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Jean Vanier coverage: Vague on his Catholic beliefs about the humanity of the disabled

Jean Vanier coverage: Vague on his Catholic beliefs about the humanity of the disabled

With all the online arguments last week about the faith of Rachel Held Evans, there passed from our midst someone who many people around the world truly believe will be hailed as a Catholic saint.

I am referring to Jean Vanier, the French-Canadian philosopher and humanist who believed the disabled should be treated like human beings and that they deserve one-on-one care. He died on May 7 at the age of 90. As BBC’s Martin Bashir said, he engaged in the “upside-down economics of Christianity; that the first shall be last.”

Vanier had a profound effect on people of my generation, a number of whom spent a year at his community in Trosly-Breuil, France, much like others served a stint with Mother Teresa in Calcutta in the 1970s and 1980s. It was his Catholic faith that led him to forsake marriage and children to devote himself to living with the handicapped his whole life.

Most of the mainstream media obits mentioned his Catholicity only in passing. How is that possible?

The CBC video with this post and a piece from The Guardian are cases in point.

In August 1964, having giving up his job teaching philosophy at the University of Toronto, he bought a small, rundown house without plumbing or electricity in the village of Trosly-Breuil, north of Paris, and invited two men with learning disabilities – Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux – to share it with him. Both had been living in an asylum and were without family.

The initiative was prompted by Vanier’s visits to the long-stay hospitals that housed many people with learning disabilities at the time. “Huge concrete walls, 80 men living in dormitories and no work. I was struck by the screams and atmosphere of sadness,” he said.

Believing the men’s overwhelming need was for friendship he thought the small house could provide the support of domestic life, with the three of them shopping, cooking and washing up together.

Any expansion was far from his thoughts: “I had no idea of starting a movement or establishing communities outside Trosly, even less outside France. At one moment I even said we should stay the size of one carload – so if no one came to help me I could at least continue to travel by bringing everyone in the car.”

The New York Times was a bit better:

Today L’Arche, rooted in the Roman Catholic Church, has 154 communities in 38 countries; Faith and Light has 1,500 communities in 83 countries. Through both organizations, people with and without intellectual disabilities live together in a community where they can feel they belong. His work served as a model for several other organizations.

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What do we know? Drum chants 3.0 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (updated)

What do we know? Drum chants 3.0 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (updated)

So what else happened after the 2019 March for Life?

At this point, do new developments matter? What are the odds of journalists managing to cover them in a calm, professional manner?

However, I think it’s crucial to keep paying attention and asking practical journalism questions.

So with that in mind, let’s turn to the Catholic News Agency — yes, a conservative Catholic news outlet — report about a tense confrontation at the faith’s most symbolic site in Washington, D.C. Here’s the overture:

While chanting and playing ceremonial drums, a group of Native American rights activists reportedly led by Nathan Phillips attempted Jan. 19 to enter Washington, D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during a Saturday evening Mass.

The group of 20 demonstrators was stopped by shrine security as it tried to enter the church during its 5:15 pm Vigil Mass, according to a shrine security guard on duty during the Mass.

“It was really upsetting,” the guard told CNA.

“There were about twenty people trying to get in, we had to lock the doors and everything.”

The key phrase, of course, is this one — “reportedly led by Nathan Phillips.”

In light of the ongoing journalism train wreck surrounding the confrontation between Phillips and students from Covington (Ken.) Catholic High School, it’s totally valid to ask questions about sourcing on volatile information such as this.

What’s going on? If you read carefully, it appears that the “reportedly” reference is to draw a distinction between information that is clearly shown on videotape and information drawn from eyewitnesses.

Normally, journalists place a high degree of trust in eyewitness accounts — especially the testimony of participants in an event. However, these are not normal times.

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Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

I’ve been reporting for some time now on the legal woes that Trinity Western University has been having with its bid to be the first Christian law school in Canada. Like many other Christian colleges, it has a doctrinal covenant students must sign that includes a promise to abstain from sex outside of traditional marriage.

LGBTQ rights folks decided that this doctrinal stand was rampant discrimination and were successful at dislodging TWU’s bid, even as the battle went to the country’s highest court.

Then Trinity moved the chairs around a bit this past week.  

