Godbeat

Catholic beat memo: Ongoing questions linger on who knew what and when regarding McCarrick

Catholic beat memo: Ongoing questions linger on who knew what and when regarding McCarrick

In a world where technology has forced the news cycle to speed up, the constantly-changing developments that have engulfed the Catholic church since last summer have required readers (and those on the religion beat) to wade through large amounts of information filtering through social media feeds.

Lost in all the news barrage sometimes are pieces that make you sit up and ponder the ramifications of all these sordid revelations regarding the clerical sex abuse crisis. More importantly, what are the ramifications are for the church’s hierarchy.

The big story remains who knew what and when. Who’s implicated in potentially covering up the misdeeds of now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick over the years? The implication here is that the cover-up — if that’s the word you want to use — goes beyond Pope Francis, but back in time years to when Saint Pope John Paul II was the head of the Roman Catholic church.

Last August, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released an 11-page letter describing a series of events in which the Vatican — and specifically Francis — had been made aware of McCarrick’s immoral behavior years ago. Vigano claimed Pope Benedict XVI had placed restrictions on McCarrick, including not allowing him to say Mass in public. Vigano alleged that Francis reversed those sanctions. In the letter, Vigano, a former papal ambassador to the United States, said Francis “knew from at least June 23, 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator who attacked young men. He knew that he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end.”

Over the past seven months, the allegations have yielded few answers. McCarrick was recently defrocked — the church’s version of the death penalty — but little else has been made public about the timeline. A news analysis piece by veteran Vatican journalist John Allen, writing in Crux, makes some wonderful points. His piece, under the headline “Vigano may have made it harder to get to the truth on McCarrick,” has a series of wonderful strands worth the time to read. It also gives a roadmap for reporters on the beat and editors to look at and track down.

Here’s a breakdown of the piece, chopping off the various strands worthy of a deeper investigation. Right from the start, Allen gives us this thesis:

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Bonus podcast: tmatt and Eric Metaxas sift through 30 years of 'On Religion' work

Bonus podcast: tmatt and Eric Metaxas sift through 30 years of 'On Religion' work

Every Friday, our own Bobby Ross Jr., adds a dose of what he calls "shameless promotion" to his Friday Five wrap up of GetReligion stuff.

Let me add a bit of that of my own, a bit early. My apologies in advance.

Readers may have noticed that the "On Religion" column I filed on April 11 marked the 30th anniversary for my weekly analysis piece, which began with Scripps Howard News Service then moved to the Universal syndicate. Our friends at Lutheran Public Radio also did an extra-long "Crossroads" podcast that week, focusing on what I saw as the five "Big Ideas" in that period.

I finished that anniversary column soon after I arrived in New York City for two weeks of teaching and, literally while doing the edits, I took an hour-plus off to head up Broadway a couple of blocks to appear on The Eric Metaxas Show.

Now, Eric and I have been friends for two decades and I have been on the show several times, either by telephone from here in Oak Ridge or live in the New York studio when I'm in town. There are now video cameras in there, which I find disturbing since I have a face for radio (see proof in this video from a lecture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford).

Metaxas and I agree on a lot of things (love of C.S. Lewis, for example) and disagree on others (artistic quality of bubblegum pop in '70s-'80s). He was raised Greek Orthodox and is now an Evangelical. I was raised as a Southern Baptist "moderate" and am now Orthodox. And then there is the Donald Trump thing. I was #NeverTrump #NeverHillary and Eric's views are best expressed as #NeverHillary, period.

Anyway, during this hour of his program, we went all over the place -- but the heart of the discussion focused -- as you would expect -- on events and trends in religion news.

Consider this a bonus podcast, with an occasionally sarcastic (in a nice kind of way) host.

Click here to tune that in.

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Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big Amazon.com search

Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big Amazon.com search

One of the big themes through our years of work here at GetReligion is that reporters with experience and training on the religion beat do a better job of handling stories with strong religious themes than reporters with zero experience on this complicated beat.

I know, I know. #DUH

So why, I am asked all the time, do the editors that staff major newsrooms (a) fail to see the big religion hooks (we call them "ghosts" here at GetReligion) in so many stories and (b) fail to include religion-beat professionals in the teams covering these stories? Obviously, those two questions are connected. It's a big journalism mystery.

With all of that in mind, let's look at a major national story and then play a little news-coverage game. Let's call it, "Think like a Godbeat pro." In this case, we are talking about the much-ballyhooed process to select a home for a massive new Amazon.com headquarters, with thousands of jobs attached.

This story is everywhere, as you would expect, since the 20 "finalist" cities are spread across much of the map of North America. To save time and space, let's look at a new report on this topic by the team at Axios, with this punchy headline, "Jeff Bezos’s brilliant PR stunt." Here is the overture:

Elected officials across the country have spent the past three months falling all over themselves to show Amazon just how much their cities love the e-commerce giant and would do just about anything to house its new headquarters.

