Nicole Winfield

Friday Five: Abortion, Catholic and Baptist scandals, Emanuel AME, disaster deacon, The Bachelorette

Friday Five: Abortion, Catholic and Baptist scandals, Emanuel AME, disaster deacon, The Bachelorette

Anybody seen any abortion-related headlines lately?

I kid. I kid.

They keep coming fast and furious — some stories better than others.

Here’s three that have come across my screen just today. I haven’t had time to read them yet:

Southern Baptists descend on Alabama, epicenter of abortion debate, by Holly Meyer of The Tennessean

Biden reverses long-held position on abortion funding amid criticism, from CNN

Poll: Majority Want To Keep Abortion Legal, But They Also Want Restrictions, from NPR

At the only abortion clinic left in Missouri, doctors live and work in uncertainty, from the Los Angeles Times

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: It’s been a week of big exposés concerning major religious institutions.

We highlighted the Washington Post’s bombshell investigative report on the lavish spending of West Virginia’s former Catholic bishop.

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'Pope is the sole legislator' -- Real lives, real cover-ups, overshadow global abuse summit

'Pope is the sole legislator' -- Real lives, real cover-ups, overshadow global abuse summit

Catholic shepherds from around the world gathered at the Vatican to talk about clergy sexual abuse, surrounded by journalists and victims asking lots of questions.

In the end, the only words that will matter — in terms of shaping life in Catholic institutions rocked by decades of scandal — will come from Pope Francis himself, aided by the close circle of cardinals and aides who helped plan this much-anticipated summit and kept it focused on a narrow and relatively safe subject — the abuse of “children.”

In other words, this painful puzzle will be solved by the men who have been in charge all along, including some men involved in the long and complicated career of former cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick. That’s all Catholics around the world are going to get, for now.

You can sense the anticlimax in the first lines of this wrap-up report from The New York Times:

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis ended a landmark Vatican meeting on clerical sexual abuse by calling “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors” and insisting that the church needed to protect children “from ravenous wolves.”

But for all the vivid language and the vow “to combat this evil that strikes at the very heart of our mission,” the pope’s speech was short on the sort of detailed battle plan demanded by many Catholics around the world.

Francis had barely finished speaking before some abuse victims and other frustrated faithful began expressing outrage and disappointment at his failure to outline immediate and concrete steps to address the problem.

After spending most of this weekend swimming upstream in the coverage from Rome (along with early #hashtagconfusion news from the United Methodist LGBTQ conference), I actually think that the most important story was a blockbuster Associated Press report from veteran Nicole Winfield.

This story focused on two topics that the principalities and powers in Rome worked so hard to keep out of the headlines — seminarians and the pope’s on connections to the issue of episcopal oversight.

The headline on this story at US News & World Report captured the timing issue: “Argentine Bishop's Case Overshadows Pope's Sex Abuse Summit.” Here’s the overture:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis may have wrapped up his clergy sex abuse prevention summit at the Vatican, but a scandal over an Argentine bishop close to him is only gaining steam.

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Why didn't journalists investigate McCarrick earlier? Because they thought conservatives were out to get him

Why didn't journalists investigate McCarrick earlier? Because they thought conservatives were out to get him

Wow, they’re all coming out of the woodwork now. That is, cardinals and bishops who swear they knew nothing of the doings of now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

A bunch of pieces on McCarrick came out on Tuesday, including the suggestion that rumors about McCarrick were ignored by some journalists because they were seen as coming from Conservative Catholics.

I was wondering when issues of doctrine and even politics were going to enter this journalism story. More on this in a moment.

First, some interesting tidbits in Rocco Palmo’s “Whispers in the Loggia” blog. He said that, technically, the cardinal is now “Archbishop McCarrick,” as he has resigned from the College of Cardinals as of last Friday. I wrote about this Monday. (By the way, it was Palmo's Twitter account that showcased the stained glass window photo I have with this post. It's a window in a New Jersey church showing McCarrick as one of the bishops co-celebrating Mass with John Paul II during the pope's 1995 visit to the Giants stadium in New York.)

Palmo gets details no one else gets, including the following:

Archbishop McCarrick's precise whereabouts have remained tightly held since the June allegation was made public, when he was moved out of the Washington nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Weeks before the New York report was revealed -- knowing that it was to come, and already under pressure to keep a low profile at home -- the fallen cleric chose to make one final trip in active ministry: an early June pilgrimage to the shrine of Poland's Black Madonna at Czestochowa, where he marked the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

The Catholic Standard’s laudatory May 18 piece is here. (The Standard is the archdiocesan newspaper). So what Palmo is saying is that McCarrick knew the ax was about to fall and that his free ride was over. So, he did one last overseas trip.