The best-written article on this change was from the National Post with a head reading: “Still seeking law school, Trinity Western drops sexual ‘covenant’ for students." It ran along with a sympathetic YouTube video about TWU, which appears with this blog post.

A Christian university in British Columbia that lost a Supreme Court battle to create an evangelical law school has dropped its controversial requirement for all students to sign a contract that forbids any sex outside heterosexual marriage.

Many observers, including some who intervened in the court case, saw this as a preliminary step toward a renewed push for an accredited law school. Trinity Western University, in Langley outside Vancouver, first announced plans to offer legal degrees in 2012, only to find itself locked in litigation with law societies in Ontario and B.C., which refused to accredit it.

The school’s new motion, passed last week but only released Tuesday, reads: “In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”

The decision removes the primary problem considered by the Supreme Court in its June decision, which was the mandatory nature of the “Community Covenant.” 

Further down, you get the school’s denial that the change was done with ulterior motives.


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Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed

Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed

Just after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Colorado baker was discriminated against for his Christian beliefs that forbade him to make special same-sex-themed wedding cakes, the Canadian high court has have come out with a ruling that elevates gay rights over religious rights.

The Vancouver Sun, located not too many miles west of the Trinity Western University campus, was one of a number of Canadian outlets covering the ruling. Curiously, they used a Canadian Press wire service story instead of assigning one of its own reporters to it.  

The Sun did provide a local react story by a reporter stationed on Trinity’s campus but it seems a bit odd to run wires for the main story when the subject is in your own back yard. Anyway, here was the top of this story (as we look for a winner in the most-biased lede competition):

Societies governing the legal profession have the right to deny accreditation to a proposed law school at a Christian university in B.C., the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a pair of keenly anticipated decisions Friday, the high court said law societies in Ontario and British Columbia were entitled to ensure equal access to the bar, support diversity and prevent harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.

The cases pitted two significant societal values -- freedom of religion and promotion of equality -- against one another.

Trinity Western University, a private post-secondary institution in Langley, was founded on evangelical Christian principles and requires students to adhere to a covenant allowing sexual intimacy only between a married man and woman.

Well, at least that final paragraph accurately described the school's doctrinal covenant -- sort of. Notice that it's "evangelical" to teach doctrines common in all traditional Christian churches. 

The Toronto Globe and Mail had a more gracefully written intro:

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New York Times misses the nuances on Canadian battle over abortion, religious freedom

New York Times misses the nuances on Canadian battle over abortion, religious freedom

Justin Trudeau certainly is an engaging politician but he’s seems pretty tone-deaf to how religious Canadians -- and I don't mean just the conservative ones -- feel.

Yes, he is Catholic, although many Catholic officials on both sides of the border believe his policies are solidly against the church's doctrines. So his term in office has been an interesting ride considering his stance on abortion. 

The latest explosion is about who funds student workers in religious summer camps. Even though not directly of Trudeau's making, this issue got the attention of The New York Times recently in this piece

MONTREAL -- A Canadian government requirement that groups seeking federal grants for student jobs must support abortion rights is inflaming a cultural battle and angering religious groups, opposition politicians and even American conservatives.
Under new guidelines announced in December, groups applying for a federal grant program, which provides roughly $113 million in annual funding for about 70,000 student jobs, must check a box on an electronic form acknowledging that they respect “individual human rights in Canada.”
Those rights encompass women’s reproductive rights, including “the right to access safe and legal abortions.”
In what some critics are calling an “ideological purity test,” the application guidelines, for the Canada Summer Jobs program, have not only offended leading conservatives in Canada, but have also led to anger spilling across the border to religious groups and right-wing ideologues in the United States.

It’s a bit foggy throughout the piece as to which religious groups are angry about the policy --  although that answer is easily found if you check Canadian media.

I’ll go there in a minute. Back to the Times: It only mentions one American “right wing ideologue” and no American religious groups.

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Why did Vancouver media pass on covering Franklin Graham's controversial crusade?

Why did Vancouver media pass on covering Franklin Graham's controversial crusade?

Maybe most of you in the lower 48 weren’t following this, but the Rev. Franklin Graham just survived the worst publicity ever for one of his crusades. In this case, it was his March 3-5 “Festival of Hope” in Vancouver, B.C., which I wrote about earlier.

