Tulsa World

For a former newspaper religion editor, a Catholic clergy sex abuse case hits close to home

For a former newspaper religion editor, a Catholic clergy sex abuse case hits close to home

Last week, I got a news alert from The Oklahoman, my local newspaper and former employer, with a headline that certainly grabbed my attention: “Damning report rips Oklahoma City Archdiocese for poor responses to credible child sexual abuse allegations against priests.”

For anybody paying attention to the latest Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals, the basic storyline probably sounds familiar.

The Oklahoma City Archdiocese is just one of many dioceses nationwide that have produced such reports.

This is the blunt summary from The Oklahoman:

For more than a half-century, Oklahoma City's Catholic Archdiocese responded to reports of child sexual abuse by its priests with bungled internal investigations that masked the problems and often enabled the abuse to continue for years, according to a damning report released Thursday.

"The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City failed to take prompt action despite credible evidence and warning signs of sexual abuse of minors," the McAfee & Taft law firm said in a report commissioned by the Archdiocese that was made public Thursday.

The report identified and named 11 priests in the Archdiocese who had been "credibly accused" of child sexual abuse since 1960. McAfee & Taft made it clear that its investigation is not yet complete.

"There are additional files still under investigation and as those investigations conclude, additional names of priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors will be released as warranted," McAfee & Taft said.

In some respects, that sounds like the same old, same old — but then I got to a part of the story that made my jaw drop.

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Our periodic reminder for journalists: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda

Our periodic reminder for journalists: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda

It’s almost humorous.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation — whose name succinctly characterizes the organization’s agenda — complains about the conservative Republican governor of one of the nation’s most religious states speaking at a church.

A leading newspaper in that state rushes to report the claim that the governor is doing something unconstitutional, as if it’s breaking news.

Except that it’s really the same old, same old — and regurgitating the anti-religion group’s talking points as if they’re the gospel truth is not great journalism.

I came across the story that sparked this post via the Pew Research Center’s daily religion headlines today. Believe it or not, it was the second headline on Pew’s rundown of top religion news nationally. Ironically, the story came from my home state of Oklahoma, even though I hadn’t heard about it.

Here is the lede from the Tulsa World:

OKLAHOMA CITY — A group advocating for the separation of church and state on Tuesday accused Gov. Kevin Stitt of using his office to promote religion.

Stitt in his official capacity as governor is speaking at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Guts Church in Tulsa, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The event uses his title to seek attendees.

In a Monday letter to Stitt, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, said if Stitt wanted to discuss religion, he should do it as a private citizen and not as governor.

“Using the Office of the Governor to promote a specific religious mission is unconstitutional and sends a direct message to the 30 percent non-Christian adults who you serve that they have the wrong religion and that only your personal god can solve Oklahoma’s problems,” the letter said.

“We are telling Gov. Stitt, as we tell all pious politicians: ‘Get off your knees and get to work,’ ” said Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s not OK in Oklahoma or any other state for public officials to misuse their office to promote religion.”

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The Wall Street Journal explores trends in Christian community life -- sort of

The Wall Street Journal explores trends in Christian community life -- sort of

For 40 years, I’ve been following trends in the Christian community movement, whether it’s been covenant communities among Catholic charismatics or inner city households populated by socially aware Protestants. During my early 20s, I lived two years in an inner-city common-purse community made up of charismatic American Baptists, so the trend truly spans all manner of doctrines and beliefs.

Which is why I was interested in a long article in the Wall Street Journal about a traditional Catholic community of families and monks in the Ozark mountains of eastern Oklahoma.

