Boston Globe

Think piece on SBC sex abuse scandal: What Baptists and Catholics can learn from each other

Think piece on SBC sex abuse scandal: What Baptists and Catholics can learn from each other

In today’s San Antonio Express-News, there’s a front-page story on Southern Baptist leaders promising reforms after a bombshell newspaper investigation into sex abuse within that denomination.

In a three-part series last week, the Express-News and its sister newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, revealed that more than 700 people had been molested by Southern Baptist pastors, church employees and volunteers over a span of two decades. (See our previous analysis of the Texas papers’ reporting here, here and here.)

Sadly, the Baptists aren’t the only religious group making sex abuse headlines this weekend: On the same Express-News front page, there’s the breaking news — via the New York Times — of Pope Francis’ decision to expel Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, D.C., from the priesthood.

As noted by the Times, the decision announced by the Vatican on Saturday “came after the Catholic Church found him guilty of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians over decades.” My GetReligion colleagues Terry Mattingly and Julia Duin have been following the McCarrick story for months. Look for additional commentary this week.

But since this is Sunday, when we like to delve into think-piece territory, I wanted to call attention to a Religion News Service column by Jesuit priest Thomas Reese that seems especially timely in light of today’s headlines.

In the column, Reese writes about “What Catholics and Southern Baptists can learn from each other about sex abuse crisis.”

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Who will protect sheep from shepherds? Inquirer and Globe team spotlights sins of many bishops

Who will protect sheep from shepherds? Inquirer and Globe team spotlights sins of many bishops

I’m not sure that we’re talking about a true sequel to the massive 2002 Boston Globe “Spotlight” series about sexual abuse of children and teens by Catholic priests.

Still, there’s no question that journalists at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Globe have — working together — produced a disturbing report documenting the efforts of many U.S. Catholic bishops to hide abusive priests or, at the very least, to avoid investigations of their own sins and crimes during these scandals.

The dramatic double-decker headline at the Inquirer says a lot, pointing readers to the key fact — that U.S. bishops keep stressing that only Rome’s powers that be can discipline bishops, archbishops and cardinals::

Failure at the top

America’s Catholic bishops vowed to remove abusive priests in 2002. In the years that followed, they failed to police themselves.

For the most part, this report avoids pinning simplistic political and doctrinal labels on Catholic shepherds who are, to varying degrees, involved in this story.

If you know any of the players mentioned in this report, you will recognize that it offers more evidence — as if it was needed — that this scandal is too big to be described in terms of “left” and “right.”.

I am sure that critics more qualified than me will find some holes and stereotypes. Experts will be able to connect the dots and see the networks that protected abusers or even produced them. Informed readers can do this, because the Globe-Inquirer team consistently names names. We will come back to one interesting exception to that rule.

Another point: It really would have helped if editors had acknowledged that there are valid theological, as well as legal, issues in this fight. Yes, there are bishops who have used centuries of theology about the role the episcopate plays in the church as a defense mechanism to hide their actions. However, this doesn’t mean that the theological issues are not real. Maybe call a theologian or historian — or several?

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AP digs into 'gay priests' wars, starting with views of 'moderate' Father James Martin

AP digs into 'gay priests' wars, starting with views of 'moderate' Father James Martin

First things first: Let me point readers to a must-watch video feature that will be taking place in real time in an hour or so after this post.

At 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time, veteran Washington Post religion reporter will take part in a streaming video session focusing on the Pennsylvania grand jury report on Catholic Church sex abuse. Watch here: Watch here: https://www.twitch.tv/washingtonpost

Then, at 3:30 p.m. ET, Post editor Marty Baron will take part. The Post PR email said he will be talking about the "Boston Globe reporting and present day accountability in the Catholic Church." Baron was, of course, editor of the Globe during it's famous "Spotlight" project on clergy sexual abuse.

The Post media team said that video clips will be available -- hopefully on YouTube -- after the live stream.

Now, back to business. Needless to say, readers saw the Associated Press report that ran all over the place with headlines similar to this one, from Religion News Service: "Cardinal McCarrick scandal inflames debate over gay priests."

Yes, your GetReligionistas saw it, too. In fact, you would not believe the amount of email I am getting (lots of nasty "spiked" comments board stuff, as well) about how the mainstream editors and even GetReligion folks have downplayed the "gay priests are the problem" angle in this story.

It is certainly true that some elite newsrooms don't want to investigate the issue of sexually active gay priests -- period. However, as I stressed the other day, There are crucial voices on the Catholic left and right who agree that the "non-celibate gay priests" angle has to be seen in a larger, more complex context.