What must he have thought, knowing that he was about to lose everything? How could he, through a spokesperson when the news first came out June 20, say that he didn’t remember abusing anyone?

This curious lack of memory has emanated from other bishops.

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Yes, Vatican 'Lettergate' story is complicated: Kudos to AP for getting the crucial details

Yes, Vatican 'Lettergate' story is complicated: Kudos to AP for getting the crucial details

Back when I was breaking into Godbeat work (soon after the cooling of the earth's crust), one of the first pros that I met was the late George Cornell of the Associated Press. I interviewed him for my graduate project ("The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets") at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and then we stayed in touch.

How hard was it to be the AP's religion guy in that era? Basically, he told me, his job was to cover all the religion news on planet earth, other than the Vatican (which was its own beat).

How would you like that task? Of course, our own Richard Ostling knows all about that, since he worked for the Associated Press after his era at Time magazine. However, he had some timely assistance from pros like Bobby Ross, Jr.

The bottom line: AP religion-beat specialists have a tough row to hoe. It's one thing to do good work. It's something else to do good work on complex stories when you're facing a global news storm almost every day, while working with wire-schedule realities in terms of time and space.

With that in mind, I would like to point readers toward Nicole Winfield's hard-news report on the "Lettergate" scandal at the Vatican, a very important story with multiple layers of politics, intrigue and theology. I kept waiting for a hole and, in the end, the only thing I had second thoughts about was what pieces of the puzzle went where. Here is the overture:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Stung by accusations of spreading “fake news,” the Vatican ... released the complete letter by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis after coming under blistering criticism for selectively citing it in a press release and digitally manipulating a photograph of it.
The previously hidden part of the letter provides the full explanation why Benedict refused to write a commentary on a new Vatican-published compilation of books about Francis’ theological and philosophical background that was released to mark his fifth anniversary as pope.
In addition to saying he didn’t have time, Benedict noted that one of the authors involved in the project had launched “virulent,” ″anti-papist” attacks against his teaching and that of St. John Paul II. He said he was “surprised” the Vatican had chosen the theologian to be included in the 11-volume “The Theology of Pope Francis.”
“I’m certain you can understand why I’m declining,” Benedict wrote.

Whoa. So which angle of this story should get the most attention?

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Look for the full AP report! Pope Francis is showing mercy to a few pedophile priests

Look for the full AP report! Pope Francis is showing mercy to a few pedophile priests

It is, without a doubt, one of the most frustrating, infuriating things that can happen to a reporter.

You write your story. You are extra careful -- since it's on an emotional topic full of fact-claims that are in dispute -- to make sure that you have included several qualified voices offering competing points of view. You make sure your story is the length assigned by the editors.

You turn the story in. Then, when it comes out (this happens A LOT in ink-on-paper news) you see that the copy desk has -- for some reason, often page layout -- basically cut the story nearly in half. To make matters worse, the editors didn't thin the story in a way that left the balanced structure intact. They just chopped off the end.

Some of your sources are furious. They accuse you of bias, because the story is so one-sided. They have no way to know that the printed story is not the story that you wrote.

I bring this up because I saw an Associated Press story the other day -- with a Vatican dateline -- that had me really shaking my head. It had, I thought, all kinds of problems in terms of balance and essential information. It didn't help that this was on a very controversial topic, one cutting against the grain of most reporting about Pope Francis. The lede:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the pope's own advisers question.

Now, there is no need for me to go into the many problems that I had with this report. Why? Because the story that I ran into online was a horribly truncated version of the full report by veteran reporter Nicole Winfield.

Oh the humanity! When I saw the full story on the AP homepage I was left with very view questions. Only one, in fact. Hold that thought. This is a very solid story about a very complicated topic.

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To the AP, there are no 'liberal' Catholics — just 'rank-and-file' faithful

To the AP, there are no 'liberal' Catholics — just 'rank-and-file' faithful

Readers of the Associated Press's coverage of the release of the Vatican's report on its probe of American religious sisters will note a curious juxtaposition, one that has, alas, become all too familiar in AP reporting on Catholic issues. Here are the relevant paragraphs; the italics and boldface are mine:

The probes also prompted an outpouring of support from rank-and-file American Catholics who viewed the investigations as a crackdown by a misogynistic, all-male Vatican hierarchy against the underpaid, underappreciated women who do the lion's share of work running Catholic hospitals, schools and services for the poor.
Theological conservatives have long complained that after the reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council, women's congregations in the U.S. became secular and political while abandoning traditional prayer life and faith. The nuns insisted that prayer and Christ were central to their work.

