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Jamming another Catholic story into the Covington media mold: Flashback to the gay valedictorian

Jamming another Catholic story into the Covington media mold: Flashback to the gay valedictorian

I continue to be stunned and depressed, at the same time, by the never-ending “news coverage” of the Covington Catholic High School story, which is now a week old.

Stop and think about that wording for a second.

Why isn’t this the “Black Hebrew Israelites story”? Why isn’t this conflict defined in terms of the actions of Nathan Phillips and his Native American followers, especially in light of what we now know about events that followed at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. What story was that? Well, readers may need to click here for details, because I’m not seeing that story — uninvited activist drummers try to march into a Mass in DC’s most symbolic Catholic sanctuary — getting mainstream ink.

Then we have a strange NBCNews.com story. Surely it needs to receive an award for stretching the furthest to drive the square peg of one controversial Catholic story into the round hole of the Covington coverage.

The headline: “Gay valedictorian banned from speaking at Covington graduation 'not surprised' by D.C. controversy.

The problem, right up front, is the phrase “Covington graduation.”

How many readers read that and assumed this “Out News” feature was about a graduation ceremony at Covington Catholic High School?

Wait more it. Let’s look at the overture:

Video of white students from Covington Catholic High School confronting a Native American elder at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C., last Friday went viral this past week. However, this is not the first time a school overseen by the Diocese of Covington in Kentucky has come under national media scrutiny.

OK, ignore the reference to the Covington kids “confronting” an elderly Native American, since the longer videos showed that Phillips marched toward the students — who were being harassed by obscene, often homophobic chants from the Black Hebrews

The hint at what this story is about is contained in the words “a school.” Let’s read on:

In May of last year, the Catholic diocese ruled just hours before Holy Cross High School's graduation that the openly gay valedictorian and the student council president could not give their planned speeches at the Covington school's official graduation ceremony.

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NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball

NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball

This Thanksgiving Day story by Julie Moreau for NBC News is about how some Christian ministries are preventing children from being adopted or fostered by homosexual couples. It quickly drew my attention for a rather obvious reason: As an adoptive mom, I am interested in the topic. However, this feature had way too many holes in it.

I am in favor of letting all parties adopt: Gay, straight, whatever, as long as folks pass all the background checks required with any home study. While searching for an agency to help me find a child, I was infuriated by certain Christian agencies that would not let single people use their services. (Did I sue them? No, I spent my money on a better agency.)

Their mentality was that singles were lesser beings and that kids deserved a two-parent family. Well, yes, in a perfect world, that’d be nice. But in an age of orphans and thousands of kids in state foster care systems, we need all hands on deck.

So, the premise that nasty religious folks are sending more kids onto the street is a gripping one. But some copy-desk errors plus the reporter’s tone deafness to the doctrinal concerns of Catholics and evangelical Christians led me to dismiss much of the piece. It starts thus:

Religious exemption laws allowing child placement agencies to deny LGBTQ prospective parents from fostering or adopting are exacerbating the current “child welfare crisis,” according to a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), Voice for Adoption and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

“Turning away LGBTQ prospective parents by asserting a religious exemption or taking advantage of a lack of state nondiscrimination law is a violation of this group’s rights,” the report states. “It also negatively affects the already strained child welfare system, ultimately harming the children in its care.”

Out of some 443,000 kids in the U.S. foster care system, the report says, some 50,000 are adopted each year, but another 20,000 age out before being adopted. That is, they turn 18.

Let’s keep reading.

“Same-sex couples raising children are seven times more likely to be raising a foster child and seven times more likely to be raising an adopted child than their different-sex counterparts,” the report states, citing data from the UCLA’s Williams Institute. “They are also more likely to adopt older children and children with special needs, who are statistically less likely to be adopted.”

I’ve heard the same thing, unofficially.

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On the Society of St. John: Sometimes reporters (like me) just can't see the story

On the Society of St. John: Sometimes reporters (like me) just can't see the story

Although I’ve been blogging all summer about various scandals in the Catholic Church, I’d like to include a story in the past that was staring me in the face — yet I absolutely missed it.

