Australia

This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

Every semester, in my Journalism Foundations seminar at The King’s College in New York City, I dedicate a night to the role that Stephen Colbert’s Catholic faith has played in his life and career.

It’s important, of course, to spend some time looking at the humorist’s break-out show — The Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. This show was, of course, a satire focusing on the flamethrower commentary of Bill O’Reilly for Fox News work.

With Colbert, every thing on the show was upside-down and inside-out, with his blowhard conservative character making lots of liberal political points by offering over-the-top takes on some — repeat “some” — conservative stances. I argued that to understand what Colbert was doing, you had to understand O’Reilly and then turn that inside out.

Thus, I asked: What kind of conservative is, or was, O’Reilly? Students always say things like, a “right-wing one?” A “stupid one”? An “ultra-conservative one”? I’ve never had a student give the accurate answer — a Libertarian conservative.

I realize that there have been lively debates about the compatibility of Libertarianism and Catholicism. However, it’s safe to say that most Catholics reject a blend of liberal, or radically individualistic, social policies and conservative economics. Turn that inside out and you have what? Conservative morality and progressive economics?

This brings me to the massive New York Times Magazine deep-dive into the life and career of Rupert Murdoch. Here’s the humble headline on this long, long piece (150 interviews, readers are told) by Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg: “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World.”

So the question: What kind of conservative is Murdoch? Is it possible that there is some kind of moral or even religious ghost in this story?

It opens with a rather apocalyptic scene in January, 2018. The 86-year-old press baron — on holiday with his fourth wife, Jerry Hall — has collapsed on the floor of his cabin on a yacht owned by one of his sons. Is this the end? The big question, of course, is, “Who will run the empire after the lord and master is gone?”

So here’s what’s at stake:

Few private citizens have ever been more central to the state of world affairs than the man lying in that hospital bed, awaiting his children’s arrival.

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Accused Christchurch shooter: Young man defined by life on the computer and Medieval 'myths'

Accused Christchurch shooter: Young man defined by life on the computer and Medieval 'myths'

It’s the kind of news story that has turned into a cliche, in the age of mass shootings. Yes, we are talking about Brenton Harrison Tarrant and the massacres in New Zealand.

In the days after the hellish images on the Internet and then television, people close to the accused shooter — it’s almost always a young man — are interviewed and express shock. They usually talk about a boy who grew up to be a somewhat quiet, loner figure in their lives. Yes, the family had its challenges, but everything seemed kind of normal.

The question, of course, is what “normal” means, these days. In particular, is it safe to say that a key part of the new-male “normal” is best defined in terms of private activities online — hour after hour, day after day — behind a closed door? If that is the case, then no one really knows anything about these gunners until authorities piece together the contents of their secret digital lives.

This would be a good time to remind GetReligion readers of that set of lifestyle questions I asked future ministers to ponder back in the early 1990s, when I was teaching at Denver Seminary. Seeking a kind of sociological definition of “discipleship,” I urged them to ask three questions about the lives of the people in their pews and the people they hoped to reach in the community. The questions: How do they spend their time? How do they spend their money? How do they make their decisions?

As it turns out, these are good questions for reporters to ask when seeking the contents of the hearts, minds and souls of newsmakers. (That second question could be stated like this: Follow the money.)

With that in mind, consider two passages in a short — but very interesting — Washington Post sidebar that ran with this headline: “In Brenton Harrison Tarrant’s Australian hometown, his relatives remember violent video games, trouble with women.” Like I said, we’re talking about the new “normal.” Here is the overture:

GRAFTON, Australia — On the road into this small city, a sign is evidence of a community in shock: “He does not represent us,” it says, referring to the alleged killer few here will even name.

But nowhere was the shock more evident than among the relatives of 28-year-old Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who has been accused of a hate-fueled massacre that left 50 people dead in two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday.

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Cardinal Pell gets sentenced, but reporters leave out some inconvenient facts -- again

Cardinal Pell gets sentenced, but reporters leave out some inconvenient facts -- again

The last shoe dropped in the Cardinal Pell case yesterday with Australia’s highest prelate getting a six-year prison sentence. Reading the New York Times piece on this, one realizes that important parts of this story haven’t been told. Again.

