confession

Read it all: Slate reporter goes to Kansas and spends a few minutes with 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

Read it all: Slate reporter goes to Kansas and spends a few  minutes with 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

Ponder this please. When you hear that someone has landed an exclusive “interview” with a leader of global importance, how much content do you expect this “interview” to contain?

I am not, of course, talking about one of those two- or three-minute “Entertainment Tonight” reports — “We’ll be back with an exclusive interview with Brad Pitt!” — in which a star answers two dishy questions during a Hollywood junket. I am talking about an “interview” with a newsmaker about a serious subject.

I bring this up because of a fascinating Slate piece that is billed as the first interview with former Washington D.C. cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has been exiled to the vastness of Western Kansas, a region that journalists from elite zip codes rarely visit, to say the least. I happened to drive past the Cathedral of the Plains the other day and it just as hard to imagine Uncle Ted McCarrick in Victoria, Kansas, as picturing Truman Capote in nearby (relatively speaking) Holcolm, Kansas.

The dramatic double-decker headline proclaims:

Theodore McCarrick Still Won’t Confess

Banished in the dead of night to a mistrustful Kansas town after sexual abuse allegations, the defrocked archbishop of D.C. speaks publicly for the first time since his fall from grace.

Please understand: I think that reporter Ruth Graham’s brief encounter with McCarrick showed moxie and yields interesting and, some will say, predictable answers from the fallen prince of the church. I also enjoyed (I kid you not) her 2,500-word introduction to the interview, which is both a quick summary of the McCarrick disaster story and a touching look at the lives of the intensely Catholic Volga German culture of West Kansas. If this second subject does not intrigue you, reading this intro is going to seem like a long, long drive across the Kansas plains.

The interview itself is short — but important. This is true even though it reinforces many themes that have been woven through this tragedy from the start. McCarrick, for example, does believe that he was the victim of a conservative-Catholic plot.

When the reader finally reaches the encounter with the fallen cardinal, Graham stresses that she had been told he was not doing interviews. Still, she rang the doorway at the friary he now calls home:

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Reporters will need help from canon lawyers to correctly explain California’s confession bill

Reporters will need help from canon lawyers to correctly explain California’s confession bill

In this politically polarized world, there are issues that can drive a large wedge between people — including several that, one way or another, are tied to religion.

Immigration and abortion are two of the biggest in the Donald Trump era, issues that dominated the Supreme Court’s recently-completed term and the Democratic presidential primaries that are just underway. Then again, immigration and abortion are the issues that dominate news on the web and cable TV.

Religious freedom, an old-school liberal issue now largely taken up by conservatives, is often lost in mainstream news coverage. Lost in this coverage is an issue of such importance to Roman Catholics, that it may very well be the biggest fallout to come from years of clerical sex abuse when it comes to how it affects the law.

The California State Senate, controlled by Democrats, recently passed a bill (the first of its kind in the United States) that would compel a priest — violating centuries of Catholic law and tradition — to disclose to civil authorities any information learned in the confessional if it involves the sexual abuse of a minor committed by another priest or lay worker. The bill was supposed to head to the State Assembly later this summer, where Democrats hold a majority.

On Tuesday, on the eve of a scheduled hearing, State Sen. Jerry Hill withdrew the bill after realizing he didn’t have the votes to get it passed out of committee. Opponents may have rejoiced, but this issue is far from over. It certainly will gather steam again in future legislative sessions. That means reporters need to be better equipped to cover such an issue in a balanced and fair way.

If this bill doesn’t seem like a big deal, consider what it would have mandated: the government would have been allowed to control a religious sacrament by legally punishing a priest for not breaking the seal of confession. Passage of such a law would be a major violation of religious freedom for both the priest and the person in the confessional. It would also have a chilling effect for those seeking to go to confession, but fearing possible legal troubles.

