So an anonymous seminarian, and folks who talked to seminarians, said that Cardinal Cupich said ...

So an anonymous seminarian, and folks who talked to seminarians, said that Cardinal Cupich said ...

It’s hard to imagine a topic that causes more debates in newsrooms than this one: Under what circumstances should reporters and editors trust second-hand quotes?

Here’s the context: What do you do when sources on only one side of a debate will talk with you? Or what about this: There is a crucial meeting and the powers that be will not include reporters. Do you print direct quotations based on the memories of participants (who almost always have an axe to grind, or they wouldn’t be talking to the press in the first place)?

If you’ve worked in Washington, D.C., you know that journalists sit around after the release of each Bob Woodward book (yeah, like this one) and discuss the status of his second-hand or even third-hand material — that ends up inside quotation marks as verbatim quotes.

Most of the time, reporters (including me every now and then) argue that this is a first-person quote about what a person heard someone say to them or these were words spoken in their presence. It may be is acceptable to quote them if you give the reader precise information about the identity of the person providing the second-hand quote and their link to the story.

But what about anonymous quotes of second-hand material?

Editors at The Chicago Sun-Times ventured deep into this minefield the other day on a high-profile story linked the the scandal surrounding ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick and his friends and disciples in the halls of Catholic power. The headline: “Cupich on scandal: ‘We have a bigger agenda than to be distracted by all of this’.

Spot the journalism questions in this overture:

The young man studying at Mundelein Seminary to become a Catholic priest seemed anguished as he vented to Cardinal Blase Cupich about the clergy sex-abuse scandal that threatens to topple Pope Francis and drive more people away from the faith.

“I’m hurting, I can’t sleep, I’m sick,” the seminarian told Cupich during an Aug. 29 gathering at which the cardinal spoke to about 200 future priests enrolled at the seminary, according to another person who was there and spoke with the Chicago Sun-Times but asked not to be identified.

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Don't give us those old time religions: New York Times asks what it means to be a Democrat

Don't give us those old time religions: New York Times asks what it means to be a Democrat

Hey, news consumers: Does anyone remember that "Nones on the Rise" study from the Pew Research Center?

Of course you do. It was in all the newspapers, over and over. It even soaked into network and cable television news -- where stories about religion is rare.

The big news, of course, was the rapid rise in "Nones" -- the "religiously unaffiliated" -- in the American population, especially among the young. Does this sound familiar? One-fifth of all Americans -- a third of those under 30 -- are "Nones," to one degree or another.

Traditional forms of religious faith were holding their own, while lots of vaguely religious people in the mushy middle were being more candid about their lack of ties to organized religion. More than 70 percent of "Nones" called themselves "nothing in particular," as opposed to being either atheists or agnostics.

When the study came out, a key researcher -- John C. Green of the University of Akron -- said it was crucial to note the issues that united these semi-believers, as well as atheists, agnostics and faithful religious liberals, into a growing voter block on the cultural left. My "On Religion" column ended with this:

The unaffiliated overwhelmingly reject ancient doctrines on sexuality with 73 percent backing same-sex marriage and 72 percent saying abortion should be legal in all, or most, cases. Thus, the "Nones" skew heavily Democratic as voters. ... The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.
"It may very well be that in the future the unaffiliated vote will be as important to the Democrats as the traditionally religious are to the Republican Party,” said Green. ... "If these trends continue, we are likely to see even sharper divisions between the political parties."

These sharp divisions are also being seen INSIDE the major political parties. If you want to see that process at work, check out the fascinating New York Times report that ran the other day under this headline: "As Primaries Begin, Divided Voters Weigh What It Means to Be a Democrat." It isn't hard to spot the religion "ghost" in this blunt overture:

PALOS HILLS, Ill. -- When Representative Daniel Lipinski, a conservative-leaning Democrat and scion of Chicago’s political machine, agreed to one joint appearance last month with his liberal primary challenger, the divide in the Democratic Party was evident in the audience that showed up.

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Thousands of strangers help an 89-year-old Popsicle vendor — surely there's no holy ghost?

Thousands of strangers help an 89-year-old Popsicle vendor — surely there's no holy ghost?

Grab a tissue.

This story — if somehow you've missed it — will warm your heart.

It's about thousands of strangers moved to make a better life for an 89-year-old Popsicle vendor in Chicago.

