Law & Order

Friday Five: What Wuerl knew, Opus Dei, Tim Tebow fiancee, Cyntoia Brown, Knights of Columbus

Friday Five: What Wuerl knew, Opus Dei, Tim Tebow fiancee, Cyntoia Brown, Knights of Columbus

Once again, the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal dominates the headlines.

From the Washington Post to the New York Times to Commonwealth, the story that won't go away keeps making mainstream news.

And yes, various angles show up in this week's Friday Five.

Let's dive right in:

1. Religion story of the week: The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein reported Thursday that despite past denials, D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerl knew of sexual misconduct allegations against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick and reported them to the Vatican.

Catholic News Agency, which broke the news, includes a name that is crucial to the wider story: Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

Look for more GetReligion analysis of this important development in the coming days.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Yet another Washington Post story on a major angle in the scandal was the focus of our No. 1 most-clicked commentary of the week.

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What happens when Washington Post goes behind scenes of parish ensnared in sexual abuse scandal?

What happens when Washington Post goes behind scenes of parish ensnared in sexual abuse scandal?

It’s a massive story — the ongoing tremors from the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals. It’s an impossible subject — for most mere mortal reporters — to tackle in a single shot.

Which is why I was impressed with a recent feature by a Washington Post writer who traveled to Rapid City, S.D. Terrence McCoy, who covers social issues in rural and urban America, produced an exceptional piece of journalism by going small.

Not small as in the length of the piece. No, this was a long feature. But small in terms of focus? Exactly.

McCoy shines a tight spotlight (not to be confused with that other “Spotlight”) on a priest dealing with the fallout from a fellow clergyman’s arrest on a child sex abuse charge. The result: an in-depth news-feature that is full of revealing and relevant details.

The Post story sets the scene this way:

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Brian Christensen is on his way to jail again. Clerical collar around his thin neck, rosary dangling from the rearview mirror, the priest sets out on the same trip he has taken almost every day that week. First was Monday afternoon, when he followed the detectives down this road, then up to the third floor of the police department, where he waited outside the interrogation room. On Wednesday, he went to the preliminary hearing, where the felony charges were announced: two counts of sexual contact with a 13-year-old. On Thursday, and on Friday, he returned to arrange a visitation with the Rev. John Praveen, 38, whom he last saw being cuffed and led into a police car, and who is now being held on a $100,000 cash bond and facing 30 years in prison.

Now, Monday again, Christensen pulls out of the parking lot at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where as lead pastor he oversaw Praveen’s clerical duties. He makes the five-minute drive to the Pennington County jail, where he plans to speak with the incarcerated priest for the first time since his arrest.

“Aren’t you tired of all this?” his mother asked him on the phone that morning, and he could only sigh and say, yes, “I am tired of this.”

This: a string of child sex abuse scandals that — spanning decades, continents and thousands of victims — has fundamentally altered how the world views the Catholic Church and priests like him, in particular. With every crisis, Christensen had allowed himself to hope that now, perhaps, it would be over, only to see another year like this one, when every day seems to bring news of sex crimes and cover-ups in the church. A grand jury report in Pennsylvania accused more than 300 priests of abusing about 1,000 children, spurring federal authorities to investigate. Two U.S. cardinals have been disgraced. And approval ratings for Pope Francis, who once was the world’s most popular leader, have plummeted among Americans.

Besides the tight focus, the writer’s obvious understanding of the subject matter — including the subtle intricacies of Catholicism — make this a gripping piece to read.

What could be better? In a few cases, the story drifts into (seeming) editorialization, such as here:

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Monday Mix: Sex abuse probes, 'controlling' church, Mormon Jesus, sanctuary arrest, empty churches

Monday Mix: Sex abuse probes, 'controlling' church, Mormon Jesus, sanctuary arrest, empty churches

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. “The Catholic Church has proven that it cannot police itself. And civil authorities can’t let the church hide child sexual abuse allegations as personnel matters. They’re crimes. We need a full accounting of the church.”

The Washington Post rounds up the wave of state and federal investigations spurred by the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

The explosive report about sexual abuse by Catholic priests unveiled by a Pennsylvania grand jury in August has set off an unprecedented wave of investigations over the last several months, with attorneys general in 14 states and the District of Columbia announcing probes and demanding documents from Catholic officials. Those efforts have been joined by a federal investigation out of Philadelphia that may become national in scope.

