishops that dealt with matters affecting Catholic families. Most companies, religious or secular, don’t react well when you embarrass them in public.

The reporter should have checked AFP's own archives; a previous story got most of that right. Unfortunately, that report added that Charamsa appeared "resigned to the fact that his life as a priest is over."

At GetReligion, we've gone over this so much, maybe we should just create a form and reprint it every time a blog or newspaper or TV report or wire service repeats the gaffe.  Tmatt, for example, ran 213 words of direct quotes from Pope Francis about it. Here are 73 of them:

"When we confess our sins and we truly say, 'I have sinned in this,' the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. … If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?"

Now about that denial by Charamsa of a gay lobby. Where's the news angle? Aside from the fact that Italian TV apparently asked Charamsa about it?

Well, Francis brought it up himself, says AFP: "The pontiff has in the past spoken about homosexuality and the 'gay lobby'." Like where? Doesn't say. The story just moves on to the out-of-context "Who am I to judge" quote.

Fortunately, bloggers like GR alumna Mollie Hemingway have done their homework. Mollie notes that the question of a "gay lobby" at the Vatican came up at the same casual Q&A on the papal plane -- two years ago -- that yielded "Who am I to judge?"

And what did Francis say on that issue?

Goodness knows! So much is written of the gay lobby. I still have not met one who will give me the identity card with “gay”. They say that they exist. I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good.

Falls rather short of an assertion, don’t you think?

Yes, Francis allegedly said something more definite to Latin American Catholic leaders: "The 'gay lobby' is spoken of, and it's true: It's there." If so, he'd moved from that stance by the time of his airplane Q&A.

Not that AFP was the lone culprit, mind you. The Guardian in London today perpetuated the myth that Charamsa was fired for coming out as gay, although it didn’t allege any gay lobby at the Vatican. The Guardian's longer story also gets Vatican feedback. And it adds: "The Catholic Church believes that homosexual desires are not a sin but they do become sinful when acted upon."

AFP summarized the church as forbidding ordination of gays -- saying, however, that many bishops are "turning a blind eye as long as priests remain celibate." But it doesn't cite any church documents or quote any bishops, priests or lay leaders. I'll bet they could have found some of those in France.

Also interesting is that the Gay News Network eagerly reported Charamsa's denial of the existence of a gay lobby.  You'd have thought they would want to promote such a notion to show their power.

Most mainstream media, indeed, have lost interest in the gay lobby rumor. Yet a few still seem obsessed with the idea, sometimes in the face of obvious facts. After Charamsa's announcement, a BBC writer said he "is apparently a member of a long-rumoured but never formally acknowledged 'gay lobby' at the heart of the Catholic Church" -- the very thing that Charamsa said did not exist.


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