European Union

Big story update: What's going on with plans to repair or even 'modernize' Notre Dame after fire?

Big story update: What's going on with plans to repair or even 'modernize' Notre Dame after fire?

PARIS — It has been two months since a fire at the start of Holy Week destroyed the roof of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral. The large gothic structure now sits, enveloped in scaffolding, as a part of the low-rise Parisian skyline. The 300-foot spire that once appeared to stretch out to heaven is missing. These are constant reminders of that April 15 blaze and the hard work that lies ahead.

Rebuilding the ornate cathedral will be a painstaking task. Estimated to cost in the billions, Notre Dame has also become a pawn in a broader political fight that has divided France and much of the continent.

In a country so politically polarized — the outcome of the recent European election was another reminder of this — the fate of Notre Dame very much rests in the hands of the country’s warring lawmakers.

There has been much speculation since the fire over what will happen to the 12th century structure. A symbol of European Catholicism and Western civilization since the Middle Ages, a tug-of-war has traditionalists and modernists divided over what is the best way to rebuild.

“I think that some of the proposals are quite interesting, in particular, the notion of creating a very large glass skylight. If that were done to be a modern version of stained glass, I think it could be absolutely beautiful,” said architect Brett Robillard. “Stained glass was something of the first ‘films’ with light moving through pictures. So I think there is real poetry there to see modern technology paid homage to something so embedded in the religious spectrum and fill the spaces with beautiful light.”

Should Notre Dame be restored it to its former Medieval glory or reflect a more modern aesthetic?

This is at the center of the fight and, thus, press coverage of the debates.

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Populist surge continues in Europe: Was Pope Francis a big loser in these complex results?

Populist surge continues in Europe: Was Pope Francis a big loser in these complex results?

After elections gave right-wing populists sweeping victories in the Catholic nations of Italy, Poland and France in the European elections, it seemed clear that the biggest loser wasn’t the political left or moderate political parties.

The side that suffered the biggest defeat was Pope Francis.

In Italy, The League party snagged 33 percent of the vote, a remarkable achievement given the country’s fragmented political system. The pro-European Democratic Party could only muster 22 percent of the vote, while the left-wing populist Five Star Movement finished third at 18 percent. The League victory highlighted the divisions within Roman Catholicism. Party leader Matteo Salvini — known for his nationalistic and anti-immigration rhetoric — didn’t shy away from his faith. On the contrary, he used church symbols to win seats.

It isn’t the first time in European history that the Catholic church, and the papacy, has been viewed with disdain. Over the past few years, the political populism that has enveloped Europe has sought to blame much of its social and economic misfortune on elites. While many of these elites traditionally hail from the political left, the doctrinal left — and with it the current Vatican hierarchy headed by Pope Francis — has also become a target in recent elections.

The election results capped off a bad week for the pontiff. While having to deal with populism undercutting Catholic social teaching, Pope Francis denied he knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of sexual misconduct with seminarians in an interview with Mexican TV network Televisa. The scandal has plagued the papacy since last summer.

The European election, contested every five years, firmly places populism among the continent’s most powerful political forces. Never shy about brandishing a rosary or invoking God’s help, Salvini has provided Italians with an alternative to the pro-migrant stance and the church’s traditional social teachings put forth by the pope.

“I thank the man up there — with no exploitations,” Salvini told reporters, while kissing a rosary he was clutching in his hand, as results came in on May 26.

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Populist wave continues: Nationalism and Catholicism collide in run-up to European elections

Populist wave continues: Nationalism and Catholicism collide in run-up to European elections

Italians will go to the ballot box on May 26 to elect members of the country’s delegation to the European Parliament.

The vote — part of elections held across the European Union — will be another litmus test regarding Italy’s two populist political parties and whether they can withstand challenges from the left. What this latest electoral test will also do is reveal Italy’s love-hate relationship with the Catholic church.

The country’s Democratic Party, which holds a majority of seats, is likely to go down in defeat like it did in last year’s national elections. That’s where two populist parties, the League, which is on the right, and the Five-Star Movement, on the left, joined forces since neither had gained a majority in parliament.

The result? Matteo Salvini, who leads the League party, could take his anti-immigration stances to Brussels if opinion polls prove correct. His hardline stance on the issue has put him at odds with the Catholic church in Italy as well as with Pope Francis, who has repeatedly spoken in favor of refugees seeking asylum in Western Europe.

Like the Brexit fiasco, this clash has also divided Italians, where a majority remain Roman Catholic. However, a Pew Research study found that only 27 percent of Italian adults consider themselves “highly religious,” putting them in 13th place among Europeans. Nevertheless, Pew also found that Italy remains in first place in Western Europe when it comes to Christians who attend services regularly at 40 percent. That’s higher than Ireland (at 34%) and the United Kingdom (at just 18 percent).

