Pope John Paul II

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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Turtle on a fence post? Concerning Billy Graham, St. Pope John Paul II, Bob Dylan and journalism

Turtle on a fence post? Concerning Billy Graham, St. Pope John Paul II, Bob Dylan and journalism

The Rev. Billy Graham must have told the turtle story a million times, so surely -- somewhere in the tsunami of analog and digital news ink we will see tomorrow -- there will be journalists who include it in their features marking the great evangelist's death.

Graham, 99, died Wednesday morning at the family's rambling log home in the mountains outside Asheville, N.C. They bought the land 60 years or so ago, when it cost next to nothing and that's where Billy and Ruth stayed. What will happen to it now? Getting to spend part of a day there while interviewing him was certainly one of the highlights of my reporting career.

But I digress. Members of the GetReligion team will start looking at the actual coverage of his life and career tomorrow. With only a few hours before deadline, I wrote my own piece on Graham and you can read it right here (with the permission of my Universal syndicate editors).

Please send us links to the good and the bad. Obviously, there is a massive package already at Christianity Today, which Graham founded long ago, and at The Charlotte Observer (main story here). Here is the  main Associated Press story.

But let's return to the turtle and the fence post. Here is how I retold that story soon after the creation of this blog:

For decades, Graham has been asked -- thousands of times, I am sure -- why he has been so remarkably successful, preaching to more people in person than anyone else in history. Why have so many people, from the earliest days of his career, responded to his call to accept Jesus Christ as Savior? What's so special about Billy Graham?
At this point, Graham almost always offers the following explanation. If you are walking down a road, he says, and you happen to see a turtle sitting on top of a tall fence post, what would you assume? You would, of course, assume that the turtle did not climb up there on his own. You would assume that someone far larger than the turtle picked him up and then placed him atop the tall post for some mysterious reason.
Get the point? Clearly Graham did not get on top by his own merits.

That's a perfect example of Graham being folksy and safe, but there is content there if you think about it.

Obviously, Graham was a skilled media personality, with decades of experience in the trenches facing journalists who knew his life and work inside out as well as general-assignment reporters who, believe it or not, were sent to cover him after reading little more than a sheet of PR material.

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Plan for this must-cover Godbeat item in 2018: The 50th anniversary of 'Humanae Vitae'

Plan for this must-cover Godbeat item in 2018: The 50th anniversary of 'Humanae Vitae'

Rightly or wrongly, most papal encyclicals land in newsrooms with a thud.

But there were no yawns in 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued his birth-control edict “Humanae Vitae,” which provoked a global uproar inside and outside his church.

Retrospectives will be a must item on reporters’ calendars around July 25, the 50th anniversary of this landmark. News angles include a monthly series at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University to rethink the doctrine, which started in October and runs through May 24. The listing (in Italian) is here (.pdf).

Paul declared that Catholicism, “by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” The Pope believed this fusion of the “unitive” and “procreative” aspects in marital acts is mandated by “natural law” as defined by predecessor Popes Pius XI (1930 encyclical “Casti Connubii”), and Pius XII (1951 “Address to Midwives”). Paul concluded the recent development of  “The Pill” changed nothing.

Though the pope said priests were bound to support this teaching, many joined lay Catholics and Protestants in opposing the church’s “each and every” requirement. Pope John Paul II later supported predecessor Paul, and recently so did Pope Francis, though with a twist

Key themes for reporters to assess:

First: Many analysts argue that the wide-ranging dissent on the birth-control pronouncement has weakened the church’s over-all moral authority.

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Fatima centennial: Is it wise to cover, or to ignore, famous claims of the miraculous?

Fatima centennial: Is it wise to cover, or to ignore, famous claims of the miraculous?

Although 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door, there’s another religious anniversary -– a centennial -– this past Friday that got far less publicity.

Oct. 13, 1917, is the date when some 70,000 people, including a few newspaper reporters, witnessed the “miracle of the sun” in Fatima, a town north of Lisbon in central Portugal.

Many dismiss this as outdated Catholic lore, but the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fatima was a big deal for St. Pope John Paul II, who was nearly assassinated on May 13, 1981. He attributed his escape from death to Our Lady of Fatima.

Yet, I found very little about this anniversary in the secular media. The Philadelphia Inquirer was one of the exceptions, possibly because the local archbishop, Charles Chaput, made its observance a priority.

