US Catholic bishops

Big journalism question: Would new U.S. bishops hotline have nabbed 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick?

Big journalism question: Would new U.S. bishops hotline have nabbed 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick?

I have talked to quite a few Catholics in the past year — laypeople and journalists, mainly — and I have read quite a bit of commentary by Catholic clergy and other insiders.

There are two questions that I keep running into over and over. Both are relevant in light of the vote by U.S. Catholic bishops to create a third-party anonymous hotline that will handle accusations of misconduct by bishops, archbishops and cardinals. Here is a Crux summary of that:

The reporting system will be managed by an independent body that will receive complaints that will be reported to the metropolitan (or regional) archbishop who, in accordance with Pope Francis’s new ‘motu proprio’, Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”), is responsible for investigating claims against bishops.

Vos estis requires that local bishops’ conferences must establish a “public, stable and easily accessible” system for submitting abuse claims and also that the reports are sent to the metropolitans (or their senior suffragans if the report is against the metropolitan). In the United States, there are 32 territorial archdioceses (or metropolitans).

Here is the lede on the Washington Post story about that vote, which includes a blunt paraphrase of one possible implications of this decision, in terms of enforcement:

The U.S. Catholic bishops voted … to create the first national hotline for reporting sexual abuse committed by or mishandled by bishops. But they specified that the hotline send reports directly to other bishops, essentially demanding that the leaders of the scandal-plagued church police themselves instead of turning toward outside authorities.

Hold that thought.

This brings me back to the two questions that have haunted me over the past year. (1) Would abuse accusations against former cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick have reached the public without the existence of the Lay Review Board in the Archdiocese of New York? (2) Would the New York Times have published its bombshell stories about McCarrick — one of the most powerful U.S. Catholics ever, in terms of media clout — without the knowledge that this Lay Review Board existed and could report its findings?

The bottom line: Why is the involvement of laypeople such an important factor in the McCarrick story?

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Beach house sequel: Father Boniface Ramsey details his efforts to report 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

Beach house sequel: Father Boniface Ramsey details his efforts to report 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

The complex story of scandals linked to the life and sins of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick rolls on — with the most interesting material being reporting in various forms of Catholic media. In mainstream newsrooms, most of the coverage continues to focus on clergy abuse with children and teens.

As always, “seminaries” is the key search term to use, if you want to research news about the “system” looming over the scandal as a whole — which includes the sexual abuse of children (pedophilia), teens (ephebophilia) and adults (usually seminarians). The McCarrick story includes all three, but his sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians lasted for decades.

This past weekend, I used our regular “think piece” slot to point readers toward a Commonweal essay — “Double Lives” — by retired Newsweek religion pro Kenneth Woodward.

I normally don’t post “think piece” essays on weekdays, but this time I want to make an exception. The Commonweal team has followed that earlier Woodward essay with a first-person account by Father Boniface Ramsey of New York City, focusing on his efforts to convince church authorities to look into what McCarrick was doing, all those years.

The headline is pretty ho-hum, as in “The Case of Theodore McCarrick: A Failure of Fraternal Correction.” The contents? They’re stunning. It’s hard to know what to quote, since journalists working on this story really need to read it all.

The bottom line: Vatican authorities tend to use the word “rumors” to describe reports about McCarrick. Ramsey says that’s the wrong word. This passage is near the top of his piece:

What the seminarians would talk about among themselves and with some members of the faculty were experiences that they themselves had undergone, or that they had heard others had undergone. It may have been gossip, but it was gossip about real events.

Most people who have been following the case of Theodore McCarrick know by now that he had a beach house on the Jersey Shore at his disposal and that he would regularly request seminarians to visit it with him. This is how it went: he or his secretary would contact the seminary and ask for five specific seminarians, or would just contact the seminarians directly. Understandably, a request from one’s archbishop could not easily be refused.

When McCarrick and the five seminarians arrived at the beach house, there were six men and only five beds.

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'Usual suspects' offer Kavanaugh reactions: Can reporters find any new religious voices?

'Usual suspects' offer Kavanaugh reactions: Can reporters find any new religious voices?

Yes, it's time (trigger warning) to take another trip into the past with a rapidly aging religion-beat scribe. That would be me.

I hope this anecdote will help readers understand my point of view on some of the coverage, so far, of how "religious leaders" are reacting to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Click here for GetReligionista Julia Duin's initial post on this topic.

Let me stress that, in this case, I certainly think that it's appropriate to seek out the views of religious leaders who are in public life. In recent years, big rulings on church-state cases -- most linked to the First Amendment -- have rocked American politics and culture. There's no doubt about it: This is a religion-beat story.

But how do reporters decide which "usual suspects" to round up, when flipping through their files trying to decide who to quote?