The swift and sweeping response by civil authorities contrasts sharply with the Vatican’s comparatively glacial pace. While some U.S. dioceses have published lists of priests they say have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and two cardinals have been ousted, the Vatican this month put on hold a vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on measures to hold bishops more accountable until after a global synod in early 2019. In the meantime, Rome has done little to address the crisis.

2. "It totally sucks you away from all other aspects of your life. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy your life.”

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Saved in El Salvador: Lots of media are flocking to cover gang members-turn-evangelical story

Saved in El Salvador: Lots of media are flocking to cover gang members-turn-evangelical story

Certain places in the world have problems that seem to be intractable. South Sudan. North Korea. And El Salvador.

The latter is the homicide capital of the world. Zillions of dollars have been poured into it. The U.S. government has declared war on its criminal elements. And nothing’s changed.

One institution, however, is dealing with the gangs. I was fascinated to see Molly O’Toole’s piece in The New Republic on how evangelical churches have the only solution that’s working.

Who would have thunk it?

At a small jail outside San Salvador, Brother David Borja lifted his sunglasses to talk a guard into letting us inside. The cell, originally intended for temporary holding, smelled of sweat and urine. In the center was a roughly ten-by-ten-foot cage, and inside it, a tangle of limbs and hammocks.

At the sight of Borja, a street preacher from the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle “Friends of Israel” church, bare-chested, tattooed young men began crawling down from the hammocks and pulling on T-shirts.

As Borja started to pray, the men crossed themselves and bowed their heads. A few cried silently; others testified, “Truth.” … As the guard latched the thick steel behind us, we could still hear the men’s applause, and pleas for the pastor to pray for them to be saved.

Prisons are obviously fertile missionary grounds here.

Founded in 1977, the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle “Friends of Israel” church, known as “Taber,” is now believed to be El Salvador’s largest church. Taber claims a congregation of more than 40,000, with millions of converts and more than 500 churches across the country. The megachurch also owns a handful of TV and radio stations and newspapers, extending its reach. In 1950, El Salvador was around 99 percent Catholic, but Protestantism has shot up since the 1970s, with 40 percent of adults today identifying as Protestant.

That makes Taber one of the most influential institutions in a country otherwise dominated by gangs.

The switch-over of Latin and Central Americans from Catholicism to Protestantism is still one of the more under-covered stories of modern religion reporting. It is a fait accompli one never thought would happen as recently as the 1970s. Here we read about an evangelical church that's taken on the gangs that rule the country.

According to experts, one of the gangs’ golden rules is that members can never leave with their lives. But in the past few years, there’s been a fascinating development: Gang bosses are increasingly granting those under their command desistance—a status change from “active” to “calmado,” meaning “calmed down”—if they convert to evangelicalism. At El Salvador’s San Francisco Gotera prison, about 1,000 ex-gang members have become evangelicals, nearly all of the overcrowded prison’s occupants.

The phenomenon can also be seen outside, at smaller Pentecostal parishes such as Ebenezer, whose ministry to gang members, The Final Trumpet, is known for speaking in tongues. Newfound-religious who stray from the righteous path, however—whether by drinking, doing drugs, beating their wives or girlfriends, or not attending church—can face deadly consequences from their former compatriots.

It’s an open, urgent question whether evangelical megachurches like Taber can use their influence to bring peace to El Salvador . . .

Actually, according to the link provided in the above paragraph, Ebenezer is simply a Pentecostal church and is known for a lot more than tongues-speaking. I am guessing the reporter is not too familiar with the doctrines of these various congregations.

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Pittsburgh horror marks the start of what could become a new atrocity -- synagogue shootings

Pittsburgh horror marks the start of what could become a new atrocity -- synagogue shootings

America’s Jews are now having to think about the same security measures that churches have had to take on, now that the term “synagogue shooting” has been added to the sad list of church shootings in recent years.

You’ve seen the headlines. The issue is what happens next and where.

On Saturday, a shooter walked into Tree of Life, a synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and by no means the largest synagogue in town. It’s unclear why the killer chose that place, but he left many dead and wounded in his wake and a nation — once again — wondering why we’re becoming a country where worshippers can be gunned down in their pews.