Mainstream news coverage of this bill has been largely muted over the past few months. This bill hasn’t, for example, been made a bigger issue by national media outlets such as The New York Times. Compare that to the coverage on immigration and abortion.

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Preparing for the global Catholic sex-abuse summit: What would 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick do?

Preparing for the global Catholic sex-abuse summit: What would 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick do?

Has anyone heard from Archbishop Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick lately?

Actually, the fallen cardinal has been in the news in recent days. But some may ask if this new news about the old McCarrick news breaks new ground. The bottom line: With the world’s Catholic bishops poised for a headline-grabbing February summit focusing on the sexual abuse of children, does it matter what is happening with McCarrick?

I would argue that McCarrick still matters, in part because of the ties that bind him to key Catholic leaders steering efforts to solve the abuse puzzle. That’s a key theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in). Another question: Did the silence that surrounds the McCarrick scandal (Hello Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano) play any role in the sudden exit of Vatican press maestro Greg Burke? Hold that thought.

Let’s start with the Associated Press report from those relatively dead news days last week: “Lawyer: McCarrick repeatedly touched youth during confession.” Did anyone see that headline in their local newspapers a few days after Christmas? Here are key parts of the overture:

The Vatican’s sexual abuse case against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has expanded significantly after a man testified that the retired American archbishop sexually abused him for years starting when he was 11, including during confession.

James Grein testified … before the judicial vicar for the New York City archdiocese, who was asked by the Holy See to take his statement for the Vatican’s canonical case, said Grein’s attorney Patrick Noaker. …

Grein initially came forward in July after the New York archdiocese announced that a church investigation determined an allegation that McCarrick had groped another teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. Grein’s claims, first reported by The New York Times, are more serious.

A crucial new claim is that some of the abuse took place during the sacrament of confession. What, pray tell, does Catholic canon law say about that?

Let’s keep reading, before we return to material addressed in this week’s podcast.

Grein also gave “chilling” details about alleged repeated incidents of groping during confession — a serious canonical crime on top of the original offense of sexually abusing a minor. Grein had previously not made public those claims, but Noaker confirmed his testimony to The Associated Press. Grein also allowed McCarrick’s defense lawyers to listen to his testimony by telephone.

Grein testified that McCarrick — a close family friend who baptized Grein — would take him upstairs to hear his confession before celebrating Mass for the family at home.

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And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

In a week that’s been a continuous wave of #ChurchToo revelations –- including a massive investigation of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church and yesterday’s news about Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page –- I wanted to draw your attention to a related debate and quasi-scandal occurring in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Long-time Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Stack, along with education reporter Benjamin Wood, came out with a story Monday about a church decision to allow a second adult in the room while bishops question teenagers about their sexual sins.

Say what? This is a fascinating look at Latter-day Saints’ lives that one wouldn’t know unless you were in a culture where your bishop can ask you pointed questions about whether you’ve been chaste.

It's not easy writing about sexual matters in a PG-rated fashion fit for a daily newspaper, but these reporters did a pretty good job at it. The key: The reporters have provide enough background to help outsiders, but not overstate the obvious for regular readers in Mormon country.

For more, read here:

Amid a grass-roots outcry about sexually explicit interviews with children and sexual assault allegations leveled at a former Mormon mission leader, the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency unveiled revised guidelines Monday for one-on-one meetings between members and local lay leaders while emphasizing that most abuse allegations are “true and should be taken seriously.”
In a document titled “Preventing and Responding to Abuse,” congregational leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to invite a parent or other adult to sit in an adjoining room when meeting with women and children.

The Deseret News also had a piece on the document here

Those of you who’ve been following the various accusations leveled at evangelical Protestant ministers in recent weeks may have missed a bombshell that broke last week in Utah.

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Concerning that drive-by Washington Post story about Rod Dreher and 'The Benedict Option'

Concerning that drive-by Washington Post story about Rod Dreher and 'The Benedict Option'

If you care about issues of religious faith and public life, then you probably know that there has been a tsunami of writing in the past year (here's a current Google News search) about Rod Dreher and his bestseller "The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation."

