Archbishop Charles Chaput

Chaput-Martin feud a case study in news media misrepresentation of Catholic teachings

Chaput-Martin feud a case study in news media misrepresentation of Catholic teachings

Who is made a cardinal — and who isn’t — can sometimes be loaded with intrigue. It’s why the Vatican (and much of the Catholic church) is covered more like a political institution (akin to the White House and Congress) and less like it’s part of a global religion. It is this dangerous tendency, largely on the part of the secular press, to reduce most theological positions to political ones that has fueled divisions within the Catholic church during the era of Pope Francis.

For everyday Catholics, the ties to the Vatican are religious, not political. Like Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem for Jews (and Muslims), Rome is a place of pilgrimage and prayer. Everyday Catholics don’t concern themselves with the backroom politics. The consistory of this past Saturday (where Pope Francis “created” 13 new cardinals) wasn’t a part of Mass or discussion among parishioners in my church the past few weeks. The attitude generally seems to be that these cardinals don’t really affect our lives.

Or do they?

They do. Those chosen to take part in the Amazon Synod taking place at the Vatican starting this week are a good example of this. These men not only elect the next pope, they also guide the flock in their particular metropolitan areas. They help set the agenda. They can influence local and national politics. In other words, they are a big deal. And most metropolitan newspapers, large and small, in this country cover them that way. This is big news, no matter how your define that.

It wasn’t lost on The New York Times, who was giddy in this news story about Pope Francis’ legacy that ran on the eve of the consistory. Add to that this fawning opinion piece posted to the website on the same day under the headline “Pope Francis Is Fearless.” The subhead, on the newspaper’s website, read like this: “His papacy has been a consistent rebuke to American culture-war Christianity in politics.”

This takes us to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and why who will replace him matters. It’s the best example of the fight currently going on between those on the doctrinal left and right.

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This week's podcast: What's better for Catholic leaders, silence or hanging your own lantern?

This week's podcast: What's better for Catholic leaders, silence or hanging your own lantern?

The body blows just keep coming.

That’s how many Catholics — on both left and right — have to feel right now, after the daily meteor shower of news about falling stars in their church. All of this was, logically enough, the backdrop to the very open-ended, wide-ranging discussions in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast” (click here to tune that in).

One minute, and it’s new revelations linked to the wide, wide world of ex-cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick. In the latest chapter of this drama, there were revelations at the Catholic News Agency and in the Washington Post that — forget all of his previous denials — Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl did know about the rumors swirling around McCarrick and his abusive relationships with boys and seminarians.

Want to guess which of these newsrooms dared to note that this fact was a key element of the infamous expose letters released by the Vatican’s former U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano? You got it. It was a branch of the alternative Catholic press (must-read Clemente Lisi post here) connecting those controversial dots — again.

Then, on the other doctrinal side of the fence, there were the revelations about Father C.J. McCloskey, a popular conservative apologist from Opus Dei. Here’s how Phil Lawler of opened a post entitled “A bad day’s lament.”

Yesterday was “one of those days” — a day that found me hating my work, wishing I had some other sort of job.

The first blow, and by far the worst, came with the news, released by the Washington PostMonday evening, that an old friend, Father C. J. McCloskey, had been disciplined for sexual misconduct involving a married woman, and that Opus Dei, of which I was once a member, had (not to put too fine a point on it) botched the handling of his case. Father McCloskey has done great things for the Catholic Church, drawing many converts to the faith and encouraging many cradle Catholics like myself to deepen their spiritual lives. The charges against him, however, reinforce my fear that every “celebrity priest” is vulnerable to special temptations, and just one misstep away from scandal. …

But long ago I resolved that I want to hear all the truth, good and bad. It will be a painful process, exposing all the rot within our Church. But it’s the only way to begin the necessary process of reform.

All of this left me thinking about a question that I hear — year after year, decade after decade — whenever I have private meetings with clergy and religious leaders.

