Rome

Is a new centrist coalition possible? Don’t underestimate the Vatican’s power In Italian politics

Is a new centrist coalition possible? Don’t underestimate the Vatican’s power In Italian politics

he Tiber River cuts through Rome in the shape of a serpent, splitting the ancient city in half.

On one side is the Vatican, home to the Catholic Church with the large dome of St. Peter’s Basilica looming over the city’s skyline. Directly across from the Vatican is Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Italian parliament. It is a place many Italians despise because it houses bickering politicians.

These two forces, within miles of each other, yet far apart in so many other ways, could come into renewed conflict over the coming weeks.

Italy’s government was plunged into chaos this past Tuesday when the nationalist-populist coalition that had struck fear across the European establishment fell apart. It means that Italians could be going to the ballot box once again in late October. It’s also a sign of how powerful the Catholic Church remains, mostly behind the scenes, in helping to determine the country’s political outcomes.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing party known as The League, triggered the political tsunami after he abandoned the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in an effort to force a no-confidence vote and provoke new elections. Ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that he was resigning, which officially brought the coalition to its knees.

The developments of the past week have left a power vacuum that will be filled either in the upcoming elections or if the Five Star Movement creates a ruling coalition with the center-left Democratic Party and several other smaller political factions. Salvini, who had served as the country’s interior minister and deputy prime minister, is pushing for a vote.

Salvini’s 40% approval rating — considered high for a country known for its very fractured political system — could very well get him elected prime minister. At the same time, traditional conservatives, led by billionaire-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, have seen support eroded as voters increasingly flock to the League.

That these political parties, largely rejected by the electorate last year, want to join forces and stop the anti-immigrant League should come as no surprise. Undoubtedly, the Catholic Church will be rooting for such an outcome, favoring a French-style centrist coalition.

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The Vatican press office has turned over, again. There are new challenges ahead

The Vatican press office has turned over, again. There are new challenges ahead

The Vatican press office may be second only to the White House communications department when it comes to ranking the world’s busiest public relations operation.

Like President Donald Trump, Pope Francis and the Holy See are in some serious need of daily damage control. The resurfacing of the clergy sex abuse scandal — year after year for decades — and the allegations that led to the downfall of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick have been the Vatican’s biggest PR headaches over the past year.

Responsible for handling the Holy See’s messaging on the clergy scandal and a host of other issues will be a retooled press office. Much of the turmoil that has surrounded the pope and the Catholic church over the past year called for an overhaul of the Holy See’s press operation.

The past two weeks has seen a flurry of announcements, including the naming of a new press office director and vice director (more on this position further down), two of the biggest jobs at the Vatican held by lay people.  

Pope Francis appointed Matteo Bruni as director of the Holy See Press Office earlier this month, replacing Alessandro Gisotti who’d been serving in the role on an interim basis following the abrupt resignations of Greg Burke, a former Fox News Channel reporter, and Paloma Garcia Ovejero, who had also worked as a journalist in her native Spain, at the end of last year. Gisotti was in charge throughout the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano saga. Vigano has claimed that Francis covered up the misconduct of McCarrick, something the pontiff has repeatedly denied.

With Bruni’s appointment, Gisotti has been given the role of vice editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication. He will serve under editorial director Andrea Tornielli, who’s been in the job since December, and Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication since July 2018.

Bruni, Gisotti, Tornielli and Ruffini are all Italians, experienced PR men loyal to the church.

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Clergy sexual-abuse fog: Here are five crucial questions for Catholic Church going forward

Clergy sexual-abuse fog: Here are five crucial questions for Catholic Church going forward

Pope Francis, cardinals and senior bishops from around the world gathered for four days in Rome for a conference on clergy sex abuse designed to guide the church on how to best tackle the growing global crisis that has eroded Roman Catholicism’s credibility around the world in a span of three decades.

The pope vowed that there will be change going forward when the summit opened this past Thursday, while victims vented their anger at the Vatican for its inability to discipline priests and bishops who had committed heinous acts against children, teenagers, adult lay men and women, seminarians and even nuns.

Francis capped off the meeting Sunday calling for “an all-out battle against the abuse of minors” and that “no explanations suffice for these abuses involving children.” He promised, once again, that “concrete” changes were ahead.

What next for the church? A few days of speeches and prayer clearly isn’t enough to heal the deep wound that decades of abuse and inaction have caused. Nonetheless, the first-of-its-kind summit was aimed at trying to right some of those past wrongs in what can very well turn out to be a defining moment for Francis’ papacy going forward. The pope himself, it’s worth noting, had tried to lower expectations on the eve of the summit.

