Roman Catholic Church

If churches keep getting vandalized in France, should American news outlets cover the story?

If churches keep getting vandalized in France, should American news outlets cover the story?

Is it a news story if a church is set on fire or vandalized in some other way? What about if it’s part of a string of incidents? What if it happens five times? How about 10 times?

What if there are flames pouring out of one of the world’s most iconic cathedrals and it’s Monday of Holy Week?

We will come back to the flames over Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in a moment.

The answers to the earlier questions are yes, yes, yes, yes and, of course, yes! As someone who worked as a news reporter (and later a editor) at two major metropolitan dailies (at the New York Post and New York Daily News) and a major news network website (ABC News), I can tell you that any suspicion of arson at a house of worship, for example, is a major story.

It must somehow no longer be the case in the new and frenetic world of the internet-driven, 24-hour news cycle. That’s because a major international story — one involving at least 10 acts of vandalism at Catholic churches in France — went largely unreported (underreported, really) for weeks. The vandalism included everything from Satanic symbols scrawled on walls to shattered statues.

That’s right, a rash of fires and other acts of desecration inside Catholic churches — during Lent, even — in a country with a recent history of terrorism somehow didn’t warrant any kind of attention from American news organizations. Even major news organizations, such as The Washington Post, were late to covering it and only did after running a Religion News Service story.

This brings us to Monday’s fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, where a massive blaze engulfed the 12th century gothic house of worship. It’s too early to tell if this incident is part of the earlier wave of vandalism, but it certainly comes at a strange time. For now, officials say the blaze remains under investigation. The cathedral has been undergoing some renovation work and the fire may — repeat MAY — have started in one of those areas.

It would be crazy to assume there is a connection between all of these fires and acts of vandalism. It would be just as crazy for journalists not to investigate the possibility that there are connections.

There will be more to come on the Notre Dame story in the hours and days that follow and comes at the start of Holy Week, the most solemn time on the Christian calendar.

But back to my questions about the earlier string of fires and the lack of coverage.

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The Economist: Stuck in a time warp, misses real news about Global South missionaries

The Economist: Stuck in a time warp, misses real news about Global South missionaries

The classically liberal British weekly, The Economist, is known for its authoritative, tightly written, analysis-infused news coverage. While I sometimes disagree with its editorial conclusions, I include myself among those who find The Economist a satisfying read.

But even the news outlets I favor the most are capable of sometimes publishing pieces that leave me wondering.

Such was the case with an Economist piece from earlier this month on the spread of Christian missionaries coming from the Global South (formerly known as the Third World) to North America and Europe — a 180-degree reversal from the historical pattern.

This reverse flow says a lot about the state of global Christianity. It speaks to the real possibility of the political and cultural West entering a truly post-Christian age. And it underscores how the Global South — Africa, Asia and Latin America — are likely to define Christianity’s future.

But why now? Why did The Economist  bother to publish, both online and in print, a story about a phenomenon that’s been picking up speed for several decades and play it as if they’d uncovered a breaking trend?

Why would a publication as exemplary as The Economist  publish a piece that reads as if its been sitting in the magazine’s ever-green file for years?

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Beat the journalism clock: Track rising anti-Semitism via Jewish and Israeli news media

Beat the journalism clock: Track rising anti-Semitism via Jewish and Israeli news media

This past Saturday, the Jewish sabbath — just two weeks removed from the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and 80 years to the day following Kristallnacht -- the Israeli news site Times of Israel ran the following stories on its home page. Each was about anti-Semitism; either a hateful display of it (including one new one in the United States) or warnings about its steady rise in Europe.

Because it would take too much space to explain them all, I’ll just supply the links and note the nation of origin. Please read at least a few of them to gain a sense of the level of concern.

(1) The Netherlands.

(2) The United Kingdom.

(3) Poland.

(4) Germany.

(5) Austria.

(6) United States.

A quick web search that same day uncovered a host of other stories documenting recent anti-Semitic actions, many cloaked in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, including this one from The Jewish Chronicle, the venerable, London-based, Anglo-Jewish publication.

A local Labour party [meaning a regional branch of Britain’s national opposition political party] confirmed it amended a motion about the Pittsburgh synagogue attack to remove a call for all forms of antisemitism to be eradicated and for Labour to “lead the way in opposing" Jew-hate.

The story, of course, included the usual explanations meant to excuse actions of this sort. And, for the record, while I do not consider all criticism of Israeli government actions to be anti-Semitic, I do believe that the line between legitimate political criticism of Israel and hatred of Israel because its a Jewish nation is frequently blurred.

