The Tablet

Attention all newsroom managers: There will also be non-political news in 2019  

Attention all newsroom managers: There will also be non-political news in 2019  

We already know that in 2019 the news biz will be as consumed by All Things Trump as during the prior three and a half years. The media must also monitor countless maneuvers by countless Democratic presidential hopefuls. And there will be those ongoing eruptions in global politics.

If any column inches and air time are left over for our beat, the temptation will be to do those “religion and” stories, oh you know like predictable Donald Trump accolades from the media’s favorite evangelicals. On the big 2019 theme of whether the President can win a second term, The Guy reminds pundits for the umpteenth time that white Catholics outside the  Bible Belt will decide that.  

Most important, The Guy advises editors that audiences will welcome a bit of a break from political news. How about covering the more religious aspects of the religion beat like these three major 2019 stories?  

First, the top story of 2018, as the Dec. 5 Guy Memo proposed, is reports that the “CRISR” technique in November successfully produced the first newborns with engineered genes that  will be inherited by future generations. Biologists “playing God” to create human “designer babies” is an ethical quagmire that demands 2019 folo-ups.

Then, two vital and nearly simultaneous church events, one dealing with moral performance and the other with moral doctrine, will reverberate throughout the year.

Ready to mark those calendars?

Feb. 21-24 — Pope Francis has summoned the 135 heads of national  bishops’ conferences and comparable officers for a Vatican summit to cope with the disgusting and ceaseless cascade of priests who sexually molested underaged boys and girls (and the bishops and cardinals who hid them). The stakes could not be higher for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

This brings fierce memories of Pope John Paul II’s 2002 Vatican abuse confab with U.S. Catholic leaders (which The Guy covered for The AP alongside Rome Bureau legend Victor Simpson). Shortly thereafter, several hundred reporters (including The Guy alongside award-winning AP virtuoso Rachel Zoll) swamped the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Dallas that devised a cleanup plan.  

U.S. scandals then dominated the news. Since, it’s become obvious this is no “American crisis” but a worldwide one. The fact that victims’ suffering, scandals, cover-ups, malfeasance, investigations, lawsuits and bankruptcies persist 16 years later shows how intractable the moral rot has proven to be, with Cardinal Pell’s conviction the latest instance. 

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It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

The scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church the past few months are only intensifying.

The allegations to come out of Pennsylvania (as well as Ireland and Australia) and accusations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick not only revealed how much the church is hurting, but also the stark ideological split within it. These events have also seen a rise in the power of online media.

The growth of conservative Catholic outlets, for example, and their ability to break stories against “Uncle Ted” has coincided with the internal struggle contrasting what traditionalists see as inadequate news coverage from the mainstream media regarding Pope Francis’ leadership. Filling that void are conservative journalists and bloggers on a mission to expose what they see as the Vatican’s progressive hierarchy.

In 2002, an investigation by The Boston Globe unearthed decades of abuse by clergy never before reported to civil authorities (click here for links). These days, accusations of wrongdoing within the Catholic Church are being exposed by smaller news organizations. No longer are mainstream outlets setting the pace here. Depleted newsrooms and not wanting to do negative stories about the pontiff have spurred conservative Catholic media to fill the journalism void.

Indeed, it’s a small group of influential blogs and news websites that has helped to inform millions as well as drive the debate.

The sex-abuse scandals that dominated news coverage over the summer are not going away. In the latest allegations to hit the U.S church, John Jenik, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, is under investigation after being accused of sexual abuse. First to the punch with the story soon after Cardinal Timothy Dolan made the announcement was CruxNow, a Catholic news site, and not any of the three competitive New York City dailies.

The revelations regarding Jenik could be just the start of a new flood of allegations going into 2019. The Justice Department recently sent a request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the country ordering them not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse cases. The request to preserve those files, first reported by the blog Whispers in the Loggia, is yet another sign that the prove is expanding after the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

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Why do churches baptize infants? Why did ancient churches baptize people of all ages?

Why do churches baptize infants? Why did ancient churches baptize people of all ages?

THE QUESTION:

Why do most Christian churches baptize babies?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This classic issue unexpectedly popped up as news on June 23 due to an Irish Times interview with Mary McAleese, an attorney and the former president of Ireland. McAleese assailed her Catholic Church for its practice of baptizing infants shortly after birth with parents making vows on their behalf.

That treats children as “infant conscripts who are held to lifelong obligations of obedience,” she protested, and that’s a violation of their human rights. “You can’t impose, really, obligations on people who are only two weeks old” or inform them “at seven or eight or 14 or 19 here is what you contracted; here is what you signed up to,” because they did not give their own consent to be church members.