As you would expect, there has been way more argument and commentary than news coverage focusing on what Dreher is saying and why he is saying it. That's the age we live in. Opinion is cheap and quick. Information is expensive and takes time.

During this media storm, I have come up with a quick test to determine whether I think a critic or journalist has read Dreher's book: Does the review-story-essay discuss Vaclav Havel? Why is that so important? Read the book and find out. Hint: It has something to do with the mantra among some critics that Rod wants orthodox believers in ancient faiths to flee to the hills, abandoning cities, public life, core institutions and culture.

I have avoiding writing about all of this at GetReligion for a simple reason: It's hard to critique coverage of someone who has been a good friend for more than two decades. I mean, I know Rod's strengths and weaknesses and, trust me, he knows mine. We share many friends and I was one of his online associates who watched the Benedict Option material develop through the years.

So why discuss the new Washington Post Style section piece? That's the one with this rather snarky headline: "Rod Dreher is the combative, oversharing blogger who speaks for today’s beleaguered Christians." Well, I have two reasons.

First, while this article passes the Vaclav Havel test (barely), there is little evidence that reporter Karen Heller has read "The Benedict Option" or is interested in its thesis. Instead, this feature is kind of a new old New Journalism thing about her personal reaction to Dreher. There are glimpses of Rod in this piece, but they are edited and warped to fit her view of the man.

Second, you can get a look behind the curtain on this journalism process because another writer -- Frederica Mathewes-Green -- has posted reactions to how her views of Rod were handled in the Post piece.

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Why are some journalists head-scratching over, well, a Catholic bishop's Catholicism?

Why are some journalists head-scratching over, well, a Catholic bishop's Catholicism?

If there's anything essential to being a leader in a religious organization, surely it is that with such leadership comes responsibility for promoting the doctrines of said organization.

Generally, if one does this, it's a sign of compliance with the house rules or, more properly, doctrines. But "generally," these days, doesn't seem to cover Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, who for seven years has led the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, which city happens to be the state capitol.

While a supporter of Pope Francis, it appears that the bishop is not willing to embrace the media's interpretation of the "Who am I to judge" statement of the current pontiff that has commanded so much ink in recent years. Indeed, Paprocki, who offered prayers of exorcism when Illinois enacted legislation sanctioning same-sex marriage, must have known his most recent pronouncements on the subject of marriage would raise hackles.

They did, and in turn the reporting on Paprocki's statement raises some interesting journalism questions. For example, when reading these stories try to find two crucial words -- "Catechism" and "Confession."

The Washington Post, aggregating other reports, summarizes the issue:

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.
The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.

Wading into the story is a Rome-based writer for The Daily Beast, who noted Paprocki's decree affects not only the adults in a given household, but also:

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Valid journalism question? Yes, Callista and Newt Gingrich have a complex Catholic history

Valid journalism question? Yes, Callista and Newt Gingrich have a complex Catholic history

Before the rise of Citizen Donald Trump, it was hard to name a more complex and even bizarre character on the modern GOP stage than the thrice-married and pugnacious former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Where to start? How about the popular political myth that, long ago, he asked his first wife to sign divorce papers on her deathbed.

You've head that one? Here is how the gang at FactCheck.org parses that:

No. Jackie Battley is still alive, and the couple was already in divorce proceedings at the time of the 1980 hospital visit. But she was recovering from surgery to remove a tumor, and the former House speaker admits that they “got into an argument.”

Actually, the fine details of that first marriage are, sort of, in the news -- linked to the reports that this third wife, Callista Gingrich, is set to be nominated by Trump (if he has a few spare minutes) as the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.

