Jesuits

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Investigative team unmasks Gonzaga University as retirement spot for predator priests

Investigative team unmasks Gonzaga University as retirement spot for predator priests

This has not been a good week for the Jesuits, what with two U.S. Jesuit provinces releasing a list of 84 clergy credibly accused of sex abuse. Including those on another list released Dec. 7, that’s about 230 Jesuits credibly accused of abusing a child since the 1950s.

Where did some of these Jesuits go once they were accused? To a Catholic university in Spokane, we learned on Monday. A team of three reporters from Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting tell us that Gonzaga University served as a retirement center for 20-some priests who were accused of sexual misconduct in Alaska or on Indian reservations.

This is a depressingly familiar pattern: Hide the erring priests in places attended by minorities or in the middle of nowhere. Tmatt wrote in November about how Hispanic parishes in the 1980s were increasingly on the receiving end for shady priests.

Alaska has been a dumping ground for predators for years. PBS had a huge story called “The Silence” on this back in 2011 by Mark Trahant, a Native American journalist. It talks about how 80 percent of the youth in one Alaska village were molested by someone in the church and has pretty amazing video of Natives talking about their abuse. Read the transcript here if you don’t have time for the 28-minute documentary.

Read the investigation here:

On the surface, Father James Poole seemed like the cool priest in Nome, Alaska. He founded a Catholic mission radio station that broadcast his Jesuit sermons alongside contemporary pop hits. A 1978 story in People magazine called Poole “Western Alaska’s Hippest DJ . Comin’ at Ya with Rock’n’Roll ‘n’ Religion.”

Behind the radio station’s closed doors, Poole was a serial sexual predator. He abused at least 20 women and girls, according to court documents. At least one was 6 years old. One Alaska Native woman says he impregnated her when she was 16, then forced her to get an abortion and blame her father for raping her. Her father went to prison…

But the last chapter in his story reveals a new twist in the Catholic abuse scandal: Poole was sent to live out his retirement years on Gonzaga University’s campus in Spokane, Washington.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Breaking news: Brett Kavanaugh uses the V-word, which used to be OK for Catholics

Breaking news: Brett Kavanaugh uses the V-word, which used to be OK for Catholics

Growing up as a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid in Bible Belt Texas, I was quite familiar with the word “virgin.” (Click here for a dictionary reference, if you need one.)

It wasn’t a curse word and, for most people, it wasn’t a punch line. At the same time, it wasn’t something folks in my high school discussed in public very much. Yes, there were people who gossiped about who was doing or not doing what. However, as a nerd, bookworm and choral musician I wasn’t up to speed on all that. I was an uncool guy, even among the Baptists.

My point is that this wasn’t a mysterious word. No one needed to put the V-word inside “scare quotes” (dictionary definition here), as if it was a concept from an alien planet.

Take this USA Today headline, for example: “Brett Kavanaugh: He was a 'virgin' in high school and other takeaways from Fox interview.”

What, pray tell, is the purpose of the quotation marks around “virgin”? Is the point that (a) editors at Gannett are not sure about the meaning of the word or (b) that Kavanaugh — wink, wink — said that word so we are putting it inside quotation marks because, well, you know.

To make sure readers got the point, editors repeated this reference later in the story. This word was, apparently, the most important, the most shocking, takeaway from this interview.

Kavanaugh a 'virgin' in high school

The judge said he never had sexual intercourse "or anything close to (it)" until long after he left Georgetown Prep, the elite all-boys Catholic high school he attended in Rockville, Maryland.

“So you’re saying through all these years that are in question that you were a virgin?” MacCallum asked Kavanaugh.

“That’s correct," he replied.

She pressed on: “And through what years in college, since we’re probing into your personal life here?”

“Many years after, I’ll leave it at that," he answered. "Many years after."

Here is my question about that passage: Is the most important word in it “prep” or “Catholic"?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Brett Kavanaugh's Georgetown Catholicity wasn't a huge factor in first-day coverage

Brett Kavanaugh's Georgetown Catholicity wasn't a huge factor in first-day coverage

Well, there was no lack of faith talk during President Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday of his Supreme Court justice pick, and all of it was perfectly normal.

We heard the name of the Catholic parish nominee Brett Kavanaugh attends and the fact that he coaches a Catholic Youth Organization basketball team. We heard a little bit about his inspirational Georgetown educational ties.

The bottom line: I wondered why the nominee was so upfront about his faith. Some media outlets picked this up, but a lot did not.