It’s a news story about a religious order in northeastern Pennsylvania. Things sounded good in all their fundraising brochures, so I showed up in isolated Shohola, Pa., one day in the summer of 2000, to write them up.

I had no idea there was a ton of sexual abuse going on in their boys’ boarding school in Elmhurst, which was near Scranton. I believed everything told me about this order’s dreams of building a medieval village-style society in the foothills of the Poconos.

Fast forward 18 years to this NBC-TV story.

On Dec. 18, 2001, a desperate North Carolina dad wrote a letter to the Vatican asking the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to discipline a group of priests at a Pennsylvania boys’ boarding school who he said took turns sexually abusing his teenage son.

The priests were members of an organization called the Society of Saint John, the father wrote, and Bishop James Timlin, then the head of the Diocese of Scranton, had allowed them to take up residence at St. Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania.

“How long will the Bishop of Scranton tolerate this Society of Priests and promote them and their plans?” the father, whose name NBC News is not disclosing to protect his son’s identity, asked in the 2001 letter.

All roads, as we will see, eventually lead to an explosive grand jury report that came out of Pennsylvania this summer.

The answer turned out to be two more years. It was not until 2003, after the man’s son filed a federal lawsuit, that the Society of Saint John was finally disbanded in Scranton. The lawsuit accused two of the society’s priests of cultivating “intimate relationships with students” and of plying students “with alcohol, as well as sleeping with them.”

The society was singled out in the scathing grand jury report that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released in August, which included its leader and three members, along with 297 other Pennsylvania clerics that he branded “predator priests.” …

Speaking publicly for the first time since he and his parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Diocese of Scranton, Society of Saint John, St. Gregory’s Academy, Timlin, Urrutigoity and others in March 2002, which eventually led to the society’s demise, “John Doe” said that the abuse by three Society of Saint John priests from 1997 to 2000 nearly wrecked his life. All three were named in the grand jury report.

My Washington Times article on this order ran in August 2000. (Although my byline has been removed, I did write the piece.) Here is a snippet:

SHOHOLA, Pa. — There was a time when the Roman Catholic faith was found everywhere in medieval Europe, where faith and culture were one.

Today, in an American society where faith and culture are mostly at odds, a new order of priests and a handful of families plan to re-create a Catholic medieval city on a 1,025-acre tract on a small mountain overlooking the Delaware River.

With the help of the Internet and computerized mailing lists, the Society of St. John is busily raising $300 million for what could be one of 21st-century America's more unusual social experiments.

"This is not Utopia," the Rev. Eric Ensey, 34, tells visitors. "We are not building the perfect society. We are trying to bring people who are human so we can witness to the beauty of the lifestyle. We wanted to make it possible for people to have access to the sources of the faith, to beauty and a Catholic ambiance."

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What are we to think of 'religious' TV shows that sidesteps the whole God issue?

What are we to think of 'religious' TV shows that sidesteps the whole God issue?

A late September headline at the Esquire magazine website proclaimed “There Is No God on TV, Only The Good Place.”

Indeed, the clever sitcom of that title, which launched season No. 3 last week, plays around with good and evil, heaven and hell, and even portrays supernatural demons. But God is missing.

This NBC fantasy is just the thing to lure the eyeballs of America’s growing legion of young, religiously unmoored “nones,” in a carefully multicultural fashion that also ignores religious beliefs and practices. Instead, the proceedings are all about a hazy moral philosophy about what makes a good person.

CBS makes a different audience bid with “God Friended Me,” which premiered Sunday. The drama’s lead character Miles (played by Brandon Micheal Hall) is a preacher’s kid turned outspoken atheist. Is the “God” who becomes his Facebook “friend” the actual cosmic God or some human or otherworldly trickster? To find out, Miles enlists his devout bartender sister, a hacker pal, and a journalist, and experiences coincidences that just might be miracles.

