Kenneth Woodward

Yet another clergy sexual abuse story, with vague AP language that may hide crucial facts

Yet another clergy sexual abuse story, with vague AP language that may hide crucial facts

You would think that this would be an easy question.

What is a “boy”?

Now, I am not talking about all those cute posters about what happens when you mix noise and dirt. I am actually talking about a term linked to some of the most important facts at the heart of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis.

As it turns out, “boy” is an almost useless word, in the context of news coverage. If you look in one major online dictionary and this is what you will find:

boy

noun ...

1 a: a male child from birth to adulthood

OK, so we are dealing with a male somewhere between birth and, what, age 21?

With that question in mind, consider the top of the following Associated Press report — “Church covered up priest’s abuse of 50 boys” — about another horrible case that has jumped off the back burner and into the headlines:

FORT DODGE, Iowa (AP) — A Roman Catholic diocese acknowledged Wednesday that it concealed for decades a priest’s admission that he sexually abused dozens of Iowa boys — a silence that may have put other children in danger.

The Rev. Jerome Coyle, now 85, was stripped of his parish assignments in the 1980s but never defrocked. And it was not until this week, after The Associated Press inquired about him, that he was publicly identified by the church as an admitted pedophile, even though the Diocese of Sioux City had been aware of his conduct for 32 years.

The diocese recently helped Coyle move into a retirement home in Fort Dodge, Iowa, without informing administrators at the Catholic school across the street.

The key words there are, of course, “boys” and “pedophile.”

Yes, here we go again: What is the common definition of “pedophilia”? That would be, to quote that recent Commonweal article by former Newsweek scribe Kenneth L. Woodward, an “adult who is sexually attracted to prepubescent children.”

Is this what we are talking about with the victims in most of these Coyle cases, or does AP need to run a correction?

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Beach house sequel: Father Boniface Ramsey details his efforts to report 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

Beach house sequel: Father Boniface Ramsey details his efforts to report 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

The complex story of scandals linked to the life and sins of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick rolls on — with the most interesting material being reporting in various forms of Catholic media. In mainstream newsrooms, most of the coverage continues to focus on clergy abuse with children and teens.

As always, “seminaries” is the key search term to use, if you want to research news about the “system” looming over the scandal as a whole — which includes the sexual abuse of children (pedophilia), teens (ephebophilia) and adults (usually seminarians). The McCarrick story includes all three, but his sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians lasted for decades.

This past weekend, I used our regular “think piece” slot to point readers toward a Commonweal essay — “Double Lives” — by retired Newsweek religion pro Kenneth Woodward.

I normally don’t post “think piece” essays on weekdays, but this time I want to make an exception. The Commonweal team has followed that earlier Woodward essay with a first-person account by Father Boniface Ramsey of New York City, focusing on his efforts to convince church authorities to look into what McCarrick was doing, all those years.

The headline is pretty ho-hum, as in “The Case of Theodore McCarrick: A Failure of Fraternal Correction.” The contents? They’re stunning. It’s hard to know what to quote, since journalists working on this story really need to read it all.

The bottom line: Vatican authorities tend to use the word “rumors” to describe reports about McCarrick. Ramsey says that’s the wrong word. This passage is near the top of his piece:

What the seminarians would talk about among themselves and with some members of the faculty were experiences that they themselves had undergone, or that they had heard others had undergone. It may have been gossip, but it was gossip about real events.

Most people who have been following the case of Theodore McCarrick know by now that he had a beach house on the Jersey Shore at his disposal and that he would regularly request seminarians to visit it with him. This is how it went: he or his secretary would contact the seminary and ask for five specific seminarians, or would just contact the seminarians directly. Understandably, a request from one’s archbishop could not easily be refused.

When McCarrick and the five seminarians arrived at the beach house, there were six men and only five beds.

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Politicos and reporters: Democrats’ hopes for 2018 and '20 face religious tripwires

Politicos and reporters: Democrats’ hopes for 2018 and '20 face religious tripwires

The biblical preacher laments that “much study is a weariness of the flesh,” which can be said about commentaries without end on why oh why so many white evangelicals back President Donald Trump and his Republicans.

Current examples come from the scornful Slate.com and, on the right, David French, with vigorous National Review jeremiads here and also here. A prominent Catholic journalist, Newsweek veteran Kenneth Woodward, offered his perspective here.

Yet The Religion Guy, and other GetReligionistas, keep reminding everybody not to neglect other religious and racial groups and the dynamics within America’s other party. The Democrats have high hopes for 2020 and for a Nov. 6 rebound, perhaps of historic proportions.  Before pols order the champagne, however, they (and reporters who cover them) should recognize potential religious tripwires.

There’s a disjuncture between liberal whites who pretty much control Democratic machinations and the African-American and Hispanic voters they need in order to win. As GetReligion has noted, Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter warns about contempt for traditional Christianity typified by that New Yorker attack upon “creepy” Chick-fil-A, analyzed here by our own tmatt.

Carter, an African-American and Episcopalian, has bemoaned elite blinders  since “The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion” (1993). In this round, he highlights Pew Research data showing Americans of color are notably more devout, more religiously active and more conservative in belief than whites. His bottom line: “If you find Christian traditionalism creepy, it’s black people you’re talking about.”

The Guy adds that you’re also targeting scads of white Catholics and Latinos.   