We hear of allegations of misconduct 20 years ago involving children in a scenario that asks you to believe that a cardinal would have taken the time to molest two boys right after a busy church service in a sacristy where anyone could have walked in at any moment. No one caught him in the act. He was wearing four layers of complex, heavy vestments that usually require the assistance of another person to remove. There is one living witness/victim. It’s a classic he said, he said.

So what did the jury hear that caused them to believe the victim?

We have not seen the accuser’s evidence and we have no access to a transcript or videotape of his testimony. Something the accuser said was awfully compelling to cause them to throw the book at Pell. It’s obvious the journalists don’t know, either. From the Times:

MELBOURNE, Australia — George Pell, an Australian cardinal who was the Vatican’s chief financial officer and an adviser to Pope Francis, was sentenced to six years in prison on Wednesday, with no chance for parole for three years and eight months, for molesting two boys after Sunday Mass in 1996.

The cardinal was convicted on five counts in December, making him the most senior Catholic official — and the first bishop — to be found guilty in a criminal court for sexually abusing minors, according to BishopAccountability.org, which tracks cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

“I would characterize these breaches and abuses as grave,” the chief judge in the case, Peter Kidd said during the sentencing. Speaking directly to Cardinal Pell, he added: “You had time to reflect on your behavior as you offended, yet you refused to desist.”

The sentence, which by law could be up to 50 years, was closely watched around the world.

I read more than once in the comments section that accusations against Pell date back several decades and that “recovered memories” may be involved.

Really? And why are they all coming out now? With former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, his doom was set in motion two years ago when the Archdiocese of New York established a “Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program” as a new outreach to sexual abuse survivors. To the shock of the two people administering the program, a very big fish turned up in their net.

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Is Cardinal Pell a perpetrator or victim? Aussie media keep wavering between the two

Is Cardinal Pell a perpetrator or victim? Aussie media keep wavering between the two

Ever since Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was convicted of child abuse, the journalism folks Down Under have been split on if he’s actually guilty or whether he’s the target of a vicious anti-Catholic campaign.

Reaction to his conviction and jailing (the sentencing isn’t until March 13), has rippled across the Pacific, prompting Ethics and Public Policy scholar George Weigel (writing at First Things) to call the Pell affair “our Dreyfus case.”

(Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was a French Jew and a military man who was wrongly pilloried and imprisoned in 1894 on charges of selling secrets to the Germans. He was declared innocent in 1906, but the matter was considered as barbaric anti-Semitism on the part of the French. The conflict tore at the heart of French society.)

I’ll get back to Weigel in a moment but first I want to quote from a piece BBC recently ran on all this.

Cardinal George Pell is awaiting sentencing for sexually abusing two boys in 1996. The verdict, which he is appealing against, has stunned and divided Australia in the past week.

It has sparked strong reactions from the cardinal's most prominent supporters, some of whom have cast doubt on his conviction in a wider attack on Australia's legal system.

The largely conservative backlash features some of Australia's most prominent media figures, a university vice-chancellor and a leading Jesuit academic, among others.

Former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott also continue to maintain their public support for the ex-Vatican treasurer.

The reporter then reports on her visit to St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Sydney where the parishioners predictably claimed that Pell is innocent. The reporter then interviews another journalist who has an obvious vested interest in Pell (notice the book title) being guilty.

Such stances have caused profound hurt to survivors, says ABC journalist Louise Milligan, author of the book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell.

"I've been contacted by many, many Australian Catholics who are devastated by the way the Church is handling this issue," Milligan told the BBC.

"They are also greatly upset that political leaders continue to side with a convicted paedophile — and that is what Pell is, a convicted paedophile — over his vulnerable victim and the grieving family of his other victim." (One victim died of a drug overdose in 2014.)

The article then swings back to Pell’s defense.

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Cardinal Pell story is an extremely tangled web, but readers need alternative media to know that

Cardinal Pell story is an extremely tangled web, but readers need alternative media to know that

I hadn’t been following the child abuse charges against Australian Cardinal Pell all that much because I assumed, based on the evidence, that they were somewhat plimsy and would never stick.

But they did — in a series of trials that are as odd as they come. At the heart of the proceedings there was a single witness and what appeared to be “recovered memories” of abuse.

The end result? A cardinal is now in jail and a bunch of journalists have been handed the Aussie equivalent of contempt-of-court charges.