To her, the church’s age-old baptismal practice “worked for many centuries because people didn’t understand that they had the right to say no, the right to walk away.” But she says modern people “have the right to freedom of conscience” although “the Catholic Church has yet toi fully embrace that thinking.”

Baptist-type churches that arose in the Protestant Reformation, and many of today’s independent evangelical congregations, agree with McAleese and practice “believer’s baptism” based on the personal decision of each individual. The Church of God in Christ, probably the largest African-American denomination, puts its outlook this way: Baptism “is an outward demonstration that one has already had a conversion experience and has accepted Christ as his personal savior.”

Groups that baptize only youths and adult converts, not babies, almost always insist that the rite involve full bodily immersion in water, not mere pouring of water over the head as in normal Catholic practice.


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Diamonds, divas, devils: Where Catholicism, fashion, satire, news and commentary mix?

Diamonds, divas, devils: Where Catholicism, fashion, satire, news and commentary mix?

There’s been a lot written already about that killer fashion show in New York last week that mixed Catholicism and celebrities with couture designed by people who grew up in the faith but no longer attend church.

There were no hair shirts to be seen, but everything else that could be linked to Catholic practice or devotion was on display on peoples' bodies at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Benefit on May 7. The annual event is a high holy day of fashion where guests vie to see who can have the most outrageous get-up.

Catholic traditions range from guardian angels to Guadalupe icons; all of them infinitely easier to cast into film and culture (has anyone done a movie about Protestants like Martin Scorcese's "The Silence" about Jesuits in 17th-century Japan?). The Met, in the biggest show it's ever staged, tried to draw them all in.

So we read first, from the Associated Press:

NEW YORK -- Delicate veils, jeweled crowns and elaborate trains made up the holy trinity of haute couture at Monday’s religion-themed Met Gala.

Bella Hadid held court as a gothic priestess (is that a thing?), as her gold-embroidered headpiece fanned out over a simple black corset and skirt. The dramatic look was topped off with a structured, embossed leather jacket, emblazoned with a gold cross.

Kate Bosworth’s pearl-encrusted veil draped over a shimmering tulle gown by Oscar de la Renta, while Mindy Kaling donned a regal, blue-jeweled crown with a feminine silver gown and navy gloves. Kaling stars in the upcoming “Ocean’s 8,” a jewelry heist romp set at the Met Gala.

If anyone can make a mitre modern, it’s Rihanna. The Grammy-winning artist arrived dripping in pearls and crystals in a Maison Margiela Artisanal minidress and ornate robe. 

This AP piece (two writers were apparently assigned to the occasion) did include a reference to the actual Catholic prelate in attendance:

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Christian Century does winning profile of Catholic cleric who 'steals' Protestant evangelism tricks

Christian Century does winning profile of Catholic cleric who 'steals' Protestant evangelism tricks

I’ve only been to Halifax once and the visit was brief. But Atlantic Canada, as that section of the country is called, is not exactly known as a revival center and the province of Quebec next door is a graveyard for churches.

Thus, I was surprised to find a piece in the Christian Century about an enterprising Catholic priest who cheerfully admits to stealing church-growth ideas from evangelical American Protestants. His primary instrument is the Anglican evangelistic program Alpha.

These ideas aren’t entirely new, as charismatic Catholics have been appropriating Protestant methods since the 1970s. But this time, the institutional church is taking notice.

As the article begins:

"Do you know what amazes me about Father Mallon’s book?” I said to Pavel Reid, head of outreach for the Archdiocese of Vancouver. Reid had just told me that Catholic dioceses across Canada were using Mallon’s book Divine Renovation as a guide to parish renewal.
“Let me guess,” said Reid. “That he stole it all from the Protestants?”
Precisely.
James Mallon, pastor of Saint Benedict Parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was recently named vicar for parish renewal throughout Canada. He has fielded more than 150 speaking requests since the 2014 publication of Divine Renovation, a book that has gone through multiple printings and been translated into French and Spanish. Divine Renovation and its sequel, Divine Renovation Guidebook (2016), are full of insights from people such as Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Andy Stanley, and from the Alpha course, an Anglican evangelization video series. Mallon jokes that he subscribes to the CASE method—“copy and steal everything.” And it’s mostly Protestant practices that he’s been stealing.

If you can’t beat them, join them?

