Catholic News Service

Here's the non-news direct from Seattle: An abortion activist video for kiddies

Here's the non-news direct from Seattle: An abortion activist video for kiddies

I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw a feed belonging to Dae Shik Kim Hawkins, Jr., a Seattle writer who specializes in religion and homelessness. That’s an unusual combo.

In one tweet, he was applauding a video he helped produce that aired Dec. 28. It markets abortion to kids; a job he called “the Lord’s work.” Only in Seattle is abortion seen as a kids ministry.

So what is the journalism question here? This is another one of those cases in which we are dealing with a story worthy of mainstream coverage, which GetReligion would then critique. However, that would assume that mainstream newsrooms have produced mainstream news coverage of a topic this hot and, to my eyes, controversial.

So what kind of coverage is out there?

Sure enough, conservative media have been fuming about it all. CBN said:

A YouTube channel for kids is facing controversy after posting a video of a pro-choice activist working to convince children it's ok to have an abortion.

Amelia Bonow, the woman who started the social media hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion, appears in the video talking with children about her abortion experience and sharing her views on the issue.

The popular organization known as HiHo Kids has more than 2 million followers on YouTube. HiHo published the video online on Dec. 28 entitled "Kids Meet Someone Who's Had An Abortion." It's already been seen by more than 200,000 people.

In the eight-minute video, young children squirm as Bonow tries to indoctrinate them with her pro-abortion worldview. She compares having an abortion to a bad dentist appointment and a bodily procedure that's "kind of uncomfortable." She also tells one child that she believes abortion is "all part of God's plan."

HiHo Kids, known as a “children’s brand” produced at the Seattle offices of Cut.com (where Hawkins works), provides edgy programming that features different cuisines kids can try plus the occasional Interesting Person kids can meet. The abortion activist was one of a lineup that included a ventriloquist, a gender non-conforming person, a transgender soldier, a person who’s committed a felony, a ballerina, a hypnotist, a deaf person, a drag queen, a gynecologist, a teen mom and, well, you get the idea.

I guess the idea is that by familiarizing these kids with these various life choices or conditions, the youthful listeners will quickly learn to accept them all. Think they ever get to meet a rabbi, priest, pastor, a nun, imam or Mormon elder? I doubt it. That would not be newsworthy. Then again, the production of this video appears to be “conservative news” — period.

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Attention all newsroom managers: There will also be non-political news in 2019  

Attention all newsroom managers: There will also be non-political news in 2019  

We already know that in 2019 the news biz will be as consumed by All Things Trump as during the prior three and a half years. The media must also monitor countless maneuvers by countless Democratic presidential hopefuls. And there will be those ongoing eruptions in global politics.

If any column inches and air time are left over for our beat, the temptation will be to do those “religion and” stories, oh you know like predictable Donald Trump accolades from the media’s favorite evangelicals. On the big 2019 theme of whether the President can win a second term, The Guy reminds pundits for the umpteenth time that white Catholics outside the  Bible Belt will decide that.  

Most important, The Guy advises editors that audiences will welcome a bit of a break from political news. How about covering the more religious aspects of the religion beat like these three major 2019 stories?  

First, the top story of 2018, as the Dec. 5 Guy Memo proposed, is reports that the “CRISR” technique in November successfully produced the first newborns with engineered genes that  will be inherited by future generations. Biologists “playing God” to create human “designer babies” is an ethical quagmire that demands 2019 folo-ups.

Then, two vital and nearly simultaneous church events, one dealing with moral performance and the other with moral doctrine, will reverberate throughout the year.

Ready to mark those calendars?

Feb. 21-24 — Pope Francis has summoned the 135 heads of national  bishops’ conferences and comparable officers for a Vatican summit to cope with the disgusting and ceaseless cascade of priests who sexually molested underaged boys and girls (and the bishops and cardinals who hid them). The stakes could not be higher for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

This brings fierce memories of Pope John Paul II’s 2002 Vatican abuse confab with U.S. Catholic leaders (which The Guy covered for The AP alongside Rome Bureau legend Victor Simpson). Shortly thereafter, several hundred reporters (including The Guy alongside award-winning AP virtuoso Rachel Zoll) swamped the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Dallas that devised a cleanup plan.  

U.S. scandals then dominated the news. Since, it’s become obvious this is no “American crisis” but a worldwide one. The fact that victims’ suffering, scandals, cover-ups, malfeasance, investigations, lawsuits and bankruptcies persist 16 years later shows how intractable the moral rot has proven to be, with Cardinal Pell’s conviction the latest instance. 

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Once again, Pope Francis fails to make headlines (with conservative words on sex)

Once again, Pope Francis fails to make headlines (with conservative words on sex)

As a rule, controversial statements by the Pope of Rome tend to make news.

As a rule, controversial statements by the current occupant of the throne of St. Peter make news.

