Pope Franics

The Godfather’s Catholic symbolism is often overlooked during book’s 50th anniversary

The Godfather’s Catholic symbolism is often overlooked during book’s 50th anniversary

The Godfather, before it was an Academy-Award winning film, was a book. The crime novel, written by Mario Puzo, was released on March 10, 1969. The fictional account of Vito Corleone’s life is chronicled during a 10-year span starting in 1945.

The book’s 50th anniversary has been a great opportunity for newspapers, magazines and websites — especially the ones that cover the entertainment industry — to unleash nostalgia pieces looking back at the book and the three movies that later grew out of Puzo’s book and Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece films, the first of which was released in 1972.

Amid all the immorality, crime, violence and ultimately Michael Corleone’s final despair (for anyone who could sit through The Godfather III) isn’t just a series of mob movies. The Godfather book and movie trilogy is loaded with religious symbolism.

Anniversary journalism is a very big part of what reporters write and what Google search thrives on — so it’s important that The Godfather get the proper treatment. This is something another book/movie from that era, The Exorcist, also suffered the same lack of religion coverage.

Since Corleone (played by Marlon Brando and by Roberto De Nero in the sequel during the flashback scenes) is an immigrant from Sicily, the story’s symbolism is largely Roman Catholic. Like The Exorcist, The Godfather has suffered the same journalistic fate when it comes to lack of a religion angle. Even the book’s name, The Godfather, refers to a male godparent in the Christian tradition tied with baptism and original sin.

This is not to say the Catholic angle has been totally ignored. In 2013, The Georgia Bulletin, the newspaper of the Atlanta diocese, ran an opinion piece by Dr. David King, an associate professor of English and film studies at Kennesaw State University.

Though Coppola himself has struggled with his Catholicism, his imagination is so steeped in Catholic practice and atmosphere that he can never fully abandon the faith, any more than his greatest character Michael Corleone can. Coppola has often said that his favorite word is “hope,” and it is that sense of hope and belief in redemption that best defines “The Godfather” films as Catholic art.

King goes on to say that the films are “full of Catholic themes, including justice and mercy, fate vs. spirituality, the dialectic between family and country and community, the letter and the spirit of the law, and time and timelessness, they are also charged with a deep Catholic mise en scene, or atmosphere.”  

The Church is everywhere in “The Godfather” films: baptisms, funerals, confessions.

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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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What do Valentine's Day, Jeff Bezos and Catholicism have in common? Time to read some 'explainers'

What do Valentine's Day, Jeff Bezos and Catholicism have in common? Time to read some 'explainers'

The primarily role of journalism is to inform. How that is done has dramatically changed over the past two decades. That time encompasses most of my adult life, where I worked as a reporter and later editor.

“Information overload” and “fake news” are both seen as major impediments to an educated population that can make sound decisions. Long gone are the days of my childhood when getting the morning paper and catching up on the day’s events by watching one of the evening network newscasts. We live in a frenetic 24-hour news cycle with a seemingly never-ending scroll of social media posts and constant chatter by “expert panels” on cable TV.

This takes me to my main point regarding journalism (specifically religion coverage) and how major news organizations can, and have, done a good job explaining faith. The journalistic form — commonly referred to in newsrooms as “the explainer” — has been one of the positives to come out of the digital age. It’s one that I increasingly have come to rely on when trying to make sense of a topic or ever-changing news developments that span days or even weeks.

Complex issues and topics have always been boiled down for ordinary readers to understand. After all, that’s what journalism is really all about. The same goes for understanding religion — and this is where journalism can be a wonderful tool to help people understands different belief systems, traditions, how they intersect with politics and how it impacts our culture and society. How journalists can create better explainers by using newspapers archives, social media, video — and yes, original reporting — is vital to the storytelling of the 21st century.

In explaining the Catholic church, for example, as it is repeatedly thrust into the media spotlight due to the clergy sex scandal, the abortion debate or any other topic means news websites have the vital responsibility of both informing and educating readers. Many of these readers are Roman Catholics, but most are not. Here’s where journalism is vital and a great way for reporters to delve into complex issues in addition to their news coverage of a given topic.

Take St. Valentine’s Day as an example.

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Why did Reuters (and almost everyone else) miss Pope Francis' all-too-familiar Bible/cellphone quote?

Why did Reuters (and almost everyone else) miss Pope Francis' all-too-familiar Bible/cellphone quote?

Your correspondent is neither a prophet nor is he the son of a prophet, but I can muster one small claim to fame in the predictive realm. In 2013, I reported in The Washington Times the rather prophetic utterance of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington that the next Pope would have to master social media.

There can be little doubt that the current Pontifex Maximus, the Argentinian-born Pope Francis, has indeed done so, having an estimated 23 million Twitter followers.

Thus, it's certainly news when the tweeting pontiff says, before a congregation of thousands in St. Peter's Square, that it's time to "Love your Bible as you do your cellphone," as the Christian Science Monitor headlined it. The Monitor report indicates it included data from a Reuters dispatch, which was the first I'd seen of the comments:

Pope Francis on Sunday called on people to carry and read the bible with as much dedication as they do their mobile phones.
Speaking to pilgrims in a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square, the 80-year-old pope asked: "What would happen if we treated the bible like we do our mobile phones?"
He continued: "If we turned around to retrieve it when we forgot it? If we carried it with us always, even a small pocket version? If we read God's messages in the bible like we read messages on the mobile phone?"
Francis called the comparison "paradoxical" and said it was meant to be a source of reflection, adding that bible reading would help people resist daily temptations.

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WomenPriests scores yet another PR feature in yet another sympathetic newspaper

WomenPriests scores yet another PR feature in yet another sympathetic newspaper

It's not every day that I see a news feature that starts with a fact error.