I listed all the above stories to make some journalistic points. The first of them is to point out journalism’s unique internal clock.

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New York Times misses mark in coverage of Australia's rejection of unidentified Muslim refugees

New York Times misses mark in coverage of Australia's rejection of unidentified Muslim refugees

In May I posted an essay here on Australia’s open opposition toward accepting Muslim refugees. It included a reference to The New York Times management deciding to assign a staff correspondent to Australia. My post was headlined: “Will we be seeing more about Muslim immigration ‘down under’ in The New York Times?”

I can now report that the answer to my question is affirmative -- though you might not know it because the religious identity of the majority of the refugees seeking asylum in Australia covered in this new Times story went unmentioned. (Here’s an update to the story noted just above.)

Other than this not-so-minor oversight, the original Manus Island piece -- focused on Australia’s attempt to close a refugee holding camp it established in neighboring Papua New Guinea (the refugees had refused to leave) -- was both well-written and nicely produced (online, at least). It offered an assortment of accompanying dramatic photographs.

Anyone with any understanding of Muslim names and nations, will find the the oversight curiously obvious.

Could it be that the Times is testing our knowledge of the Muslim world? Is this a test-run for the next step in participatory journalism? You know -- match a name with a religion.

Just joking. Clearly, it's an oversight, deliberate or not.

By way of background, here’s the link to a Times opinion piece, not a news report, that caught my eye and led to my May post:

SYDNEY, Australia -- Like many Western countries, Australia has agreed to resettle refugees from the wars in Syria and Iraq. Unlike other countries, Australia explicitly favors Christians, even though they are a minority of those seeking refuge.
The Australian experience is a case study for Europeans grappling with an influx of refugees and for Americans considering the long-term implications of the Trump presidency: When Muslims are demonized, state-directed prejudice is more likely.

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The Boston Globe writes on Catholic priests, sex and the kids who resulted from it

The Boston Globe writes on Catholic priests, sex and the kids who resulted from it

The Boston Globe, which made headlines, won a Pulitzer and starred in a movie about its investigations into a vast scandal of sexually abusive priests, has come up with a postscript. Of the priests who didn’t go after underage children but who slept with consenting adult women, what happens to the resulting child?

The Globe has come out with a two-parter this month that answers that question. And it’s a depressing answer. Fifteen years have passed since its reporters first broke the sexual abuse stories and this time, there's videos to accompany the stories; videos of teary priests' children who can't get through a taping without breaking down.

The answer as to what happens to these kids is dismal. Most are heartbroken for life. Their only consolation is that, in knowing who their dad really is, all sorts of pieces in their lives that never made sense before suddenly do.

The first part begins with Jim Graham, a 48-year-old man who is realizing some things about his past do not add up. Then -

By any reasonable measure, there are thousands of others who have strong evidence that they are the sons and daughters of Catholic priests, though most are unaware that they have so much company in their pain. In Ireland, Mexico, Poland, Paraguay, and other countries, in American cities big and small — indeed, virtually anywhere the church has a presence — the children of priests form an invisible legion of secrecy and neglect, a Spotlight Team review has found.
Their exact number can’t be known, but with more than 400,000 priests worldwide, many of them inconstant in their promise of celibacy, the potential for unplanned children is vast. And this also comes through loud and plain: The sons and daughters of priests often grow up without the love and support of their fathers, and are often pressured or shamed into keeping the existence of the relationship a secret. They are the unfortunate victims of a church that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex, but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.

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Catholics are a crucial voice in world population debate, but do journalists know it?

Catholics are a crucial voice in world population debate, but do journalists know it?

Ever since President Donald Trump took office nearly three months ago, certain publications have made it nearly their full-time job to criticize every step his administration takes.

This is not to say they’re wrong, because the man is rather easy to attack. However, these newsrooms have stepped away from their original purpose and have evolved into something totally other than what I was seeking when I took out a subscription.

Take, for example, Foreign Policy Review, which used to provide me with wonderful dollops of the kind of foreign news I can’t find in any local newspaper.

Things have changed and today’s “voices” column is typical. “Can Trump Learn?” asks one columnist. “Donald Trump’s Presidency is an Assault on Women,” reads another. And then there’s “Is Trump Russia’s Useful Idiot or Has He Been Irreparably Compromised?”

