New York Times revisits Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley's reported conversion to Islam

Four months ago, I raised questions after The New York Times reported that Islamic State beheading victim James Foley made a sincere conversion from Catholicism to Islam during his captivity.

Given the circumstances, I asked whether Foley's "conversion" really should be presented as a fact:

At the time, the Times reporter who wrote the story defended the newspaper's characterization of Foley's conversion:

Now, though, a different Times writer has produced an in-depth piece seriously exploring Foley's faith: 

Rome bureau chief Jim Yardley's 1,500-word story tackles important questions concerning Foley's religion that the original Times story ignored.

Let's start at the top:

VATICAN CITY — The Islamic State’s beheading in August of the journalist James Foley stirred global outrage, fury and despair. But for many of his fellow Roman Catholics, Mr. Foley’s death in Syria transformed him into a symbol of faith under the most brutal of conditions.
One Catholic essayist compared him to St. Bartholomew, who died for his Christian faith. Others were drawn to Mr. Foley’s account of praying the rosary during an earlier captivity in Libya. Even Pope Francis, in a condolence call to Mr. Foley’s parents, described him as a martyr, according to the family.
Then came an unexpected twist: It turned out that Mr. Foley was among several hostages in Syria who had converted to Islam in captivity, according to some freed captives. What had been among some Catholics a theological discussion of faith and heroic resistance quickly shifted to a different set of questions:
Is any conversion under such duress a legitimate one? Why would a man who had spoken so openly about his Catholic faith turn to Islam? Given his circumstances, is it even surprising if he did?

Later, the Times links to my GetReligion post questioning its previous report before quoting Foley's mother:

Some Catholics were startled. But for Mr. Foley’s mother, Diane, the disclosure was not new. She said that she had spoken months earlier with Jejoen Bontinck, a Belgian former captive who is Muslim, after his release, and that he had described her son’s conversion as a genuine act. Then, after French and Spanish captives were released, Ms. Foley said she received a somewhat different version of events.
“What the hostages had told me was that by saying that he had converted to Islam, he would be left alone five times a day, without being beaten, so that he could pray,” she said in an interview.
Like others, Ms. Foley, who is a Eucharistic minister at her parish in New Hampshire, described her son as deeply interested in spirituality and the faiths of other people. But she still strongly believes that her son died as a Christian and that his conversion was an act of practicality.
“Only God and Jim know what was going on in his heart,” she said. “I think the Lord used Jim in a magnificent way in the last two years of his life. He gave hope to his fellow captives.”

The entire piece is worth a read. Kudos to Yardley and the Times.

Please respect our Commenting Policy