To recap the very busy events of the past few days, here’s a look at five questions to emerge from the Vatican’s summit and how the church hopes to handle cases of clergy sex abuse going forward:

What has changed?

This is the big question. While a meeting regarding sex abuse (or any real public addressing of this problem was both unprecedented and long overdue), the event was largely seen as a publicity stunt and to some even a farce. The overarching message was for the pope to convey sincere regret. The photo-ops and video b-roll of Pope Francis looking somber were needed to publicly show repentance for the problem and the years of cover-ups by cardinals and bishops.

“In the face of this scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by men of the church to the detriment of minors, I thought I would summon you," the pontiff told the nearly 200 Catholic leaders last Thursday to open the summit, “so that all together we may lend an ear and listen to the Holy Spirit … and to the cry of the small ones who are asking for justice.”

In those brief comments, he added that people are “looking at us and expect from us not simple condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to put in place. We need to be concrete.”

How concrete remains the big issue.

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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.

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Friday Five: Centers of the religion news universe, plus Alexa orders toilet paper during sermon

Friday Five: Centers of the religion news universe, plus Alexa orders toilet paper during sermon

Rome. Nashville. St. Louis.

These are the centers of the religion news universe this week, involving America’s three largest Christian groups.

At Vatican City, Pope Francis has convened a four-day meeting on the Catholic Church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis. In Nashville, Tenn., Southern Baptists heard from the convention’s president, J.D. Greear, earlier this week concerning that denomination’s own sex abuse crisis.

Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes, three-day meeting on LGBT issues opens Sunday in St. Louis. Are we talking about schism or a semi-schism?

Amid all that news, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In a busy week, the ongoing Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis dominated headlines and GetReligion commentary. Oh, and there’s another post linked to those Covington Catholic High School boys.

In case you missed them, here are some of our must-read posts:

How the mighty are fallen: Press should keep asking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick's secrets

Early Vatican tea leaves: Pope mentions 'pedophilia,' while a public memo includes some land mines

'Abuse of minors' – Rare chance to hear New York Times sing harmony with Vatican establishment

Beyond Thorn Birds (again): Vatican confirms there are rules for priests with secret children

What did press learn from Covington Catholic drama? Hint. This story wasn't about Donald Trump

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New York Times flashback: Is hiding sex scandals among bishops just the 'Roman way'?

New York Times flashback: Is hiding sex scandals among bishops just the 'Roman way'?

When you read the lede on the following USA Today report, it’s pretty clear which issue the editors think is at the heart of the 30-plus year long scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

Yes, I am sorry to bring this up again, but this information is important for reporters and editors who are trying to understand the current divisions inside the world’s largest Christian flock.

This has nothing to do with Donald Trump and Catholics who hang out with Steve Bannon. It a lot to do with statistics, doctrine and the contents of a good dictionary.

Words matter. By the end of this post, we’ll see — in a 2009 case study — that this has always been the case. Using the right words, and avoiding others, helps people keep secrets.

Let’s begin. Read the following carefully:

VATICAN CITY — The latest — and most serious — wave of pedophilia and cover-up allegations to hit the Vatican is shining a new light on the gap dividing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. And almost none of it is about the charges of widespread clerical abuse scandals.

Dozens of commentators and Vatican watchers have pointed to the wide gap between the views of conservative, traditional Catholics in the mold of Pope Benedict XVI and those of reform-minded Catholics like Pope Francis. Many media have referred to what is happening as a kind of “civil war.”

Yes, that passage does include another example of journalists using “reform” as a dog whistle to make sure that readers know which Catholics are good and which Catholics are evil. However, we need to move on, in this case (click here for more information on that bias issue).

The lede clearly states that “pedophilia” is the crucial issue in this crisis. Now, what does that word mean, when you look it up in a dictionary? Here is the online Merriam-Webster:

pedophilia noun

: sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object

specifically: a psychiatric disorder in which an adult has sexual fantasies about or engages in sexual acts with a prepubescent child

Note the specifics attached to the general information and then ask this question: Statistically speaking, are most of the victims in this abuse crisis “prepubescent” children?

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Predator priests: CNN notes pope is silent on (a) secular holiday or (b) holy day celebrating purity?

Predator priests: CNN notes pope is silent on (a) secular holiday or (b) holy day celebrating purity?

Every reporter knows this truth: The typical news story -- even a longer feature -- doesn't have room for every single detail that you want to include.

Ah, but how do you decide which details make the cut? 