Do I really need to note that, as a rule, controversial statements by Pope Francis about sexuality almost always inspire headlines in major news sources?

With that in mind, raise your cyber-hand (leave a comment even) if you have read the following information reported in a mainstream news source in the past few days — especially in elite media, either printed on dead-tree pulp or in any electronic form.

Meanwhile, the following is from the Catholic News Service, as printed in the conservative National Catholic Register:

“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case. We have to be exacting. In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the Church,” the Pope says in the book The Strength of a Vocation, set to be released Dec. 3 in 10 languages.

In an excerpt from the book, released Friday by Religión Digital, the Pope said he is concerned about the issue of evaluating and forming people with homosexual tendencies in the clergy and consecrated life.

“This is something I am concerned about, because perhaps at one time it did not receive much attention,” he said.

Francis said that with candidates for the priesthood or religious life “we have to take great care during formation in the human and affective maturity. We have to seriously discern, and listen to the voice of experience that the Church also has. When care is not taken in discerning all of this, problems increase. As I said before, it can happen that at the time perhaps they didn't exhibit [that tendency], but later on it comes out.”

“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case,” the Pope reiterated.

Wait, there is more to this nuanced, but still newsworthy, statement.

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What did Vatican know? When? Crucial letter emerges to pin down a specific date

What did Vatican know? When? Crucial letter emerges to pin down a specific date

Let's try to leave Pope Francis out of the picture, for a moment.

Instead, ask this simple journalism question: What did Vatican officials know about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick's sexual harassment of seminarians and when did they know it? 

Pinning down specific dates is crucial, during the hurricane of allegations surrounding the blistering testimony (full text here) offered by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican's U.S. ambassador from 2011-2016. The key is confirming information about the network of cardinals and other church officials who promoted and defended McCarrick.

When trying to nail down this kind of detail, editors really -- repeat REALLY -- like it when reporters find hard evidence to back up their sources. Yes, dated letters fit the bill.

With that in mind, let's discuss a major development in the McCarrick case that may, or may not, have surfaced in your news feed -- at least in a place where you could find it.

The key date (at least, at this point): 2000.

Let's start with a flashback to the bombshell July 16 report in The New York Times ("He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal."). In many ways, this was the story that created the current media storm. Toward the end, there is this significant passage:

In 2000, Pope John Paul II promoted Archbishop McCarrick to lead the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious posts in the Catholic Church in America. He was elevated to cardinal three months later.

At least one priest warned the Vatican against the appointment. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey said that when he was on the faculty at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey from 1986 to 1996, he was told by seminarians about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual abuse at the beach house. When Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to Washington, Father Ramsey spoke by phone with the pope’s representative in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio, and at his encouragement sent a letter to the Vatican about Archbishop McCarrick’s history.

So would it be a big story -- something bigger than a wire-service report buried inside a newspaper -- if confirmation of this letter surfaced, offering hard evidence of a key detail in the Vigano testimony?

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Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

It’s certainly been a tortured Catholic summer here at GetReligion, what with our reporting on the scandals surrounding now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick –- that took up multiple news cycles from June 20 to mid-July -- and this week's explosive grand jury report out of Pennsylvania that with some of the saddest news that religion beat reporters have had to cover in ages.

I’ve talked about how the secular media are treating this disaster but what about Catholic media? There’s a bunch of other publications out there but many are weeklies or even monthlies. What I found most helpful in several of them had insider observations that secular media reporters might not have.

The two largest Catholic publications are the National Catholic Register and the National Catholic Reporter. I’ll start with the latter.

The Register’s reporting was heavy on analysis and blogs -- such as this one asking why no one listened to McCarrick whistleblower Richard Sipe –- and it tended to defend the bishops more; at least the ones it felt had been unfairly treated. Its breaking news was supplied by the Catholic News Agency, a wire service affiliated with the Birmingham, Ala.-based Eternal Word TV Network. (A screen shot of EWTN host Lauren Ashburn reporting on the grand jury report is atop this blog.)

CNA’s reporting included a piece on retired Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, who was excoriated in the grand jury report. Trautman said a great deal of details had been left out of the report; details that would have put him in a better light.

Bishop Trautman said that the report “does not fully or accurately discuss my record as Bishop for twenty-two years in dealing with clergy abuse. While unfortunate, these omissions are consistent with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s findings that the grand jury process that produced the Report suffered from 'limitations upon its truth-finding capabilities' and lacked 'fundamental fairness.'”

The news service had a similar article defending Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was also criticized by the grand jury.

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Journalistic thoughts on the vices and virtues (and resources) of our social media age

Journalistic thoughts on the vices and virtues (and resources) of our social media age

So the Russians and others have been messing with Americans by means of fraudulent online ads and “fake news.”

