La Repubblica

Pounding George Pell in the press: The cardinal takes a hit from the Gray Lady

Pounding George Pell in the press: The cardinal takes a hit from the Gray Lady

The “trial of the century” of Cardinal George Pell -- the Vatican’s “number 3” man and head of its finances - on sexual abuse charges has been passed by a Melbourne Magistrate to the Victoria County Court for adjudication. On April 30, Magistrate Belinda Wallington found there was sufficient evidence to justify a trial for the 76-year old former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, who has been placed on leave by Pope Francis to respond to the charges.

The case has been closely followed by the Australian and Italian press for the past three years, while the US and British press has also covered the spectacle. The coverage has been all over the map. 

Some outlets, like The Australian, have done a thorough balanced job -- others like the New York Times have fallen short in their professional standards. Conservative Catholic blogs have long criticized the coverage of the Pell case as  against the cardinal -- and part of the larger battle of doctrine being waged between progressives and traditionalists within the church.

Not unexpectedly, the Italian press has viewed the Pell case on advocacy-journalism lines - the anti-clerical or liberal papers have already found him guilty, the Catholic papers see him as a martyr to police misconduct, media bias and anti-Catholic sentiment, while the center plays it down the middle with a ‘too soon to tell’ what to think about George Pell approach.

When the charges surfaced last year, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) observed:

The centrist Corriere Della Sera newspaper noted the cardinal was "the highest representative of the Catholic Church every involved in such a case". The liberal La Repubblica warned "the shadow of pedophilia and rape returns to obscure the church". It described the cardinal as the "controversial kangaroo" and branded Australia as "a paradise of the orcs", saying in the past seven per cent of priests had been accused of sexual assault.

Today’s headlines from Italy follow this pattern. The lede in La Repubblica’s story “Abusi sessuali e pedofilia, il cardinale Pell rinviato a giudizio in Australia” (Sexual abuse and paedophilia -- Cardinal Pell indicted in Australia) states: 

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Pope's (maybe) hell comment sparks firestorm, while NPR offers Easter spit-take (and more!)

Pope's (maybe) hell comment sparks firestorm, while NPR offers Easter spit-take (and more!)

First things first: Yes, your GetReligionistas received your messages and saw your many tweets about National Public Radio's amazing Easter correction. 

However, it's important to see the larger picture.

In terms of strange news and social-media -- Twitter in particular -- was this an amazing (Western) Holy Week  and Easter or what? Is the pope Catholic?

I'll deal with some of the tweets first, but it's important to know where we are going -- which is the larger story linked to what Pope Francis did or didn't say about hell, in his latest sit-down with his 93-year-old atheist friend, and journalist, Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica.

Hold that thought, because we have quite a distance to go before we get there. In my opinion, the most amazing part of that Holy Week story was the Vatican's sort-of denial that was issued to straighten out this latest Scalfari drama.

The now famous NPR correction was attached to a story about this Francis statement, under the headline: "Pope To World: Hell Does Exist." 

The Washington Post actually published an analysis piece about this correction, placing it in the context of decades of debate about media bias linked to religion. Here is the top of that piece:

An NPR report on Good Friday described Easter inaccurately and, in doing so, practically begged Christians to renew charges that the media is biased against them.
“Easter -- the day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to hell or purgatory or anywhere like that, but rather arose into heaven -- is on Sunday,” read an article on NPR’s website.
Easter, in fact, is the day when Christians celebrate their belief in the earthly resurrection of Jesus.

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Sitting down with the would-be assassin of St. John Paul II

Sitting down with the would-be assassin of St. John Paul II

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports that Mehmet Ali Agca was arrested after he returned to the scene of his May 1981 crime -- the attempted assassination of St. John Paul II. On Dec. 27, Agca attempted to place flowers on the grave of the late pope, and shortly thereafter was taken into custody by Italian immigration authorities for having entered the country illegally.

This interview does a fine job in reporting on an individual who might be crazy.

It presses and pushes Agca to explain his contradictions and places his claims in context -- testing them against provable facts -- yet it does not belittle or minimize his importance. The reader is allowed to judge the merits of Agca’s claim that he was God’s agent. 

There is no “snark” here. No cleverness, no sarcasm and no ignorance. La Repubblica has done a first-rate job.

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Concerning the latest (alleged) interview with Pope Francis

Concerning the latest (alleged) interview with Pope Francis

So how would you like to be a press officer for the Vatican these days? Honestly, they should be getting combat pay. Here is the question that I have been asking, during the latest round of the game called, "What did the pope say and who says that he said it?"

In terms of basic journalism craft and ethics, what is an "interview"? Here is the top of a Reuters report that shows why I am asking this:

ROME, July 13 (Reuters) -- About 2 percent of Roman Catholic clerics are sexual abusers, an Italian newspaper on Sunday quoted Pope Francis as saying, adding that the pontiff considered the crime "a leprosy in our house".

But the Vatican issued a statement saying some parts of a long article in the left-leaning La Repubblica were not accurate, including one that quoted the pope as saying that there were cardinals among the abusers.

The article was a reconstruction of an hour-long conversation between the pope and the newspaper's founder, Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist who has written about several past encounters with the pope.

And what precisely is a "reconstruction of an hour-long conversation"? Here is some additional information:

The Vatican issued a statement noting Scalfari's tradition of having long conversations with public figures without taking notes or taping them, and then reconstructing them from memory. Scalfari, 90, is one of Italy's best known journalists.

While acknowledging that the conversation had taken place, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi issued a statement saying that not all the phrases could be attributed "with certainty" to the pope. Lombardi said that, in particular, a quote attributed to the pope saying cardinals were among the sex abusers was not accurate and accused the paper of trying to "manipulate naive readers."

So this was a private conversation and the journalist did not -- perhaps as an homage to Truman Capote -- take notes or use an audio recorder. Instead, he left the hour-long conversation and then, with his razor-sharp (we can only hope) 90-year-old memory, he "reconstructed" the verbatim quotations from this event.

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Economist, New York Times tailor pope to their notions

One of the fascinating things about Pope Francis is the apparent mad rush among mainstream media scribes to recast the Bishop of Rome in their image, particularly if the image is in any way left-leaning, or, at the least, non-rightward-facing. After the conservative Blessed John Paul II and the conservative Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Jose Maria Bergoglio is now positioned in some media quarters as the Vatican’s version of the Barack Obama of 2008: At last, pontifical “change we can believe in.”

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Are gay blinkers distorting the New York Times on Vatican?

The New York Times is shocked, shocked to hear Pope Francis say there is a gay lobby at the Vatican.

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