When even Christianity Today goes after Graham, you know the outlook is bad.

As for the secular media, it was like Attila the Hun was showing up, live and in person. Some 327 local churches had combined to host the Graham crusade but you’d never guess that from the coverage he got.

Here's a sample of what was airing the weeks before, courtesy of CTV Vancouver

A famous American evangelist known to denigrate gay people and the Islamic faith is headlining the Greater Vancouver Festival of Hope, triggering backlash from some in the religious community.

Talk about a loaded lead sentence.

The three-day festival, which is taking place at Rogers Arena next month, was put together in partnership with local churches and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Graham's son, Franklin Graham, is scheduled to appear every night.
That's not sitting well with some local faithful, who are speaking out against the younger Graham over his more contentious views.
"Although this event is supported by many local churches in the area, there are many others in the Christian community who are uneasy with having Franklin Graham speak in Vancouver, in light of his outspoken bigotry," reads a petition organized against the event.
The creators of the petition, which has been signed about 500 times, said their goal is to "stand in solidarity with marginalized and minority groups" that Graham has attacked.

The Christianity Today story was only a little less withering.

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Fighting radicalism: Los Angeles Times offers glossy look at new Muslim efforts in Sweden

Fighting radicalism: Los Angeles Times offers glossy look at new Muslim efforts in Sweden

It's one thing to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. It's another thing to ignore or gloss over what could very well be darkness. The Los Angeles Times comes close to the latter in its feature on Muslim efforts at peace in Malmo, Sweden.

The article begins with the three-year-old Islam Academy, which attempts to make young students not only better Muslims, but better Swedes.

In other words, this is a madrasa with a difference:

Like other madrasas, as Muslim religious schools are known, the academy teaches the Koran, traditional Sunni Islamic spirituality, sharia law and Arabic.
Unlike many, it also teaches secular topics. Among them: the Swedish language, nature and sports activities, and social responsibility. The last of these includes interreligious dialogue, especially with the Jewish community.
"All our education programs have the effect of immunizing our youth against radicalization," said Barakat, a 34-year-old imam, who was sitting in his office above the academy's prayer hall dressed in a pale, ankle-length robe and skullcap.

The story, which was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, continues with a briefing on Malmo, the point of entry for most immigrants to Sweden. "About 20% of Malmo's 300,000 people are Muslim, making it one of the most Muslim cities in Western Europe," the Times says.

But the Rosengard district, where many of the Muslims finally settle, is the focus of this story. Rosengard was the site of riots in 2008 and 2011. Many outsiders regarded the area as a "no-go zone," hazardous for non-Muslims.

Clearly, the goal of this Los Angeles Times piece is to change that image:

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Media struggle to grasp what friends (including females) meant to St. John Paul II

Media struggle to grasp what friends (including females) meant to St. John Paul II

If you know much about the young Polish actor and philosopher Karol Wojtyla, then you know that his path to the Catholic priesthood was quite unusual, surrounded as we was by the horrors of the Nazi occupation and then the chains of a puppet regime marching to a Soviet drummer.

In his massive authorized biography of the St. Pope John Paul II, "Witness to Hope," George Weigel argued that a key to understanding Wojtyla is to grasp the degree to which his faith and spiritual disciplines were shaped by the lives of strong laypeople and his many friends -- male and female -- who surrounded him in academia, the underground theater and similar settings.

Once he became a priest, he spent years as a campus minister working with young adults during his graduate studies and beyond.

In other words, if you want to picture the life and times of the future Pope John Paul II (and you want to understand the material covered in this week's "Crossroads" podcast) then it's wrong to picture him in some kind of pre-seminary ecclesiastical assembly line, surrounded by other young men headed to holy orders and, yes, celibacy.

Instead, picture him trying to explain his priestly vocation to his girlfriend. Picture him carrying a canoe on a camping trip, explaining Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality to college students of both genders (creating friendships that in many cases lasted his whole life) and holding Mass as far as possible from Communist police. Check out this sprawling made-for-TV bio-pic starring John Voight and Cary Elwes.

In other words, the more you know about Karol Wojtyla, then the less likely you are to be stunned by the wink-wink BBC reports about his years of "secret letters" to a female philosopher friend.

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