Mother Jones got the same impression I did in an intriguing piece about the nominee's subliminal efforts to appeal to the social justice crowd.

Kavanaugh’s speech diverged from his predecessors in one key aspect: extensive reference to his Catholic faith, including a special shout-out to one of Washington, DC’s most beloved religious leaders, Monsignor John Enzler. 

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who attended the same Jesuit high school as Kavanaugh, vaguely thanked “my family, my friends and my faith” but failed to mention his Catholic upbringing when he accepted Trump’s nomination last year. Neither did Chief Justice John RobertsJustice Sonia Sotomayor, or Justice Clarence Thomas in their first remarks as nominees. Not even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a proudly devout Catholic who counted a priest among his sons, mentioned religion during his swearing-in ceremony.

Kavanaugh brought up Catholicism at several points in his 857-word speech, but reserved special attention for John Enzler, known as “Father John,” a legend in DC Catholic circles. 

America Magazine, with its Jesuit ties, offered the best summary of the nominee’s Catholic bonafides: 

During his remarks, Mr. Kavanaugh highlighted his Catholic faith and Jesuit connections.

 “The motto of my Jesuit high school was ‘men for others,’” Mr. Kavanaugh said, referencing Georgetown Preparatory School, from which he graduated in 1983. “I have tried to live that creed.”


Please respect our Commenting Policy

Drag show at Jesuit university gets a yawn (mostly) from mainstream press in Seattle

Drag show at Jesuit university gets a yawn (mostly) from mainstream press in Seattle

Last Saturday was religion day at The Seattle Times; no small thing in that the paper hasn’t had a religion reporter in several years.

There was a poll piece on how irreligious Washington state residents are becoming. Then a short piece on the fate of a historic black church:

Then there was an attention-grabbing piece about a drag show at a local Jesuit college.

Your head spins. A what?

Which is why most reporters would like to take a crack at the story. But is it news any longer that Jesuit colleges do crazy things?

Not really. Some of you may have read what Rod Dreher wrote about the drag show, but the Times had to wait for something to actually newsy to happen. Then a professor stole copies of the student newspaper that reported on the show. That was news.

Thus, the Times wrote: 

The photo of the Seattle University student performing at a drag show in a low-cut, sparkly leotard was well lit and captured the performer mid-pose.

The editors of the university’s student newspaper The Spectator say it’s a good photo, one that they don’t regret putting on the cover of last week’s edition.

That puts them at odds with the university’s president, who called the photo “obscene,” and at least one professor, who admitted to removing every copy of the newspaper from the stands at three separate locations on the campus.

The lede is kind of stodgy, as the real story is about the professor who stole the papers.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why are Catholic schools so good at hoops? New York Times cites several good reasons

Why are Catholic schools so good at hoops? New York Times cites several good reasons

If you've been online during the final stages of March Madness you have probably seen people chatting about this question: Why are Catholic schools so good at basketball?

The question will linger after Villanova's smashing 79-62 win over Michigan in last night's title game. This is the second national title for Villanova (with its ties to the Augustinian Order) in three years. And, of course, Notre Dame won the women's final four, on a shot that was called -- with some reason -- a near miracle.

Yes, it's easy to joke about the prayers of hoops-loving nuns and saints.

However, there is an interesting story here, one linked to culture, theology and economics. Kudos to The New York Times for producing a serious feature-length piece that dug into the substance of this topic. The #DUH headline: "Why Catholic Colleges Excel at Basketball." Here is a crucial transition passage:

Excelling in big-time college basketball sits easily at mission-oriented institutions. Sports are not only these universities’ front porch, but also the faith’s emissary.
Villanova’s president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, hosts an opening Mass for athletes every year, where he reminds them they are ambassadors for the university’s mission. “To have our charism move on,” he said, using a dogma-tinged Greek word for spirit, “the banner needs to be carried.”

Whoa. "Dogma-tinged"? I think it's enough to say that this is a theological term. Also, that definition is a bit off. The word "charism" has a much more specific meaning, one that would have done a better job of supporting this story's thesis. Dictionary.com says:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

When Pope Francis trashes Satan, journalists need to do more legwork on why

When Pope Francis trashes Satan, journalists need to do more legwork on why

Not long ago, the London Telegraph ran a brief piece about Pope Francis cautioning people not to talk to the devil.

The mere existence of a papal discussion on the matter presupposes that enough people are talking with the Serpent Below to cause the Vatican some thought. I just wish the reporter had done more with this absorbing topic. 