Salvini, like President Donald Trump in the United States, has made closing the borders a priority since becoming Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Secretary. Last summer, Salvini ordered that ships containing migrants not dock at Italian ports. As a result, they were diverted to Spain, angering the European Union and the Catholic church. 

The European elections have also allowed Salvini to take his message outside of Italy’s boot-shaped borders in an attempt to create a pan-populist movement that puts it on a collision course with the continent’s Christian roots and the message emanating from the Holy See these days.

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Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

My wife was born in Israel and most of her extended family still lives there. We have several close friends living there, plus I also have journalist friends and acquaintances in Israel.

It’s wonderful to have so many people I care about in a nation to which I’m deeply connected. However, this means that when we visit, which is often, we generally have a packed schedule. This leaves us little down time for rest and seeking out new experiences, even when we’re there for a couple of weeks or more.

So for that we schedule stopovers in Europe, either going or coming. Just the two of us and a rented car, exploring and hanging out where our interests take us, including  beautiful and nourishing environments. We're also drawn to Jewish historical sites, old synagogues and the like.

We’re now thinking about another trip to Israel this spring or summer. But this time, we’re considering skipping our usual European respite. Why? Because of the increasingly overt anti-Semitism.

We have no desire to either experience it anew or spend our money in societies where the dislike of Jews and Israel are menacingly on the rise.

A disturbing survey, released just last week, by the European Union on the growing insecurity of the continent's Jews — and their increased desire to emigrate — prompted our reevaluation. Here’s part of how Bloomberg reported the survey's chief findings.

Insecurity fueled by anti-Semitism prompted a growing number of British, German and Swedish Jews to consider leaving their countries, according to a landmark survey conducted by the European Union.

Nine out of every 10 Jews sense anti-Semitism is getting worse with some of the most acute concern registered in northern Europe, according to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. The survey is the largest of its kind worldwide and polled more than 16,000 Jews in 12 countries.

“Mounting levels of anti-Semitism continue to plague the EU,” said Michael O’Flaherty, the Irish human rights lawyer who runs the Vienna-based agency. “Across 12 EU member states where Jews have been living for centuries, more than 1/3 say that they consider emigrating because they no longer feel safe as Jews.”

Concerns over safety are prompting Jewish communities in some of the EU’s biggest economies to question whether they should remain, according to the data. In Germany, their share soared to 44 percent from 25 percent six years ago.


The BBC ran its online story on the survey under the headline, “Anti-Semitism pervades European life, says EU report.”

Let that sink in for a moment. “Pervades.”

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Plan for this must-cover Godbeat item in 2018: The 50th anniversary of 'Humanae Vitae'

Plan for this must-cover Godbeat item in 2018: The 50th anniversary of 'Humanae Vitae'

Rightly or wrongly, most papal encyclicals land in newsrooms with a thud.

But there were no yawns in 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued his birth-control edict “Humanae Vitae,” which provoked a global uproar inside and outside his church.

Retrospectives will be a must item on reporters’ calendars around July 25, the 50th anniversary of this landmark. News angles include a monthly series at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University to rethink the doctrine, which started in October and runs through May 24. The listing (in Italian) is here (.pdf).

Paul declared that Catholicism, “by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” The Pope believed this fusion of the “unitive” and “procreative” aspects in marital acts is mandated by “natural law” as defined by predecessor Popes Pius XI (1930 encyclical “Casti Connubii”), and Pius XII (1951 “Address to Midwives”). Paul concluded the recent development of  “The Pill” changed nothing.

Though the pope said priests were bound to support this teaching, many joined lay Catholics and Protestants in opposing the church’s “each and every” requirement. Pope John Paul II later supported predecessor Paul, and recently so did Pope Francis, though with a twist

Key themes for reporters to assess:

First: Many analysts argue that the wide-ranging dissent on the birth-control pronouncement has weakened the church’s over-all moral authority.

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Catholics 'clutch' rosaries in Poland? Journalists should pay attention to details in worship

Catholics 'clutch' rosaries in Poland? Journalists should pay attention to details in worship

The big issue in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) was a question raised in my recent post about coverage of a remarkable religious rite that took place on the border of Poland.

Poland is, of course, an intensely Catholic land. Thus, there were several layers of symbolism present when legions of worshipers lined up along parts of the nation's borders to pray the rosary, specifically praying for the future of their land and all of Europe.

Note that I called the participants "worshipers."

Yes, that was a value judgment on my part, a decision that was unavoidable when writing about this event. It was clear in the news coverage (I focused on BBC and The New York Times) that the Poles were, to some degree, mixing religious faith and concerns about current events and trends.

Thus, were these people "worshipers" or were they, oh, anti-Muslim activists?

The language didn't get that blunt in the BBC coverage, but it was a close call. At that global news powerhouse, this was a political event that was using religious symbolism linked to Polish nationalism. At the Times, this was a religious event with strong political overtones.

You can see these two competing narratives in the coverage. In this case, I think the Times did the better job.

