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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

New York Times avoids moral judgement in Afghan cultural pedophilia story. What's up with that?

New York Times avoids moral judgement in Afghan cultural pedophilia story. What's up with that?

The news out of Afghanistan was brutal last week, as is too often the case. At week’s end, a Taliban suicide bomber driving an ambulance in Kabul killed at least 95 (a figure bound to climb) and injured another 158 or so persons.

One wonders just how much pain a population can endure before it utterly falls apart. And also, just how fortunate we who live in a nation such as ours -- despite all it's political pains, mass shootings and occasional terror attack -- truly are.

Despite more than 16 years of American military involvement in Afghanistan -- our longest foreign conflict ever -- our elite news operations continue to devote a great deal of coverage to Afghanistan. That’s as it should be, even more so given that President Donald Trump has upped our current involvement there, which is also sure to lengthen our stay for years to come.

Earlier last week, another story concerning Afghanistan broke in The New York Times that, I believe, was just as horrific, in its own way, as the Kabul bombing. This one, however, received far less elite media attention -- even as it underscored the extraordinary cultural compromises associated with America’s involvement in Afghanistan, a land as different from our own as to seem at times situated on another planet.

The story, a Times exclusive, ran below the following headline: “Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military, Report Says.”

Sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Well, it is. Here’s how it begins:

On 5,753 occasions from 2010 to 2016, the United States military asked to review Afghan military units to see if there were any instances of “gross human rights abuses.” If there were, American law required military aid to be cut off to the offending unit.
Not once did that happen.
That was among the findings in an investigation into child sexual abuse by the Afghan security forces and the supposed indifference of the American military to the problem, according to a report released on Monday by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, known as Sigar.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

RNS produces good but flawed update on gay controversy in United Methodism

RNS produces good but flawed update on gay controversy in United Methodism

"Defiant clergy are refusing to abide by what they regard as unjust prohibitions."

Whoaaa, strong language -- perhaps even pejorative -- for a mainstream media story on gays and the old mainline Protestantism. Usually, gay activists are portrayed as freedom fighters, and those who hold out for the traditional moral stance are seen as restrictive and prejudiced.

Not so in this story from the Religion News Service on a new alliance to oppose mainstreaming homosexuality in the United Methodist Church.

At an organizational meeting today, the Wesleyan Covenant Association plans to "outline their expectations for a soon-to-be-appointed denominational commission to discuss the conflict over sexuality," RNS says.

The article does a good job of introducing us to the controversy and the traditionalist pushback, but it doesn't get reaction from more liberal church members. It also doesn't answer a couple of questions about the movement's prospects. Apparently, it doesn't even ask them.

The fast-moving narrative opens on a note of urgency:

(RNS) Undoing the election of the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church will be a primary goal when 1,500 Methodist evangelicals gather this week in Chicago to found a new renewal group, according to organizers.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Anti-gay arrest in Russia: AP blows a minor incident into a major issue

Anti-gay arrest in Russia: AP blows a minor incident into a major issue

Don’t read this yet. Get yourself a chair. Put down that cup of whatever you're drinking.

The Associated Press reports that -- Dun-dun-DUNN! -- Russia doesn't like gays. And especially pro-gay-rights churches.

I know, right? That might have knocked your socks off.

AP learned this terrible truth as a missionary of the Metropolitan Community Church was arrested, then ordered out of Russia. Try to get through this without fainting:

MOSCOW — Jim Mulcahy was sitting with some Russian friends, munching cookies and talking about Roman mosaics, when the Russian police came and took him away, claiming he was planning to perform a same-sex marriage. Hours later, the American pastor was ordered to leave Russia.
Mulcahy’s arrest this month in the city of Samara braids together several of Russia’s most acrimonious issues: gay rights, alleged Western meddling in Russian affairs, and missionary work by religions that don’t have state approval. It attracted particular attention because the arrest was filmed by state-controlled channel NTV, whose reports often take an especially truculent, pro-Kremlin stance.

As the Eastern Europe coordinator for the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Churches, Mulcahy said he was visiting Samara, Russia, at the invitation of a gay rights group called Avers. He says it was a mere Q&A session at their offices, but the Russian station NTV said he was "performing unspecified ceremonies for homosexuals," AP says. 

The station also said he had "converted to Orthodox Christianity," which he denies. That should have been easy to verify or falsify, just by checking with the Russian Orthodox Church, no?

But no, AP is more interested in milking this story for drama, whether the drama is there or not:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Gays in the Quran: NBC report raises issues but doesn't answer them

Gays in the Quran: NBC report raises issues but doesn't answer them

As I wrote on Friday, mainstream media in the wake of the shooting in Orlando are just starting to feel their way around the ultra-sensitive topic of Islam and homosexuality. NBC News also tried its hand, building a story as a Q&A, or maybe a FAQ file.

But the answers are frankly what you might expect from a secular liberal news outfit:  

Islam's approach to homosexuality has been in the spotlight since the massacre at an Orlando gay club — criminal or compassionate? Prejudiced or progressive?
While ISIS death squads enforce an extreme version of Islam that punishes gays with death, the religion's history is far more nuanced. And like most relationships, when it comes to Islam and homosexuality — it's complicated.

Among the questions posed are "What does Islam say about being gay?" and "Who says homosexuality is punishable by death?" But by skewing its sources, NBC clearly tries to nudge us toward the "right" views.

The network is alert for spotting a coverage trend. As I noted on Friday, the Associated Press and other media have begun looking at 50 gay Muslim organizations that have been seldom covered. NBC News honestly reports Islamic antagonism toward homosexual behavior, saying it overwhelmingly teaches that "same gender sex is a sin."