I had heard of Clear Creek but had never visited. Fortunately, the Journal’s new religion writer did. He wrote the following:

When the first few monks arrived in Hulbert, Okla., in 1999, there wasn’t much around but tough soil, a creek and an old cabin where they slept as they began to build a Benedictine monastery in the Ozark foothills.
Dozens of families from California, Texas and Kansas have since followed, drawn by the abbey’s traditional Latin Mass—conducted as it was more than 1,000 years ago—and by the desire to live in one of the few communities in the U.S. composed almost exclusively of traditional Catholics…
The 100 or so people living here are part of a burgeoning movement among traditional Christians. Feeling besieged by secular society, they are taking refuge in communities like this one, clustered around churches and monasteries, where faith forms the backbone of daily life. Similar villages—some Roman Catholic, others Orthodox or Protestant -- have sprung up in Alaska, Maryland, New York and elsewhere, drawing hundreds of families. 
As the proportion of Americans without any religious affiliation continues to grow, more Christians are considering where they can go to live out their faith more fully. It has been dubbed the “Benedict Option,” in homage to St. Benedict, who as a young man left the moral decay of ancient Rome to live in the wilderness. In Oklahoma, residents around the monastery call their home Clear Creek. …

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'Respect the culture' of family of black man shot dead by Tulsa police — but what culture?

'Respect the culture' of family of black man shot dead by Tulsa police — but what culture?

Once again, an unarmed black man has been shot dead by a police officer — this time in Tulsa, Okla.

Once again, there's a graphic video of the shooting.

And once again, there's a flood of media attention and speculation concerning exactly what happened and who's to blame.

The local newspaper — the Tulsa World — has been all over the story of Terence Crutcher's tragic death, which dominates today's front page.

In the "Family requests peaceful protests" story, there's a quote that caught my attention — and made me wonder if there might be a religion ghost:

Tiffany Crutcher asked for any protests that result from viewing the video, which she called “quite disturbing,” to be carried out peacefully.
“Just know that our voices will be heard,” she said. “The video will speak for itself. Let’s protest. Let’s do what we have to do, but let’s just make sure that we do it peacefully, to respect the culture of (the Crutcher family).”

I wonder: What exactly is meant by the term "culture" in that quote? Might it have something to do with the family's religion?

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Anti-Muslim hate crime targets a ... Lebanese Christian? That sad murder case in Tulsa

Anti-Muslim hate crime targets a ... Lebanese Christian? That sad murder case in Tulsa

At first blush, an Oklahoma murder making national headlines this week seems to be a case of anti-Muslim hate. That would mean that it's another story about "Islamophobia," as the news media like to call it.

Except that Khalid Jabara, the 37-year-old man shot dead in Tulsa, was not a Muslim. The victim, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon, was an Orthodox Christian. That simple fact should have raised all kinds of questions for journalists working on this story.

The basic details of the crime, via CNN:

Tulsa, Oklahoma (CNN) For years, the Jabara family says, their Tulsa neighbor terrorized them.
He called them names -- "dirty Arabs," "filthy Lebanese," they said.He hurled racial epithets at those who came to work on their lawns, they alleged. He ran Haifa Jabara over with his car and went to court for it.
And it all came to a head last week when the man, Stanley Vernon Majors, walked up to the front steps of the family home and shot and killed Khalid Jabara, police said.
"The frustration that we continue to see anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, xenophobic rhetoric and hate speech has unfortunately led up to a tragedy like this," it said.

To what or whom does the "it said' refer after that last quote? What person or group produced this statement?

I'm not entirely certain. My guess is that an editing error led to that awkward attribution. But the quote sets up the "anti-Muslim" angle:

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AP report shows that college 'lifestyle' and doctrinal covenant issues are here to stay

AP report shows that college 'lifestyle' and doctrinal covenant issues are here to stay

I have met more than few students during my life -- which has included on-campus visits to at least 50 Christian colleges and universities -- who enrolled in a school without knowing much of anything about its doctrinal and denomination ties that bind.

In some cases, their parents did all of the homework and background reading and the student wasn't really part of the process. In other cases, it appeared that parents who were marginal believers or even secularists simply wanted to send their child to "a safe place."

Did they read the fine print when they signed on the bottom line? Did they sweat the details in the school's student handbook or the lifestyle-doctrinal covenant? Did they make an informed decision and truly commit themselves to the school's mission? In some cases -- not really.