However, the podcast raised another issue. Wouldn't it have been good to have included some of the language of the rosary prayers in the story? Might that be linked to the message of the event?

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BBC and The New York Times: Who listened to Catholics who prayed at Poland's borders?

BBC and The New York Times: Who listened to Catholics who prayed at Poland's borders?

If you read up on the life and times of the Polish man who would become St. Pope John Paul II, its interesting to note that he learned so many languages during his life that scholars are not really sure which ones he spoke fluently.

Most lists will look something like this -- Polish, Slovak, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Ukrainian, English and Latin. It is my understanding that, in his childhood, he also knew so many Jewish children that he also spoke Yiddish.

What does this fact say about Poland? At the very least, it's symbolic of the fact that in the past Poland has been seized by more than its share of empires. If you live in a Polish border town, it helps to speak several languages. Again, think of St. John Paul II's life in the time of the Nazis and then Communism.

I bring this up because Poland is a land, and a predominately Catholic culture, with a strong sense of national identity. Yet it is also a land that fears -- with good reason -- being conquered once again.

So, why were legions of Polish Catholics standing on the land's borders the other day saying the rosary? Clearly, this is a religious question, yet one with political overtones. So how did the world's two most powerful newsrooms handle this? Here is the top of the New York Times report, which ran with this low-key headline: "Polish Catholics Gather at Border for Vast Rosary Prayer Event."

WARSAW, Poland -- Polish Catholics clutching rosary beads gathered at locations along the country’s 2,000-mile border on Saturday for a mass demonstration during which they prayed for salvation for Poland and the world.
Many participants described it as demonstration against what they see as the secularization of the country and the spread of Islam’s influence in Europe.

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Think like an editor: What happens if Trump's own plane takes Charlie Gard to Vatican?

Think like an editor: What happens if Trump's own plane takes Charlie Gard to Vatican?

The Charlie Gard story rolls on, of course, now super-charged by those magic words that inspire headlines -- "Donald Trump" and "Pope Francis."

It's interesting (and to me a bit depressing) the degree to which American media really seem to think this is story driven by American questions, which is what happens when a presidential tweet reshapes everything.

After recording this week's Crossroads podcast -- click here to tune that in -- it hit me that, in a way, I may be guilty of the same kind of thing, since I keep seeing this story through a religious-liberty lens.

True enough, podcast host Todd Wilken and I did spend quite a bit of time talking about church-state cases here in America that some are comparing to the Charlie Gard case. I'm talking about the agonizing court battles over the starvation death of Terri Schiavo, debates about the rights of Pentecostal parents who insist on faith healing (alone) and the complex legal battles over Jehovah's Witnesses and their doctrines rejecting blood transfusions.

However, the point I kept making was not that laws in England and the European Union should be the same as America. What interests me is why journalists don't seem to be interested in explaining to readers how religious-liberty concepts on the other side of the Atlantic affect this painful case.

A news cycle ago, we got a clue that we may have more coverage ahead that could deal with this. Consider this from a Sky News report:

Great Ormond Street Hospital says “claims of new evidence” in the treatment of Charlie Gard have prompted it to seek a new hearing at the High Court. In a statement, the hospital said: “We have just met with Charlie’s parents to inform them of this decision and will continue to keep them fully appraised of the situation.
“Two international hospitals and their researchers have communicated to us as late as the last 24 hours that they have fresh evidence about their proposed experimental treatment. “And we believe, in common with Charlie’s parents, it is right to explore this evidence.”

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Donald Trump visits Poland: Looking for religion (and old-school journalism) in the coverage

Donald Trump visits Poland: Looking for religion (and old-school journalism) in the coverage

So, what was that Donald Trump speech in Poland all about?

If you follow social media -- the cutting edge of today's new New Journalism -- you know that it was about the president trying to sneak encoded "dogwhistle" content past media gatekeepers to his supporters on the fringes of the postmodern world.

Consider this tweet by Jamelle Bouie, the top political correspondent at Slate and an analyst for CBS News, that said: "Imagine being a political writer in this moment and being utterly unable to identify clear white nationalist dogwhistles."

Later, he notes: "Like, this s*** is barely subtle."

Here's the opening of the nasty speech passage, from the White House transcript:

Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. (Applause.) If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.

Trump talks about all kinds of issues that flow out of that statement, including the rule of law and women's rights. But it's clear -- in social-media land -- that his speech was seen as an outrageous attack on immigrants and the Islamic world.

This is perfectly stated by Peter Beinart at The Atlantic:

The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech -- perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime -- was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. ... Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders.

But what, you ask, does the basic news coverage say?

To which, in this case, I sadly respond: What does news coverage have to do with this? We are talking about TRUMP in POLAND. You know what that means. We are talking about the hero of the alt-right trying to fan the flames of nationalism in the worst nation in Europe (from the point of view of European elites).

So who cares about old-school news coverage, anymore?

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