Pennsylvania

WABAC machine time again: Many Americans indifferent on politics? Ask different questions

WABAC machine time again: Many Americans indifferent on politics? Ask different questions

Wait! You mean all of America isn’t represented in the daily tsunami of acid that is political Twitter?

That’s the thesis of an interesting, but ultimately hollow, New York Times piece built on three days of Gray Lady representatives doing National Geographic-style heart-to-hearts with ordinary Americans who live in and around Scranton, Pa.

Why focus on this specific location, if the goal is to listen to the heart of America? Why, isn’t the logic — the political logic, that is — perfectly obvious? Here is the overture:

SCRANTON, Pa. — This hilly, green stretch of northeastern Pennsylvania is a critical front line in next year’s battle for control of the country. Donald J. Trump made huge gains among white working-class voters here, and Democrats want to win them back. Joe Biden, who was born here, can’t stop talking about it.

But just because Mr. Biden can’t stop talking about Scranton doesn’t mean everyone in Scranton is talking about Mr. Biden, the president, or politics at all. In three days of interviews here recently, many people said they were just scraping by and didn’t have a lot of patience for politics. Many said they didn’t follow the news and tried to stay out of political discussions, whether online or in person. National politics, they said, was practiced in a distant land by other people and had little effect on their lives.

This leads to this somber double-decker Times headline:

The America That Isn’t Polarized

Political institutions may be more divided than they’ve been in a century and a half, but how divided are Americans themselves?

So the goal is to learn why many average Americans are not as enraged about politics as are, well, New York Times editors and reporters who live on Twitter? Or think of it another way: Is this article, in part, a response to liberal and conservative critics (shout out to Liz Spayd, the Times public editor pushed out two years ago) who have complained that America’s most influential newsroom isn’t all that interested in covering half or more of America?

So what subjects were avoided in this epic piece? For starters, here are some terms that readers will not encounter as they work through it — “Supreme Court,” “God,” “abortion,” “schools,” “bathrooms” and, to probe recent fights among conservatives, “Drag queen story hour.”

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Los Angeles Times updates Scouting abuse: Religion angles? What religion angles?

Los Angeles Times updates Scouting abuse: Religion angles? What religion angles?

Journalists who have covered decades worth of stories linked to the sexual abuse of children and teens by Catholic clergy know that there are church leaders and laity who believe all or most discussions of this topic are fueled by some form of anti-Catholicism.

Yes, these in-denial Catholics are out there. Editors will hear from them.

But, in my experience, most Catholics who complain about news coverage of this hellish subject do not attempt to deny the size or the severe nature of this crisis and, especially, they want more digging into topics linked to the sinful and illegal cover-ups of these crimes.

So what angers these Catholics?

Truth is, they want to know why so much of the news coverage seems to assume that this is a CATHOLIC problem — period. They want to know why there isn’t more ink spilled (and legislation passed) that addresses these scandals in a wider context that includes at least three other groups — public schools, other religious bodies and the organization previously known as the Boy Scouts of America.

This brings us to a giant Los Angeles Times update on documents linked to the Scouts and years fog and confusion surrounding adults abusing Scouts. As this story makes clear, the Times has played a large role in dragging lots of this information out into the open. It’s strong stuff.

When I saw this story (behind the usual firewall), I wondered: Is this story going to offer some kind of perspective on how the Scouting scandal, and even public-school cases, compare with the Catholic scandal. Also, will it get into the religious implications of the Scouting scandals, in terms of how religious groups — hosts for many, many Scouting operations — have responded?

The answer to that: No.

We will come back to that. First, here is the overture:

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USA Today tries to explain why many Catholics are hitting the exits, but finds only one reason

USA Today tries to explain why many Catholics are hitting the exits, but finds only one reason

What are you supposed to think when you pick up the newspaper in your driveway and see a headline that proclaims, “Catholic Church In Crisis”?

I don’t know about you, but this question immediately jumps into my mind: OK, so which Catholic crisis are we talking about?

Thus, when I started reading the massive USA Today feature (which ran on A1 in several Gannett newspapers in Tennessee, of course) on this subject, I assumed that the “crisis” in question was the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal. However, I wanted to see (a) if this feature would accurately note how long this scandal has lasted and (b) whether it would place the sexual-abuse crisis in the context of several other major problems in the American church (and the Western world in general). Also, if the USA Today team connected sexual abuse to any other issues, what would those issues be?

Right up front, readers learn that the “crisis” is people leaving the Catholicism or seriously thinking about doing so. That’s interesting and a valid way to approach the current state of things.

After a stack on anecdotes about people nearing the exits, there is this thesis statement:

The Catholic Church in the U.S. is at a crossroads. As millions of devout followers filled the pews this Easter season to celebrate the religion’s most important holiday, others hovered at the door, hungry for community and spiritual guidance but furious at the church’s handling of the decades-long sex abuse crisis that’s resulted in young children being raped and abused by priests who were often protected by their superiors.