So here is my flashback to the mid-1980s, while I was working at the late Rocky Mountain News. The setting is yet another press conference in which leaders of the Colorado Council of Churches gathered to address a hot-button news topic. If I remember correctly, it had something to do with immigration.

If you look at the current membership of this Colorado group, it's pretty much the same as it was then -- with one big exception. Back then, the CCC was made up of the usual suspects, in terms of liberal Protestantism, but the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver was cooperating in many ways (although, if I remember correctly, without covenant/membership ties). Today, the CCC includes an independent body called the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, which I have never heard of before. Needless to say, this is not the Catholic archdiocese.

So at this press conference, all of the religious leaders made their statements and most talked about diversity, stressing that they represented a wide range of churches.

In the question-and-answer session, I asked what I thought was a relevant question. I asked if -- other than the Catholic archdiocese -- any of them represented flocks that had more members in the 1980s than they did in the '60s or '70s. In other words, did they represent groups with a growing presence in the state (like the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)?

One or two of the clergy laughed. The rest stared at me like I was a rebellious child.

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Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

It's logical, if you stop and think about it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, your GetReligionistas focus our time and efforts on news that is published in the mainstream press.

Note: This is news that is PUBLISHED in newspapers, wire services, websites, etc. As opposed to what? News that is NOT published? Precisely.

We do have our "Got news?" thing, which is when we note that something really interesting is happening somewhere in America or the world and the big, elite media (as opposed to, let's say, specialty websites) haven't noticed it yet. Readers send us notes about that kind of thing all the time.

That helps. But let's face it: It's hard to critique coverage that doesn't exist.

With that in mind, let's consider this week's Baltimore Sun coverage of the meetings -- in Baltimore, of course -- of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

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U.S. Catholic bishops quietly offer update on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the pews

U.S. Catholic bishops quietly offer update on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the pews

The U.S. Catholic bishops just heard a major -- terrifying is a better word -- presentation on the doctrinal state of life in their pews, especially among the young. I realize that arguments about Pope Francis and politics are fun, and all that, but this new survey offered some really crucial stuff, folks, if you care about the future of the church (and the news that it makes).

Good luck trying to find this in the news today. Am I missing something? What are the magic search terms?

Meanwhile, sink your journalistic teeth into the Catholic News Agency story, which ran with this headline: "Agree to disagree: Why young Catholics pose a unique challenge for the Church."

For more than three years, a working group at the bishops’ conference has conducted research aimed at finding ways to more effectively communicate the Catholic faith.  The research examined “Catholics in the pew,” looking at why they accept or disregard Church teaching on various subjects.  ...

Many engaged parishioners, regular Mass attendees involved in parish life, demonstrate great pride in their faith and are deeply tied to their community, the study showed. However, they have a tendency to set aside rules that they do not understand, complain about the Church being involved in politics, and avoid causes that they see as “judgmental.”

And among the young? 

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The dance continues: Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops and alleged confusion in the press

The dance continues: Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops and alleged confusion in the press

The U.S. Catholic bishops are meeting in Baltimore and, as you would expect, the coverage -- so far -- has been framed in terms of the the liberal, friendly, compassionate agenda of Pope Francis and the nasty, legalistic, orthodox point of view of the bishops who are "culture warriors" on abortion, marriage, religious liberty, etc.

The top of this Associated Press report is perfect, in terms of capturing this framework:

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are gathering at a moment of turbulence for them and the American church, as Pope Francis moves toward crafting new policies for carrying out his mission of mercy -- a prospect that has conservative Catholics and some bishops in an uproar.
The assembly ... comes less than a month after Francis ended a dramatic Vatican meeting on how the church can more compassionately minister to Catholic families.
The gathering in Rome was only a prelude to a larger meeting next year which will more concretely advise Francis on church practice. Still, the open debate at the event, and the back and forth among bishops over welcoming gays and divorced Catholics who remarry, prompted stunning criticism from some U.S. bishops.

Actually, that is the top of an earlier version of the AP story, recovered via Wayback Machine. That text is now missing and the current version of that AP story, at the same URL, can be found by clicking here. There are some interesting differences ...

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Got news? Bishops stand on HHS mandate (updated)

What you see at the top of this post is the content of today’s Baltimore Sun report on yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Catholic bishops — or at least, many of them — to continue their high-stakes fight against the White House and its Health and Human Services mandate.

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A mere 1 million 20th century Christian martyrs? (updated)

Every now and then, a journalist gets pulled into a serious error when covering a speech or some other form of public presentation of complicated material.

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All together now: Archbishop Lori leads WHAT committee?

It’s that time, again. The U.S. Catholic bishops are back in Baltimore and the agenda includes the election of a new president to replace the remarkably charismatic (especially in his crucial mass-media duties) Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

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