Got that? The faithful who saw the probe of the sisters "as a crackdown by a misogynistic, all-male Vatican hierarchy" aren't liberals--they're just "rank-and-file American Catholics." On the other hand, those complainers who knock women's congregations for "abandoning traditional prayer life and faith" are "theological conservatives" who apparently don't even deserve the title "American."

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Say what? Associated Press twists Francis's admiration for theologians into 'near disdain'

Say what? Associated Press twists Francis's admiration for theologians into 'near disdain'

Today at GetReligion, it's deja vu all over again.

Once again, a story on Pope Francis by Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield has us asking, "What is this?" As I wrote the last time around:

Is [the article] meant to be hard-news journalism, or is it meant to be advocacy or commentary? And if it's commentary, or analysis, why is it not labeled as such? Why is the AP selling it to news outlets as straight reporting?

This time, the AP article is on Francis's address to the International Theological Commission, "Pope to Theologians: Listen to the Ordinary Faithful." It begins:

Pope Francis urged the Catholic Church’s top theologians on Friday to listen to what ordinary Catholics have to say and pay attention to the “signs of the times,” rather than just making pronouncements in an academic vacuum.

If this is meant to be straight news story, then the first question is, did the pope really say that? And the answer is no -- at least, not exactly. He did mention the "signs of the times." However, having read his entire speech, the claim that he decried "making pronouncements in an academic vacuum" strikes me as pretty far-fetched. 

Moreover, Francis's reference to the signs of the times was actually in reference to the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes. In context, it does not seem to mean what Winfield takes it to mean. As a Twitter user noted, it's not about blowing with the wind, but rather about evaluating contemporary voices "in light of the word of God":

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AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

After I expressed concern that a Boston Globe story on the Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse left unanswered questions, Religion News Service's David Gibson tweeted to GetReligion:

@GetReligion @tweetmattingly Worth checking this out, @nwinfield did some asking around http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Top-US-Jesuit-defends-Vatican-sex-prosecutor-5917303.php …

The Associated Press's Nicole Winfield sought to fill in the blanks from the Globe story and uncovered a significant distortion:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The head of the Jesuits in the United States defended the Vatican's new sex crimes prosecutor Tuesday, saying he had virtually no role in the order's handling of a notorious pedophile now serving a 25-year prison sentence.
The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, spoke to The Associated Press after The Boston Globe reported that the prosecutor, the Rev. Robert Geisinger, failed to report the abuser to police when he was the second highest-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago province in the 1990s.
Kesicki said Geisinger only worked for the Chicago province for about 14 weeks, from late December 1994 through March 1995, and never again. He was brought in as a temporary executive assistant to the acting provincial while the regular provincial was in Rome for a big Jesuit meeting. Geisinger had no governing authority and was tasked mainly with maintaining correspondence for his boss, said Kesicki.

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Pope Francis's defense of doctrine sends the Associated Press spinning

Pope Francis's defense of doctrine sends the Associated Press spinning

A colleague offers the following capsule summary of Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield's latest report on Pope Francis, in which the pontiff's defense of traditional church teaching seems to baffle the Vatican correspondent:

Francis is a RADICAL -- no, no, sorry about that--he is now a conservative who sounds just like Benedict -- NO, WAIT -- he really is a liberal at heart, but he is being FORCED by those evil, evil right-wing conservatives to cave--he is at WAR with his own CDF chief (you know, the one he re-confirmed -- but never mind) -- AT WAR, I TELL YOU!

I thought he was exaggerating -- until I read the actual story. "Pope Reinforces Traditional Family Values" is a classic example of the kind of story that makes us at GetReligion ask, "What is this?" Is it meant to be hard-news journalism, or is it meant to be advocacy or commentary? And if it's commentary, or analysis, why is it not labeled as such? Why is the AP selling it to news outlets as straight reporting?

Here's the lede:

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis is seeking to reassure the church's right-wing base that he's not a renegade bent on changing church doctrine on family issues -- weeks after a Vatican meeting of bishops initially proposed a radical welcome for gays and divorced Catholics.

Give the AP credit at least for not beating around the bush.

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