America magazine

Debate continues, after AP report on Catholic church's apparent blessing of assisted suicide

Debate continues, after AP report on Catholic church's apparent blessing of assisted suicide

t looked like an innocuous religion story and the kind we often get here in the Pacific Northwest: A positive feature on a dying man who decided to end his life through euthanasia –- and about a Catholic church that played a role in it all.

Until complaints started to pour in, asking why a Catholic priest and parish appeared to be giving their blessing to assisted suicide. What followed was a comedy of errors on the part of an archdiocese caught flatfooted by the event.

Yes, this is an old story. But the debates are going on and on and on.

Dated Aug. 25 (yes, I am a few weeks late on this), the Associated Press story began thus:

The day he picked to die, Robert Fuller had the party of a lifetime.

In the morning, he dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt and married his partner while sitting on a couch in their senior housing apartment. He then took the elevator down three floors to the building’s common room, decorated with balloons and flowers.

With an elaborately carved walking stick, he shuffled around to greet dozens of well-wishers and friends from across the decades, fellow church parishioners and social-work volunteers. The crowd spilled into a sunny courtyard on a beautiful spring day.

A gospel choir sang. A violinist and soprano performed “Ave Maria.” A Seattle poet recited an original piece imagining Fuller as a tree, with birds perched on his thoughts.

A year ago, he got cancer of the tongue and decided against chemo, saying he’d go the assisted suicide route. His decision was understandable. The cancer was causing him slowly to choke to death. His throat was so blocked up, he had to take food through a gastric tube. Radiation would just prolong the agony.

Fuller began returning more often to the Catholic church he had long attended. His spiritual views were hardly orthodox — he considered himself a shaman, and described his impending death as a state of “perpetual meditation” — but Seattle’s St. Therese Parish was known for accommodating a range of beliefs.

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America magazine flashback: Yes, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' is really, really strange

America magazine flashback: Yes, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' is really, really strange

One of the ways that I celebrate the arrival of the real 12 days of Christmas — trigger alert: which start on Dec. 25th — is by calling up the absolutely fabulous Vince Guaraldi soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

As I type these words we are in the middle of the acoustic bass solo on “Christmastime Is Here,” the instrumental take on that wonderful melody.

I wish I could write a column every year or so about that 1965 Peanuts special. There are so many angles and subplots in the twisted story of how this now legendary show was a long shot to reach America’s TV screens — especially with Linus reciting the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. Oh, and the principalities and powers also thought the jazz soundtrack would flop with Middle America.

Anyway, the editors at America magazine have re-upped an amazing 2016 essay by Jim McDermott that I somehow missed the first time around. The headline: “How ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ continues to defy common sense.”

Let’s consider this a think piece for today, even though this isn’t a weekend.

It’s Christmas. Sue me. So here is the overture:

When “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted on Dec. 9, 1965, CBS executives were so sure it would fail they informed its executive producer, Lee Mendelson, they were showing it only because they had already announced it in TV Guide. “Maybe it’s better suited to the comic page,” they told him after an advance showing.

Despite six months working on the show, the animation director, Bill Melendez, felt much the same. “By golly, we’ve killed it,” he recalls telling Mendelson after a screening.

The American public disagreed. In fact, 45 percent of Americans with a television set watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that night, making it the second highest rated show of the week (behind “Bonanza”). The program would go on to win an Emmy and a Peabody, and it has been broadcast every Christmas season since.

Now, here is the special part. I think that this next passage is absolutely magical in summing up just how STRANGE the Peanuts special was when it came out and, of course, it’s just as strange today. That’s the point.

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It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

The scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church the past few months are only intensifying.

The allegations to come out of Pennsylvania (as well as Ireland and Australia) and accusations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick not only revealed how much the church is hurting, but also the stark ideological split within it. These events have also seen a rise in the power of online media.

