Once upon a time, journalists had a simple device that they used to signal readers when experts and insiders on one side of a story were not interested in taking part in a public debate about their work or their cause.
When dealing with a Catholic controversy, for example, journalists would write a sentence that went something like this: "A spokesperson for the archbishop said he could not comment at this time." Or perhaps this: "The (insert newspaper name here) made repeated attempts to contact the leaders of (insert name of activist organization here) but they declined to comment at this time."
In other words, it was clear that newspapers thought that readers -- if they were going to trust the content of a hot-button story -- needed to know that reporters and editors offered shareholders on both sides of the issue a chance to offer their take on key facts. It was important for readers to know that journalists were not interested in writing public-relations pieces for a particular cause.
The bottom line: Have you ever noticed that people on both sides of complicated or emotional stories almost always have different takes on the meaning of key events and quotations?
That was then. Today, there are journalists who clearly think that this kind of extra effort in the name of balance, accuracy and fairness is no longer a good thing when covering stories that touch on key elements of their newspaper's doctrines. This leads us, of course, to yet another five-star example of "Kellerism" -- click here for background -- in New York Times coverage of Pope Francis.
As is the norm, the story begins with a very emotional and complex anecdote about Catholic church life in which, it appears, there was no attempt whatsoever to talk to people on the other side.
Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo said he was standing in line for communion one Sunday at his Roman Catholic church in Detroit when a fellow parishioner pulled him aside: Didn’t he know that the archbishop had just urged supporters of same-sex marriage not to take communion?
Mr. Matsuo, who is transgender, left and never returned to his parish. Now, two years later, he is among a large group of gay and transgender Catholics who are seeking a meeting with Pope Francis during his first visit to the United States, in September, pushing him to take a stand on the issues of sexuality and gender that are increasingly dividing Catholics.
“I want him to extend his hand openly, especially to the transgender community,” said Mr. Matsuo, who is 28 and said he has identified as male ever since he was a toddler. “I am a practicing Catholic. I just don’t have a parish I can call home.”
Just curious, but when did this encounter take place? What was the name of the parish?
Now, if the parish has a name it would be possible for a journalist to visit its website. What is the name of the senior priest? Also, what is the name of the archbishop in question (this is not a hard question to answer) and what did he say, or not say, about communion? By the way, stop and think about this. Is it unusual for a bishop -- charged, in his vows, with defending church doctrines -- to argue that Catholics who publicly oppose key church doctrines be asked whether or not it is wise (looking at this as a doctrinal, rather than political matter) for them to take communion?
Now, since Matsuo clearly wanted to talk, here are a few additional questions. Since Matsuo is a "practicing Catholic," that would mean that Matsuo has a regular confessor. Where is Matsuo going to confession and receiving communion? It must be noted that priests cannot talk about the contents of confessions, but it might have been interesting to ask the priest to comment -- if he would -- on the archbishop's statement. Does this priest support his archbishop on this issue? Might there be a story here, centering on Catholic parishes that disagree with their own local shepherd?
This is the first of many places in this story in which the Times editors needed to add a sentence indicating that they attempted -- if they did so -- to offer Catholic shareholders a chance to offer doctrinal input or to offer their take on key facts.
Otherwise, the editors needed to add this kind of sentence: "It is the policy of the Times not to offer Catholic leaders and experts a chance to defend the teachings of their church, since those teachings clash with the views of this newspaper and, thus, are wrong."
Go for it. Please let readers know where things stand, at this point.
Meanwhile, GetReligion readers should search through this Times article and strive to find a place where there is clearly attributed information drawn from a traditional Catholic source. Please. What did you find? Who is quoted?
Now, there is a very interesting news story hidden in this piece. I suspect that there are PLENTY of Catholics who had input into its contents. Can you guess who and from that institutions, after reading this passage?
... While American bishops are pressing for what are billed as religious freedom laws that would protect the rights of those who object to serving gay people who are marrying, Catholic institutions, and parishioners, are far from unified.
While some parishes welcome same-sex couples and march in gay pride parades, some priests in other parishes refuse to baptize the children of same-sex couples or to give communion to openly gay mourners at their parents’ funeral Masses. Dozens of Catholic schools have fired openly gay teachers -- most recently a priest working at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and a director of religious education in a private academy outside Philadelphia -- only to face revolts from Catholic students and parents.
Let's see, are there any basic facts in that passage worth clarifying?
Then later, there is this, concerning the current pope:
In his first year, he shocked the world with his comment, “Who am I to judge?” uttered in response to a question during an airborne news conference about his attitude toward a celibate gay priest serving in the Vatican. In doing so, he appeared to jettison the punishing tone used by his predecessors, including Benedict XVI, who called homosexuality an “objective disorder,” phrasing from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis made it clear almost from the start of his papacy that he does not share the appetite of his predecessors -- and the American bishops -- for making opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage the church’s top public policy priorities. “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all of the time,” he said in an early interview in a Jesuit magazine in 2013.
But he has shown no indication that he intends to lead the church toward changing its teaching that gay people are “called to chastity” and marriage is only for a man and a woman. On a visit to the Philippines in January, Pope Francis said in a speech that “the family is threatened by growing efforts” to “redefine the very institution of marriage.” He also criticized wealthy Western countries for imposing their ideas about gender on developing countries, calling it “ideological colonization.”
A month later, he was quoted in a book saying that “gender theory,” which holds that gender is a social construct, is one of the great modern dangers to humanity, like nuclear weapons.
At this point, I would say that Times editors are beginning to have their doubts on whether Pope Francis is their man. Note that, when dealing with the "Who am I to judge?" quote, they did allow a sliver of content about the context of those famous words (that he was commenting on the status of a CELIBATE gay priest). There are also quotations demonstrating that the pope's views on marriage and family remain, well, Catholic.
It is nice that the Times quoted relevant material from this pope. Now, might the Times team consider talking to some other Catholics who actually endorse the doctrines of the Catholic catechism, as opposed to the editorial page of the Times?
If not, it's time for the world's most powerful newspaper to openly state -- in statements edited into its own news reports -- that it is no longer willing to interview pro-catechism Catholics.
IMAGE: The rainbow bracelet worn by Pope Francis was a gift from a children's group, not an LGBT network.