In case you haven't heard, divorce -- specifically the issue of divorced Catholics receiving Holy Communion -- is a hot topic in Catholic circles right now. The Gingrich situation, to be blunt, could be complex. Here is how the conservative Catholic News Agency states the basics:

Newt and Callista married in 2000, after having a six-year affair while Newt was married to his previous wife. Newt converted to Catholicism in 2009 and explained, in an interview that year with Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic.com, how Callista’s witness as a Catholic brought him towards the faith.
He noted that he had attended Masses at the National Shrine [note: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.] where Callista sang in the choir, and she “created an environment where I could gradually think and evolve on the issue of faith.”
At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2011, he also cited Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit to the U.S. as a “moment of confirmation” for him. At vespers with the Pope, where Callista sang in the Shrine choir, Newt recalled thinking that “here is where I belong.” 

The key question here: What is the status, in the eye of Catholic officials, of Newt Gingrich's first marriage, long ago in Georgia?

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Live coverage of Ash Wednesday stories? Be on alert for ironic theological twists out there

Live coverage of Ash Wednesday stories? Be on alert for ironic theological twists out there

Ah, yes. Another year, another trip around the liturgical calendar. That means another request from an editor for an Ash Wednesday feature or two.

Based on my own experiences in newsrooms, I have always wondered if the tradition of news organizations doing Ash Wednesday stories has something to do with the high number of ex-Catholics or cultural Catholics (as well as Episcopalians) in newsrooms. Who will show up for work in the afternoon with ashes on her or his forehead? What will people say (in a post-Ted Turner world)?

Then again, maybe Ash Wednesday is a story year after year because it's an assignment that comes with easy, automatic art. 

Finally, there is the fact that Ash Wednesday and Lent are highly serious religious traditions (think meditations on death and repentance) for the people that take faith seriously. However, for some reason, it also seems easy for people to tweak and/or laugh at these traditions. What editor doesn't want to smile in an ironic sort of way at an "ashes to go" lede? And there is an endless possibility of trendy (and stupid) variations on the "What are you going to give up for Lent" non-traditional tradition. 

Then again, it is possible (#Gasp) to do stories on the actual meaning of Lent and it's relevance to issues in our day and age.

Yes, ponder the spiritual implications of Ash Wednesday selfies. This very interesting advance story -- "#Ashtags: When posting Ash Wednesday photos, use your head" -- comes from Catholic News Service, via an online boost from Religion News Service. Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ash Wednesday seems to offer contradictory messages. The Gospel reading for the day is about not doing public acts of piety but the very act of getting ashes -- and walking around with them -- is pretty public.
This becomes even less of a private moment when people post pictures of themselves online with their ashes following the #ashtag trend of recent years.

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In your newspaper? Vatican reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality and the priesthood

In your newspaper? Vatican reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality and the priesthood

The big news out of the Vatican today really isn't all that surprising, if you know anything about the Catholic Catechism. However, grab your local newspaper and look for this story anyway, because I will be surprised if you find coverage of it there.

The Washington Post online headline proclaims: "The Vatican reaffirms its position suggesting gay men should not be priests."

Yes, we are returning to Pope Francis and the most famous, or infamous, quotation, or sort-of quotation, from his papacy. I am referring, of course, to the 2013 off-the-cuff airplane press conference in which he spoke the phrase, "Who am I to judge?"

The pope said many things in that historic presser and news consumers have had a chance to read about 90 percent of what he actually said. Click here for previous GetReligion material about this media storm. By the way, here are the latest search engine results for these terms -- "Who am I to judge" and "Pope Francis." There are currently 7,520 hits in Google News and 140,000 in a general search.

So what did the Vatican say that is, or is not, in the news? Here is the top of a Washington Post "Acts of Faith" item, which is one of the only major-media references I could find to this story. I would be curious to know if this appears in the ink-on-paper edition:

People who have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’” cannot be priests in the Catholic church, the Vatican said in a new document on the priesthood.

The document said the church’s policy on gay priests has not changed since the last Vatican pronouncement on the subject in 2005.

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