Bottom line: The real winner is Amazon, which has created a feedback loop of positive press and fawning politicians just as the company increasingly needs both.

Big picture: Amazon, the world’s largest Internet company by revenue and the fourth-largest company by market cap, is reshaping everything from industries to main streets to homes. But this omnipotence also has put Amazon in the bullseye of a burgeoning "tech-lash," alongside gilded peers like Facebook, Google and Apple.

Now, that "tech-lash" angle is interesting and it involves all kinds of issues, from the brutal side effects of economic libertarianism (must-read book here) to religious, moral and cultural battles linked to gender and sexuality.

Now, let's keep reading. This brings us to the religion hook for this little journalism game.

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Bring in the Millennials, Kansas City Star says of churches (But what about old timers?)

Bring in the Millennials, Kansas City Star says of churches (But what about old timers?)

Props are due to the Kansas City Star for noticing that some churches in its area are attracting, and not, apparently, repelling, the young cohort of worshipers that could be grouped under the banner of "millennial."

Indeed, the message is up front in the story's headline: "Bucking a trend, these churches figured out how to bring millennials back to worship."

Once a reader gets past a nice setup anecdote about one of the newly booming congregations, we get these salient points:

In 2015, a wide-ranging Pew Research Center study concluded that America was becoming less religious due in part to millennials distancing themselves from organized religion. Only 27 percent of Americans born between 1981 and 1996, the study found, regularly attend weekly services.
As a result, some area churches and synagogues have created special programs that cater to younger members.
But a handful, most notably, perhaps, City of Truth on the East Side and The Cause on the West Plaza, now cater almost exclusively to millennials.

This is a solid, well-reported story in which I can find few flaws to note. The Star is to be congratulated for this kind of coverage. Hence, you won't find any "big" journalism problems highlighted in this blog post.

So why write this post? As tmatt would say, "Hold that thought."

As readers find out from the story, City of Truth serves a largely African-American congregation, while The Cause's members are mostly white. The services times on Sundays may differ, but they apparently remain one of the most segregated hours in America, as the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., once observed.

Such changes did not come without a price for City of Truth, as the story explains:

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No match? Britain's Guardian misses church context in Salvation Army's down-under funeral venture

No match? Britain's Guardian misses church context in Salvation Army's down-under funeral venture

You might wonder what a video about The Salvation Army starting a match factory 129 years ago in London's East End has to do with commercial funeral services in Australia, but there's a connection, trust me. (Click the "match factory" link above to see the Army's take. It's worth your time, I believe.)

In that connection lies a tip for Godbeat journalists today: look beyond the immediate story for any deeper background. Both you and your readers will be rewarded.

My thoughts turned to the "Match Girls' Strike" of 1888 when I read this article from Britain's Guardian about a new company in Australia promising to cut the burdensome costs of cremations and funerals:

The Salvation Army has entered Australia’s funeral industry, a move welcomed by consumer advocates concerned by a “long history” of unscrupulous providers taking advantage of the newly bereaved and a lack of competition.
Salvo Funerals officially launched in Sydney this week, following a successful six-month trial in which it delivered more than 90 funerals. Malcolm Pittendrigh, the chief executive, said it was a social enterprise designed to both meet the needs of the community and return money to the not-for-profit.
He had worked at the Salvation Army as an accountant for nearly 20 years and pitched the idea of a funeral service to senior leadership as a “natural extension” of its work.
“Part of our approach was a lean, start-up methodology, where you build, you test, you learn – just to prove that you have something that’s worthy of putting into the community.”
In a market dominated by “a couple of big players”, he said Salvo Funerals’ point of difference was its lower-cost offerings.

There's little doubt that The Salvation Army, with 152 years of service as an evangelical Christian church and about 2 million adherents worldwide, could use some positive press in Australia. Decades of alleged physical, emotional and sexual abuse have been reported in children's shelters there, and a plan to redress victims is in the works.

There is, of course, no excuse for mistreating young people, and the Army has deservedly paid a heavy public price for these transgressions.

But Salvo Funerals -- "Salvo" being the Aussie colloquialism for the organization -- offers a chance for some public redemption. So, on that level, it's certainly valid news.

What's missing?

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Evangelicals, post-Trump: Associated Press -- kind of -- scopes out movement's future

Evangelicals, post-Trump: Associated Press -- kind of -- scopes out movement's future

Oy, another story on the devil's bargain that is Donald Trump and evangelicalism? Well, no, it's better than that. The Associated Press examines the state of the movement after the presidential election -- win or lose. It just doesn't fully explore the questions it raises.