Judging from one episode, there may not be much here for religion writers to ponder, and it's hard to guess whether “Friended” can even survive. (Ratings prospects are dimmed by CBS’s inability to set predictable Sunday start times following sports events.) This seems inspiration-drenched programming in the varied tradition of “Highway to Heaven,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “Promised Land,” “Seventh Heaven,” “Touched by an Angel,” or last season’s short-lived “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.”

“The Good Place,” by contrast, has somehow managed to establish a niche and win critics’ acclaim by probing Big Questions with a droll touch. Here salvation is earned strictly by performing good deeds instead of faith. That conflicts with an historic 1999 Catholic-Lutheran accord that insists Christianity believes that “by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God” who equips and calls us to “good works.”

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What's the 'A Wrinkle In Time' news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle

What's the 'A Wrinkle In Time' news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle

So what is the story with the new Disney version of the classic, Newbery Award winning novel "A Wrinkle In Time" by the late, great Madeleine L'Engle?

I'm talking about a news story here.

I'm talking about the attempt -- another one -- to make this beloved youth-fiction classic into a blockbuster movie. Why is it is causing discussion, debate and even controversy? Yes, I'm asking this because that's what we talked about this week in the GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Is it news because it appears, to one degree or another, to be a box-office flop? Is it news because, at Rotten Tomatoes, only 40 percent of critics like it? That's bad, but the score from ordinary people in theaters was even lower, to the tune of only 34 percent positive reactions.

Director Ava DuVernay was not amused and argued that race may have had something to do with it, since she -- as a star African-American director -- changed the racial mix of the cast.

It's clear that some of the movie's supporters thought race was a crucial part of the mix, as seen in this NBC commentary: " 'A Wrinkle in Time' isn't a film for critics. It's Ava DuVernay's love letter to black girls." And over at CNN there was this: "Watching 'A Wrinkle in Time' is a political act."

So one more question: Why write a religion column about this book and its author?

That's what I did this past week, for the Universal syndicate. It did that because, nearly two decades ago, I had a chance to spend two hours talking to L'Engle about the crucial themes woven into her book. In particular, I asked her if there were concepts and even quotations from her novel that needed to be in a film adaption of it. Here is a key piece of that column:

It would be hard, explained L'Engle, to grasp this book's cosmic war between life and death, good and evil, darkness and light without two crucial passages.

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For solid reporting on Trinity Lutheran Church playground ruling, check out the usual suspects

For solid reporting on Trinity Lutheran Church playground ruling, check out the usual suspects

Can I be honest?

My head is still spinning after all the big religion-related news from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

As you may have noticed, I did a post late Monday afternoon on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. And this morning, tmatt followed up that post with still more cake — I mean, still more reflection on the journalistic questions associated with that high-profile clash of religious freedom vs. gay rights.

But now I want to call attention to another of the major headlines from Monday: The lede from The Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that churches have the same right as other charitable groups to seek state money for new playground surfaces and other nonreligious needs.
But the justices stopped short of saying whether the ruling applies to school voucher programs that use public funds to pay for private, religious schooling.
By a 7-2 vote, the justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a state grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground.
Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that the state violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment by denying a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient solely on account of its religious status. He called it "odious to our Constitution" to exclude the church from the grant program, even though the consequences are only "a few extra scraped knees."
The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri's scrap-tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church's application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.

The most diehard GetReligion readers (I count at least three of you) may recall that we praised a Kansas City Star overview of this case way back in October:

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After London, a question returns: At what point does terrorist coverage just encourage more attacks?

After London, a question returns: At what point does terrorist coverage just encourage more attacks?

I listen to National Public Radio when I'm in my car and either of the network's two signature news programs -- "Morning Edition" or "All Things Considered" -- happen to be airing. That was the case one day last week when I heard a guest on ATC being interviewed about the London terrorist attack and the radicalization of homegrown Islamic terrorists.

One factor contributing to this radicalization, he said, is the saturation coverage the attacks tend to receive.

