Cardinal Sean O'Malley

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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Do Catholics have one -- singular -- sexual-abuse crisis? No, the reality is worse than that

Do Catholics have one -- singular -- sexual-abuse crisis? No, the reality is worse than that

We have now — at the Vatican’s clergy sexual abuse meeting — reached a stage in the proceedings that will be familiar to reporters who frequent ecclesiastical meetings of this kind.

After a few headline-friendly opening remarks, there will usually be a long parade of semi-academic speakers who offer complex, nuanced and ultimately unquotable remarks about the topic of the day. As a rule, these papers are written in deep-church code that can only be understood — maybe — by insiders.

Long ago, I covered a U.S. Catholic bishops meeting that included pronouncements on the moral status of nuclear weapons. During one address, the speaker veered into Latin when stating his thesis. At a press conference, I asked the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin if that passage in Latin had been (in my words) a “preemptive strike on American headline writers.” The cardinal smiled and said one word — “yes.”

Try to quote that in a hard-news story.

At the end of things, reporters can expect a formal statement prepared by the powers that be that organized the event. We can also expect some kind of television-friendly rite of repentance.

At this point, it’s probably easier to focus on what is not being said, rather than what the Vatican’s chosen speakers are carefully saying. Also, we can look back into the history of this crisis, in order to anticipate what will end up happening. We did a little of both during this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in).

Pope Francis stated that the goal of this event was to take concrete steps to stop the abuse of “children,” the “little ones.” The church has been rocked by a “pedophilia” crisis, he said.

That’s what was said. Journalist Sandro Magister offered this commentary on what was not said:

… The big no-show was the word “homosexuality.” And this in spite of the fact that the great bulk of the abuse tabulated so far has taken place with young or very young males, past the threshold of puberty.

The word “homosexuality” did not appear in the pope’s inaugural discourse, nor in the 21 “points of reflection” that he had distributed in the hall, nor in the introductory talks by Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, and, in the afternoon, Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez

Scicluna on the contrary, when questioned in this regard at the midday press conference, said that “generalizing on a category of persons is never legitimate,” because homosexuality “is not something that predisposes one to sin,” because if anything what causes this inclination is “concupiscence.”

This is consistent with one viewpoint that’s common in the Catholic establishment: This crisis is about pedophilia. Period.

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Catholic News Agency pulls off investigative coup in the 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick saga

Catholic News Agency pulls off investigative coup in the 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick saga

On the same day that I did a post on how Catholic media are treating the (now former) Cardinal McCarrick affair, Catholic News Agency came up with a bombshell of a story that illustrates the kind of reporting other media should be doing on this scandal.

Upon hearing about how McCarrick’s sexual predilections were well-known decades ago in the Archdioceses of Newark and New York, reporter Ed Condon dug around and found several priests from that era who agreed to talk off the record. The reporter came up with not only killer quotes, but many anecdotes on how Catholic seminaries of that era were male meat markets in every sense of the term.  

It's a must-read:

Recent allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick include reports that he made sexual advances toward seminarians during his tenure as Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark.

CNA recently spoke to six priests of the Archdiocese of Newark, and one priest member of a religious order who was a seminarian in New York in the early 1970s, while McCarrick was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

The religious priest who spoke to CNA said when he studied in a seminary in New York, McCarrick, who was then an aide to Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, would sometimes visit. ... So well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to "hide the handsome ones" before he arrived.  

I’m cutting and pasting some of the best parts, but you’ve got to read the whole thing.

Later, there is this:

One priest worked in close proximity to the archbishop in the archdiocesan chancery for a number of years. “There were the ‘nephews,’ for sure,” he said. “He had a type: tall, slim, intelligent -- but no smokers.”  …


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Catholic archdiocese bullies a church to death, at least, as mainstream media see it

Catholic archdiocese bullies a church to death, at least, as mainstream media see it

OK, I get it. People come to love a church building. It's more than bricks; it's relationships and history.

Throw in a 24/7 prayer vigil for nearly 12 years, and you can see why the closing of the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (Catholic) Church near Boston got a big story in the Christian Science Monitor. But the newspaper somehow spins the story as sex abuse and Big Bully versus the Little People.

Yes, they deserve sympathy for their loss. They feel like a church is their home and that Cardinal Sean O'Malley evicted them. The Monitor captures that feeling well:

On Sunday, about 200 parishioners of the Roman Catholic church in the coastal New England town held their last mass after years of protesting the Archdiocese of Boston over its 2004 decision to close their sanctuary. For more than a decade they took turns keeping a vigil, 24/7, to make sure that at least one person was in the church at all times.
After the United States Supreme Court declined to hear their case this month, however, letting stand the rulings of lower courts that found they were trespassing, parishioners ran out of options to keep the doors open. They agreed to vacate the building by 11:59 p.m. Monday.
"Today is like a death in the family: Sad, yet relieved that the pain is over," a choked-up and teary-eyed Margaret O'Brien told WCVB news on Sunday. The 86-year-old says she raised her family in the church.

And the paper says honestly that St. Frances Xavier was among dozens of parishes slated for closing back in 2004 in the Boston archdiocese. What's more, attendance at St. Frances Xavier itself had been falling for years, the Monitor adds.

So why does the paper take wing on the following flight of fancy?

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'Moderate' cardinal does some brash media criticism

As always, the annual March For Life has unleashed waves of debate and criticism about the news coverage, or lack of coverage, of this event. In this case, one of the most interesting quotes this week came from Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and it related to the ongoing interest in what Pope Francis meant when he offered that famous — all together now — quotation that said:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. … The teaching of the church … is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

“… cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. … We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

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Concerning that Milbank column and the WPost news report

First of all, to those who have written or tweeted on this: Yes, your GetReligionistas saw the Dana Milbank column in The Washington Post, the one in which he goes all Pat Robertson on the March For Life faithful. You know, like this: James Dobson’s Focus on the Family asked Christians to pray for rain to fall on Barack Obama in 2008 when he accepted the presidential nomination. Various religious conservatives have said that hurricanes, earthquakes and other meteorological phenomena were divine punishment of wayward humans.

So what are we to make of Wednesday’s March for Life on the Mall in Washington? The temperature was 12 degrees at the start of the annual antiabortion event, the wind chill below zero, and participants were trudging about in snow and ice from the previous day’s storm. …

(If) there are weather gods, they may have been making a pointed comment about a movement that has become frozen in time.

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Is pro-life state of the union homily a story? In Francis era?

As I type this with my cold fingers (starting at about 12:30 p.m.), the sun is out here in Washington, D.C., but the temperature is still a frosty 14 degrees. Suffice it to say it has been a cold morning after a night of wild weather here in Beltway land. My office in the District’s Northeast quadrant is only about a 10 minute walk from the U.S. Supreme Court. Still, because I’ve been in class all morning, I have no idea how many people were able to make it into the city for the annual March For Life. I imagine that the crowd is smaller than the usual 300,000 or so, in part because the throngs were much smaller than normal last night and early this morning in Union Station (through which I commute).

There will be the usual, and valid, debates about whether the mainstream media did an adequate job of covering the march. If the march was smaller than normal, will that be seen as a fact of the weather or the political climate? Inquiring minds will want to know.

I do know, however, that there was a major story in Washington last night linked to this event. At least, the pre-march Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception should have been a big story for the mainstream press if reporters and editors are serious about the effect of Pope Francis on the pro-life movement and, specifically, how the Catholic Church expresses its teachings about the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

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'God's representative on Earth to Catholics'

From time to time, readers send notes to your GetReligionistas in which they ask us to pass journalistic judgments on whether this or that mainstream newsroom has successfully split a fine theological hair.

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