The basic details via NPR:

It was just a glimpse, but the scene spoke volumes — and started a push for help. Joel Cervantes Macias was struck by the sight of an elderly man pushing his cart of frozen treats on Chicago's 26th Street, so he took a photo. That was last week; as of Monday afternoon, Macias had raised more than $165,000 to help a stranger.
"It broke my heart seeing this man that should be enjoying retirement still working at this age," Macias wrote on a Go Fund Me page he set up for the 89-year-old vendor, Fidencio Sanchez. "I had to pull over and took this picture. I then bought 20 paletas and gave him a $50 and said may God bless him and drove away."
After posting a picture of Sanchez on Facebook, Macias quickly learned that others had the same response to seeing the man bent over to push his cart full of paletas, the traditional Mexican frozen treats. Many who commented wanted to know how they could help the man — and one of them, Joe Loera, suggested the Go Fund Me page.

As of the moment I'm typing this, the amount raised stands at $328,500 given by more than 15,000 people. Wow!

But perhaps I should get to the point of this post: One of the occupational hazards of writing for GetReligion is that you start looking for ghosts everywhere.

So ... is there a holy ghost here? Is there a religion angle in a bunch of strangers donating money to help an old man? Maybe. 

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In lawsuit over transgender student using girls locker room, a surprising development

In lawsuit over transgender student using girls locker room, a surprising development

Hey, this is interesting.

The Chicago Tribune reports on a federal lawsuit challenging a high school's decision to let a transgender student use the girls locker room.

And guess what? The coverage is fair, balanced and informative. It's mostly just the facts, ma'am.

As GetReligion readers know, that's not always the case (examples here, here and here).

So what's the Tribune's secret?

The newspaper sticks to the simple lessons learned in Journalism 101. You know, the ones about reporting the relevant details (without taking sides) and giving each side an opportunity to make its case — with a proper amount of background to put the lawsuit into a broader perspective. However, I do have one question about the story that I'll ask below.

But let's start at the top:

A group of suburban students and parents is suing the U.S. Department of Education and Illinois' largest high school district after school officials granted a transgender student access to the girls locker room.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday, the group contends that the actions of the Department of Education and Palatine-based Township High School District 211 "trample students' privacy" rights and create an "intimidating and hostile environment" for students who share the locker rooms and restrooms with the transgender student.
"Students have an expectation of privacy in restrooms and locker rooms, and that expectation is violated when a school puts the opposite-sex student in those kinds of private and intimate facilities," said Jeremy Tedesco, attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious legal advocacy group representing the plaintiffs.
The group also asserts that the Department of Education's inclusion of gender identity under Title IX, which aims to protect against discrimination based on sex, is unlawful.
Wednesday's lawsuit is the latest development in a heated national debate on the rights of transgender people in public spaces. Chicago Public Schools this week announced that transgender students will be able to use restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity. Last month, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a transgender student in Virginia who is seeking access to the boys restroom. Meanwhile, North Carolina recently adopted a law that limits public bathroom access for transgender people, though the U.S. Justice Department on (sic) said Wednesday that the law violates federal civil rights protections.

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Doctrinal questions? Chicago Catholics have fewer marriages, babies and, well, priests

Doctrinal questions? Chicago Catholics have fewer marriages, babies and, well, priests

The big Catholic news out of the Archdiocese of Chicago -- the nation's third-largest diocese -- has become shockingly normal, perhaps so normal that journalists aren't even asking basic questions about this trend anymore.

The Chicago Tribune put one of the big numbers right up top in its latest report, noting that the Chicago archbishop -- a man closely identified with the tone of the Pope Francis era -- is now facing a crisis that will literally cost him altars. How many churches will he need to shutter? The current estimate is 100.

It's hard to keep Catholic church doors open without priests:

A radical overhaul in the nation's third-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese could shutter many of the Chicago church's houses of worship by 2030 as it reckons with decaying buildings and an expected shortage of priests, the church's chief operating officer confirmed Friday.
Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich told priests and advisers in meetings in recent weeks that the shortage -- an estimated 240 priests available in 2030 for the archdiocese's 351 parishes -- could necessitate closings and consolidations. The archdiocese governs parishes in Cook and Lake counties.

So what are the basic questions here? Yes, obviously, there is the question Catholic leaders have been asking for several decades: Where have all the seminarians gone? Why is a larger church producing fewer priests?

Looking at the hard-news coverage of the Chicago crisis, other questions leap to mind (or to my mind, at least). People keep saying that the "demographics" of the church have changed. This is true, but that only raises more questions that link demographics and doctrine. Hold that thought.

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Holy smoke! We're talking big Catholic news from the Archdiocese of Chicago!

Holy smoke! We're talking big Catholic news from the Archdiocese of Chicago!

We've all done it.

You are writing a story about a complex topic -- on religion or some other tough topic -- and you crank out what seems like a perfectly normal summary paragraph. You read over the story several times. So does your editor.