In essence, the question he posed was: Do news media inadvertently advance the terrorists' game plan by inappropriately publicizing their attacks, leading to heightened fears in the general public -- one of terrorism's clearest objectives.

It's a knotty and important question that seems to surface after every successful attack in a Western city.

Most often, the question is raised by someone put forth as an expert on terrorism attached to some think tank or university. By now, I'd wager there isn't a Western news room or journalism school that hasn't wrestled with the question.

I'd also bet that few if any of these discussions ended in general agreement on some practical way forward that's applicable to all attacks under all circumstances.

I know I lack a one-size-fits-all standard -- which doesn't mean that someone else has not come up with some broadly general standard for coverage. If any reader happens to be that person, please say so in the comment section below.

Here's the relevant part of the ATC interview I heard on last week. The interviewer is NPR's Kelly McEvers and the interviewee is Rajan Basra, a research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at London's King's College.

BASRA: ... But aside from trying to prevent people from becoming terrorists in the first place, we also have to accept that terrorism is just a fact of life in the West these days. And so perhaps it's better to make society more resilient to the effects of terrorism.
MCEVERS: What do you mean?

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Star of the moment Megyn Kelly offers mere glimpses of her Catholicism in autobiography

Star of the moment Megyn Kelly offers mere glimpses of her Catholicism in autobiography

When talented Time magazine colleague John Moody became a top Fox News Channel founder 20 years ago, the Religion Guy thought, “He’d better have a golden parachute because this is probably going to fail.”

After all, pioneer CNN was thoroughly entrenched, and newborn rival MSNBC had rich corporate resources.

Ha. Nielsen tabulations show FNC not only topped those news competitors for all of 2016 but drew the #1 audience among all cable TV channels. Remarkable. The question now becomes whether the defection of 9 p.m. shining star Megyn Kelly to NBC will hurt ratings.

Don’t bet against Fox News. But, hey, how about giving religion correspondent Lauren Green more airtime! Think about it. What percentage of Fox News viewers are concerned about issues of religion, family and culture?

Inside FNC, that which Ailes (Roger, that is) produced a tumultuous year. And the same for Kelly, who just issued an autobiography, “Settle For More” (Harper). The Guy approached this book with mild interest, but was quickly swept up by insider scoop about her role in the Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal and her behind-scenes account about dealings with the new president and his followers.

The months of Donald Trump strangeness were perhaps without precedent in news annals.

Imagine trying to give fair coverage to the Trump campaign despite the candidate’s harangues and alongside followers’ social-media filth and death threats with armed guards accompanying your youngsters. Journalistic fame can exact a high price. An evangelical hero, attorney David French, suffered similar abuse from fans -- this is a must-read -- after becoming a NeverTrumper.  

Apparently due to the publishing deadline, Kelly doesn’t moralize about  Mr. Trump’s “Access Hollywood” bragging about unwanted sexual groping.

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Waltons? Little House? Have faith in ratings success of Dolly Parton's latest Christmas movie

Waltons? Little House? Have faith in ratings success of Dolly Parton's latest Christmas movie

My wife, Tamie, and I share different tastes in music and entertainment.

For instance, I love country music, much to the chagrin of the queen of my doublewide trailer.

I also enjoy sappy movies, no matter how predictable, which is why I DVR a lot of Hallmark Christmas films this time of year.

My wife cringes at the dialogue on certain made-for-TV entertainment, including Dolly Parton's latest holiday classic "Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love," starring Jennifer Nettles as young Dolly's mother and Ricky Schroder as her father. I, on the other hand, require a tissue to make it all the way through.

Sentimentality? If you ask me, 2016 could use some. And NBC's huge ratings for Parton's "Christmas of Many Colors" tell me I'm not alone (sorry, honey!).

("It's very good — and frightening," Tamie said when I asked her to read the above lead-in. It's a good thing we have a few things in common, such as three wonderful children and a daughter-in-law we adore.)

Yes, there's a faith angle — a big one — both in the Parton movie and the country legend behind it.

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