By Saturday night the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a lead story with five bylines:

Eleven people are dead and six more are wounded — including four police officers — after a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood Saturday morning.

The shooter, who officials said had an assault-style rifle and three handguns, is in custody, Pittsburgh police report. Officials have confirmed he is Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin Borough. He is in Allegheny General Hospital in fair condition with multiple gunshot wounds, officials said.

Gunfire erupted shortly before 10 a.m. as a baby-naming ceremony was getting underway, officials confirmed.

At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said officers were dispatched at 9:55 a.m. He confirmed that there were 11 fatalities, and six injuries, including four police officers. No children were injured, he said. Gov. Tom Wolf confirmed that the incident was being investigated as a hate crime.

The Anti-Defamation League said it believed it was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the U.S. history.

There’s a lot of other articles on the PG’s site, as it appears the newspaper threw every available reporter it could at the story. The day closed with 3,000 people attending a vigil for the dead and wounded at the intersection of Murray and Forbes avenues.

By Sunday, news was out about Gab.com, a chat site the shooter had loaded with anti-Semitic comments.

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Young Satan worshippers foiled in Florida -- but there's a deeper story here somewhere

Young Satan worshippers foiled in Florida -- but there's a deeper story here somewhere

You don’t get much creepier than this. Combine Satanism, teen-aged girls and weapons and you’ve got a keeper of a story.

Bartow, Florida, is in the central part of the state — due south of Lakeland and about an hour’s drive southwest of Orlando. Because of the Assemblies of God college in Lakeland, the area is full of pentecostal-charismatic churches. There are other evangelical houses of worship in the area and a significant Catholic population, as well.

Then from WFTV-Ch. 9 in Orlando came one of the better headlines of the day: “Leave body parts at entrance': Bartow MS girls planned to kill classmates, drink their blood: Cops.”

Is this a religion story or a crime story, or both?

BARTOW, Fla. — Two students at Bartow Middle School came to school with knives and planned to attack students Tuesday, according to the Bartow Police Department.

The school resource officer was alerted to a complaint about armed students around 1:30 p.m.

· Police said the girls allegedly planned to kill as many as 15 students.

The girls have (understandably) been expelled. Although some of the news accounts seem sensationalized, remember that it’s been less than a year since a massacre only a few counties to the south of Bartow — when 17 people were killed at Stoneman Douglas High School. That shooting surpassed Columbine High School’s 1999 massacre as the deadliest yet on high school property.

From USA Today:

Police say the girls — ages 11 and 12 — were found in a bathroom stall, allegedly with multiple knives, a pizza cutter and knife sharpener in their possession. The girls planned to commit suicide after stabbing other students, police say.

"The plan was to kill at least 1 student but were hoping to kill anywhere from 15-25 students," an affidavit said. "Killing all of these students was in hopes it would make them worse sinners ensuring that after they committed suicide ... (they) would go to hell so they could be with satan."

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New lede for an old news story: Brett Kavanaugh and the high court’s Catholic majority

New lede for an old news story: Brett Kavanaugh and the high court’s Catholic majority

The U.S. Supreme Court isn’t only the highest court in the land, its judges have the responsibility to rule on cases that have a lasting impact on American politics, culture and religion. Driving those changes going forward will be a Catholic majority of justices who have become increasingly conservative, shifting the balance of the court for years to come.

The bitter partisan divide over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court — including weeks of debate over the credibility regarding allegations dating back to the 1980s that he had sexually assaulted a fellow teenager at a party – revealed how polarized politically the country has become since President Trump’s election just two years ago. To conservatives, Kavanaugh is a man smeared with unproven accusations; liberals consider him a danger in the #MeToo age.

Just 20 percent of people in the United States identify as Catholic, a number that is in decline, according to a Pew Research study. As the president has vowed to chip away at abortion rights (legalized in 1973 by the court in the Roe v. Wade decision), it will be conservative Catholics who will be tasked with doing so in the coming years. Aside from Kavanaugh, the Catholics on the Supreme Court include Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor. With the exception of Sotomayor, the other four justices are part of the court’s conservative wing. The remaining justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan — are Jewish.