The story begins with this:

The Devil is more intelligent than mere mortals and should never be argued with, Pope Francis has warned.
Satan is not a metaphor or a nebulous concept but a real person armed with dark powers, the Pope said in forthright remarks made during a television interview.
“He is evil, he’s not like mist. He’s not a diffuse thing, he is a person. I’m convinced that one must never converse with Satan - if you do that, you’ll be lost,” he told TV2000, a Catholic channel, gesticulating with his hands to emphasise his point.
“He’s more intelligent than us, and he’ll turn you upside down, he’ll make your head spin.

One hopes the pope was not referring to the famous head-spinning scene in The Exorcist.

Now, one needs to ask a basic question: What got Francis going on this topic? The Telegraph article doesn’t say, except to inform us that the pope has been on a defeat-Satan kick for some time.

"It's a Jesuit thing. He's a Jesuit who is deeply imbued with the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, which allow people to discern the movements of the good and bad spirit," said Austen Ivereigh, a Vatican analyst and the author of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.
"For him, this is real, these are not metaphors. It may not be the way that people speak nowadays and some Catholics may be taken aback by it. A lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of evil being real, but anyone who knows the spirituality of the Jesuits will not be surprised."

In other words, this is a personal foible, if you will, of a Jesuit pope and not something that reasonable 21st century folks need to be concerned about.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So is 'evangelical Catholic' a religious term or a political term? The honest answer: yes

So is 'evangelical Catholic' a religious term or a political term? The honest answer: yes

After all the the press attention dedicated to Donald Trump's wooing of evangelicals, it's time to get down to what really matters in American politics -- the never-ending battle over Catholics who regularly or semi-regularly visit church pews.

Yes, it helps Democrats if evangelical Protestants are not terribly excited about the GOP nominee and, thus, are more likely to vote with clenched teeth or even to stay home. This time around, Trump has strong supporters among the Religious Right old guard, but he also has strong, strong critics among solid, conservative Christian leaders (as opposed to the small, but press-friendly, world of progressive evangelicals).

But the big game is among Catholic voters. While lapsed and cultural Catholics are solidly in the Democratic Party camp, along with those in the elite "progressive Catholic" camp, the real question is what happens among millions of ordinary Sunday-morning Catholics and the much smaller number of traditional Catholics who are even more dedicated, in terms of participation in daily Mass, Confession and the church's full sacramental life. This is where the true "swing voters" are found. Does Trump have a prayer with those voters? We will see.

What does this have to do with the "evangelical Catholic" tag that has been claimed by Gov. Mike Pence, who got the VP nod from Trump? Hang on, because that connection came up during this week's "Crossroads" podcast conversation with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

The term "evangelical Catholic" is highly controversial, for obvious reasons. In the media, this tends to be a negative term, applied either to people who were raised Catholic (see Pence) and are now evangelicals, or to Catholics who stress the church's ancient, orthodox teachings on moral and social issues on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and sex outside of marriage. Thus, these "evangelical Catholics" tend to be more popular with modern evangelicals than with the elite Catholics who often gather with journalists for cocktail parties on or near the Georgetown University campus.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Some journalists edited out a few radical elements of the Father Daniel Berrigan story

Some journalists edited out a few radical elements of the Father Daniel Berrigan story

First, let me offer a personal confession: I am old enough to remember what it felt like to anxiously wait to learn where my birth date fell in one of the final U.S. military draft lotteries during the Vietnam War era. If you happen to be that old, then the odds are much better that you are familiar with the work of Father Daniel Berrigan.

One more confession: It will also be easier to understand this post if, at one point in your life, you were a strong supporter of abortion rights and then you started reading the works of political liberals -- in some cases socialists -- who were also defenders of the weakest of the weak, as in unborn children.

Thus, with all of that in my past, it was interesting to read the news-media obituaries and tributes to Father Berrigan this week.

Journalists, of course, put most of their focus on his anti-war activism -- which was totally appropriate. More than a few (think "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard") discussed the degree to which Berrigan and his brother Philip became public figures and even symbols in popular culture.

It would be easy to say that he was just an anti-war leader and, in the eyes of many conservatives, someone who went overboard in his criticism of America. It would have been easy to say that, and that alone. However, I also wanted to see if journalists would deal with some of the other truly countercultural implications of Father Berrigan's beliefs.

In short, I was interested in noting what journalists mentioned, as opposed to what they edited out of this radical life story. Thus, here is a short and rather easy test. Which of the following summaries of Berrigan's life and career is from Crux and which is from The New York Times? I made them extra long to show more context:

Please respect our Commenting Policy