Please allow me to repeat my summary on that subject, included in a post the other day with this headline: "The must-cover 'Big Ideas' at heart of the complex Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis." I do this because I think that this is the clearest statement I have made, so far, on journalism about this hot-button topic:

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Banned in Boston? Globe story skirts key Gordon College issue, the faculty faith statement

Banned in Boston? Globe story skirts key Gordon College issue, the faculty faith statement

We can thank Anthony Comstock, a moral crusader and a U.S. Postal Inspector, for the modern-day usage of "Banned in Boston" as a catchphrase to describe books, magazines and, eventually, movies that were deemed unsuitable for the citizens of "the Athens of America."

Comstockery, as the censorship became known, died not long after Comstock's passing in 1915. 

But banning still rears its head every now and then, including, it appears, the hallowed precincts of The Boston Globe. In just under 670 words discussing yet another faculty-administration tussle over issues involving homosexuality, the paper took pains to suggest the school's clearly stated standards of doctrine and behavior are more like a policy statement than a reflection of the school's long-held Christian beliefs.

Search the story and you'll find the most oblique of references, at the top of the piece:

All seven members of the faculty Senate at Gordon College resigned last week in an apparent show of support for a professor who claims that she was denied a promotion because she criticized the Christian school’s opposition to same-sex relationships.
The resignations represented the latest rift to emerge between the faculty and the administration at the small evangelical school in Wenham, which forbids professors, students, and staff from engaging in “homosexual practice” on or off campus.
In a complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, an assistant professor of sociology, asserts that the college president and provost denied her a promotion to full professor because she has openly criticized the policy since 2013.
DeWeese-Boyd says she has spoken against the ban at a faculty meeting, signed a petition opposing it, organized trainings and events related to gay rights, and directly addressed Gordon’s president, D. Michael Lindsay, about the school’s stance.

What are some obvious factual questions that need to be asked? For starters, what doctrinal covenants did DeWeese-Boyd sign when she joined the Gordon College faculty?

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What four-letter words are now OK? What politically-correct doctrines are mandatory?

What four-letter words are now OK? What politically-correct doctrines are mandatory?

It doesn’t rank with July 4, Dec. 7 or 9-11, but Oct. 8, 2016, is a journalistic date to remember, if one cares about the tone and content of journalism and, thus, American public discourse.

There it was in an A1 lead in The New York Times.

The F-bomb.

No “expletive deleted,” no euphemism, no cautious dashes. In this article a newspaper so dignified it uses honorifics in second references (“Mr. Hitler”) included the B-word, P-word, and T-word in the first four paragraphs above the fold.

What hath Citizen Donald Trump wrought? 

Dirty words can still hit broadcasters with federal government wrath. Yet Boston-NYC-DC and Left Coast editors (not so much in Flyover Country) are certainly influenced by the cultural coarsening from showbiz. Now there’s academic imprimatur from cognitive science professor Benjamin Bergen, whose new book “What the F” contends that uttering four-letter words is good for your mental health.

Journalists are still coming to terms with the grammatically incorrect but politically correct pronoun shift as they/them/their supplant the dreaded he/she/her/his. One Times contributor has employed the xe/xim/xir pronoun plan devised by the transgender movement, and another informs us that in this “age of gender fluidity” the recently coined “cisgender” is now the “preferred term” for those whose sex is defined the old-fashioned way, by anatomy, not psychological “sense of gender.”

“Cisgender,” New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan alerts us, is among the neologisms added this year by dictionary.com, alongside “misgender” (mistaking someone’s preferred gender identity) and “panromantic” (“romantically attracted to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities”). Also new to the lexicon is “woke,” to label someone who’s not merely awakened to his/her/their “white privilege” but super-vigilant about “systemic injustices and prejudices.”

Ignoring the new pronouns can get you in trouble, perhaps even in pews and pulpits.

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Re: transgender restrooms, a lawsuit over where churches' religious freedom begins, ends

Re: transgender restrooms, a lawsuit over where churches' religious freedom begins, ends

If a church hosts a spaghetti supper and invites the public to attend, does that church give up its religious freedom?

Let's say, for example, the church believes people should use a restroom corresponding to their God-assigned gender at birth. If that church invites non-members to eat pasta in its building, must the church allow transgender individuals to use whichever restroom they prefer?

Such questions are not just theoretical. They are at the heart of a lawsuit filed Tuesday by a handful of Massachusetts churches.

Readers must wade through a bunch of political talk, but the Boston Globe hits the high points in its coverage:

Four Massachusetts churches contend in a federal lawsuit that a new state law could force them to allow transgender people to use the church bathrooms, changing rooms, and shower facilities of their choice, violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to freely practice their religion.
The litigation opens a new front in a broader effort to undermine the law, which bars discrimination against transgender people in restaurants, malls, and other public accommodations.
Also Tuesday, the secretary of state confirmed that opponents had gathered enough signatures to place a repeal of the law on the ballot in 2018.
“This is bigger than bathrooms,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the conservative Massachusetts Family Institute and a central player in the lawsuit and the repeal effort. “This law is eliminating rights that have existed for as long as this country has been in existence — fundamental rights to privacy, to modesty and safety, now constitutional rights to religious freedom.”