On some of its foreign news dispatches, its coverage has shown the same singular focus. On April 3, it posted the following about a controversial UN fund that, among other things, funds abortions. Although that’s not quite how Foreign Policy Review words it:

The State Department announced Monday that it would cut funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a policy shift that could directly impact the lives of girls and women around the world.
Foggy Bottom claims that the UNFPA, which funds reproductive health and family planning in 150 countries around the world, “supports or participates in” the Chinese government’s policies of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization.

Now, the State Department is not the only entity that opposes the UNFPA. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a position paper placing the agency right in the center of China’s murderous “one child” policy. Continuing on:

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A year after Boy Scouts' decision to allow gay adult leaders, some awkward language from AP

A year after Boy Scouts' decision to allow gay adult leaders, some awkward language from AP

Is the awkward, passive language intentional or just bad writing?

That's my question about a single line that stands out to me in an Associated Press story on the Boy Scouts of America.

A few of our posts at that time: here, here and here.

Kudos to the AP for revisiting the decision at the one-year mark. 

However, this is one of those stories that feels squishy — as in broad, sweeping statements supported by quicksand — from the beginning. Throughout the piece, there are more anecdotes than hard data. Feel free to read the whole piece and tell me if I'm wrong.

The lede:

NEW YORK (AP) — There were dire warnings for the Boy Scouts of America a year ago when the group's leaders, under intense pressure, voted to end a long-standing blanket ban on participation by openly gay adults. Several of the biggest sponsors of Scout units, including the Roman Catholic, Mormon and Southern Baptist churches, were openly dismayed, raising the prospect of mass defections.
Remarkably, nearly 12 months after the BSA National Executive Board's decision, the Boy Scouts seem more robust than they have in many years. Youth membership is on the verge of stabilizing after a prolonged decline, corporations which halted donations because of the ban have resumed their support, and the vast majority of units affiliated with conservative religious denominations have remained in the fold — still free to exclude gay adults if that's in accordance with their religious doctrine.

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The Los Angeles Times omits a key (ghost!) detail in John Roberts retrospective

The Los Angeles Times omits a key (ghost!) detail in John Roberts retrospective

One odd innovation during the most recent GOP presidential candidates debate was how many candidates trashed Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Wasn’t he the savior for all conservatives some 10 years ago? Didn’t he trash the recent majority ruling on same-sex marriage in June?

Which is why I was interested to read a recent Los Angeles Times story on Roberts’ fall from grace, as it were. 

Several publications ran similar 10th anniversary pieces on Roberts' ascent to the high court this past week. The chief justice, by the way, just turned 60, so his influence on the court should last at least another 20 years, if he sticks around as long as some of the current 80-something justices.

Here is a crucial section of the Los Angeles Times piece. Might there be a crucial element of his work and worldview missing?

When a divided Supreme Court handed down six major rulings in the last week of June, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. came down firmly on the conservative side in five of them.
He voted against gay marriage, in favor of weakening a federal law against racial bias in housing and for the Arizona Republicans who challenged the state’s independent panel that draws election districts. He joined 5-4 majorities to block an Obama administration clean-air rule and to uphold a state's use of substitute drugs to carry out lethal injections.
But as Roberts this week marks the 10th anniversary of becoming chief ustice, he finds himself in the cross hairs of right-leaning pundits and GOP presidential hopefuls who brand him a disappointment and openly question his conservative credentials because of the one case of the six in which he voted with the court’s liberals.

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Will Justice Kennedy go against gay rights? The Los Angeles Times sure hopes not

Will Justice Kennedy go against gay rights? The Los Angeles Times sure hopes not

Much of this week’s news is the Supremes and gay marriage, so what could be a better introduction than a piece on the man who will probably be the swing vote in this great debate?

We are, of course, talking about Justice Anthony M. Kennedy who was profiled Monday in the Los Angeles Times, the day before oral arguments. The Times is a natural medium to look at considering that Kennedy’s career took an interesting turn in Sacramento. That’s where he issued a ruling that wondered out loud if homosexual acts between consenting adults might be a constitutional right.

The article begins as follows:

Anthony M. Kennedy was a 44-year-old appeals court judge in Sacramento -- a Republican appointee and happily-married Catholic -- when he first confronted the question of whether the Constitution protected the rights of gays and lesbians.
His answer in 1980 did not make him a gay rights hero. Kennedy upheld the Navy’s decision to discharge three service members for “homosexual acts.”
But less noticed in that somewhat reluctant opinion -- unusual for its time, just two weeks before Ronald Reagan was elected president -- were the doubts Kennedy raised about the constitutionality of laws criminalizing gay sex.  

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