Throughout the year, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million Catholics have been observing the anniversary with special services, lectures, movie screenings, retreats, and pilgrimages.  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will preside over a consecration service at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
Fatima is among the three most popular Marian apparitions, including one reported in 1858 by St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France (Our Lady of Lourdes), and another in 1531 by St. Juan Diego and his uncle on the Hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City (Our Lady of Guadalupe), according to Jason Paul Bourgeois, an assistant professor at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of  Dayton in Ohio.
Messages of prayer, penance, reparations for sin, and devotion to Mary are oft-repeated in Marian sightings, but Our Lady of Fatima’s three secrets — prophecies and apocalyptic visions of specific events to come — set it apart.

The story is quite complete, going into the history of the three secrets of Fatima as well as other Marian apparitions. My only complaint is that it gave too much credence to those debunking the “miracle of the sun” -- in that how does one deceive 70,000 people? The skeptics never explain that one.

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Note to The Independent: There's no way this MP candidate thinks that she healed a man

Note to The Independent: There's no way this MP candidate thinks that she healed a man

I've never been sure why, but the subject of prayer causes problems for many mainstream news reporters. I think part of the problem is that some reporters think they have to believe that prayer "works" in order to take prayer seriously.

Thus, I have heard mainstream journalists say that it's a "fact" that prayer does not work and that real journalists must strive to present solid facts and nothing more. After all, academic studies of the effectiveness of prayer -- linked to medical issues -- have been mixed.

Yes, from the viewpoint of a skeptical editor it's hard to prove -- as a fact -- that prayer "works" (although some academic studies of miracles are fascinating). Nevertheless, journalists need to remember that it is a fact that millions of people in many faiths around the world believe in the power of prayer and that their actions in real life, based on those beliefs, frequently affect real events and trends in the news.

I bring this up because of a revealing error in a story, and headline, that ran in The Independent about a British woman named Kristy Adams who is running for Parliament. The problem is clearly seen in the double-decker headline:

Tory MP candidate 'claims she healed deaf man through prayer '
'I don't know if he was more surprised than me,' says Kristy Adams

That's right. The journalists behind this story seem to think that Adams thinks that SHE healed someone. Here is the overture in this report:

A Conservative party candidate has reportedly claimed she healed a deaf man with her bare hands by channelling the power of prayer.

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Some news skills never die: An obituary writer describes life on the death beat

Some news skills never die: An obituary writer describes life on the death beat

Obituary writing is an all-important corner of the news game. We are talking “first draft of history” and all that.

A key practitioner, Bruce Weber of The New York Times, is leaving the beat following eight years and 1,000 salutes to the dear departed. With considerable charm, he recently described his odd life in news and ink.

His subjects were “famous, infamous, or as obscure as the rest of us except for one instance of memorable distinction,” the latter including a stupid airline hijacker,  some guy who shot a ballplayer, a pederast, a con artist, or an embezzler, all thrown next to honored humanitarians, statesmen, and scientists seeking to cure AIDS or cancer.  (Unfortunately, these days such “mainstream media” routinely ignore the deaths of many worthy religious leaders.)

With unanticipated deaths, pieces must be knocked out in an hour or two. But at the Times and elsewhere, important obits are planned in advance. “You can’t write the comprehensive life story of a president or a pope or a movie star in an hour or even a day,” he explains. Indeed. Five months out of college, the Religion Guy compiled a two-page obit for Delaware’s Wilmington Morning News hours after JFK died, thanks mostly to canned AP and UPI copy and our "morgue" files.  

Most periodicals will (or should) have well-prepared sendoffs for religion’s big three -- The Rev. Billy Graham, now 97 and the prime U.S. clergyman of his era; the Dalai Lama, 81, and Pope Francis, 79. With such overarching personalities the temptation is to bigfoot the task, handing it to a veteran generalist instead of the staff religion specialist.

The bottom line: The result can emphasize the politics and downplay the religion.

But the religion-news professional is a better bet due to perspective and sources.

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Will Catholicism admit women deacons or deaconesses to ranks of ordained clergy?

Will Catholicism admit women deacons or deaconesses to ranks of ordained clergy?