Seven months after a damning grand jury report in Pennsylvania revealed that 1,000 children had been abused at the hands of more than 300 priests, and as state attorneys general across the nation investigate the church, a Gallup poll published in March found that 37% of U.S. Catholics are considering leaving the church because of the sex abuse crisis and the church’s handling of it. That’s up significantly from 2002, when just 22% of Catholics said they were contemplating leaving their religion after The Boston Globe published an explosive series that initially exposed the abuse and subsequent cover-up.

So, let it be known that the true crisis is clergy sexual abuse and that alone and that this scandal was “initially exposed” by the Globe in the massive “Spotlight” reports in 2002.

Let’s see — that’s wrong and wrong.

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How many times is too many to mention 'Jesus' in a prayer? That's the controversial question in Pa.

How many times is too many to mention 'Jesus' in a prayer? That's the controversial question in Pa.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is drawing fire for a prayer in which she referenced controversial figures, including Jesus, God and Donald Trump.

In fact, she mentioned “Jesus” 13 times and “God” six times in less than two minutes, noted a critic who tweeted about the “offensive” nature of the legislative prayer.

Here’s how The Associated Press summarized the fuss in a national news story:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A freshman Republican’s opening prayer Monday in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives drew complaints that it was inappropriately divisive.

Rep. Stephanie Borowicz began the day’s session with a Christian invocation that thanked Jesus for the honor and President Donald Trump for standing “behind Israel unequivocally.”

“At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord,” said Borowicz, elected in November to represent a Clinton County district.

Her remarks also brought up George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

A quick aside: Since we’re counting words, AP uses “remarks” three times to describe what Borowicz said in the prayer. Given that she was praying (read: talking to God) and not making a floor speech (although I guess that’s open to interpretation), I wonder if there’s a better term AP could have used in the story.

But back to the main point: Was the prayer divisive? Or did the lawmaker simply pray — as she claims — like she always does?

Courtesy of the Friendly Atheist blog, which transcribed the prayer, here is exactly what she said:

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Sacred cows: Philadelphia Inquirer delves into a Hindu man's love for his 'ragtag herd of cows'

Sacred cows: Philadelphia Inquirer delves into a Hindu man's love for his 'ragtag herd of cows'

“Can being nice to cows save the world?” the Philadelphia Inquirer asks. “A Hindu man in the Poconos would like to believe so.”

On one level, the Inquirer’s feature on Sankar Sastri is simply an interesting read — a human- interest feature about a man with a unusual approach to life.

On another level, it’s a religion story.

The piece excels more at the former than the latter, although it’s not entirely devoid of doctrine.

The lede certainly paints a revealing portrait, albeit one with, um, some smelly stuff on the profile subject’s footwear:

STROUDSBURG, Pa. — Every day, a joyful man in dung-covered boots tries to balance the world's karma by dishing out love, compassion, and the occasional fried Indian delight to his ragtag herd of cows.

Sankar Sastri loves Sri, the shaggy Scottish highlander with eyes like jewels, and adores Lakshmi, a little black Brahman with horns pointing north and south. The mighty Krishna, a tall and hefty Angus, appears to be a favorite, but Sastri said each of his 23 cows is equally beloved at his Poconos sanctuary.

"Ah, Krishna, look at how big you are. You are the boss, Krishna," Sastri said to the cow on a recent cold November morning.

Sastri, 78, is wiry, bespectacled, and constantly smiling, and wears a blazer over his farm clothes while he walks around his 90-acre Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in Monroe County. Sastri still resembles a college professor, albeit one who fell in mud. He grew up in Chidambaram, by the Bay of Bengal in Southern India, moved to the United States in 1964 for grad school, and spent 28 years teaching engineering  at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.

The Inquirer goes on to explain:

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A time for anger? Some Catholic bishops worked hard to limit exposure of their sins and crimes

A time for anger? Some Catholic bishops worked hard to limit exposure of their sins and crimes

It's impossible to step into the sickening whirlpool of that Pennsylvania grand-jury report, covering seven decades of Catholic priestly sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses, without feeling angry.

Right now, anger is the element of this story that I think will be the hardest for journalists to handle and to cover accurately and fairly.

First and foremost, there is the anger and grief of the victims and their families. That's a story.

Then, we also need to admit that journalists who have been on the beat for a decade or more face anger issues of their own. In many cases, reporters are facing a tough reality today -- they now know that they were often manipulated by bishops and diocesan staffs that were hiding hellish crimes.

Now they are seeing some bishops produce updated websites and public statements that -- let's face it -- look a lot like the PR campaigns of the past. Is this a story?

Also, what about the all-to-familiar flashes of anger and the sense of betrayal that many priests and bishops must be feeling today? Imagine what it feels like to be going to work right now while wearing a Roman collar.

Years ago, a friend of mine -- when he was ordained as an Episcopal priest -- said that he was shocked at how many people gave him looks of disgust when he walked the streets in black clerical clothing, thinking he was a Catholic priest. Having even one person spit at your feet is a shattering experience.

