Top 10 lists

Child sexual abuse by priests was top 2018 religion story: What about McCarrick and the bishops?

Child sexual abuse by priests was top 2018 religion story: What about McCarrick and the bishops?

On July 16, the New York Times ran a blockbuster story with this headline: “He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal.

The man at the heart of this story was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick — now ex-cardinal — long one of the most powerful Catholics in America and, some would say, the world. His spectacular fall led to a tsunami of chatter among religion-beat veterans because of decades of rumors about his private affairs, including beach-house sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians. Click here for a Julia Duin post on that.

There was another layer to all of this. McCarrick’s career was rooted in work in the greater New York City area and in Washington, D.C. He was one of the most important media sources among center-left Catholic leaders, so much so that a cluster of reporters linked to him became known as “Team Ted.”

Then came the brutal letters from the Vatican’s former U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, claiming that a global network of Catholic powerbrokers — including Pope Francis — had helped hide McCarrick and had profited from his clout and patronage.

In August there was an explosion of news about the release of a hellish seven-decade grand-jury report about abuse in six dioceses in Pennsylvania.

The bottom line: 2018 was a year in which there were major developments in two big clergy sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic world. They were, of course, connected.

There was the old, ongoing story of priests abusing teens and children, starting with headlines in the early 1980s. Then there was the issue of how to discipline bishops, archbishops and even cardinals accused of abuse — a story in which all roads lead to Rome and, these days, Pope Francis.

Which story was more important in 2018? Which story centered on new, global developments? These questions are at the heart of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Our discussion centered on the release of the Religion News Association’s annual list of the Top 10 religion-beat stories — in which the Pennsylvania grand-jury report was No. 1 and McCarrick and Vigano fell near the end of that list.

In my own list, McCarrick and Vigano were No. 1 and the Pennsylvania report was No. 4, in part because 97 percent of its crimes were pre-2002, the year U.S. bishops passed strict anti-abuse policies.

There was another strange — IMHO — twist in this. RNA members selected Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as Newsmaker of the Year, after his long, progressive sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Oddly, McCarrick’s name was not even included on the ballot.

It helps to see the lists.

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Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything

Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything

It was in 1981, while I was doing my graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, that I had a long conversation with the late George Cornell of the Associated Press about the state of mainstream religion-news reporting. Cornell used to say that he was, basically, the AP religion reporter responsible for all of Planet Earth.

That was, I think, the first time I heard him work his way through a list of the wire service's Top 10 stories of a given year, noting that most of them contained some essential news "hook," or set of facts, linked to religion.

Now, Cornell was not claiming that each of these stories was a "religion" story, per se. He was saying that reporters couldn't understand what was happening in these events and trends without taking the religious angles seriously. He didn't say that these stories were "haunted" by "religion ghosts" -- to use the defining image of this weblog -- but that was basically what he meant. I've been thinking about his words for decades.

I remember that he said there were lots of events that were not, in and of themselves, "religion stories." Take, for example, the Roe v. Wade decision at the U.S. Supreme Court. For most editors, that was a "political story." But how could a reporter cover it without talking to  religious leaders and activists, on both sides? Another example: I wrote my Baylor graduate project about "civil religion" themes in the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.

Note that those were specific events, with complicated backstories. During this week's long "Crossroads" podcast, host Todd Wilken and I went into "extra innings," so to speak, talking about this year's Top 10 religion stories, according to a poll of members of the Religion News Association. Click here to tune that in.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing the No. 1 item, which was different in the RNA list and then in my own. Here is the top RNA item.

1. Conservative evangelicals gain strong representation in the Trump administration, notably with Vice President Mike Pence, and on the president's informal religious advisory body. Trump maintains strong grassroots support among white evangelicals, polls show.

Now, for me, Pence was a 2016 story. So was the strong old-guard Religious Right presence in Donald Trump's political base during the GOP primary season. So what was the "big event" linked to that 2016 story that made it the top individual "story" of 2017?

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2016 in review: A GetReligionista reflects on his Top 10 most-viewed posts

2016 in review: A GetReligionista reflects on his Top 10 most-viewed posts

Journalists love year-end lists.

It's our way of filling holiday space with content we've already produced so we can focus on more important things, like family, Christmas lights and New Year's celebrations.

Um, just in case my boss is reading this (instead of watching "It's a Wonderful Life" for the umpteenth time), what I meant to say was: "Year in review" lists are a great way to reflect on the past year while thoughtfully looking ahead to the new one. 

I write four posts a week for GetReligion. In a year, that adds up to more than 200 times that I share my critiques of religion news coverage (or lack of coverage) by the mainstream media. 

Since you do me the courtesy of reading my posts and frequently commenting on them — both here on the website and via channels such as Twitter and Facebook — I thought you might be interested in my most-read posts of 2016. 

There's a mix of sports, politics, entertainment, human interest, Godbeat news and culture war stuff among my top 10. And yes, Donald Trump figures in two of the top three posts.

Drum roll, please ...

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Flashback 2015: Revealing Top 10 lists from Religion Dispatches and Patheos Evangelical

Flashback 2015: Revealing Top 10 lists from Religion Dispatches and Patheos Evangelical

So far, your GetReligionistas have shared quite a few Top 10 story lists marking the end of the year -- like here, here, here and here, with an attached podcast here. These have ranged from the Religion Newswriters Association list to that of the Associated Press. I found it interesting (commentary here) that the top AP story -- period, as in the top story in the whole world -- was a religion news story, but that wasn't the top story in the RNA poll. Go figure.

Obviously, I find these lists fascinating, in part because they show us (a) just how complex the world of religion news really is and (b) the unique points of view (which can, in some cases become biases) that affect how scribes and editors see the world of religion news. There is much to learn in these lists, both for news professionals and news consumers.

In the next couple of days I will be posting a number of additional lists covering religion news in 2015, from a variety of different points of view.

Please let me know if I missed one or two that you would like to see posted.

Let's start with the Religion Dispatches list of the "Ten Religion Stores That Went (Mostly) Missing in 2015." The whole idea here, of course, is that these are stories that, from the point of view of Peter Laarman, SHOULD have received more coverage in the past year.

Read them all. But here are a few that caught my eye:

2. The struggle of the Black Church to come to terms with #BlackLivesMatter.
In some cities there has been visible conflict between Old Guard pastors (many of whom still identify with the 20th century civil rights movement) and the New Guard of fearless youth, many of whom are not shy about showing contempt for the pastors.

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2012: Top 10 religion stories of the year

As we near the end of 2012 — can you believe we made it this far!? — the time has come for the Top 10 of everything.

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