“I do think, however, that the Catholics on the court do fairly represent Catholicism. Roe v. Wade is only one of many issues that are important to Catholics,” said Anne Lofaso, a professor at West Virginia University College of Law. “Indeed, most Catholic abhor abortion. They split on the question whether the government should prohibit others from exercising their right, not so much on whether they would have an abortion. There is a spectrum of issues that Catholics care about ranging from what constitutes marriage, abortion, birth control, poverty, etc. People are not monolithic. We tend to pick and choose what aspects of who we are will be emphasized — hence, the phrase ‘cafeteria Catholic’ … Roberts and Alito represent one end of the spectrum. Sotomayor, a lapsed Catholic, represents another.”   

Some critics have called the current makeup of the Supreme Court a “Catholic boys club” given that they dominate the majority and are male conservatives.

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So a key player in Pennsylvania clergy sexual abuse report keeps quoting Scripture. Why?

So a key player in Pennsylvania clergy sexual abuse report keeps quoting Scripture. Why?

After the Pennsylvania attorney general dropped a bomb last month with its release of a massive report on clergy sexual abuse, we all started combing through the state’s media, seeing who was reporting on what.

Seven weeks later, they’re still out there working away. Although it’s not the state’s largest newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is leading the charge with numerous pieces packaged at this site.

The other day, the Post Gazette came up with a profile of the Pennsylvania deputy attorney general who was the leading force behind the nearly 900-page report and investigation.

It talks of a man with a strong moral sense; an ingrained conviction of right and wrong, of someone with the endurance to spearhead the five years of work that produced the massive report (which has elicited copycat investigations in at least eight other states).

HARRISBURG — Like in the Batman reruns he grew up watching as a kid, there is something about the battle between good and evil that, even as an adult, Daniel Dye can’t seem to shake from his conscience.

Maybe it’s because in those stories, someone shows up, flaws and all, when duty calls. Or maybe it’s because those people are unafraid and unabashed at feeling righteousness.

Mr. Dye, 38, muses openly about such things. On social media, where his posts often cite famous men in history or discuss the fight for justice. In a coffeehouse on an overcast weekday afternoon. And in a grand jury room, where as a senior prosecutor for state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, he’s spent the last five years building the cases that led to the damning report on Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania — once even quoting scripture to a defrocked priest he was questioning.

As I perused more than a year of Dye’s tweets off his Twitter account, I saw a man who is passionate about punishing evil, especially regarding anything having to do with sexual abuse of children. He is also someone who very occasionally drops in a scripture quote into a tweet and, as the story says, likes Batman.

Wait. Scripture?

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Clergy sex abuse news sparking fresh controversies in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City

Clergy sex abuse news sparking fresh controversies in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City

Here at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly and Julia Duin have done a fantastic job analyzing national and international media coverage of the recent barrage of Catholic clergy sex abuse news.

I'm referring to the headlines that have followed the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Here in the Southwest, I've noticed, too, that the world events have helped bring attention to previously unknown cases on the local level, specifically in Oklahoma City and Dallas.

These are cases that perhaps would have remained under the radar if not for the attention on the larger issue.

In Oklahoma City, for example, the Pennsylvania report drew attention to the fact that a defrocked priest who had been accused of abuse years earlier was volunteering at a local church.

Carla Hinton, religion editor for The Oklahoman, reported that news on her paper's Aug. 25 front page.

The basics:

Local Catholic leaders will publicize a list of names of priests who are credibly accused of abuse, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City said Friday.

With such a list posted on the archdiocese's website, a defrocked priest like Benjamin Zoeller likely would have been prevented from volunteering at a local parish.

That is the hope of archdiocese leaders who learned that Zoeller was volunteering at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2706 S Shartel, when a staff member at the church called on Thursday to tell them about it.

"As soon as we received the call, we contacted the pastor and others to make them aware of his background and that he is not to volunteer or work at a parish or any archdiocesan entity," archdiocese spokeswoman Diane Clay said.

Clay said Zoeller was removed as a priest with the archdiocese in 2002 because "credible accusations of abuse" were made against him. She said he was laicized or formally relieved of his priestly rights and duties in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley asked for a review of Zoeller's file after receiving an Aug. 17 letter from a Minnesota man who said he had been sexually molested by Zoeller in the 1980s when Zoeller was a priest at an Oklahoma City parish. Clay said Coakley also called for an independent investigation into the matter.

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