NBC notes also how some Muslim national leaders have denounced the Orlando shootings while their own homelands jail or kill gays:

"Middle Eastern and North African countries have denounced the Orlando shooting when at the same time they criminalize homosexuality with sentences ranging from years in prison to the death penalty," said Ahmed Benchemsi, communications and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. "Those governments should repeal laws and abolish practices that persecute people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity."

But when the article asks, "What does Islam say about being gay?", it doesn't answer immediately. First it quotes a historian who says, "There is sexual diversity in Islam." It also says that "most scholars agree" (a close cousin to the blurring expression "sources say") that early Muslims like Al Dalal and Rumi were gay.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I suggested a story on the verses in the Quran that dealt with killing unbelievers, including how local imams interpret them. My editor hesitated and said, "I'd rather do stories about diversity in the community."

That looks like the attitude among most mainstream media, 15 years later. We know that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay club, was Muslim and anti-gay. But what exactly does Islam say about homosexuality?

Many mainstream media seem to have been avoiding answering that, even when asking it themselves. They’ve chattered about how he checked Facebook and traded texts with his wife. They say he tried to buy body armor. And of course, they talk about gun control and homophobia.

But few have ventured into the minefield where Muslim communities border homosexuality. And of those that do, most concentrate on LGBT Muslims themselves.

In Florida itself, I could find only one newspaper -- my alma mater, the Sun Sentinel -- reporting on a "confused, broken community that lies at the intersection of the tragedy," as it calls them. One of its three subjects is college student Hytham Rashid:

There are not a lot of terms to describe gender identity or sexual orientation in Arabic, Rashid said. The word "transgender," for example, translates to "You are like a woman" or "You are like a man," which can be considered offensive, he says.  
As a gay Muslim, Rashid says he faces both Islamophobia and homophobia every day. He said in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, he doesn’t feel safe going to memorials and events.
"We can put up our stickers and wave around our rainbow flags in Wilton Manors, but the core issue is, there isn’t a safe space for us," he said.

The Sun Sentinel also imports a statement by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity that there is "no religious justification or precedent in Islam for mass shootings targeting any population, regardless of identity." But it doesn't look at the Quran or the Hadith (the record of Muhammad's words and deeds).  Nor does it ask any leaders of the 15-20 mosques in its circulation area.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Divorce that could happen: Newspapers sift rumors of a brewing United Methodist Church split

Divorce that could happen: Newspapers sift rumors of a brewing United Methodist Church split

Be glad you're not Bishop Bruce Ough this week. The presiding bishop of the United Methodist Church is trying to dissension at the general conference in Portland, Ore., while denying persistent rumors that a UMC committee is already drawing up divorce papers.

Meanwhile, major media are already doing what they do best: ferreting out the possibility that after decades of debate, leaders of the second-largest Protestant denomination may finally part ways over gay marriage and gay ordination.

The Washington Post does a fine, professional job of gathering facts from secondary sources, then reporting its findings in a non-sensational yet riveting way. It even gives the good bishop a chance to spin it his way:

Amid reports that United Methodist leaders are considering dividing over LGBT equality disputes, the denomination’s top bishop on Tuesday asked members to recommit to remaining together, even though he described their community as having a "broken heart" and in the views of many being "out of time."
Bishop Bruce Ough spoke during an unscheduled appearance at the major, once-every-four-years meeting of the global denomination, which is being held in Portland, Ore. Ough, the incoming president of the Council of Bishops, said he was responding to a flood of social media leaks about secret meetings top church leaders were having in the last week about the possibility of separating. The meeting is called a General Conference.

Ough may not want to play up the private meetings; however, he not only acknowledged to the Post that they’ve been held, but that he attended them. The group "reportedly discussed breaking into conservative, moderate and progressive communities," the article says.

The lengthy WaPo article, more than 1,270 words long, notes the rising numbers and influence of Methodists in Asia and Africa -- who confirm the church's current stance against homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."  I also admire how the paper sought viewpoints of more conservative sources like Good News and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Mark Tooley of the IRD, in fact, says that in a few years, "the whole United States will be a minority and the liberal parts of the United States will be a minority within a minority."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Baptists 'unofficially' changing doctrine on homosexuality?

Southern Baptist leaders are seeking a “softer approach on homosexuality,” reports National Public Radio’s ”All Things Considered.” While noting that “the country’s largest protestant (sic) group … still preaches that marriage can only be between one man and one woman,” NPR points to a recent, vaguely identified meeting of pastors to back up its headline:

The Southern Baptist Convention held a gathering of pastors at its Nashville headquarters in April. For an organization that has previously used opposition to gay marriage as a rallying point, statements here from church leaders, like Kevin Smith of Kentucky, shocked the auditorium of pastors into silence.

“If you spent 20 years and you’ve never said anything about divorce in the church culture, then shut up about gay marriage,” Smith said.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

United Methodists fighting over gay marriage -- period?

Maybe it’s because I covered religion in Colorado during the 1980s, but I find it so, so amusing that people are writing about the conflicts in the United Methodist Church as if they are brand new, or that the current uptick in ecclesiastical hostilities is unprecedented. People, people, the United Methodists have been caught up in a doctrinal civil war, to one degree or another, ever since the Rev. Julian Rush of Denver came out of the closet in about 1982. A story that doesn’t include the larger time element is simply incomplete.

This is not hard to do. The activists on both sides know the history. Consider this chunk of a recent Associated Press report:

Since 2011, Methodist advocates for gay marriage have been recruiting clergy to openly officiate at same-sex ceremonies in protest of church policy. In response, theological conservatives have sought formal complaints against the defiant clergy, which could lead to church trials. One scholar has warned that Methodists are “retreating into our various camps” instead of seeking a resolution over an issue the church has formally debated since the 1970s.

Please respect our Commenting Policy