Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Down memory lane: A brief history of Catholic leaks that made news

Down memory lane: A brief history of Catholic leaks that made news

This is another of those religion beat nostalgia Memos, inspired by a pretty sensational March 22 scoop  in America magazine from its Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell. He reported the precise number of votes for all 22 candidates on the first ballot when the College of Cardinals elected Pope Francis in 2013.  

The cardinals’ first round usually scatters votes across assorted friends and favorite sons, but a telltale pattern appeared immediately. The Italian favorite, Angelo Scola, got only 30 votes, with the eventual winner, Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, close behind at 26 and Canadian Marc Ouellet at 22. In a major surprise, Boston’s Sean O’Malley was fourth with 10 votes, and New York’s Timothy Dolan got two. Clearly, the electors would forsake not just Italy but the Old World entirely and choose the Western Hemisphere’s first pontiff .

As so often occurs, the Washington Post immediately grabbed an important religion story that other media missed, with Michelle Boorstein adding a beat specialist’s knowing perspective (behind pay wall).

O’Connell likewise demonstrates the virtues of specialization. He has worked the Vatican beat for various Catholic periodicals since 1985, a task that requires long-term cultivation of prelates who spill secrets. (Or did his wife, a Vatican correspondent from the pope’s homeland, acquire this leak?)

Adding to the intrigue, in papal elections each cardinal must take a solemn oath before God to maintain strict secrecy on everything that occurred, under pain of excommunication.

Yet O’Connell’s oath-busting leak appeared in a magazine of Francis’s own religious order, the Jesuits.  The article was excerpted from “The Election of Pope Francis,” O’Connell’s fuller version to be published April 24 by  another Catholic entity, the Maryknoll order’s Orbis Books.

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Beyond 'administrative' affairs: Do bishops realize that anger in pews puts them in crosshairs?

Beyond 'administrative' affairs: Do bishops realize that anger in pews puts them in crosshairs?

In many ways, recent remarks by Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga at the Spanish-language website Religion Digital are the perfect summary of where we are, right now, in the various scandals linked to the life and times of ex-cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.

Not that you would know that, the first time you read the most important quotation in that report. This was one of those cases in which you had to read the quote three or four times — focusing on a few strategic turns of phrase — to understand what was going on.

It also helps to remember that Cardinal Maradiaga is the chair of the inner ring of cardinals who advise Pope Francis. This isn’t a quote from the Throne of St. Peter, but it’s very close.

Ready? Read carefully.

"It does not seem correct to me to transform something that is of the private order into bombshell headlines exploding all over the world and whose shrapnel is hurting the faith of many," said Cardinal Maradiaga, in a Religion Digital interview. "I think this case of an administrative nature should have been made public in accordance with more serene and objective criteria, not with the negative charge of deeply bitter expressions."

Now, what does the word “something” mean? This appears to have been a comment about the McCarrick case, as opposed to the wider world of clergy child-abuse scandals.

Apparently, this Francis insider believes that this case is “administrative” and “of the private order” and, thus, not something for public inquiry and headlines (or published testimonies by former papal nuncios to the United States). In my national “On Religion” column this week, I also noted this quote from Maradiaga:

On another "private order," "administrative" issue in church affairs, he said the "notion of a gay lobby in the Vatican is out of proportion. It is something that exists much more in the ink of the newspapers than in reality."

All of this, and much more, came up for discussion in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in). Think of it as our latest attempt to answer the question people keep asking: What is this Catholic mess really about?

 

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Stats on future of faith in Europe: What happens when Christendom's heart weakens?

Stats on future of faith in Europe: What happens when Christendom's heart weakens?

The original saying, I think, was this: "When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold (or words to that effect)." The meaning is pretty obvious.

Then people started spinning off variations. One of the most common is this: "When America sneezes, the world catches cold." In this case, we're talking about American economic clout, but there are many variations -- as this nice NPR feature explains.

But I'm convinced the true cultural equation is this one: "When Europe sneezes, America catches the cold." The whole idea is that Europe tends to be several decades ahead of America, when it comes major trends in arts, culture, etc."

Now what about religion? That's basically what we talked about in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Well, for decades now, demographers have known that the active practice of religious faith was fading in most (not all) of Europe. Once again, France has been one of the easiest places to see this trend. However, in the past decade or so -- Hello, Church of England -- it's been easy to see the same struggles in other pews.