The indepth article shows the knowledge of the territory that a Godbeat pro like Rachel Zoll can impart. It quotes evangelical insiders, including those on each side of the Trump divide. And it adds cooler, more analytical views from scholars -- though still within the movement.

Trump's candidacy "has put a harsh spotlight on the fractures among Christian conservatives, most prominently the rift between old guard religious right leaders who backed the GOP nominee as an ally on abortion, and a comparatively younger generation who considered his personal conduct and rhetoric morally abhorrent," says a summary high in the story.

"This has been a kind of smack in the face, forcing us to ask ourselves, 'What have we become?'" Carolyn Custis James, an author on gender roles in the church, tells AP.

But how intensely are believers doing so?

Here's the evidence AP musters:

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Death in Chicago: Tribune story shines in reporting nuns' response

Death in Chicago: Tribune story shines in reporting nuns' response

While most media obsess over the primaries, people are still dying on our streets -- one of them in front of a monastery in Chicago.

But he didn’t die forgotten: The resident nuns plan to lead a peace walk tonight.

Nor did the Chicago Tribune overlook this wound dealt to a community: It produced a gentle, heartfelt newsfeature that at once captures the grief and serves as an advance for the event.

Written by Godbeat veteran Manya Brachear Pashman, the story first sets the Benedictine nuns in their neighborhood, then quickly gears up to the emergency:

Neighbors of St. Scholastica Monastery in the Rogers Park neighborhood occasionally see the Roman Catholic sisters who live there, either gardening or leaving to run errands or go to work. They wave and take comfort knowing the religious women have them in their prayers.
Then last weekend, one of the nuns showed up on their doorsteps. Shaken by news that an 18-year-old man had been fatally shot steps from the sisters' home, she put fliers on doorknobs and fence posts and chatted up passers-by, urging neighbors to help the sisters reclaim the crime scene as a place of peace.
On Wednesday, the nuns and their neighbors will gather at the corner of Seeley and Birchwood avenues to walk silently toward the scene of the crime and pray for Antonio Robert Johnson, the man who died there.
"It's important to have our neighbors know we're an oasis for peace in the area," said Sister Benita Coffey, the sister in charge of promoting social justice for the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago. "We've been on this property since 1906 and we are not getting up and leaving the neighborhood. We're going to support our neighbors in whatever ways we can."

The Trib backgrounds us on similar actions by the Benedictines: "The Chicago women have been outspoken against excessive military spending, capital punishment, human trafficking and torture."  They also held a vigil in September 2014 when a man was killed across the street from the monastery.

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Message from Madison conference: Religion news is struggling, but still surviving

Message from Madison conference: Religion news is struggling, but still surviving

Religion reporting, as you no doubt know, is under even more stress than the news outfits that have been dumping the specialty in recent years. So those who attended the Reporting on Religion Conference this week showed not only an idealism about the Godbeat; they also showed courage and determination.

About 200 people -- students, journalists, religious leaders and speakers including myself -- converged on Madison, Wisc., for a broad variety of topics. Things like the kinds of cuisine from different lands. And the broad scope of social changes in America, highlighted by people's deepest thoughts and feelings? And finding a way to get attention for issues that don’t strike sparks but still speak to our deepest questions.

Madison itself embodies the tensions of religion in American public life. The city is home to the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical ministry to college campuses. It's also home to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, famous for its opposition to institutional religion.

The conference, however, was held at a sacred space: Upper|House, a combination lounge, study center and worship site at the University of Wisconsin. With comfy booths, hanging couches and a crescent-shaped amphitheatre, Upper|House served as an apt cosponsor of the conference, along with the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions.

The 15 speakers contributed a variety of understandings of the religion-news craft. Among them:

* Besheer Mohamed, despite his job at the number-crunching Pew Center, said that "Sometimes, a trend is better than a perfect question." For instance, people may mean different things by "evangelical," but fewer want to so label themselves than in 2007.

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After 'Spotlight' Oscar euphoria, the hangover: Worry about the future of religion journalism

After 'Spotlight' Oscar euphoria, the hangover: Worry about the future of religion journalism

If Bob Smietana is worried about the future of religion journalism in America, then we all should be.

Just the other night, Smietana — immediate past president of the Religion Newswriters Association — joined his Godbeat colleagues in celebrating the best picture Oscar for "Spotlight.

"Spotlight" is, of course, a "based on a true story" movie about Boston Globe journalists who won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their investigation into the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.

But after celebrating Sunday night, Smietana has a must-read piece today on the Washington Post's Acts of Faith blog that asks this timely and important question:

‘Spotlight’ just won an Oscar. So why am I so worried about the future of religion journalism?

Why indeed?

Even before reading Smietana's op-ed, regular GetReligion readers probably have some inkling of his concerns.

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