This is a complex story that I’ll do my best to break down, starting with what CruxNow ran in December:

NEW YORK — In a decision that will undoubtedly create shockwaves around the globe, Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Church official to stand trial for sexual abuse, was found guilty on Tuesday by a Melbourne court.

In one of the most closely watched trials in modern Catholic Church history, after nearly four full days of deliberations, a jury rendered unanimous guilty verdicts on five charges related to the abuse of two choirboys in 1996.

The trial, which began on November 7, has been subject to a media blackout at the request of the prosecution, and follows a first trial in September ended after a jury failed to reach consensus.

Pell, who is 77 years old, is currently on a leave of absence from his post as the Vatican’s Secretary for the Economy.

In June 2017, Pell was charged by Australian police with “historical sexual assault offences,” forcing him to leave Rome and return home vowing to “clear his name.”

Technically, CruxNow wasn’t supposed to run that story because of this media blackout, aka a suppression order, that media around the world were supposed to follow. Of course, lots of news sources outside of Australia’s borders refused to go along.

The charges concern a claim that Pell sexually abused two male altar boys about 20 years ago when he was archbishop of Melbourne and that he did so on several occasions following Sunday Mass.

His lawyers have said that Pell was constantly surrounded by other clergy after Mass and there’s not a chance he could have gotten alone with some altar boys. Also, the sexual acts he’s accused of performing are impossible considering the voluminous, complex layers of liturgical vestments he would have been wearing — vestments that require the help of a second cleric to put on and remove.

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Top Aussie wedding magazine forced out of business for not featuring gay couples

Top Aussie wedding magazine forced out of business for not featuring gay couples

You’ve heard of the fire chief in Atlanta who got fired because he wrote a book containing biblical references critical of homosexuality. And the couple in Oregon who refused to bake a wedding cake for two lesbians. And the Barronelle Stutzman case in Washington state, pitting religious liberty against floral arrangements for a gay wedding.

From Down Under, there’s the Australian version of all this, sort of. A major wedding magazine is closing because it won’t feature gay unions.

Now, the owners of the magazine said nothing to bring this on. But people got suspicious because the magazine wasn’t trotting out the requisite photo shoot of a happy gay couple. Then the advertisers revolted and that was that.

I heard about the magazine in a brief Washington Post piece:

An Australian bridal magazine is shutting down after standing by a controversial decision not to feature same-sex couples.

The founders of White magazine said in a statement Saturday that they have received “a flood of judgment” since making their decision during the same-sex marriage debate and legalization in 2017.

“Instead of allowing us the space to work through our thoughts and feelings, or being willing to engage in brave conversations to really hear each other’s stories, some have just blindly demanded that we pick a side. We’re not about sides, we’re about love, patience and kindness,” Luke and Carla Burrell wrote.

The couple said that magazine staffers, advertisers and even couples who had been featured in the magazine were suddenly “the subject of online abuse despite their individual beliefs.”

“The result has been that a number of advertisers withdrew their sponsorship out of fear of being judged, or in protest. We have had to recognise the reality that White Magazine is no longer economically viable,” their statement read.

We learn the owners are Christians but little else is revealed. The magazine was started 12 years ago and was doing well until the ground shifted under its feet when same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia a year ago.

I found some links in an Anglican publication and a story in the Sidney Morning Herald that shed some light. It was one of the magazine’s own photographers who blew the whistle.

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Not every Catholic story today is bad news. Here are two positive ones not to be overlooked

Not every Catholic story today is bad news. Here are two positive ones not to be overlooked

The Roman Catholic Church has taken it on the chin lately in nations across the globe. Some of its been richly deserved, as in Australia, Chile, Honduras and the United States, where high-level priestly sex-scandals, and cover-ups, have generated a flood of sadly similar stories.

Yesterday’s post by my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin is a great place to catch up with the latest surrounding ex-Washington archbishop, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the latest high-level American Catholic leader (or former leader) to be outed as a sexual predator. Julia also listed some steps that journalists can take to uncover more of this sordid tale.

Editors, and media consumers, love a juicy sex scandal regardless of who the culprit may be, so I’m sure some reporters -- my bets are on New York Times and Washington Post religion-desk staffers -- are doing just that.