So where does the spaghetti supper question fit in?

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For Ramadan, Miami Herald shuns complex coverage for pro-Muslim promotion

For Ramadan, Miami Herald shuns complex coverage for pro-Muslim promotion

As surely as Easter brings news stories questioning the Resurrection, the arrival of Ramadan can be expected to bring exactly the opposite -- news reports that are essentially pro-Muslim marketing. And a new four-story package in The Miami Herald returns to that stale script:

Muslims are nice people and good Americans. Muslims are just like the rest of us. Terrorists are not really Muslims. Muslims are persecuted.

Let me stress: Not that any of those points are invalid.

As a religion writer for a daily newspaper, I interviewed a lot of Muslims who were happy as Americans and horrified at what was being done in the name of their faith. But to take essentially the same angle featured in so many newspapers for so many years is, by definition not news -- it's more like PR or image management.

We should have gotten better after that the Herald spent several months with four families on this package, resulting in a total of 3,435 words and three videos (which, unfortunately, aren’t compatible with GetReligion's software platform).

What appears to be the mainbar bears all the above clichés, leading with the persecution:

Yasemin Saib was filling bags with rice for a Feed My Starving Children event when she rolled out a mat and began to pray. A man interrupted her, asking her what she was doing.
"I’m praying," Saib said.
"To Jesus?" he demanded.
A few weeks earlier, the Cooper City school of her 7-year-old son was vandalized, with the words "F--- Muslims" splayed across a wall in bright red letters. "We live in frightening times in the United States," Saib said. "I can say that as an American Muslim."
Schools defaced. Stares on airplanes. Shouts of "Go Home’’ -- this is life in 2016 for many American Muslims. An anti-Muslim mood fueled by 9/11 has reached a throbbing crescendo after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called for a "total and complete shutdown" of U.S. borders to Muslims in the wake of December’s San Bernardino terrorist attack.

"Throbbing crescendo." How did that phrase get past the editor? That might work for the New York Post, but not for a once-world class daily.

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14 years after the Globe: Minneapolis Star Tribune doggedly pursues local sex-abuse saga

14 years after the Globe: Minneapolis Star Tribune doggedly pursues local sex-abuse saga

I had been at the Washington Times for more than seven years editing the pop-culture page, when I was tapped to become the paper’s religion editor in 2003. I’d been doing a fair amount of religion reporting before that, but I hadn’t covered the beat full-time since my stint at the Houston Chronicle in the late 1980s.

One thing that had changed in the intervening years was how the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was all over the news, and had been since early 2002. That was the year that religion reporters around the country had to grind out piece after piece on all the revelations first pouring out of Boston and then in dioceses around the country.

That was the part of the beat I didn’t want to take on, as it entailed a return to my days as a police reporter -- although this time the criminals were erring clergy. Many of the other facets of the police beat: interviews with traumatized victims, poring over court records, showing up at hearings, were there, all with the added monstrosity that those responsible were acting in the name of God while the faith of many were destroyed. I quailed from volunteering to do stories no one else in the newsroom wanted to touch. So did other reporters, as GetReligion has reported in the past.

However, I did take on the beat and ended up doing many clergy abuse stories, as it turned out, which is why I have so much respect for reporters who continue to plug away at all the ripples the scandal continues to have.

It was 14 years ago this month that Boston Globe’s first stories ran. One newspaper I want to give a shout out to is the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose religion-beat reporter Jean Hopfensperger continues to report on an issue that refuses to go away.

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Surprise? Non-alcohol-serving Muslim flight attendant gets respectful media treatment

Surprise? Non-alcohol-serving Muslim flight attendant gets respectful media treatment

With all the coverage of the embattled Rowan County, Ky.  clerk recently released from jail after she refused to process same-sex marriages, it was inevitable that we would be hearing about protests from similar protagonists.

There are all sorts of people of faith caught in sticky employment situations where what they’re being asked to do is not precisely what they signed up for when they accepted the job.

As GetReligion has reported quite recently, reporters have had problems getting the facts right plus the degree of snark and outright hostility towards people such as Kim Davis has, at times, been so over the top. Our own Terry Mattingly passed along M.Z. "GetReligionista emeritus" Hemingway's bold use of term “slut-shaming” to describe it.

And so, what happens when someone from a different faith entirely makes a similar argument? Does that change the journalistic equation? Here’s what the Huffington Post said about a Muslim flight attendant suspended for not serving alcoholic beverages:

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