Once again, people who care about religion news have proof -- as if they needed more -- that not everything Pope Francis does and says is worthy of intense coverage by elite news media.
What's the overarching trend?
When Pope Francis sounds small-o "orthodox," it isn't news. When this pope sounds small-p "progressive," it's big news.
Yes, say hello to Dr. James Davison Hunter of "Culture Wars" fame.
The latest case is, of course, the struggle over the body and dignity of British toddler Alfie Evans who, as I type, is still alive and breathing on his own. His hospital room is surrounded by guards just in case his parents or anyone else attempts to carry him to the medical care that is waiting for him in Italy.
Italy? If you read European newspapers you would know all about that. News consumers here in America? Not so much. Here is the top of a short Associated Press update about this religious-liberty crisis:
LONDON -- The parents of a terminally ill British toddler whose case has drawn support from Pope Francis plan to return to the Court of Appeal Wednesday in hope of winning the right to take him to Italy for treatment.
High Court Justice Anthony Hayden on Tuesday rejected what he said was the final appeal by the parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans, who suffers from a degenerative neurological condition that has left him in a "semi-vegetative state." ...
But Alfie's parents, who are backed by a Christian pressure group, have been granted a chance to challenge that ruling at the appeals court Wednesday afternoon.
A "Christian pressure group"? That's a new name for the Roman Catholic Church and others allied with it in an attempt to have Alfie moved to Italy -- the nation that, in an extraordinary diplomatic move, granted the child Italian citizenship.
Thus, AP reports:
Pope Francis has met Alfie's father and made appeals for the boy's parents' wishes to be heeded, saying only God can decide who dies.
Italy has sent a military plane to Britain to transport Alfie to Rome if the courts allow it. Alfie has also been granted Italian citizenship to facilitate his arrival and transport.
Now, that is the heart of the short AP story.
I can also say that this is the heart of the coverage at The New York Times, because America's most important newspaper is not covering this story at all right now -- at least not in a form that can be detected by use -- at this moment in time -- of its on-site search engine.
The Times has only been running AP copy. But even that is better than what I could find at National Public Radio:
Now, there is some good news here -- at an elite paper that (wait for it) turned this story over to the religion-beat professionals.
Compare the Times and AP content with this new report from The Washington Post, under the headline: "Judge rules against letting Alfie Evans, a terminally ill British child, go to the pope’s hospital." Here is the overture:
Pope Francis has been praying for the British toddler Alfie Evans — and the Italian government has granted the child Italian citizenship and lined up a transportation plan that could swiftly bring the sick little boy to a Vatican hospital.
But Alfie’s doctors say he cannot be healed and shouldn’t make the trip at all.
On Tuesday, according to lawyers representing Alfie’s family, a British judge sided with the doctors, saying that the family cannot accept the offer to take Alfie to the Vatican for treatment. An appeals court will hear the case on Wednesday, according to the BBC.
The little boy’s case has become a subject of fierce concern for some Catholic and other Christian activists, who have protested outside the hospital in Liverpool where the boy is being treated. Calling themselves “Alfie’s Army,” the protesters say that the British doctors’ desire to remove Alfie from life support violates the sanctity of life as well as his parents’ wishes to continue seeking treatment to keep him alive.
Run through the Post piece and you will see a wide variety of voices on both sides of this painful debate. You will also see far fewer labels of the judgmental kind, in terms of describing the people and groups in the debate.
What are the doctors actually saying? The Post tells you:
In a statement, the medical association representing Alfie’s doctors called his case “heartbreaking for his parents and emotionally challenging for the doctors and nurses involved in treating and caring for him.” They said that they wouldn’t discuss confidential details about Alfie’s medical condition but that British doctors’ guidelines call for ending treatment if the treatment is either unlikely to extend the child’s life “much longer” or might prolong life “but will cause the child unacceptable pain and suffering.”
The key is that offering additional care for Alfie would violate his "dignity," whether the working-class Christian parents recognize that or not.
The pope, meanwhile, as continued to speak out.
Now, I have to admit that -- as an Orthodox Christian -- my emotions and doctrinal convictions are quite involved when reading about this case. Does this mean that it is wrong to think that this story raises significant issues and deserves coverage?
To further reflect on that, readers may want to read this Commentary essay entitled, "A Miracle In Liverpool." Lots of pro-Catechism Catholics are passing this around here in America. The overture:
Alfie Evans was supposed to die. On Monday evening, doctors at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool, England, removed the 23-month-old toddler’s respirator following an effective death sentence handed down by Britain’s High Court of Justice. The court ruled that “continued ventilatory support is no longer in Alfie’s best interest” and prohibited his parents from flying their baby to Rome’s Bambino Gesù hospital for additional treatment at the Italian government’s expense. An international outcry led by Pope Francis failed to move British authorities.
In his decision, Justice Anthony Hayden of the High Court predicted that, owing to a little-understood and rapidly progressing brain condition, “Alfie can not sustain his life on his own. It is the ventilator that has been keeping him alive for many months, he is unable to sustain his own respiratory effort.” Some 30 police officers were posted outside the hospital to prevent Alfie’s supporters from attempting to rescue him overnight, and his parents were barred from supplying their own oxygen.
The most mother and father could offer their son was skin-to-skin contact -- and love.
Stay tuned, and please use our commentary pages to alert me to coverage -- good and bad, or nonexistent -- that I have missed.
The pope has sent a rosary for use at the toddler's bedside. Would police allow the pope in to pray?
UPDATE: When preparing this post, I completely forgot to look at CNN.com -- another key player in American coverage. CNN has, in fact, produced its own report on this issue, with all of the major angles covered.
That report also includes this rather arresting graphic from the current UK media scene:
FIRST IMAGE: An April 5 photo of Alfie Evans circulated by protesters.