In my experience, reporters and editors think about the potential audience for a particular story. On the religion beat, I have always assumed that there is a good chance that people who read religion stories care about the religious details -- especially when they serve as symbols of major themes in the story. I also love details in liturgies, hymns, biblical texts, etc., that offer poignant or even ironic twists on the news.

This brings me to a rather angry note that I received from a reader -- a nationally known historian, who will remain anonymous -- about a symbolic detail in a CNN report linked to the stunning Pennsylvania grand-jury report covering seven decades of Catholic priestly sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The CNN.com headline: "Critics slam Vatican's 'disturbing' silence on abuse cover-ups."

The CNN report noted that Paloma Ovejero, deputy director of the Vatican's press office, simply said: "We have no comment at this time." Meanwhile, U.S. bishops of all stripes have urged Pope Francis to speak out. That led to this passage, with an expert academic voice offering commentary:

"The silence from the Vatican is disturbing," said Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "I don't think the Pope necessarily has to say something today. He needs time to understand the situation. But someone from the Vatican should say something." 

Faggioli noted that Wednesday is a national holiday in Italy, and many church offices are closed. But he also noted that it was well-known that Pennsylvania's grand jury report, which was in the works since 2016, would be released on Tuesday. 

"I don't think they understand in Rome that this is not just a continuation of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States," Faggioli said. "This is a whole different chapter. There should be people in Rome telling the Pope this information, but they are not, and that is one of the biggest problems in this pontificate -- and it's getting worse."

Ah, what was this national holiday? 

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Thinking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick and whether Pope Francis will back #BishopsToo

Thinking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick and whether Pope Francis will back #BishopsToo

Surely GetReligion readers are not surprised that the think piece(s) for this weekend are linked to the saga of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the horrifying three-level scandal of clergy sexual abuse of children, teens and seminarians.

Archbishop McCarrick? Bishop McCarrick? Father McCarrick? Mr. McCarrick? I'm not sure that's the proper Associated Press style at the moment.

But "Uncle Ted" is no longer a member of the College of Cardinals. That's the latest news -- with this announcement from Rome, care of the team at Crux:

ROME / NEW YORK -- After a month of mounting allegations of sexual abuse against American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Pope Francis has accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals.

The 88-year-old retired archbishop of Washington -- who was one of the most prominent faces in the American Catholic hierarchy -- has been ordered to remain in a house “to be indicated” until the accusations against him are examined.

“Yesterday evening the Holy Father received the letter in which Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington (U.S.A.), presented his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals,” said a statement released on Saturday by the Vatican’s press office.

The statement continued to say that Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the cardinalate and “has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”

Ah, there is the crucial phrase -- "accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial."

In other words, this scandal is about McCarrick and McCarrick alone?

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Using the journalism TARDIS: Why was Cardinal McCarrick such a crucial news source?

Using the journalism TARDIS: Why was Cardinal McCarrick such a crucial news source?

When a big news story gets rolling -- like the fall of Cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick -- the digital waves keep crashing in day after, even if there are no new developments in the mainstream press.

Here at GetReligion, it's hard to know what is worth an update or a critique. We will err on the side of keeping readers connected to some of the discussions that are taking place in serious blogging and social media.

Some of the most important issues in this case are linked to journalism questions in the past. If you have followed the must-read posts of GetReligionista Julia Duin (start here and here) and others (Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher, for example), then you know that news organizations had pieces of this puzzle years ago, but could not land the on-the-record interviews needed to satisfy lawyers and editors. One of the big questions: What happened to the New York Times Sunday Magazine story in 2012 that almost made it to print?

There are many "what ifs" to consider. Old-timers like me -- people who covered events in which Cardinal McCarrick was a player and watched journalists encircle him -- may also want to pause and consider why this man was such a prominent news source, in front of cameras and behind the scenes.

The bottom line: The Catholic hierarchy chose to put him in Washington, D.C.

So with that reality in mind, let's do something that your GetReligionistas hardly ever do (with good cause), which is jump in a journalism TARDIS (a Doctor Who reference, of course) and travel back in time. In this case, it's quite educational to pause and examine a glowing 2004 Washingtonian profile of Cardinal McCarrick. Here is the epic double-decker headline: 

The Man In The Red Hat

With a Controversial Catholic in the Presidential Race, the Cardinal Is Seen by Many as the Vatican's Man in Washington -- and He May Play a Big Role in the Selection of the Next Pope

Here is the overture. Pay close attention to the information about this cardinal's clout with journalists:

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