You know you are in for a wild ride when a GetReligion reader sends you a URL from The New York Post (or The New York Daily News, for that matter) with one of those, "Yeah, consider the source, BUT" notes that basically is warning you to duck and cover. Incoming.
So here is the headline on this one: "The Catholic Church will now forgive your abortion."
The loyal reader noted: "The title is bad, but it gets worse from there. Wouldn't have wasted your time with it, but it is such awful dreck that it seemed to me a perfect crystallization of what your site is so admirably attempting to combat -- sort of a 'why we fight' type of example."
At the heart of this story is a journalistic virus that seems to be affecting journalists around the world. You know the one, the "Everything Pope Francis touches is brand new" bug. As you could see from that headline, this one is an instant classic. Here's the top of the story:
Pope Francis will send an army of globe-trotting priests -- his “missionaries of mercy” -- to absolve women who’ve had abortions, in the latest Vatican bid to catch up with modern times.
The effort, which includes reaching out to doctors and nurses who’ve performed abortions, will commence in the Holy Year of Mercy, which Francis has declared will be celebrated between Dec. 8, 2015, and Nov. 20, 2016.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, announced the bold initiative and said the church should always be in the absolution business.
Catholic readers, you can get back up into your chair now or clean the computer screen onto which you spewed your morning source of caffeine.
This story makes it sound like Catholic projects to help women who have had abortions are brand new, that this is some kind of theological innovation and even (wink, wink) that this implies the church may have moved closer to modernizing its stance (that "catch up with modern times" riff was amazing) on the sanctity of unborn life.
Really? Well, how do you read this?
Vatican officials walked a tightrope on Thursday, celebrating forgiveness but standing firm that abortion is still very much against church teachings.
“There are a number of clergy with the ability to pardon abortions already, it is not that rare,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.
Now, if you have been anywhere near the religion beat in the past three decades you are aware that the Catholic church has long had a ministry, founded in 1984, dedicated to working with women who have had abortions and are seeking reconciliation with the church -- moving from Confession, back into the sacraments of the faith.
This ministry is called "Project Rachel" -- click here to go to the national website -- and there are priests and others doing this work from coast to coast. This latest Pope Francis project is interesting, and it may be valid news, but it is news because it is another effort to build support for an old concept that already has wide support.
Apparently, Post editors have also never heard of a famous New Yorker who is currently known as the Servant of God Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Momentum is building toward her recognition as a saint. One of the turning points in her remarkable life was an abortion and a vision that followed, which led her back into the church. Click here and you can see that NPR has even touched on this part of her life.
So this kind of ministry is more evidence that Pope Francis is pulling the church into the modern world? Well, I guess that is true if you accept the basic framework of this Post story. Believe it or not, the following text is from a news story, not an editorial:
Francis has made stunningly progressive remarks in his two years leading world Catholics.
He’s preached for acceptance of gays and lesbians, embraced science and even hinted that women will be taking bigger roles in the Vatican.