Things look normal. Then a reader sends you an email that basically says, "What the heck were you thinking?" Maybe this reader uses stronger language than that.

So you read said paragraph once again and the scales fall from your eyes. You immediately think, "What the heck was I thinking?" Maybe, silently, you use stronger language than that.

Palm. Face.

When it comes to religion stuff, GetReligion readers often send us the URLs for stories of this kind. Consider, for example, the following story from The Chicago Tribute. The editorial train wreck in this hard-news story, focusing on a local Catholic scandal, doesn't take place until the very end. Still, here is the top of the story for some context:

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Getting out of civil marriage biz? Tribune details one side of debate in Chicago

Getting out of civil marriage biz? Tribune details one side of debate in Chicago

Several months ago, I heard about an interesting decision made by Father Patrick Henry Reardon, a very outspoken and influential Eastern Orthodox priest up in the Chicago area. After the state of Illinois approved the redefinition of marriage -- including same-sex unions -- Reardon decided that he would get out of the civil marriage business and stop signing secular marriage licenses.

This was, for Reardon, an intensely theological subject and he was most comfortable discussing the topic in those terms. It was a challenge to quote him in ways that were accurate, yet could be included in a column for readers in mainstream newspapers. This was pretty complex territory.

The priest knew, of course, that a U.S. Supreme Court on this subject loomed in the near future and he assumed that it would complicate matters even further, especially in terms of the First Amendment and religious liberty. But the key, for him, was that he was discussing a sacrament of the church and doctrines on which he could not compromise. Thus, I ended my Universal syndicate column on this topic like this:

At his altar, said Reardon, this means, "I cannot represent the State of Illinois anymore. … I'm not making a political statement. I'm making a theological statement."

I also quoted the American leader of the branch of Orthodoxy in which Reardon serves, who, while not directly addressing the issue of civil marriage licenses, made it clear that his church would not be taking part in a major reshaping of marriage.

The upcoming Supreme Court decision could "mark a powerful affirmation of marriage between one man and one woman … or it can initiate a direction which the Holy Orthodox Church can never embrace," stated Metropolitan Joseph, of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. "Throughout the history of our faith our Holy Fathers have led the Orthodox laity" to unite to "preserve the faith against heresy from within, and against major threats from societies from without."

For me, as an Orthodox layman, the most interesting part of that statement were the words focusing on the church and the theological tensions that are ahead, the part when the metropolitan mentions the struggles to "preserve the faith against heresy from within."

Heresy is not a word that bishops toss around without careful thought.

Now, in the wake of the 5-4 Obergefell decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy and the U.S. Supreme Court, the Chicago Tribune has followed up with a news report about Reardon that does a good job of describing his decision, yet does very little to dig into the thoughts and beliefs of those who either oppose or dismiss his strategy. Consider, for example, this passage in which an Orthodox bishop seems to echo, in reverse, some of Reardon's thinking:

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Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the 'black mass'

Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the 'black mass'

The "Money for Nothing" video accompanying this post has only a tangential connection to the subject matter.

Alas, I'm a child of the '80s, and that three-decade-old hit by the British rock band Dire Straits seemed like a good tune for a Friday afternoon.

As I noted earlier this week, about 300 members of a Chicago church received money for something — $500 each to spend, invest or give away.

In the post, I pointed out that seemed to bury the lede at the end, reporting with no explanation that the church involved has a $50,000 budget deficit. 

On this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss the Chicago story. 

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God-given gifts and a financial windfall for members of a Chicago church

God-given gifts and a financial windfall for members of a Chicago church

I came across a story about a Chicago church giving away $500 to each of its 300 or so members via CNN's Eric Marrapodi, who, by the way, did an exceptional training session at #RNA2014 on video interview best practices.

Sadly, though, Marrapodi had no tips to improve voices — like mine — made for print. 

But I digress.

The version of the story that Marrapodi tweeted came from in Chicago:

A Chicago church came into some money following a decades old real estate deal. What to do with the extra dough weighed heavily on the pastor’s mind. Then she decided to do something crazy.
She wanted the church to tithe and give 10% of the money away. That may not sound so crazy, but here’s the hitch, she gave it back — all $160,000 of it–to the congregation. Anyone who is “actively engaged in LaSalle Street Church” got a sizable check. Not $5 or $50 – we are talking $500 a person. Personal checks made out directly to the parishioners to go forth and spend, invest or give away as they see fit. No strings attached.
Pastor Laura, as she’s known, is beaming–ever since she announced to her congregation of 300 back on Sept 7th that they would all get $500 from the church.
“Some started to cry,” she said. “Their mouths started to drop. I started to sweat because it sounded so crazy.”

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