The growth of conservative Catholic outlets, for example, and their ability to break stories against “Uncle Ted” has coincided with the internal struggle contrasting what traditionalists see as inadequate news coverage from the mainstream media regarding Pope Francis’ leadership. Filling that void are conservative journalists and bloggers on a mission to expose what they see as the Vatican’s progressive hierarchy.

In 2002, an investigation by The Boston Globe unearthed decades of abuse by clergy never before reported to civil authorities (click here for links). These days, accusations of wrongdoing within the Catholic Church are being exposed by smaller news organizations. No longer are mainstream outlets setting the pace here. Depleted newsrooms and not wanting to do negative stories about the pontiff have spurred conservative Catholic media to fill the journalism void.

Indeed, it’s a small group of influential blogs and news websites that has helped to inform millions as well as drive the debate.

The sex-abuse scandals that dominated news coverage over the summer are not going away. In the latest allegations to hit the U.S church, John Jenik, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, is under investigation after being accused of sexual abuse. First to the punch with the story soon after Cardinal Timothy Dolan made the announcement was CruxNow, a Catholic news site, and not any of the three competitive New York City dailies.

The revelations regarding Jenik could be just the start of a new flood of allegations going into 2019. The Justice Department recently sent a request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the country ordering them not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse cases. The request to preserve those files, first reported by the blog Whispers in the Loggia, is yet another sign that the prove is expanding after the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

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Time for next wave of election ink: So it's time to look for the elusive Catholic vote -- again

Time for next wave of election ink: So it's time to look for the elusive Catholic vote -- again

Election Day is upon us. You may have noticed what a big deal the midterms are given the extensive coverage and hype from both the networks and cable news channels over the past few weeks.

While the fight for Republicans to maintain control of Congress has been framed, of course, as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s first two years in office, there is also a religion angle — specifically a Catholic one) to examine. These elections could also serve as a litmus test for
American Catholics and whether they opt to go left or right. After all, Catholicism is the country’s single largest religious denomination, and the ultimate swing vote, although you wouldn’t know it from all the aforementioned news coverage.

Overall, the data is mixed on whether Catholics as a whole backed Trump or Clinton.

But there’s the key fact. There is no one Catholic vote. That’s a myth.

It’s that elusiveness that makes Catholics and the midterms a difficult story for news organizations to tackle. In a polarized world where loud voices on Twitter get lots of attention,
black and white issues and point-of-views reign supreme. There isn’t much room for gray.

Nonetheless, moral and religious issues like abortion, religious freedom and immigration could make the Catholic vote – even if split — an important factor in the midterms. While immigration, climate change, abortion and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings have gotten lots of attention this election cycle, the religious angle — specifically looking at Catholic candidates and voters — is what has been lacking from mainstream news coverage.

Let me stress: It isn’t that coverage has been devoid of religion. In the Trump age, evangelicals are the group news organizations like to focus on because so many of them backed the
president (see this tmatt update on that).

The Catholic vote has become even harder to pin down in recent years.

Catholics have not voted as a bloc since the 1960s when John F. Kennedy became the first, and to date the only, Catholic to win the White House. In recent decades, Catholics have been evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The key? Look for information about how often a Catholics go to Mass.

Journalists should look at the nation’s political divisions and how they are akin to what we see in the current church. Catholics are divided among conservatives (of various kinds) and liberals (of various kinds) — which means there are a lot of people in between. As always, abortion and immigration remain hot-button issues.

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Breaking news: Brett Kavanaugh uses the V-word, which used to be OK for Catholics

Breaking news: Brett Kavanaugh uses the V-word, which used to be OK for Catholics

Growing up as a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid in Bible Belt Texas, I was quite familiar with the word “virgin.” (Click here for a dictionary reference, if you need one.)

It wasn’t a curse word and, for most people, it wasn’t a punch line. At the same time, it wasn’t something folks in my high school discussed in public very much. Yes, there were people who gossiped about who was doing or not doing what. However, as a nerd, bookworm and choral musician I wasn’t up to speed on all that. I was an uncool guy, even among the Baptists.

