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Big journalism question: Would new U.S. bishops hotline have nabbed 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick?

Big journalism question: Would new U.S. bishops hotline have nabbed 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick?

I have talked to quite a few Catholics in the past year — laypeople and journalists, mainly — and I have read quite a bit of commentary by Catholic clergy and other insiders.

There are two questions that I keep running into over and over. Both are relevant in light of the vote by U.S. Catholic bishops to create a third-party anonymous hotline that will handle accusations of misconduct by bishops, archbishops and cardinals. Here is a Crux summary of that:

The reporting system will be managed by an independent body that will receive complaints that will be reported to the metropolitan (or regional) archbishop who, in accordance with Pope Francis’s new ‘motu proprio’, Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”), is responsible for investigating claims against bishops.

Vos estis requires that local bishops’ conferences must establish a “public, stable and easily accessible” system for submitting abuse claims and also that the reports are sent to the metropolitans (or their senior suffragans if the report is against the metropolitan). In the United States, there are 32 territorial archdioceses (or metropolitans).

Here is the lede on the Washington Post story about that vote, which includes a blunt paraphrase of one possible implications of this decision, in terms of enforcement:

The U.S. Catholic bishops voted … to create the first national hotline for reporting sexual abuse committed by or mishandled by bishops. But they specified that the hotline send reports directly to other bishops, essentially demanding that the leaders of the scandal-plagued church police themselves instead of turning toward outside authorities.

Hold that thought.

This brings me back to the two questions that have haunted me over the past year. (1) Would abuse accusations against former cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick have reached the public without the existence of the Lay Review Board in the Archdiocese of New York? (2) Would the New York Times have published its bombshell stories about McCarrick — one of the most powerful U.S. Catholics ever, in terms of media clout — without the knowledge that this Lay Review Board existed and could report its findings?

The bottom line: Why is the involvement of laypeople such an important factor in the McCarrick story?

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Washington Post sees big McCarrick picture: Why are broken celibacy vows no big deal?

Washington Post sees big McCarrick picture: Why are broken celibacy vows no big deal?

For weeks now, your GetReligionistas have carefully followed news coverage of the spectacular fall of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a key player for decades in countless trends and media storms in American Catholic life. His media-friendly career began in the New York City area and he ended up as a cardinal in Washington, D.C.

Most of the coverage of the “Uncle Ted” scandals this summer focused on his links to the latest developments in decades of horror stories about priests abusing young boys and teens. Also, efforts to promote and protect him was a major plot point in the blunt late-August document released by the Vatican’s former U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

But those two themes tended to mask, in lots of stories (click here for background), two other crucial parts of the McCarrick drama. For example, most of his abuse focused on young men, seminarians to be specific. Also, the former D.C. cardinal has emerged as the iconic symbol of a larger problem — bishops and cardinals hiding the sins of their colleagues.

These latter elements of the McCarrick story seemed, for weeks, to have slipped onto a back burner in many crucial newsrooms. However, it was hard to know what has happening — behind the scenes — since even elite newsrooms are not as well staffed as they used to be and, well, there simply aren’t enough religion-beat pros out there (since many editors just don’t “get” the importance of this topic).

Now, there’s a feature at The Washington Post worthy of a strong spotlight: “Vatican’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick reveals a lot about the Catholic Church.”

That’s a rather bland headline, in my opinion. There needed to be something in there about broken celibacy vows and clergy getting busy with adults, including men wearing clerical collars and other ecclesiastical garb.

This story by religion-beat veteran Michelle Boorstein tells a complicated tale, focusing on a timeline of the evidence that is now available showing what key Vatican and U.S. officials had to have known about McCarrick, for the past quarter century or more.

Some of this information was already on blogs by activists such as the late Richard Sipe. Some of the information had been shared, privately, by priests and even bishops and is now emerging. Lots of crucial facts, obviously, remain locked in Vatican-controlled files.

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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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Question for podcast listeners: How does your zip code affect doctrine in your pulpits and pews?

Question for podcast listeners: How does your zip code affect doctrine in your pulpits and pews?

It was a pretty ordinary Catholic news story in The New York Times in the age of Pope Francis. The headline proclaimed: "As Church Shifts, a Cardinal Welcomes Gays; They Embrace a ‘Miracle’."

The story hook was that Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark had welcomed 100 LGBTQ Catholics and members of their families to a Mass on their behalf at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

This newsworthy event was called a "pilgrimage," but the Times called it a homecoming. Here is some crucial material that ran high in the story:

“I am Joseph, your brother,” Cardinal Tobin told the group, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”
The welcoming of a group of openly gay people to Mass by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Cardinal Tobin, whom Pope Francis appointed to Newark last year, is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members. They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same. ...
Four years ago, Pope Francis shook the Catholic world with his comment about gay priests seeking the Lord: “Who am I to judge?” But it was unclear how his words would affect Catholics seeking acceptance in the pews.

The story, of course, does not include a crucial word found in all discussions of this topic by LGBTQ Catholics who strive to live out the teachings of their church -- "Confession."

When Pope Francis referred to gay priests who are "seeking the Lord," the implication was that these priests were wrestling with their temptations and sins in Confession. (Click here for a transcript and discussion of news coverage of this issue.)

Thus, who was Francis to judge? This issue was between the sinner and his spiritual father and, of course, the ultimate judge was God. Was this the message in Newark?

But never mind doctrinal details like that. This Times story entered into this week's "Crossroads" discussion for another reason. (Click here to tune in that podcast.)

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