Crux

What did Francis know? When did he know it? In Zanchetta case, can the pope answer questions?

What did Francis know? When did he know it? In Zanchetta case, can the pope answer questions?

There are few relationships in the world of mainstream religion that are more private, and often mysterious, than the bonds between a priest and a penitent who comes to Confession.

This is especially true when the priest hears the same person’s Confessions over and over for years — even taking on the role of people a believer’s “spiritual father” and guide in life.

So what happens when a priest becomes a bishop? Bishops, cardinals and even popes need to go to Confession and some may even retain ties with their “spiritual fathers” as they climb the ecclesiastical ladder.

Why do I bring this up?

I do so because of a fine detail way down in an Associated Press report that — for a moment, forget teens in MAGA hats and Twitter storms by journalists — may turn out to be a crucial turning point in the complicated story of Pope Francis and wayward bishops involved, in various ways, with sexual abuse.

We will get to the Confessional in a moment. Here is the long, but crucial AP overture:

The Vatican received information in 2015 and 2017 that an Argentine bishop close to Pope Francis had taken naked selfies, exhibited "obscene" behavior and had been accused of misconduct with seminarians, his former vicar general told The Associated Press, undermining Vatican claims that allegations of sexual abuse were only made a few months ago.

Francis accepted Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta's resignation in August 2017, after priests in the remote northern Argentine diocese of Oran complained about his authoritarian rule and a former vicar, seminary rector and another prelate provided reports to the Vatican alleging abuses of power, inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment of adult seminarians, said the former vicar, the Rev. Juan Jose Manzano.

The scandal over Zanchetta, 54, is the latest to implicate Francis as he and the Catholic hierarchy as a whole face an unprecedented crisis of confidence over their mishandling of cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors and misconduct with adults. Francis has summoned church leaders to a summit next month to chart the course forward for the universal church, but his own actions in individual cases are increasingly in the spotlight.

The pope's decision to allow Zanchetta to resign quietly, and then promote him to a new No. 2 position in one of the Vatican's most sensitive offices, has raised questions again about whether Francis turned a blind eye to the misconduct of his allies or dismissed allegations against them as ideological attacks.

Yes, “naked selfies” in a Vatican story. Were these photos sent to others or kept for — oh well, whatever, never mind.

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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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Another big story from alternative Catholic press: Cupich and Wuerl teamed up on what?

Another big story from alternative Catholic press: Cupich and Wuerl teamed up on what?

When I was breaking into the mainstream religion-news biz — soon after the cooling of the earth’s crust — the words “church press” basically meant one thing.

It meant working for the news office in a denomination’s headquarters or, perhaps, in the outreach office of a religious non-profit. In other words, it was one step from the world of public relations.

As the old saying goes: It’s hard to cover a war when a general is signing your paycheck.

However, the Internet has — year after year — been blurring many of these lines. The denominational press is still out there, but so are lots of non-profit publications that offer an often dizzying mix of commentary and factual news.

This is especially true for reporters covering Catholic news. As my colleague Clemente Lisi noted the other day, referring to developments on scandals surrounding ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick:

The growth of conservative Catholic outlets, for example, and their ability to break stories against “Uncle Ted” has coincided with the internal struggle contrasting what traditionalists see as inadequate news coverage from the mainstream media regarding Pope Francis’ leadership. Filling that void are conservative journalists and bloggers on a mission to expose what they see as the Vatican’s progressive hierarchy.

In 2002, an investigation by The Boston Globe unearthed decades of abuse by clergy never before reported to civil authorities (click here for links). These days, accusations of wrongdoing within the Catholic Church are being exposed by smaller news organizations. No longer are mainstream outlets setting the pace here.

Yes, he stressed developments on the pro-Catechism side of Catholic life. Why? Well, there has always been a lively market for Catholic news and commentary coming from the doctrinal, cultural and, yes, political left. The assumption was that official Catholic news offices would be defending the doctrinal fort.

This is no longer a safe assumption. Take a look, for example, at that “trusted” list of Catholic news outlets (at the top of this post), produced the other day by Father Thomas Rosica, head of the Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada. Notice any patterns in this list? Any obvious holes?

