Eastern Rite Catholicism

Beyond Thorn Birds (again): Vatican confirms there are rules for priests with secret children

Beyond Thorn Birds (again): Vatican confirms there are rules for priests with secret children

Is it just me, or does anyone else suspect that this is a great time for journalists to ask Vatican officials hard questions about the sins of priests who want to have sex with females?

I am not joking about this, although I will confess that there is a rather cynical twist to my question.

Let me also stress that we are talking about serious stories, with victims who deserve attention and justice. We are also talking about stories that mesh with my conviction that secrecy is the key issue, the most powerful force in Rome’s scandals tied to sexual abuse by clergy (something I noted just yesterday).

Still, the timing is interesting — with Vatican officials doing everything they can to focus news coverage on the abuse of “children,” as opposed to male teens, and a few young adults, as opposed to — potentially — lots and lots of seminarians. I am talking about this week’s Vatican summit on sexual abuse.

So first we had a small wave of coverage of this totally valid story, as seen in this headline at The New York Times: “Sexual Abuse of Nuns: Longstanding Church Scandal Emerges From Shadows.”

Now there is this semi-Thorn Birds headline, also from the Gray Lady, the world’s most powerful newspaper: “Vatican’s Secret Rules for Catholic Priests Who Have Children.” Here’s the overture:

ROME — Vincent Doyle, a psychotherapist in Ireland, was 28 when he learned from his mother that the Roman Catholic priest he had always known as his godfather was in truth his biological father.

The discovery led him to create a global support group to help other children of priests, like him, suffering from the internalized shame that comes with being born from church scandal. When he pressed bishops to acknowledge these children, some church leaders told him that he was the product of the rarest of transgressions.

But one archbishop finally showed him what he was looking for: a document of Vatican guidelines for how to deal with priests who father children, proof that he was hardly alone.

“Oh my God. This is the answer,” Mr. Doyle recalled having said as he held the document. He asked if he could have a copy, but the archbishop said no — it was secret.

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Does the celibacy rule underlie Catholic scandals? Here's an angle reporters could pursue

Does the celibacy rule underlie Catholic scandals? Here's an angle reporters could pursue

Beginning with the pioneering National Catholic Reporter survey by Jason Berry and colleagues 33 years ago on priests molesting under-aged boys and girls, and on through the current devastating crisis, there have been continual disputes over whether the celibacy tradition bears blame and eliminating it would help prevent scandals.

It’s common for media to state that the Catholic Church requires priests to be celibate, but as beat specialists know that’s not fully accurate.

A handful of already-married Protestant clergy converts are Catholic priests. Far more important, married priests are allowed in Catholicism’s Eastern Rite jurisdictions across Eastern Europe, the Mideast and Asia (whereas the West’s Latin Rite has made its celibacy tradition mandatory for all since 1123).

The Religion Guy chatted about this mess with a New Jersey university professor who’s an active Eastern (Ukrainian) Catholic. Neither of us could recall hearing of any molesting scandals with Eastern priests. No doubt there are some, and The Guy has doubtless missed a few references.

But that raises the following: Does the track record of the 11,000 parish priests (not counting those in celibate religious orders) serving 17.7 million Eastern Catholics indicate marriage acts as a preventative and that there’s a link between celibacy and the abuse scandals? Does the Vatican have numbers on molesting cases with married Catholic priests these 33 years compared with clergy bound by celibacy?

If nobody knows, are there plans to research this question? If not, why not?

Whatever the church might do, how about journalists?

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Friday Five: GetReligionistas out West, In-N-Out's ghosts, #ShockingNotShocking story and more

Friday Five: GetReligionistas out West, In-N-Out's ghosts, #ShockingNotShocking story and more

Today's "Friday Five" comes to you from the Pacific Time Zone.

The GetReligion team doesn't get together often in person. But this week, the crew -- including editor Terry Mattingly and contributors Julia Duin, Richard Ostling, Ira Rifkin and me -- met on the West Coast to contemplate the future. That's the sort of thing people do when a website turns 14 years old -- as in our Feb. 2 anniversary.