Now, several years ago here in America, we had a hurricane if ink and newsprint when the Pew Forum released its famous "Nones on the Rise" study, showing a sharp increase in the number of "religiously unaffiliated" Americans, especially among the young. The term "Nones" has been all over the place, ever since (including here at GetReligion).

Why? Well, for starters there were big political overtones. This paragraph from one of my "On Religion" columns pretty much sums that up:

The unaffiliated overwhelmingly reject ancient doctrines on sexuality with 73 percent backing same-sex marriage and 72 percent saying abortion should be legal in all, or most, cases. Thus, the "Nones" skew heavily Democratic as voters. ... The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.

In other words, a coalition of atheists, agnostics and "Nones" is now to the Democratic Party what the Religious Right (broadly defined) is to the Republican party -- the grassroots heart.

So here is the question that host Todd Wilken and I talked about this week: If the "Nones" study has received acres of headlines, why has there been so little American coverage of that stunning new Benedict XVI Centre study entitled "Europe's Young Adults and Religion"? 

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From 'Building Bridges' to 'Building a Bridge' -- About the roots of wars over Father James Martin

From 'Building Bridges' to 'Building a Bridge' -- About the roots of wars over Father James Martin

It would be hard to name a media figure in American Catholicism who is more popular than Father James Martin, in part because he is witty, candid and concise. He understands how journalists work, pays attention to deadlines and is relentlessly cooperative.

Martin has his points to make and he makes them, both with his words and with strategic silence. If conservative Catholics want to have a constructive debate with Martin, they need to take all of this into consideration. Attack this particular priest and lots of mainstream journalists will feel like you are attacking them.

This brings us to the mini-media storm surrounding the decision by leaders of Theological College -- the National Seminary at the Catholic University of America -- to rescind a speaking invitation to Martin. While he was planning to speak about themes in his book "Jesus: A Pilgrimage," this controversy centers on Martin's most recent book, "Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity."

When you are reading news coverage of this debate there are several key points to consider.

(1) This action was taken by seminary leaders, not by the Catholic University of America. Still, CUA is the only pontifical university in the United States and has a special relationship with the U.S. Catholic bishops. As its mission statement notes, CUA was "founded and sponsored by the bishops of the country with the approval of the Holy See."

(2) Mainstream Catholic leaders have criticized Martin's book (most notably Cardinal Robert Sarah, leader of the Vatican’s liturgy office), as well as conservative groups such as the Church Militant. Were Martin's mainstream critics quoted?

(3) Martin has warmly embraced New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQ advocacy group that for decades has attacked Catholic teachings on sexuality. This is crucial because the Vatican condemned New Ways in 1999 -- specifically the work of Sister Jeannine Gramick and the late Father Robert Nugent -- with its investigation focusing on their book "Building Bridges." In 2010, the president of the U.S. bishops stressed that "New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church. ..."

This controversy -- for seminary leaders -- was almost certainly linked to New Ways and the book "Building Bridges," as well as to Martin and his book "Building a Bridge." Last year, New Ways honored Martin with its annual "Bridge Building Award." Did that link make it into news coverage?

So what ended up in the Associated Press report on this controversy, the story seen in most American newspapers and in others around the world?

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That familiar game: Pope Francis, on a plane, with reporters and a female-priests question

That familiar game: Pope Francis, on a plane, with reporters and a female-priests question

It's a familiar news equation by now: Pope Francis, plus an airplane, plus reporters, plus a valid question equals what? The answer, of course, is "bold headlines."

The headlines come first -- in this WiFi age -- often before the wheels of Shepherd One touch the ground. The headlines then frame the discussions of what the pope did or did not say. Then the transcript comes out and it's possible to read what this off-the-cuff pontiff actually said.

Let me stress this: In most cases -- repeat "most" -- the issue isn't what the pope was quoted is saying, in this or that sound bite. The problem is usually that reporters are not given the space to quote what ELSE the pope said, the larger context that often defines to the sound bite.

Of course, it's possible that some reporters only want to quote the sound bite, which they -- backed by scholars and theologians in the semi-official mainstream media handbook of Catholic sources -- can then shape into a headline that lives forever. Is this good or bad? Well, who am I to judge?

So now we have the pope flying back from a celebration of the Reformation in Sweden. He was asked, once again, about the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Here is the headline from the conservative Catholic News Agency: "Pope Francis reiterates a strong 'no' to women priests."

Here is the headline from the mainstream Washington Post: "Pope Francis says the Catholic Church will probably never have female priests."

Ah, where did that "probably" come from? Let's go to the transcript and read the whole exchange that produced the headlines:

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