"Mary Alice Nolan will soon be ordained a Roman Catholic priest," says the lede of a Q&A feature in the Marin Independent Journal.

Well, no, actually she won't.

Nolan will undergo a ritual that resembles a Catholic ordination. But it will be sanctioned by the WomenPriests movement -- not the canonical Roman Catholic Church. You see, Vatican has a system in which it chooses its clergy. It's kind of like the New York Yankees getting to decide who makes their 40-man roster and who does not.

Wish it was the only place this article messes up the facts. 

Somehow, the Journal can call Nolan a future Catholic priest while acknowledging the centuries-old corporation that holds the brand:

The 64-year-old’s ordination will not be acknowledged by the Catholic church, which only allows men to become priests, but the lifelong follower of the faith is not letting that stop her.
The San Rafael resident plans to press onward with the ordination, to be conducted by a female bishop of the Western Region of Roman Catholic Priest, in October at an Episcopalian church in San Francisco.
Though skeptical that in her lifetime she will see the church modify its rules of who can take the priesthood, Nolan said she hopes one day the church becomes more inclusive.

As a Q&A, made almost totally of a single subject's quotes, the Journal conveniently sidesteps many of the things I'd expect of a regular, reported news feature.

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Pope and imam dial back talks about Christian concerns, with assist from some journalists

Pope and imam dial back talks about Christian concerns, with assist from some journalists

The leader of a billion-plus Catholics met with a leader of a billion-plus Muslims, and media gave it appropriately thorough coverage.

Except for one matter: persecution of Christians in Muslim lands.

Pope Francis himself was oddly timid on the point. But that doesn't mean mainstream media had to downplay it also -- especially when they cover plenty of such incidents.

Typical was the Associated Press report:

Pope Francis on Monday embraced the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the prestigious Sunni Muslim center of learning, reopening an important channel for Catholic-Muslim dialogue after a five-year lull and at a time of increased Islamic extremist attacks on Christians.
As Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib arrived for his audience in the Apostolic Palace, Francis said that the fact that they were meeting at all was significant.
"The meeting is the message," Francis told the imam.

Following this press release-style lede, though, AP says the two leaders discussed "the plight of Christians 'in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Mideast and their protection,' the statement said." It adds that Al-Azhar broke off talks alks with the Vatican a decade ago, after Pope Benedict XVI quoted a Byzantine emperor saying that some Muhammad's teachings were "evil and inhuman."

The article also retells some bloody specifics:

Benedict had demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year's bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria killed 21 people. Since then, Islamic attacks on Christians in the region have only increased, but the Vatican and Al-Azhar nevertheless sought to rekindle ties, with a Vatican delegation visiting Cairo in February and extending the invitation for el-Tayyib to visit.

But if any Mideastern Christian leaders had opinions on the meeting -- and it's hard to imagine they wouldn't -- AP wasn't interested.

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Mangling the message: Papal Easter talk gets a warped reflection in The Mirror

Mangling the message: Papal Easter talk gets a warped reflection in The Mirror

How many gaffes can you pack into the start of a story? In its coverage of Pope Francis' Easter message yesterday, the UK-based Mirror seemed to be trying to find out.

And what a time for sloppy reporting -- the most important holiday on the calendar of the world's largest religion.

Check this out:

Pope Francis says defeat Islamic State 'with weapons of love' during Easter message
Pope Francis has urged the world in his Easter message to use the "weapons of love" to combat the evil of "blind and brutal violence" following the tragic attacks in Brussels.
The Roman Catholic church leader said an Easter Sunday Mass under tight security for tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square.
After the service, he gave a traditional speech in which he addressed violence, injustice and threats to peace in many parts of the world.
He said: "May he [the risen Jesus] draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."

Francis did decry multiple social ills: armed conflicts, "brutal crimes," ethnic and religious persecution, climate change caused by exploiting natural resources, fears of the young and the elderly alike. And yes, he denounced terrorism, "that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."

But he said nothing about the Islamic State -- or, for that matter, the acronyms of ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Nor did he tell anyone to use the "weapons of love" in the Middle East conflict.

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Wait, did Pope Francis just change Catholic doctrine on abortion? Or did he simply tell people to go to confession?

Wait, did Pope Francis just change Catholic doctrine on abortion? Or did he simply tell people to go to confession?

I'm not Catholic.

So I was befuddled when I saw this Associated Press news alert this morning:

BREAKING: Pope to let all priests in Holy Year absolve people from `sin of abortion' if they repent.

I wondered: Can priests not forgive abortion under normal circumstances? Is abortion ordinarily an unforgivable sin for Catholics? (My apologies to tmatt for not paying close enough attention.)

In an email to GetReligion, a reader complained:

This is in the vein of "Breaking news! Pope Francis changing everything about the mean, backward Catholic church!" while Pope Francis reiterates the orthodoxy taught by all his successors. My head is exploding. May the truth reign in the hearts of all.

I started clicking links to see if I could make sense of this breaking news.

The full AP report provided important context:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis declared Tuesday he is allowing all priests in the church's upcoming Year of Mercy to absolve women of the "sin of abortion" if they repent with a "contrite heart."
Reflecting his papacy's central theme of mercy, Francis said in letter published Tuesday by the Vatican that he has met many women bearing "the scar of this agonizing" decision to abort. He said God's forgiveness cannot be denied to those who repent, and thus is giving all priests the discretion to absolve the sin in the Holy Year of Mercy running Dec. 8, 2015 until Nov. 20, 2016.
The church views abortion as such as grave sin that, until now, a Catholic woman who wanted to repent for an abortion could not simply go to her local parish priest. Instead, her diocese's bishop needed to delegate a priest, expert at dealing with such confessions, to hear the woman's confession.

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