Why talk about what's ahead? Well, strategic planning is always a good idea for a forward-thinking organization. Beyond that, our prolific leader -- tmatt -- isn't getting any younger (which he told me to point out). As if to prove the point, the Boss Man celebrated his 64th birthday during our gathering. Even better, we had a reason to eat cake!

As for our future plans, when there's something to announce, count on someone above my pay grade to do so! Planning and blue-skying things takes time.

Meanwhile, back to the Five:

1. Religion story of the week: tmatt highlighted this simple-but-beautiful story Thursday.

"Every now and then, you run into a story where all the journalists covering it really needed to do was round up some facts, find a few compelling voices, capture the images and then get out of the way," tmatt noted.

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BBC tells quiet story of church built on a rock and, thus, it has survived fires below

BBC tells quiet story of church built on a rock and, thus, it has survived fires below

Every now and then, you run into a story where all the journalists covering it really needed to do was round up some facts, find a few compelling voices, capture the images and then get out of the way.

Now, as someone who has covered that kind of story, I know that this task may sound easy, but it's not.

You really have to do the work, yet play it simple. Most of all you need To. Trust. The. Story.

That's exactly what happened with this BBC report -- "This church has survived a fire that started back in 1962" -- about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, Pa. In this case we are not talking about a battle with the process in which ethnic believers, in the second or third generation, assimilate into normal American culture and leave a church. No, we're talking about an underground fire -- a literal one -- burning in coal country for half a century, a fire that shut down a whole town.

The fire started near the surface on May 27, 1962, and quickly spread deep into the rich seams of coal for which the Pennsylvania  hills are famous. After years of trying to put out the fire, the U.S. government paid $42 million to, basically, move everyone in the town. Thus, readers are given this simple, clear overview:

In Pennsylvania's coal-mining mountains, there's an empty grid where a town once lived.
Once, there were homes and gardens. Now there are weeds. Before Centralia started burning from below, more than a thousand people lived here. At the last count, there were six.
The roads remain -- on Google Maps, they have names like Railway Avenue and Apple Alley -- but on the ground, they are ghost streets.
Nameless. Silent. Stripped bare. Anonymous, in every sense.
On the horizon, though, a piece of Centralia survives.
A white church rises between black trees. A blue dome shines against the snow.
Its congregation has left town, but Centralia's Ukrainian Catholic Church isn't going anywhere.

Now, here is what makes it hard to do justice to this simple report. You see, I can't show you the copyrighted art -- lots of it -- that goes with the text.

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More married priests? This was the rare papal sound bite that received some calm, informed coverage

More married priests? This was the rare papal sound bite that received some calm, informed coverage

Of all the Catholic debates I have watched through the decades, I think stories about the ordination of married men have been the hardest for mainstream journalists to fit into the old left vs. right format.

Yes, it's easy to find priests and scholars on the left for whom changes of any kind are good. Thus, they say hurrah for married priests. Many of the priests who hit church exit doors to get married soon after Vatican II fit this model. Shake up the church is their mantra.

Obviously, you can always find conservative Catholics who will oppose just about any change in church life, just by reflex. Their dogma is to leave everything the way it is.

However, you will also find plenty of Catholic experts -- left and right -- who know that this issue is a matter of church order and tradition, not carved-in-stone doctrine. They know that married men now serve as priests, under certain circumstances, and they know that the celibate priesthood evolved over the centuries. I have interviewed many Catholics -- especially Latinos -- who for a variety of reasons believe the church needs married priests. I have long argued that Rome will ordained more men when conservatives seek the change.

In other words, this isn't really a Sexual Revolution issue. Thus, if you have been seeing generic left vs. right press coverage of the latest Pope Francis statement on this issue, then move on. Find a better story.

