Devout Catholic™ Kaine breaks with his church on gay marriage, with media blessing

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Tim Kaine has officially joined the ranks of Devout Catholic™.

How do we know? Because he says he's Catholic, yet criticizes the church.

The Democratic vice presidential nominee played weekend prophet and theologian when he told activists in the Human Rights Campaign that the Roman Catholic Church will eventually change its teachings against same-sex marriage. 

But that wasn't the cardinal sin of the day. The worst was the unthinking, habit-bound, codeword-laced coverage by mainstream media -- especially calling Kaine yet another Devout Catholic™.

Count the Chicago Tribune among the worst offenders:

Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine is predicting that the Roman Catholic Church may eventually change its opposition to gay marriage.
Kaine is a devout Roman Catholic as well as a U.S. senator from Virginia and a former governor of that state. He told the Human Rights Campaign during its national dinner Saturday in Washington that he had changed his mind about gay marriage and that his church may follow suit one day.
"I think it's going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator who, in the first chapter of Genesis, surveyed the entire world, including mankind, and said, 'It is very good,'" Kaine said. He then recalled Pope Francis' remark that "who am I to judge?" in reference to gay priests.
"I want to add: Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family? I think we're supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it," Kaine said.

We've done a fair amount of dissection on media who toss around the Devout Catholic™ term too freely.  As I wrote two years ago, many reporters seem to use Devout Catholic™ in two ways: (1) “Doing more Catholic things than I do” and (2) “Claiming to be good Catholics while breaking with the church over major doctrines.”

But why single out the Chicago Tribune's story on Tim Kaine?

Because it's based almost wholly on an Associated Press story, with a crucial difference of three words. AP says that Kaine "describes himself as a devout Roman Catholic" (italics mine). Now, AP doesn't say when and where he claimed to be devout. But in deleting even that wisp of attribution, the Trib itself bestows the laurel of Devout Catholic™ on Kaine's brow as a matter of plain fact.

NBC News, which ran more than 900 words on the speech, seems to have the most complete excerpt:

WASHINGTON -- Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine on Saturday spoke about his evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage, and predicted that the Catholic Church would eventually change its views on the matter. 
"My support for marriage equality now -- my full, complete, unconditional support for marriage equality -- is at odds with the current doctrine of the church that I still attend," Kaine said at a Human Rights Campaign dinner. 
"But I think that's going to change, too … And I think it's going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world including mankind and said it is very good, it is very good," he said. 
"Pope Francis famously said, 'who am I to judge?' And to that I want to add: Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family?" Kaine said. "I think we're supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it." 

With that much room, wouldn't you expect more depth and nuance? Well, you'd be disappointed. NBC simply heaps on more code words. It not only calls Kaine a Devout Catholic™; it also mentions his "deep Catholic faith." It adds that after hesitating for years, he finally publicly support "equal marriage rights" in 2013.

At the speech, Kaine said his change of heart actually began years ago as a student at the University of Missouri. "But I had a difficult time reconciling that reality with what I knew to be true from the evidence of my own life, with the teachings of the faith that I had been raised in for my entire life," he said. 

Hmmm. So, did he talk it over with a priest? Bishop? Theologian? Church janitor? And how does someone call himself devout while calling out the leaders of his faith group? He didn’t say. Nor does NBC News say if it asked any questions after dinner.

The key is that we are describing something that isn't real. It's a matter of feelings. The individual is in charge of determining if "devout" applies, not the teachers of the faith.

Still another gaffe: relating Kaine's remarks about a bill signed last year in Indiana by Governor Mike Pence, Donald Trump's running mate. NBC calls it a " 'religious freedom' bill," complete with sarcasm quotes. Imagine the uproar if NBC had written "gay rights," in the same way.

Now to the Washington Post story. It's a model of efficiency, if not writing judgment. It packs at least four code words into less than 300 words.

The Post shuns "Devout Catholic™," but it says "practicing Catholic." It uses the vague, halo-like phrase "equality issues" without an explanation; we're left to guess that it means public stances that gay activists would favor. 

The article cites Kaine's "evolution" on doctrines affecting same-sex marriage, when "change" would have been a more judgment-free noun. And it says the Catholic church "restricts marriage to a man and woman," rather than something factual and less slanted, such as "upholds centuries of Christian doctrines." 

All these articles ignore the basic journalistic question: Exactly how is Kaine a devout Catholic? Did he go through catechism? Was he confirmed in the church? Does he attend Mass every week? How about confession? And when Kaine had a problem with Catholic teachings on marriage, did he talk it over with a priest or someone else in the church? Or at least research it online? He could have found an 11-question FAQ on marriage on the site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Myself, I'm looking for Devout Journalists™ -- as in reporters who ask follow-up questions, not just take notes. I also prefer journalists who (as tmatt wrote this past weekend) strive to avoid slanted labels and code words.

Photo: Tim Kaine, official Congress photo, 2013. Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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