My point is that this wasn’t a mysterious word. No one needed to put the V-word inside “scare quotes” (dictionary definition here), as if it was a concept from an alien planet.

Take this USA Today headline, for example: “Brett Kavanaugh: He was a 'virgin' in high school and other takeaways from Fox interview.”

What, pray tell, is the purpose of the quotation marks around “virgin”? Is the point that (a) editors at Gannett are not sure about the meaning of the word or (b) that Kavanaugh — wink, wink — said that word so we are putting it inside quotation marks because, well, you know.

To make sure readers got the point, editors repeated this reference later in the story. This word was, apparently, the most important, the most shocking, takeaway from this interview.

Kavanaugh a 'virgin' in high school

The judge said he never had sexual intercourse "or anything close to (it)" until long after he left Georgetown Prep, the elite all-boys Catholic high school he attended in Rockville, Maryland.

“So you’re saying through all these years that are in question that you were a virgin?” MacCallum asked Kavanaugh.

“That’s correct," he replied.

She pressed on: “And through what years in college, since we’re probing into your personal life here?”

“Many years after, I’ll leave it at that," he answered. "Many years after."

Here is my question about that passage: Is the most important word in it “prep” or “Catholic"?

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Archbishop Vigano's explosive testimony dismissed as new conservative attack on Pope Francis

Archbishop Vigano's explosive testimony dismissed as new conservative attack on Pope Francis

Just when you think the wheels have come completely off the ongoing Catholic sexual abuse story, it goes to the next level.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, is the author of an 11-page document that is rocking the Roman Catholic world. You may remember him as the official who was ejected from his Washington, D.C. post in 2016 by Pope Francis after he arranged a meeting between the pope and Kim Davis, a former municipal clerk in Kentucky who was fired for refusing to sign marriage licenses to gay couples.

When word got out that Francis had secretly met with her during his September 2015, U.S. visit that year, the Vatican furiously backpedaled on whether Francis backed religious-liberty claims by Davis, and many U.S. bishops. Viganò was eventually removed.

Revenge is a dish best served cold and Viganò waited for an opportune time to strike back. It arrived on June 22, when former Washington Cardinal McCarrick, a Vatican favorite and a Francis confidante, was exposed for being a serial sexual predator. Viganò’s letter was released two months later.

The document is very detailed; it mentions dates and names (which can be easily verified or disproved) and, Viganò assures, all the documents backing him up are at the Vatican and the apostolic nunciature office on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC.

Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, tweeted that the document implicates 17 cardinals (I counted 23), two popes, four archbishops and three bishops.

As tmatt pointed out yesterday, different media are reading this different ways. Still, others at the Times attacked the messenger, portraying it as yet another battle between church liberals and conservatives. 

DUBLIN — On the final day of Pope Francis’ mission to Ireland, as he issued wrenching apologies for clerical sex abuse scandals, a former top Vatican diplomat claimed in a letter published on Sunday that the pope himself had joined top Vatican officials in covering up the abuses and called for his resignation.


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Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

It’s certainly been a tortured Catholic summer here at GetReligion, what with our reporting on the scandals surrounding now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick –- that took up multiple news cycles from June 20 to mid-July -- and this week's explosive grand jury report out of Pennsylvania that with some of the saddest news that religion beat reporters have had to cover in ages.

I’ve talked about how the secular media are treating this disaster but what about Catholic media? There’s a bunch of other publications out there but many are weeklies or even monthlies. What I found most helpful in several of them had insider observations that secular media reporters might not have.

The two largest Catholic publications are the National Catholic Register and the National Catholic Reporter. I’ll start with the latter.