In this case, you can start with The New York Times, with the calm headline stating: "Pope Francis Signals Openness to Ordaining Married Men in Some Cases." This story sounds all the crucial notes right up top, in the overture or soon thereafter:

Pope Francis this week signaled receptiveness to appeals from bishops in the remote and overwhelmed corners of the Roman Catholic Church to combat a deepening shortage of priests by ordaining married men who are already committed to the church.

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Why do Catholics and Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross differently?

Why do Catholics and Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross differently?

GAIL’S QUESTION:

Why don’t the Orthodox and Roman Catholics cross themselves the same way?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Catholic and Orthodox parishioners make the “sign of the cross” before personal prayers, upon entering a church, at various points during worship, and otherwise. Priests make the sign not only during the sacraments but use it to impart blessings on people or objects. Not to mention the familiar sight of superstitious athletes doing so before free throws or penalty kicks.

Lately, Communist overlords in China have attacked hundreds of churches to demolish exterior crosses considered too prominent, which demonstrates how powerful the symbol has always been, and remains.

Consider for a moment how remarkable all this is. Until the birth of Christianity, the cross was a terrifying reminder of Rome’s imperial power and the humiliation and degradation that awaited troublemakers. As we see in the New Testament, the Christians immediately transformed it into the emblem of God’s love and self-sacrifice in Jesus Christ that leads to salvation and spiritual triumph.

Gail refers to the fact that Roman Catholics make the sign by touching in turn the forehead, breast, left shoulder, and right shoulder. Those Anglicans and Protestants who observe this custom do the same.

The Eastern Orthodox, and also the “Eastern Rite” jurisdictions within Catholicism, touch the right shoulder before the left. The Guy found no totally agreed-upon reason for this, but here’s some of what we do know:

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No surprise, but Godbeat pro Peter Smith produces an excellent story on married Eastern Catholic priests

No surprise, but Godbeat pro Peter Smith produces an excellent story on married Eastern Catholic priests

"Rejoice, there is life after Ann Rodgers in Pittsburgh!"

So said regular GetReligion reader Jerry N., who emailed us a link to Peter Smith's latest piece of top-notch Godbeat journalism for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Smith, of course, spent 13 years as the religion writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He joined the Post-Gazette in 2013, succeeding Rodgers, Pittsburgh's longtime "queen of religion news." The two swept top honors in the metropolitan newspapers division of last year's Religion Newswriters Association contest. Just a few months ago, we featured Smith in a 5Q+1 interview about his in-depth reporting project on immigrant religious communities in Pittsburgh.

So yes, we at GetReligion are big fans of Smith — and of the Post-Gazette's strong commitment to the religion beat.

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About that NYTimes hint at the future of married priests

A long, long time ago, a Catholic leader gave me a tip as a young reporter. He told me to keep my eye on the Eastern-Rite Catholic churches and their potential for growth in Northern America. Why? First of all, because the ancient beauty of their liturgies in a post-Vatican II world would be pleasing to many small-o orthodox Catholics. Second, the Eastern Rites would offer a setting in which married priests could serve, while framed in traditions acceptable to small-o orthodox Catholics.

I thought of those questions when reading an important, but rather overlooked, New York Times piece addressing a crucial piece of this puzzle. I apologize (to several readers in particular) that this article has been in the tmatt Folder Of Guilt for quite some time.

The headline: “Group of Catholic and Orthodox Officials Endorses Marriage for Some Priests.” And here’s the lede:

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Wait a minute: First EVER married Maronite Catholic priest?

Several years ago, while working on my contribution to the book “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion,” I called up one of the patriarchs of the religion beat, Richard Ostling, to discuss the craft that he practiced so well for many years at Time and then with the Associated Press. These days, of course, his “Religion Q&A” pieces are featured once a week here at GetReligion. We started off by discussing the most basic subject — sins of commission.

For Ostling, the bottom line was clear: If you can’t trust journalists to get their facts right, then why trust them at all? This passage is a bit long, but essential:

“Sometimes we are talking about things that can get complicated. … But it isn’t good when people read their newspaper and say, ‘Wait a minute. That’s just wrong.’ ”

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