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Who will protect sheep from shepherds? Inquirer and Globe team spotlights sins of many bishops

Who will protect sheep from shepherds? Inquirer and Globe team spotlights sins of many bishops

I’m not sure that we’re talking about a true sequel to the massive 2002 Boston Globe “Spotlight” series about sexual abuse of children and teens by Catholic priests.

Still, there’s no question that journalists at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Globe have — working together — produced a disturbing report documenting the efforts of many U.S. Catholic bishops to hide abusive priests or, at the very least, to avoid investigations of their own sins and crimes during these scandals.

The dramatic double-decker headline at the Inquirer says a lot, pointing readers to the key fact — that U.S. bishops keep stressing that only Rome’s powers that be can discipline bishops, archbishops and cardinals::

Failure at the top

America’s Catholic bishops vowed to remove abusive priests in 2002. In the years that followed, they failed to police themselves.

For the most part, this report avoids pinning simplistic political and doctrinal labels on Catholic shepherds who are, to varying degrees, involved in this story.

If you know any of the players mentioned in this report, you will recognize that it offers more evidence — as if it was needed — that this scandal is too big to be described in terms of “left” and “right.”.

I am sure that critics more qualified than me will find some holes and stereotypes. Experts will be able to connect the dots and see the networks that protected abusers or even produced them. Informed readers can do this, because the Globe-Inquirer team consistently names names. We will come back to one interesting exception to that rule.

Another point: It really would have helped if editors had acknowledged that there are valid theological, as well as legal, issues in this fight. Yes, there are bishops who have used centuries of theology about the role the episcopate plays in the church as a defense mechanism to hide their actions. However, this doesn’t mean that the theological issues are not real. Maybe call a theologian or historian — or several?

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Clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania: Media scramble to unearth bombshell report

Clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania: Media scramble to unearth bombshell report

In newspapers across Pennsylvania, many Sunday editorial pages were filled with angry protests against the Catholic Church and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The reason?

Everyone had been waiting for a huge grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses (Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton) across the state.

In this case, it's crucial to note that even the leaders of the various Catholic dioceses -- not to mention the victims -- wanted this 800-page report released. But then last Wednesday, the state supreme court ordered it sealed.

I’ll start with an excerpt from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, for which I freelanced briefly for in the early 1990s. They weren’t into religion reporting back then, but sexual abuse stories aren’t just about religion. They’re about the courts, about the police, about sex, money and power.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their attorneys were stunned last week at news that the report would not be made public. The grand jury investigation examined decades of allegations of abuse and cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses across the state, including Pittsburgh and Greensburg.

“They're hurt, and a lot of them will say to me, ‘Mark, this is what they have done to me from day one. When I finally was able to talk about it, they hired an investigator to silence me,' ” (State Rep. Mark) Rozzi said of other victims.

Rozzi was raped at the age of 13 by a priest.

(Altoona lawyer Richard) Serbin, who identified 106 suspected predator priests for the Attorney General's investigators, set the stage for many of the state's early laws involving child sexual abuse when he filed suit against the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese 31 years ago. The suit established Serbin as a victims' advocate. He said he went on to represent nearly 300 victims of clergy sexual abuse over the next 30 years.

If anyone doesn’t believe people are angry about this, try looking at all the comments (34 at present, which is a lot for this blog) underneath my Cardinal Theodore McCarrick post from last Thursday. The anger out there is as strong as it ever was.

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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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Strategic SBC silence: Thinking about Donald Trump, 'The Benedict Option' and more

Strategic SBC silence: Thinking about Donald Trump, 'The Benedict Option' and more

Hello fellow religion writers.

Hello fellow religion-news junkies.

Have you spent a good part of this past week listening to the loud and potentially strategic silence in corners of cyberspace that normally buzz with Southern Baptist Convention news and commentary? Have you been paying close attention to see when a certain feed on Twitter will return to action?