THE QUESTION:

What are the reasons the Catholic Church might, or might not, ordain women in the clerical rank of deacon? (Almost all Q and A topics are posted by our online audience, but The Guy decided to pose this timely question himself.)

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Catholicism’s long-simmering discussion about whether to ordain women into the clerical ranks as “permanent deacons” took a dramatic turn May 12 when Pope Francis said he’ll form a commission to study the issue. His promise came during seemingly off-the-cuff answers to questions during a Rome session with the International Union of Superiors General, whose members lead nearly 500,000 nuns and sisters in religious orders.

Without doubt, female deacons would be a major change. Liberals hope — and conservatives fear — that permitting women to be deacons would be a step toward allowing female priests. However, that’s a distant prospect if not an impossibility considering Pope John Paul II’s absolute prohibition in his 1994 apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.”

To explain that term “permanent diaconate”: The order of deacons in the early church gradually dwindled over centuries so that eventually ordination as a “deacon” became a mere stepping-stone for men on the path to priesthood. (That usage occurs in Anglican and Episcopal churches. Lutheran deacons, male and female, fill a permanent office, not a temporary one. Baptists use the deacon title for lay members who govern congregations with the pastor.)

Catholicism’s Second Vatican Council (1962-65) restored the “permanent diaconate” as a third, separate and ongoing ministerial order in its own right that is subordinate to priests and bishops. Particularly in North America, which has half the world total, such deacons help ameliorate the shortage of priests.

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Is capitalism biblical? You don't have to be a pope to ask that question

Is capitalism biblical? You don't have to be a pope to ask that question

JOHN’S QUESTION:

It has always been my understanding from Proverbs (condemning the “sluggard”), and Paul’s instruction that missionaries earn their keep and not be a burden, that the Bible encouraged hard work and a responsibility to give of our blessings to the poor — personal responsibility vs. government responsibility. The trend toward government socialism seems to discourage that. Is capitalism biblical?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

In America, it’s springtime for socialism. A Harvard survey of those ages 18–29 showed 33 percent support socialism compared with 42 percent for capitalism, and socialist support reached 50 percent among Democrats. A poll of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers found 43 percent considered themselves socialist vs. 38 percent capitalist. Sliding regard for big business accompanies the related success of Socialist-plus-Democrat Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Sanders is arguably the most secularized candidate ever to wage a major presidential run (can you name any competitors?). Even so, he was the only U.S. politician the Vatican invited to speak at an April economics conference (Sanders cited no Bible verses), where he briefly met Pope Francis. That was called a courtesy, not endorsement, but the pontiff appears soft on socialism, which sets conservative Catholics abuzz.

Francis joins previous popes in teaching biblical tenets of concern toward the needy and against the sins of greed and materialism. But he’s more outspoken than his predecessors in assailing free markets and urging government redistribution of wealth.

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Media struggle to grasp what friends (including females) meant to St. John Paul II

Media struggle to grasp what friends (including females) meant to St. John Paul II

If you know much about the young Polish actor and philosopher Karol Wojtyla, then you know that his path to the Catholic priesthood was quite unusual, surrounded as we was by the horrors of the Nazi occupation and then the chains of a puppet regime marching to a Soviet drummer.

In his massive authorized biography of the St. Pope John Paul II, "Witness to Hope," George Weigel argued that a key to understanding Wojtyla is to grasp the degree to which his faith and spiritual disciplines were shaped by the lives of strong laypeople and his many friends -- male and female -- who surrounded him in academia, the underground theater and similar settings.

Once he became a priest, he spent years as a campus minister working with young adults during his graduate studies and beyond.

In other words, if you want to picture the life and times of the future Pope John Paul II (and you want to understand the material covered in this week's "Crossroads" podcast) then it's wrong to picture him in some kind of pre-seminary ecclesiastical assembly line, surrounded by other young men headed to holy orders and, yes, celibacy.

Instead, picture him trying to explain his priestly vocation to his girlfriend. Picture him carrying a canoe on a camping trip, explaining Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality to college students of both genders (creating friendships that in many cases lasted his whole life) and holding Mass as far as possible from Communist police. Check out this sprawling made-for-TV bio-pic starring John Voight and Cary Elwes.

In other words, the more you know about Karol Wojtyla, then the less likely you are to be stunned by the wink-wink BBC reports about his years of "secret letters" to a female philosopher friend.

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