Jason Berry

Faith struggles of young D.C. Catholic women? Washington Post says it's all 'politics'

Faith struggles of young D.C. Catholic women? Washington Post says it's all 'politics'

For millions of Roman Catholics, the world began changing in the 1980s — with waves of headlines about clergy sexual abuse cases that eventually led to reporter Jason Berry’s cathartic 1992 book “Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children.”

The National Catholic Reporter wrote article after article about the scandals. A crucial moment came in 1985, when The New York Times published a brutal article about the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, who admitted that he abused dozens of children in parishes in rural, southwest Louisiana. HBO eventually made a movie — “Judgement” — about the Gauthe case.

Mainstream news reporters, including me, covered stories linked to the emerging scandal all through the 1980s, as the U.S. Catholic bishops met behind closed doors to discuss how to solve this hellish puzzle.

As a series of documentaries by Minnesota Public Radio stated, “It all began in Lafayette.”

I offered this brief flash back as context for an important, but stunningly faith-free, Washington Post “social issues” feature that ran under this headline: “What it’s like to be a young Catholic in a new era of clergy sex abuse scandals.” Here is the features crucial summary material:

In an era when the church is frequently perceived as behind the times on matters of importance to them, some young Catholics have responded to the latest setbacks by pulling further away from the beleaguered institution, while others have drawn closer.

This generation of Catholic college students has grown up amid the stain of the sexual abuse crisis, which was first exposed by The Boston Globe in 2002 and has since implicated clergy around the world. Most can’t even remember a pre-scandal church.

At the same time, they and young people generally are a critical demographic for the future of Catholicism, which has an aging parishioner base and has struggled to attract and retain young people.

Catholicism has seen the largest decline in participation among major religious groups, according to a report in 2016 from the Public Religion Research Institute.

For starters, the Post does need to run a correction stating that the first national exposure of the clergy sexual abuse scandal did not come in 2002 in the Spotlight work published by The Boston Globe. The Globe work was stunning, and crucial, but it is simply inaccurate to ignore the nearly two decades of work that came before that.

However, the heart of this article consists of interviews with young Catholic women in Washington, D.C., along with experts who describe how their views illustrate the faith impact of the ongoing scandals. There are, apparently, no young Catholic men inside the Beltway.

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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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The Oscars put the spotlight on “Spotlight” and on news reporting about religion

The Oscars put the spotlight on “Spotlight” and on news reporting about religion

GetReligion readers are well aware that quality news reporting in the print media, and investigative reporting, are continually sliding in America due to shrinking news holes, budgets and staffing. Nostalgia aside, this has obvious negative consequences for a republic.

On Sunday, Hollywood did its bit to boost the news biz by giving the best picture Oscar to the must-see “Spotlight,” correctly regarded as the best movie depiction ever of real newspaper work. The film, of course, depicts The Boston Globe effort that exposed the extent of Catholic priests’ sexual molestation in the area archdiocese thanks to shoe-leather fieldwork and documents gained by a strategic lawsuit and a state judge’s edict.

Let’s admit that the entertainment business will not weep over travail that afflicts Catholicism. However that should not obscure the fact that the entire church and its parishoners owe a deep debt to the Globe team for unearthing accurate information.

Along with the hurrahs, religion reporters and other news people should reflect on lessons to be learned from this episode. Put bluntly, where were the mainstream news media prior to the Globe’s 2002 publication? There’s a good article waiting to be written in coming days about who gave how much coverage and when.

Some analysts imply that nobody did much of anything prior to the Globe extravaganza. Not so. The Associated Press faithfully supplied the nationwide press corps with coverage, outrage by outrage. There were good articles in the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time and elsewhere.

Yet truth is, while local dailies did their duty the national “mainstream” print media (that pretty much set the agenda for TV and radio news) failed to provide sufficient, sweeping examinations with dramatic display about the over-all Catholic abuse syndrome, as opposed to this or that individual case.

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