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Covering Linda Sarsour: When press affirms those who say 'jihad' has only one meaning

Covering Linda Sarsour: When press affirms those who say 'jihad' has only one meaning

The recasting of the word “jihad” is one of the greatest propaganda triumphs of the 21st century. The contemporary spiritualizing of the word to mean merely something akin to an inner struggle would have been news to the half of the known world who were conquered by Islamic armies in the 7th , 8th  and 9th  centuries across southern Europe.

(For a fascinating treatment of what jihad was like in medieval Spain as it was being sacked by Muslim armies in the 8th century, you must read “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise,” a new book out by Dario Fernandez-Morera).

Thus, it’s no surprise that the use of the j-word by a Muslim activist caused quite a ruckus recently. As the Washington Post reported:

Linda Sarsour, a lead organizer of the Women’s March on Washington and one of the most high-profile Muslim activists in the country, gave an impassioned speech last weekend that at first gained little attention.
Speaking to a predominately Muslim crowd at the annual Islamic Society of North America convention in suburban Chicago, Sarsour urged her fellow Muslims to speak out against oppression.
In her speech, Sarsour told a story from Islamic scripture about a man who once asked Muhammad, the founder of Islam, “What is the best form of jihad, or struggle?
“And our beloved prophet … said to him, ‘A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad,'” Sarsour said.
“I hope that … when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”

I agree that one should be allowed to speak frankly to one’s own group but Sarsour is smart enough to know that the word “jihad” carries a lot of baggage.

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Can anti-Trump U.S. Jews and Muslims put aside historic differences to work together over time?

Can anti-Trump U.S. Jews and Muslims put aside historic differences to work together over time?

Negative circumstances can sometimes produce a surprisingly positive results. That's the case now with American Jews and Muslims as an outgrowth of the wave of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts currently making unwanted headlines.

An increasing number of groups and individuals within the two religious communities -- historically wary of cooperating because of their profound political differences over Israel and the causes of Islamic-inspired terrorism -- have come to each others' assistance in response to the incidents.

If you haven't kept up with this twist, the following stories can bring you up to speed.

This one's from USA Today. Here's a second from NBC News. And here's one from The Los Angeles Times.

It's a step forward when generally estranged communities come to each other's aid. But let's be realistic.

This new-found cooperation does not for a second offset the gravity of the hateful incidents, which have also impacted non-Muslim, non-white immigrants.

Nor does it mean that the cooperation will continue once the current crisis passes, which I certainly hope is soon. I say this because this scenario has played out before.

The 1994 Oslo peace accord signing is one such instance. American Jews and Muslims fervently embraced cooperation then, only to back away from each other when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heated up yet again. Anger and distrust on both sides forced the swift pull back.

So my advice to journalists covering this story is to be careful not to over inflate the strength of this cooperation.

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Did the Vatican lie about abuse reforms? GlobalPost says so, but doesn't shoot straight

Did the Vatican lie about abuse reforms? GlobalPost says so, but doesn't shoot straight

The Vatican didn’t talk. A critic talked. Guess how the story turned out?

USA Today's story, on a layman who says the church's effort to stem child abuse is a sham, is defensibly derogatory. As I've said often, you usually can't stop a story by stonewalling media. You only succeed in giving your foes the sole say.

That's one thing. It's another thing to link the commission piece with a previous story on an anti-abuse training session for bishops. It's still another thing not to make sure you have the latest info.

Here's the top:

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — A member of a commission set up by Pope Francis to advise him on child abuse says the group is a "token body" exercising in "smoke and mirrors" that won’t help children stay safe from abusive priests.
Peter Saunders, the commission member, is now on a leave of absence as he considers whether to continue with an effort he says he has lost faith in.
Meanwhile, new Catholic bishops are still being taught they’re not obliged to report cases of child abuse by priests to the police.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which Francis set up with much fanfare in 2014, was supposed to issue guidelines for the Vatican on how to deal with child abuse. But the body was never consulted about the training for new bishops on exactly that topic.
These are just some of the signs that Francis’ reform efforts, and his pledge to clean up the Catholic Church’s most damaging crisis, seem to be unraveling before they’ve even really gotten started.

The article is a reprint from GlobalPost, a news site based in Boston. GlobalPost partners with older media including NBC News and NPR, as well as USA Today. The piece on Saunders is a spinoff of the site's yearlong investigation of accused priestly abusers, saying several from America and Europe were sent to "poor, remote parishes." GlobalPost evidently saw Pope Francis' visit to the continent as a good time hook.

Apparently, the news site also called Saunders, rather than wait for him to call them:

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State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

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