Expect more of this. (The Guy here refers to “fake news” that’s actually fake, as opposed to “news I label fake though it’s wholly or largely accurate because I dispute it, dislike it and want to foment distrust and hate toward reporters.”).

Simultaneously, books, articles and media interviews warn us that the addictive powers of social media are undermining the psychological well-being of youths, on top of longstanding sexual dangers.

The latest contribution to this literature, from San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge, has this jawbreaker of a title:  “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy -- and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood -- and What That Means for the Rest of Us” (Atria Books). That’s an obvious topic reporters could explore in clergy interviews, with Twenge’s tome in hand.

Along with the vices, there are obvious cyberspace virtues that journalists exploit. The Web, whether accessed via desktop, laptop, or a $999 hand-held device, can quickly disgorge useful information and commentary. However, vice gets involved if material is -- well -- “fake.” A few basics for Web surfing:  

The reporter’s infallible rule of faith and practice is “consider the source.” Religious folks are usually candid so you pick up the pitch right away. But whenever something on the Web looks potentially interesting and the site is unknown to you, ask yourself:

Who sez? What ideological or organizational or economic interests underlie this site? What factors might this source carefully conceal? What’s its track record? Does the sponsor list phone, e-mail and office address contacts? Does it post comprehensive “about us” information and author IDs? Don’t assume anything and triple-check everything.

Back to virtues.

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Hey New York Times, think Catholic the next time you write about the 1994 Rwanda genocide

Hey New York Times, think Catholic the next time you write about the 1994 Rwanda genocide

The horrific genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was sadly distant from the Roman Catholic Church's finest hour. As many as a million people were brutally slaughtered in a spectacular outburst of tribal bloodletting. Church officials were not only complicit, but in some cases directly responsible for specific acts of violence.

Last year, Rwanda's Catholic bishops apologized for this on behalf of the local church.

In March, Pope Francis followed suit, apologizing in the name of the global church.

So April 7 was the anniversary of the day in 1994 when the Rwandan genocide began. In Rwanda, it's the start of a three-month period that the government has dedicated to memorializing the dead -- as well as to try and insure that the nation never again experiences a similar depravity.

Naturally, that sparks an annual mini-boom of stories by international media about Rwandan efforts at national reconciliation. The New York Times entry this year was this piece on one such effort run by evangelical Christians.

I'll return to the Times piece below. But first let's take a closer look at current and past Catholic involvement in Rwanda because of the church's great relevancy to the Central African nation, and because it's entirely overlooked in this new Times news feature.

The top of this Catholic News Service (CNS) story on the pope's apology sets the stage nicely. This is long, but important:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Pope Francis asked God's forgiveness for the failures of the Catholic Church during the 1994 Rwanda genocide and for the hatred and violence perpetrated by some priests and religious.

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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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Is this a news story? National Catholic Scouting committee has rejected trans policy shift

Is this a news story? National Catholic Scouting committee has rejected trans policy shift

Welcome to another edition of what could become a regular feature in these confused times for mainstream journalism. The problem is that I don't know what we would call it.

We could call this feature "Got News?" However, we tried that already here at GetReligion and the concept never caught on. The whole idea was that there is often valid news -- often highly important news -- reported in alternative news publications (think denominational press services), yet these stories rarely seem to get covered in the mainstream press.

Then again, the "Got News?" concept doesn't really work when journalists in mainstream newsrooms spot a story, then cover that story, but then fail to offer follow-up reports that let news consumers know about important developments that same ongoing story.

As any experienced journalist knows, it is very rare for major story to break then just freeze. If there is a big news earthquake, there tend to be aftershocks. What would we call this concept -- Got Aftershocks?

This brings me to the Boy Scouts of America. Again.

The other day, I wrote a post about a New York Times report about the decision to begin allowing transgender boys to join the Boy Scouts. This was an interesting report in that -- rare for the Gray Lady -- it focused almost totally on the views of conservative critics of the change and contained next to zero material from voices on the winning side of the debate.

I called that post: "Boy Scouts push trans button: So in which pulpits and pews are people celebrating?" In other words, for reporters covering religion, there were big questions that needed to be answered as the aftershocks of this decision spread into the religious groups that host Scout troops. While some conservatives would head to the exit doors, I wondered how people would respond on the religious left and in the often muddled middle. Thus, I wrote:

If you know anything about Scouting, you know that -- in addition to the Baptists -- the key players are Catholics, Mormons, United Methodists and, to a lesser degree, Episcopalians. So if the goal is to figure out what happens next with this story, readers really needed to hear from leaders in those flocks, especially from progressives who actively supported the changes.
In other words, we need to hear from the winners who now get to put these policies into action. 

Soon after this, there was an important reaction from a major religious group -- as in the Roman Catholic committee that works with Scouting programs. This would be important news, right?

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