Did you notice, however, the interesting thoughts and comments on a certain post by Dwight McKissic at the SBC Voices website? That would be the one with this headline:

Biographical Reflections and Ruminations on the SBC and Responses to the Graham-Moore Controversy

We are, of course, talking about the uncertainty that remains after the much-discussed meeting between the Rev. Russell Moore, the SBC's most prominent voice in Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Frank Page, leader of the convention's executive committee ("About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully' "). The two men released a "peace pipe" statement afterwards and then the silence descended over SBC land.

All of this provided the hook for this past week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in). The goal in this conversation, however, was to look at the wider themes seen in this conflict, the political and generational conflicts that are seen in many religious bodies right now, not just in America's largest Protestant flock.

With that in mind, read this passage this passage in that McKissic post, which addresses the reality that much of the SBC fighting about Moore and his work is, in reality, another sign of conflicts in American evangelicalism linked to -- and I say this carefully -- faith in Donald Trump and in his ability to keep promises. The opening reference to "Biblical Inerrancy" refers to the doctrinal fight at the heart of the great SBC civil war that began in the late 1970s.

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Crux warning: That automatic good pope, bad president, framework can skew the news

Crux warning: That automatic good pope, bad president, framework can skew the news

Into the GetReligion guilt file we go once again, as I continue to dig out from a recent one-two punch of travel and sickness that, truth be told, still has me down quite a bit.

However, I called "dibs" some time ago on a very interesting Crux think piece by Vatican correspondent Ines San Martin that I really think GetReligion readers will want to see.

It's about Pope Francis, of course. And it's about President Donald Trump, of course. Obviously, these two men have some past history. It's also safe to say that, at this point, it's hard to get a fix on what either of these men stand for without taking into account the way the mainstream press has framed almost everything that they say or do.

In the case of Pope Francis, this has led to a very important question that pro-Catechism Catholics have been asking pretty much since the start of this papacy. The blunt way to state it: Is Pope Francis the "reform" pope that The New York Times and other elite media seem to think that he is? 

In this context, of course, "reform" means going soft on lots of icky ancient Catholic doctrines linked to morality and, especially, sex. It also means that Francis is supposed to be carrying out a consistent agenda of punishing, or at the very least throwing cold water, on doctrinal conservatives in the church. It also means that his emphasis on the care of the poor and weak is "liberal" or "progressive," as opposed to being an expression of basic Christian orthodoxy.

But back to the press. As I have stated before, concerning the conservative Catholics debates about Pope Francis and the press:

There may be a few -- repeat few -- who (1) see him as a secretly liberal Machiavelli who is steering the Catholic boat toward icebergs in order to cause massive doctrinal changes. There are others who think (2) he is fine, when you read him in context, and that the press is to blame for any confusion that exists. There are others who (3) think he means well, but that he is naive when it comes to how his off-the-cuff papacy will be presented in the news media. I am sure there are other options on the right that I missed.

Now, if you overlap these Francis issues with the "meltdown" mindset that continues to frame much of the media coverage of Trump, you have an interesting dynamic.

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Journalists: Religious lessons you (could have) learned from Trump win can help explain Putin

Journalists: Religious lessons you (could have) learned from Trump win can help explain Putin

Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia.

Everywhere you look in the news right now, journalists are trying to get a handle on Vladimir Putin and Russia. This post is about Russia -- consider it a sequel to the earlier "Dear editors at The New York Times: Vladimir Putin is a Russian, but Putin is not Russia" -- but that is not where I want to start. Please be patient, because I want to start with an American parable.

Surely, some journalists have learned by now that our recent presidential race was more complex than Hillary Rodham Clinton vs. Citizen Donald Trump. There were, fore example, Democrats who wanted to vote for Clinton. However, there were others -- #feelthebern -- who did so reluctantly, but felt they had to vote against Trump.