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It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

The scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church the past few months are only intensifying.

The allegations to come out of Pennsylvania (as well as Ireland and Australia) and accusations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick not only revealed how much the church is hurting, but also the stark ideological split within it. These events have also seen a rise in the power of online media.

The growth of conservative Catholic outlets, for example, and their ability to break stories against “Uncle Ted” has coincided with the internal struggle contrasting what traditionalists see as inadequate news coverage from the mainstream media regarding Pope Francis’ leadership. Filling that void are conservative journalists and bloggers on a mission to expose what they see as the Vatican’s progressive hierarchy.

In 2002, an investigation by The Boston Globe unearthed decades of abuse by clergy never before reported to civil authorities (click here for links). These days, accusations of wrongdoing within the Catholic Church are being exposed by smaller news organizations. No longer are mainstream outlets setting the pace here. Depleted newsrooms and not wanting to do negative stories about the pontiff have spurred conservative Catholic media to fill the journalism void.

Indeed, it’s a small group of influential blogs and news websites that has helped to inform millions as well as drive the debate.

The sex-abuse scandals that dominated news coverage over the summer are not going away. In the latest allegations to hit the U.S church, John Jenik, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, is under investigation after being accused of sexual abuse. First to the punch with the story soon after Cardinal Timothy Dolan made the announcement was CruxNow, a Catholic news site, and not any of the three competitive New York City dailies.

The revelations regarding Jenik could be just the start of a new flood of allegations going into 2019. The Justice Department recently sent a request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the country ordering them not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse cases. The request to preserve those files, first reported by the blog Whispers in the Loggia, is yet another sign that the prove is expanding after the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

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Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Surely it says something about the current state of American politics and religion when the organization Democrats For Life sends out a press release celebrating the election of one — count ‘em, one — new pro-life member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Just a reminder: I have stated many times that I was a pro-life and registered Democrat my whole adult life — until the 2016 White House race. I am now a registered member of a tiny (in America) third party that’s progressive on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues (other than being old-school liberal on the First Amendment).

But back to that release from Democrats For Life, celebrating a win in the rather unique political environment of Utah:

ANOTHER PRO-LIFE DEMOCRAT

A bright spot this election cycle is the election of Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Twice elected the mayor of Salt Lake County, McAdams may be the kind of Democrat we need. He has a history of bringing people together to provide solutions.

On his campaign website, he stressed his bipartisan cooperation.

”Ben worked with both sides of the aisle in the Utah Legislature and as Salt Lake County mayor to balance the budget and act on important initiatives. He will continue to work with colleagues in both parties to overcome Washington’s broken politics and put Utah families first. He has proven bringing people together helps to solve tough problems like homelessness and criminal justice reform....”

Meanwhile, a member of an even more endangered political species — a pro-life Democrat incumbent in the U.S. Senate — lost his seat. If you followed the race carefully, it was obvious that Sen. Joe Donnelly had trouble separating himself from those “other” Democrats” during the firestorm surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee, and now justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

This brings me to the main theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which focused on the rare glimpses of religion during the mainstream news coverage of the 2018 Midterm elections. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes to subscribe.

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New York Times offers bizarre twist on Benedict XVI letters, while Crux sticks to the facts

New York Times offers bizarre twist on Benedict XVI letters, while Crux sticks to the facts

So here is the journalism question I offer to you today: What does a letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI written on Nov. 23, 2017, have to do with the written testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, which exploded into public view at the end of August, 2018?

If you look at this as a matter of logic, the answer is clear: Nothing.

Well, I guess one could argue that Benedict could have had a prophetic vision of what Vigano was going to do. But I think that’s a bit of a stretch. How about you?

Anyway, in this case it really helps to report the contents of the Benedict letter and look for the news contained therein.

That’s what the team at Crux did, under this recent headline: “Benedict XVI hits back at critics in leaked letters.” Note: The retired pope is speaking to his own critics.

