The American Conservative

Bombshell Washington Post report details alleged lavish spending by former Catholic bishop of W.Va.

Bombshell Washington Post report details alleged lavish spending by former Catholic bishop of W.Va.

“Bishop spent millions on self.”

That’s the crisp, concise way that the front page of today’s Washington Post boils down the newspaper’s bombshell report on the former Catholic bishop of West Virginia.

As The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher put it in a blog post titled “Bishop Bransfield’s Lush Live,” the Post “has the goods” on the bishop, who resigned last fall.

Yes, indeed.

Here’s a big chunk of the top of the story by religion writer Michelle Boorstein and two investigative reporting colleagues, Shawn Boburg and Robert O’Harrow Jr.:

In the years before he was ousted for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses, the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican, according to church records obtained by The Washington Post.

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield wrote the checks from his personal account over more than a decade, and the West Virginia diocese reimbursed him by boosting his compensation to cover the value of the gifts, the records show. As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the diocese must use its money only for charitable purposes.

The gifts — one as large as $15,000 — were detailed in a draft of a confidential report to the Vatican about the alleged misconduct that led to Bransfield’s resignation in September. The names of 11 powerful clerics who received checks were edited out of the final report at the request of the archbishop overseeing the investigation, William Lori of Baltimore.

Lori’s name was among those cut. He received a total of $10,500, records show.

The Post obtained both versions of the report, along with emails and financial records.

On Wednesday, in response to inquiries from The Post, Lori said he is returning money he received from Bransfield and is asking that it be donated to Catholic Charities “in light of what I have come to learn of Bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances.”

Lori acknowledged that the names of senior clerics were cut from the final report. “Including them could inadvertently and/or unfairly suggest that in receiving gifts for anniversaries or holidays there were expectations for reciprocity,” he wrote. “No evidence was found to suggest this.”

The full story is a whole lot to digest. I’m still attempting to do so. Let’s just say that the Post did its homework on this one. The result is strong, strong journalism.

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Vatican-China agreement: As misguided as Rome's attempt to work with Nazi Germany?

Vatican-China agreement: As misguided as Rome's attempt to work with Nazi Germany?

Hear about last weekend’s provisional agreement between the Vatican and Beijing to end their decades-long dispute over the appointment of Catholic bishops in China?

China is, of course, arguably one of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to suppressing religious freedom — including for persecution of its estimated six-million strong, underground Catholic church.

You're excused if you haven’t seen coverage of this story, since the American media can barely keep up with the ongoing political explosions emanating from Washington these days. That means a great many international stories, while covered, often receive less overall attention than their long-term importance warrants.

This Vatican-Beijing development — ostensibly designed to unite the much persecuted, Vatican-loyal, underground Chinese Catholic church with the government recognized, and controlled, official Chinese Catholic church — falls into this category.

Given China’s current redoubling of its efforts to allow few, if any, ideologically rivals, religious or otherwise, it seems like an odd time to enter into any such agreement with Beijing.

Which to my mind means this agreement is, for the Vatican, pretty tenuous — as is every agreement held hostage to Beijing’s generally oppressive political power plays.

How will this agreement survive should Vatican officials decide to criticize one or another Chinese human rights violation? Or does China believe that by agreeing to the deal its gained a measure of Roman Catholic Church silence on such matter -- meaning this agreement is just another Chinese attempt to control religious expression?

Today it's China’s Uighur Muslims. It’s not so far fetched to image Beijing lowering the boom on its Catholic population tomorrow should the Roman hierarchy offend China’s politically paranoid sensibilities.

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Why do so many 'woke' activists on cultural left know little or nothing about religion?

Why do so many 'woke' activists on cultural left know little or nothing about religion?

For years -- decades even -- I have been active in the whole "media literacy" cause, trying to help Americans (especially in religious circles) understand more about the role that mass media play in our culture.

During these same decades, I've heard journalism educators -- on the cultural left and right -- argue that the same thing needs to be happening in elite newsrooms and even educational institutions, only in reverse.