On the Trump side, there were people who sincerely backed his campaign (including a large number, perhaps even a majority, of white evangelicals). Then there were millions of people (including blue-collar Democrats) who didn't like Trump at all, but supported some elements of his alleged platform, so they voted for Trump. Then there others who actively opposed Trump, but felt they had to vote for him -- think U.S. Supreme Court -- to oppose Clinton. It will be interesting to learn how many people (like me) voted for an alternative candidate.

What does this have to do with Putin? Well, lots of elite journalists (hello, New York Times) have been trying to figure out why so many American conservatives are fond of Putin or think it's important to improve U.S. relations with Putin and Russia. In Times speak, anyone who sees anything positive in Putin's actions and worldview is automatically an "extremist." Thus that recent headline: "Extremists Turn to a Leader to Protect Western Values: Vladimir Putin."

Everyone pretty much goes into that "extremist," pro-Putin bag, including the alt-right, lots of Trump voters, racists, extreme nationalists everywhere, anti-Semites and, ultimately, the Russian Orthodox Church. Was Brexit in there too?

But think of that Trump parable. The problem is that there are lots of people who either loathe or totally distrust Putin (they see him for what he is), but they do not reject everything that he stands for in his warped version of a pro-Russian agenda. Thus, they are sort of "voting" for Putin, or they want America to deal with him more realistically, because the alternative, to be blunt, is the postmodern worldview of the European elites.

The religion angle? The press needs to grasp that, often, Orthodox leaders are not backing Putin when they support elements of Putin's policies that just happen to run parallel with centuries of Orthodox teachings. Oh, and they would really like to prevent the massacre of millions of Christians in Syria and what remains of the church in the Middle East.

This brings me to a recent, and typical, Associated Press report related to all of this. Here is the overture, care of Crux

MOSCOW, Russia -- The Russian Orthodox Church is expanding its influence in what was once an officially godless state -- and President Vladimir Putin appears eager to harness that resurgent power of faith to promote his own agenda.

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Washington Post feature sticks Chaput inside an 'omniscient anonymous' voice box

Washington Post feature sticks Chaput inside an 'omniscient anonymous' voice box

When it comes to biblical images of good and evil, you start off with God, as opposed to Satan, and then you have Christ, as opposed to the mysterious end-times tyrant called the Antichrist.

Now with that in mind, it's safe to say that in current news speak, Pope Francis is pretty much the top of the heap when it comes to good-guy status. It really doesn't matter that the edited Francis who appears in most mainstream news coverage ("Who am I to judge?") is not quite the same pope who appears in the full texts of his homilies and writings ("It is not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life").

Thus, it's safe to say that calling a Catholic archbishop the anti-Francis is not a compliment.

Apparently, there are Catholics who have pinned that label on Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and they have shared their views with The Washington Post. Readers do not know who these Catholics (and probably some journalists) are, however, because that would require Post editors to ask some of their reporters to attribute crucial information to named sources. That would be old-school journalism. That would be bad, or so it seems.

The new Post profile of Chaput contains some interesting information, including some drawn from pieces of an email interview with the archbishop. It is also positive that Post editors posted the email-interview text online. I wonder if this was a condition attached to the interview, or whether editors realized that it would be awkward if Chaput posted the text, thus allowing readers to see what he actually said. Either way, this was a constructive act.

(At this point I will stress, as I always do, that I met Chaput decades ago when he was a young Capuchin-Franciscan priest and campus minister in urban Denver and I was a newcomer on the local religion beat. We have been talking about issues of faith, mass media and popular culture ever since.)

Let's return to those anonymous Catholic voices. The Post piece opens with an anecdote about Chaput's skill at blunt, quotable remarks, some of which have been known to anger those on the other side of hot-button issues in public life. Then it launches into a classic example of the "omniscient anonymous voice" narrative that has, in recent months, dominated much of this newspaper's coverage of moral, cultural and religious issues.

This long summary passage -- the story's thesis -- frames the contents of the entire piece. Try to find some clearly identified sources.

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