Now hold that thought, while we look at the amazing and bizarre New York Times report about the same Benedict letters. The headline proclaimed: “In Private Letters, Benedict Rebukes Critics of Pope Francis.”

You see, everything has to be about conservative Catholics attacking Pope Francis. Got that? Here is the overture, which opens with — you got it — the Vigano letter:

ROME — The remarkable letter last month calling on Pope Francis to resign for allegedly shielding an abusive American cardinal also served as a public call to arms for some conservative Catholics who pine for the pontificate of the previous pope, Benedict XVI. For years now, they have carried his name like a battle standard into the ideological trenches.

Benedict apparently would like them to knock it off.

In private letters published on Thursday by the German newspaper Bild, Benedict, who in retirement has remained studiously quiet through the controversies over Francis’ fitness to lead the church, says that the “anger” expressed by some of his staunchest defenders risks tarnishing his own pontificate.

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Believe it or not: Vigano testimony is producing a Catholic version of that 'Jesusland' map

Believe it or not: Vigano testimony is producing a Catholic version of that 'Jesusland' map

Does anyone remember the mini-wave of "Jesusland" maps that grew out of the nail-biter 2000 U.S. presidential election? Click here for some background on that.

Well, the famous maps of all those flyover country red states and the northern and coastal blue states evolved into images pitting "Jesusland" against the "United States of Canada" or the "United States of Liberty and Education."

You get the idea, especially if you check out some of the F-word map options that should not be repeated in public.

I thought of this the other day when I read the Crux feature that ran with this headline: "Reactions to Pope allegations offer x-ray of a divided Church." Truth is, at the time I was swamped with all of the commentary and advocacy-news reports about the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano letter (see full text here). Thus, I really appreciated a rather calm look at one newsy angle of the story, from high altitude (so to speak). 

What emerged was this thought -- are the doctrinal wars in the American Catholic Church creating another Jesusland map?

What this Crux story did was chart some of the early reactions to this crisis by bishops who are speaking on the record. Here is the overture:

NEW YORK -- Within hours of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s blockbuster claims that Pope Francis knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of abuse, the bishop of Tyler, Texas issued a statement saying he found those claims to be credible, asking that it be read at all Masses on Sunday.

“I do not have the authority to launch such an investigation, but I will lend my voice in whatever way necessary to call for this investigation and urge that its findings demand accountability of all found to be culpable even at the highest levels of the Church,” wrote Bishop Joseph Strickland. He went on to include the 11-page testimonial of the former papal ambassador to the United States on his diocesan website.

OK, where is Texas on the Jesusland map? 


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Documents, documents, documents: It's time to get back to the McCarrick scandal

Documents, documents, documents: It's time to get back to the McCarrick scandal

(Sound effect: A loud sigh.)

I wasn't going to write about the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano letter again today. 

Honest. I hit the wall yesterday, trying to read another 24 hours worth of coverage of this story.

What's frustrating, of course, is that most of the coverage is about Vigano and the letter, as opposed to what the letter is about -- as in the strange story of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and who -- in the global Catholic hierarchy -- knew or did not know about his love of sleeping with seminarians.

But people keep asking me this question: What is this story really about?

Well, I think I have found two passages that kind of sum things up.

First, there is a story from Reuters: "Defenders rally around pope, fear conservatives escalating war." The true story, you see, is not McCarrick and his network of supporters. No, the REAL STORY is that McCarrick had truly evil enemies and, now, those enemies want the head of Pope Francis?

Why, precisely? The top of this story is very concise:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Supporters of Pope Francis have rushed to his defense after a former top Vatican official launched an unprecedented attack on him, a move they say dangerously escalates a campaign to weaken his papacy by conservatives who condemn him as too liberal.

Francis’ supporters say the accusations in Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s 11-page public statement aim to pave the way for a conservative pope to succeed him who would reverse his openings to divorced and homosexual Catholics.

Oh my, that's perfect.

The Reuters story is built on the views of the Catholic left, but it opens with several variations on exactly what I continue to hear from some -- repeat SOME -- conservative Catholics who are chanting, basically, "It's gay priests! It's gay bishops! It's gay cardinals!"

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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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