Let's stick with the journalism angle: One of the main reasons that pros in our newsrooms often do such a lousy job of covering religion is that there are so few editors and managers who know any thing about religion. Let me stress that the issue is not whether these journalists are religious believers. The issue is whether they know crucial information about the lives, traditions and scriptures linked to the lives of millions and millions of believers who reside in this culture and often play roles in public life.

I've mentioned this before: I'll never forget the night when an anchor at ABC News -- faced with Democrat Jimmy Carter talking about his born-again Christian faith -- solemnly looked into the camera and told viewers that ABC News was investigating this phenomenon (born-again Christians) and would have a report in a future newscast.

What percentage of the American population uses the term "born again" to describe their faith? Somewhere between 40 and 60 percent back then? I mean, Carter wasn't telling America that he was part of an obscure sect, even though many journalists were freaked out by this words -- due to simple ignorance (or perhaps bias).

This brings me to this weekend's think piece in The American Conservative, a magazine defined by cultural conservatism not conservative partisan politics (thus the presence of several big-league #NeverTrump scribes). The double decker headline on this piece asks:

Woke Progressivism’s Glaring Religion Gap

Identity politics demands that we "educate ourselves." So why are its practitioners so often ignorant of religious belief?

Here is Georgetown University graduate student Grayson Quay's overture, which ends with a stunning anecdote:

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Race and Southern Baptists: This is why it's so hard to tell difference between opinion, news these days

Race and Southern Baptists: This is why it's so hard to tell difference between opinion, news these days

It started with an opinion column in the New York Times.

A little-known black pastor from Oklahoma wrote in Monday's Times that he's leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.

Lawrence Ware described "being called a nigger to my face" by a fellow Southern Baptist camper when he was 13.

More than two decades later, Ware explained that he "can no longer be part of an organization that is complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right, whose members support the abhorrent policies of Donald Trump and whose troubling racial history and current actions reveal a deep commitment to white supremacy."

The pastor ended the piece by saying that he loves all people, but he loves black people "more."

In response to the column, Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher suggested at the American Conservative:

It sounds like he has apostatized to the Church of Identity Politics. It’s a false religion, but an increasingly popular one, alas.

So why am I highlighting a progressive column and a conservative response here at GetReligion? This journalism blog, after all, steers clear of analyzing op-eds and editorials. That's not our mission.

Rather, we focus — as regular readers know — on critiquing mainstream news coverage of religion.

Well, here is another instance of the lines being blurred. Just this week, my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin delved into the interesting case study of the Eugene Peterson story. Now, once again, we have an opinion column making news.

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Son of 'Da Vinci Code'? 'Symbols' in Vatican-linked political blast cry out for translation

Son of 'Da Vinci Code'? 'Symbols' in Vatican-linked political blast cry out for translation

Actor Tom Hanks brought to life (on screen) the fictional Harvard University "symbologist" Robert Langdon, the hero of Dan Brown's fanciful novels "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons."

If there actually were a "symbologist" floating around, it might be useful to page them -- or Tom Hanks -- to help interpret a Vatican-linked bit of commentary about, of all things, American politics, the late Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and President Donald Trump's chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.

Put all THAT in your word processor, Dan Brown! Can't you almost see the trailer for that movie, releasing perhaps in time for Campaign 2020? 

Instead, we are, fortunately. in the capable hands of Rachel Zoll, religion writer for the Associated Press, and Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher. Each approaches the subject in a professional manner. Dreher, of course, has his opinions, which we'll get to in a moment.

Let's start with the AP, via Maine's Portland Press Herald. Take a gander at this longish excerpt, published under the headline "Pope confidant sees unholy U.S. alliance," to see what's causing all the fuss:

A close confidant of Pope Francis, writing Thursday in a Vatican-approved magazine, condemned the way some American evangelicals and their Roman Catholic supporters mix religion and politics, saying their worldview promotes division and hatred.
The Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, said a shared desire for political influence between “evangelical fundamentalists” and some Catholics has inspired an “ecumenism of conflict” that demonizes opponents and promotes a “theocratic type of state.” ...

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