As The Guy and other GetReligionistas keep noting, and many media keep ignoring, the Democrats’ religion problem shapes their prospects. Which brings us to “The Democrats’ God Gap,” a must-read by the aforementioned French. (French is a prominent #NeverTrump conservative but also a behind-scenes evangelical hero as an attorney defending the right of campus groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to be led by like-minded Christians.)    

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Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

It's for a deep, deep dive into my GetReligion folder of guilt, that cyber stash of items that I really planned to write about pronto, but then things (oh, like the post-election mainstream news media meltdown) got in the way.

I remembered this particular item because of my recent posts about NBC News and Politico coverage of challenges facing the Democratic Party, which has gone off a cliff in terms of its fortunes at the level of state legislatures (and governors' mansions) in the American heartland (and other places, too). Of course, Democrats are in trouble in Washington, D.C., as well -- but after some truly agonizing close losses.

To sum up those posts: Both NBC News and The Politico totally ignored the role of religious, moral and cultural issues in the current predicament facing the modern Democrats. That "pew gap"? Never heard of it.

But there are people who are thinking about that issue, such as Emma Green at The Atlantic. Scores of faithful readers let us know about the recent piece there that ran with this headline: "Democrats Have a Religion Problem." It's an interview with conservative evangelical Michael Wear, who served as former director of Barack Obama’s 2012 faith-outreach efforts.

For example: What does Wear think of the modern party's attempts to deal with pro-life Democrats, such as himself? Green states the question this way: "How would you characterize Democrats’ willingness to engage with the moral question of abortion, and why is it that way?"

Wear: There were a lot of things that were surprising about Hillary’s answer [to a question about abortion] in the third debate. She didn’t advance moral reservations she had in the past about abortion. She also made the exact kind of positive moral argument for abortion that women’s groups -- who have been calling on people to tell their abortion stories -- had been demanding.
The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane.

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Godbeat nostalgia: 38-year Newsweek scribe Kenneth L. Woodward tells (almost) all

Godbeat nostalgia: 38-year Newsweek scribe Kenneth L. Woodward tells (almost) all

Kenneth L. Woodward had a remarkably long run as Newsweek’s religion writer (1964–2002) overlapping most of the newsmagazine’s heyday under Washington Post ownership. He’s out with a memoir whose title befits this blog: “Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama” (Convergent, $30).

The book will interest journalists first as a readable rundown of important religion events starting with the Second Vatican Council’s final phase. Also, Woodward muses about American culture’s radical change from his Ike-era boyhood centered on family, plus neighborhood, plus church, plus school.

This Memo treats a third aspect, nostalgia about Newsweek’s once-thriving Godbeat, a high-pressure gig with millions of readers and all those deadlines -- countless 3 a.m. closings.

Disclosure:  As Time’s religion writer for two decades, and a correspondent beforehand and afterward, I waged competition against Ken and the weekly we spoke of as “Brand X.”   
Newspaper types were mystified by New York-based writers drawing reportage from field correspondents, but it was a flexible, content-rich system. Woodward says in 38 years “the only really Newsweek-worthy Protestant convention I covered” in person was one Presbyterian assembly.

Depicting the decline of Newsweek to its present reduced status, Woodward says “you couldn’t really hear the death rattle until management began to close its news bureaus around the world.”  Readers also benefited from excellent editorial libraries and reporter-researchers like Time religion’s talented Michael Harris of blessed memory, a Cornell Ph.D fluent in Arabic, Greek and Latin.

Newsweek Editor Osborn Elliott, who formerly worked at Time, knew he was getting scooped on the big Vatican Council story. Applicant Woodward had given little thought to the Council, never read Newsweek, and had experience only at an Omaha weekly, but Elliott hired him thanks to a Catholic background, Notre Dame degree, and good clippings.

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Kenneth Woodward on l'affaire Douthat and who is qualified to write about religion news

Kenneth Woodward on l'affaire Douthat and who is qualified to write about religion news

I admit that I have been biting my tongue during the post-Synod 2015 firestorm about New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and the large army of liberal Catholic academics who have expressed their displeasure that such a theological lightweight has been allowed to comment on the Catholic faith in the world's most influential op-ed space.

Surely readers will join me in being shocked, shocked that a Times columnist has published controversial commentary about the Catholic Church. Can I get an "Amen"?

I mean, this is the same editorial setting in which a columnist named Bill Keller -- a few months after 9/11 -- compared the Catholic leadership, in the era of Pope St. John Paul II, with al-Qaeda. Readers may, or may not, recall the outcry from Catholic progressives in the wake of these words from Keller's May 4, 2002, column entitled "Is the Pope Catholic?"

What reform might mean in the church is something I leave to Catholics who care more than I do. ... But the struggle within the church is interesting as part of a larger struggle within the human race, between the forces of tolerance and absolutism. That is a struggle that has given rise to great migrations (including the one that created this country) and great wars (including one we are fighting this moment against a most virulent strain of intolerance).
The Catholic Church has not, over the centuries, been a stronghold of small-c catholic values, which my dictionary defines as "broad in sympathies, tastes, or understanding; liberal." This is, after all, the church that gave us the Crusades and the Inquisition.

So what happened to Keller after that theological outburst? A year later he was named executive editor of the Times.

Back to Douthat and his theological commentary about Pope Francis and the 2015 Synod of Bishops. You see, there is a journalistic issue here that affects reporters covering hard news events and trends, as well as commentary writers who are free to write their own opinions.

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