I bring this up because clear, articulate, honest doctrinal statements are becoming more and more important, in an age in which the U.S. government seems determined to substitute "freedom of worship" for the Constitution's commitment to the "free exercise" of religious beliefs. For example, consider the lines drawn in the Health and Human Services mandate language between churches and other doctrinally defined ministries and schools.

This leads me to an important Associated Press story from the other day that religion-beat journalists (ditto for those covering politics) will want to read. This is the rare story that will please LGBT activists and, while AP writers may not have realized it, it will also (behind the scenes, maybe) please the leaders of some proudly conservative religious schools. Here's the overture:

BOSTON -- Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark is pushing legislation she says will help members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community make more informed decisions about college.

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How 'bout a little context to go with outrage over Muslims in Veterans Day parade?

How 'bout a little context to go with outrage over Muslims in Veterans Day parade?

Daily journalism is tough. Reporters face time constraints, space limitations and competing demands.

Here in the easy world of Monday (or Friday) morning media-critique-quarterbacking, it's easy to forget those realities.

Still — while acknowledging all of the above — a news story in today's Tulsa World frustrated me.

What irritated me about this story? Mainly, how little information the World gave me.

This is the lede:

For the first time, Oklahoma Muslims will have a float in the Veterans Day Parade in downtown Tulsa on Nov. 11, and not all parade participants are happy about it.

How many parade participants are not happy about it?

Just one, it appears based on the story:

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Oklahoma lawmakers contemplate eliminating all marriage — licenses, that is

Oklahoma lawmakers contemplate eliminating all marriage — licenses, that is

My wife, Tamie, and I lived together for 15 years and brought three precious babies into the world before we finally went to an Oklahoma county courthouse and got our marriage license in 2005. Since our local newspaper publishes the names and addresses of those granted licenses, we were a bit concerned about the scandal our late nuptials might create at church.

To anyone who asked, we shared our funny — and true — story.

That is, we exchanged our wedding vows in my wife's hometown church in 1990. A preacher pronounced us husband and wife. It's just that I graduated from Oklahoma Christian University the day before our wedding, and we ran out of time to get blood tests and complete the official government paperwork before we said "I do." Then we left on our honeymoon. And, well, we just never needed a marriage license until 2005, when it became important for a reason that escapes me now.

Despite our lack of a license, my wife and I — both raised in Churches of Christ — saw our marriage as a sacred commitment, as did our families. Not for a second did we consider living together out of wedlock. To say that religion played a key role in our view of marriage would be a huge understatement.

Perhaps Tamie and I were — besides being young, in love and stupid — 25 years ahead of our time?

Oklahoma lawmakers are making national headlines this week for considering — seriously, it seems — getting the state out of the marriage business.


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Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

While most of her Godbeat colleagues were in Atlanta enjoying #RNA2014 this past weekend, The Oklahoman's longtime religion editor Carla Hinton remained in her home state of Oklahoma to cover a big news story.

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you've seen our past posts on the national media attention leading up to Sunday's Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City.

For good background on the black mass, check out Tulsa World religion writer Bill Sherman's excellent interview with the Satanic organizer. Sherman produced a good story, too, on Monsignor Patrick Brankin, a Catholic exorcist who reports increasing demonic activity. From that story:

Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa said the practice of exorcism is gaining ground in the Catholic Church.

This summer the Vatican formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, an organization of Catholic exorcists to which Brankin belongs. Exorcism conferences are held at the Vatican.

When Slattery arrived in Tulsa 20 years ago, he said, the diocese was getting about one call a year concerning demonic activity, and those callers were determined to have psychological problems, not demon possession.

“But in the last few years, we’re seeing more demonic activity,” he said, a trend he attributes to an increasingly secular society that has turned to Ouija boards, witchcraft, astrology, fortune telling and other occult practices that “open the door to the demonic.”

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