The Register’s reporting was heavy on analysis and blogs -- such as this one asking why no one listened to McCarrick whistleblower Richard Sipe –- and it tended to defend the bishops more; at least the ones it felt had been unfairly treated. Its breaking news was supplied by the Catholic News Agency, a wire service affiliated with the Birmingham, Ala.-based Eternal Word TV Network. (A screen shot of EWTN host Lauren Ashburn reporting on the grand jury report is atop this blog.)

CNA’s reporting included a piece on retired Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, who was excoriated in the grand jury report. Trautman said a great deal of details had been left out of the report; details that would have put him in a better light.

Bishop Trautman said that the report “does not fully or accurately discuss my record as Bishop for twenty-two years in dealing with clergy abuse. While unfortunate, these omissions are consistent with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s findings that the grand jury process that produced the Report suffered from 'limitations upon its truth-finding capabilities' and lacked 'fundamental fairness.'”

The news service had a similar article defending Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was also criticized by the grand jury.

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Brett Kavanaugh's Georgetown Catholicity wasn't a huge factor in first-day coverage

Brett Kavanaugh's Georgetown Catholicity wasn't a huge factor in first-day coverage

Well, there was no lack of faith talk during President Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday of his Supreme Court justice pick, and all of it was perfectly normal.

We heard the name of the Catholic parish nominee Brett Kavanaugh attends and the fact that he coaches a Catholic Youth Organization basketball team. We heard a little bit about his inspirational Georgetown educational ties.

The bottom line: I wondered why the nominee was so upfront about his faith. Some media outlets picked this up, but a lot did not.

Mother Jones got the same impression I did in an intriguing piece about the nominee's subliminal efforts to appeal to the social justice crowd.

Kavanaugh’s speech diverged from his predecessors in one key aspect: extensive reference to his Catholic faith, including a special shout-out to one of Washington, DC’s most beloved religious leaders, Monsignor John Enzler. 

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who attended the same Jesuit high school as Kavanaugh, vaguely thanked “my family, my friends and my faith” but failed to mention his Catholic upbringing when he accepted Trump’s nomination last year. Neither did Chief Justice John RobertsJustice Sonia Sotomayor, or Justice Clarence Thomas in their first remarks as nominees. Not even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a proudly devout Catholic who counted a priest among his sons, mentioned religion during his swearing-in ceremony.

Kavanaugh brought up Catholicism at several points in his 857-word speech, but reserved special attention for John Enzler, known as “Father John,” a legend in DC Catholic circles. 

America Magazine, with its Jesuit ties, offered the best summary of the nominee’s Catholic bonafides: 

During his remarks, Mr. Kavanaugh highlighted his Catholic faith and Jesuit connections.

 “The motto of my Jesuit high school was ‘men for others,’” Mr. Kavanaugh said, referencing Georgetown Preparatory School, from which he graduated in 1983. “I have tried to live that creed.”


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Were many journalists right when they blamed 'white Christians' for Charlottesville riots?

Were many journalists right when they blamed 'white Christians' for Charlottesville riots?

On the face of it, the riots in Charlottesville didn’t have a religious component. Yes, there were pastors marching in protest against the white nationalists, but so were lots of other people.

Then, everything went very wrong very fast. What I saw next, mainly on Twitter, were people demanding that white clergy nationwide condemn the white nationalist protest in their Sunday sermons. I was fascinated by how some media – who wouldn’t be caught dead implicating certain other groups when one of them does an act of violence – decided that all white Christian clergy have to answer for the violence in Charlottesville.

Do you think I’m painting with too broad a brush? Read this NBC News opinion piece blaming all of Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan and – by extension – the events in Charlottesville. 

I saw a lot of lecturing at evangelical Protestants – who are reminded nonstop that 81 percent of them polled as voting for Trump last year – that they are responsible for what happened this past weekend. Much of this came in the form of opinion pieces ranging from an essay on Fox News’ site by a white Southern Baptist seminary professor to an essay in the Washington Post’s Acts of Faith section – written by a black clergyman – telling white pastors to speak up.

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