Even the late Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, has prompted some bad press in India. It's not because of a sex scandal but the story is equally bad -- a sister and a staffer secretly selling babies born to women housed at one of the order’s shelters.

It all seems so horrific and terribly bad for the church, from the parish level up to the Vatican, that one wonders whether the church has truly poisoned its well. Where will this end? 

But do not despair, Catholic believers. You may think this an ironic turn on my part, but I’m actually here to praise the church, not bury it, so to speak — and if you’ll allow me to invert the Bard of Avon.

That’s because some of the stories critical of the church are government issue, and they’re of an entirely different sort. The church may be getting slammed in these stories, too. But it's not because of self-generated scandal bubbling up from within; it's for trying to do right.

I’m thinking of the Philippines and Nicaragua in particular. In both nations, the church is locked in fierce opposition to despotic rulers that are not shy about jailing or even physically eliminating their opponents. So it's dangerous for church leaders to be doing what they are.

I’ll say more on the situations in both those nations in a bit.

But first, what’s the journalistic lesson here?

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Fairness in news: Is Australian church message board row 'sign' of things to come?

Fairness in news: Is Australian church message board row 'sign' of things to come?

"Advance Australia Fair," the national anthem of our friends Down Under, refers to the goodness of the land (click here for video).

But since the larger meaning of "fair" means, well, fair, perhaps it's time to question whether or not Australia, should it advance towards state recognition of same-sex marriage, will remain a "fair" land where all opinions are tolerated. If you look at some of the news coverage of a recent story, this question has implications for journalism ethics.

In mid-September, a church in the suburbs of Brisbane drew rhetorical fire -- and threats of literal burning -- over a message board reading "God Designed Marriage Between A Man and A Woman."

Britain's DailyMail.com picks up the story from there:

An evangelical Christian church has been threatened with a petrol fire for displaying a billboard message which said God created marriage between a man and a woman.
The Bellbowrie Community Church in Brisbane's leafy western suburbs put up a billboard in early September outlining Biblical teachings on matrimony. ...Senior pastor John Gill said the church, which has 150 parishioners, received a vile Facebook threat over that billboard.
'On Facebook, a lot of the stuff has been quite vicious at times,' he told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday. 'I mean quite physically threatening. That's been scary for some in the church.
'One of the comments, for example, was a suggestion that people bring petrol down and set the church on fire.'

But it's Australia's Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne, that raises some questions in reporting on this. From the headline, "Same sex [sic] marriage supporters critical of Brisbane church billboard," we sense which side the News Corp. outlet is on.

Read this rather lengthy, but important, excerpt to see what I mean. The church's message sign was:

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This week's sort-of podcast: Catching up with a GetReligion broadcast Down Under

This week's sort-of podcast: Catching up with a GetReligion broadcast Down Under

This is about the time of the week when I ask GetReligion readers to switch mediums for a few minutes and tune in our latest Crossroads podcast (also available through iTunes).

However, there won't be a GetReligion podcast this week because Todd Wilken and our friends at Lutheran Public Radio are on the road. They over in German doing work linked to some anniversary in the life of that Martin Luther fellow. It sounds like a pretty big deal (although I haven't heard much about it at my Eastern Orthodox parish).

So, with this gap in the podcast schedule, allow me to flash back to a mid-summer interview that I did with the "Open House" program that is based in Sydney, Australia. I have been meaning to post this for some time, but it took a while for this material to make it to that organization's website.

However, click here to tune that in. The intro material posted by host Stephen O'Doherty looks like this:

Does the media give us an objective view on all issues? Is objectivity, once the hallmark of respected journalism, giving way to a zeitgeist or cultural norm in which moral issues are deemed to be settled and faith-based perspectives either ignored or ridiculed?
US Journalism Professor Terry Mattingly is deeply concerned that American media has reached a point where people turn only to news sources that confirm their own bias. He urges Christians and other faiths to speak up for conservative social and moral views.

From my perspective, that final sentence is just a bit off. The main thing I did was urge listeners to retain a bit of idealism and continue to interact with local, regional and even national media professionals -- praising the good and criticizing the bad.

But the heart of the interview focused on what happens to public discourse when news consumers focus 99.9 percent of their media lives on advocacy outlets that only tell them what they want to hear.

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