This is a story for many, many valid reasons, not the least of which is how these horrors will continue to shape efforts to handle the growing shortage of Catholic priests in parts of the world, including America.

With that in mind, read (hat tip to Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher) this remarkable set of tweets from a priest whose entire ministry has been surrounded by headlines about priests abusing children and teens:

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Clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania: Media scramble to unearth bombshell report

Clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania: Media scramble to unearth bombshell report

In newspapers across Pennsylvania, many Sunday editorial pages were filled with angry protests against the Catholic Church and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The reason?

Everyone had been waiting for a huge grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses (Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton) across the state.

In this case, it's crucial to note that even the leaders of the various Catholic dioceses -- not to mention the victims -- wanted this 800-page report released. But then last Wednesday, the state supreme court ordered it sealed.

I’ll start with an excerpt from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, for which I freelanced briefly for in the early 1990s. They weren’t into religion reporting back then, but sexual abuse stories aren’t just about religion. They’re about the courts, about the police, about sex, money and power.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their attorneys were stunned last week at news that the report would not be made public. The grand jury investigation examined decades of allegations of abuse and cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses across the state, including Pittsburgh and Greensburg.

“They're hurt, and a lot of them will say to me, ‘Mark, this is what they have done to me from day one. When I finally was able to talk about it, they hired an investigator to silence me,' ” (State Rep. Mark) Rozzi said of other victims.

Rozzi was raped at the age of 13 by a priest.

(Altoona lawyer Richard) Serbin, who identified 106 suspected predator priests for the Attorney General's investigators, set the stage for many of the state's early laws involving child sexual abuse when he filed suit against the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese 31 years ago. The suit established Serbin as a victims' advocate. He said he went on to represent nearly 300 victims of clergy sexual abuse over the next 30 years.

If anyone doesn’t believe people are angry about this, try looking at all the comments (34 at present, which is a lot for this blog) underneath my Cardinal Theodore McCarrick post from last Thursday. The anger out there is as strong as it ever was.

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Friday Five: GetReligionistas out West, In-N-Out's ghosts, #ShockingNotShocking story and more

Friday Five: GetReligionistas out West, In-N-Out's ghosts, #ShockingNotShocking story and more

Today's "Friday Five" comes to you from the Pacific Time Zone.

The GetReligion team doesn't get together often in person. But this week, the crew -- including editor Terry Mattingly and contributors Julia Duin, Richard Ostling, Ira Rifkin and me -- met on the West Coast to contemplate the future. That's the sort of thing people do when a website turns 14 years old -- as in our Feb. 2 anniversary.

Why talk about what's ahead? Well, strategic planning is always a good idea for a forward-thinking organization. Beyond that, our prolific leader -- tmatt -- isn't getting any younger (which he told me to point out). As if to prove the point, the Boss Man celebrated his 64th birthday during our gathering. Even better, we had a reason to eat cake!

As for our future plans, when there's something to announce, count on someone above my pay grade to do so! Planning and blue-skying things takes time.

Meanwhile, back to the Five:

1. Religion story of the week: tmatt highlighted this simple-but-beautiful story Thursday.

"Every now and then, you run into a story where all the journalists covering it really needed to do was round up some facts, find a few compelling voices, capture the images and then get out of the way," tmatt noted.

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BBC tells quiet story of church built on a rock and, thus, it has survived fires below

BBC tells quiet story of church built on a rock and, thus, it has survived fires below

Every now and then, you run into a story where all the journalists covering it really needed to do was round up some facts, find a few compelling voices, capture the images and then get out of the way.

Now, as someone who has covered that kind of story, I know that this task may sound easy, but it's not.

You really have to do the work, yet play it simple. Most of all you need To. Trust. The. Story.

That's exactly what happened with this BBC report -- "This church has survived a fire that started back in 1962" -- about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, Pa. In this case we are not talking about a battle with the process in which ethnic believers, in the second or third generation, assimilate into normal American culture and leave a church. No, we're talking about an underground fire -- a literal one -- burning in coal country for half a century, a fire that shut down a whole town.

The fire started near the surface on May 27, 1962, and quickly spread deep into the rich seams of coal for which the Pennsylvania  hills are famous. After years of trying to put out the fire, the U.S. government paid $42 million to, basically, move everyone in the town. Thus, readers are given this simple, clear overview:

In Pennsylvania's coal-mining mountains, there's an empty grid where a town once lived.
Once, there were homes and gardens. Now there are weeds. Before Centralia started burning from below, more than a thousand people lived here. At the last count, there were six.
The roads remain -- on Google Maps, they have names like Railway Avenue and Apple Alley -- but on the ground, they are ghost streets.
Nameless. Silent. Stripped bare. Anonymous, in every sense.
On the horizon, though, a piece of Centralia survives.
A white church rises between black trees. A blue dome shines against the snow.
Its congregation has left town, but Centralia's Ukrainian Catholic Church isn't going anywhere.

Now, here is what makes it hard to do justice to this simple report. You see, I can't show you the copyrighted art -- lots of it -- that goes with the text.

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