Vatican II

An issue that never goes away: What do U.S. religious groups teach about abortion?

An issue that never goes away: What do U.S. religious groups teach about abortion?

THE QUESTION:

What do U.S. religious groups teach about the contentious abortion issue?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Remarkably, the abortion issue is as contentious as when the U.S. Supreme Court liberalized law 46 years ago, with new state restrictions injecting it into courtrooms and the 2020 campaign. The following scans significant teachings by major religious denominations.

The Catholic Church, the largest religious body in the U.S. (and globally), opposes abortion, without exceptions. A Vatican Council II decree from the world’s bishops declares that “from the moment of its conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care,” and calls  abortions “abominable crimes.” The official Catechism says the same and dates this belief back to Christianity’s first century (Didache 2:2, Epistle of Barnabas 19:5).

Eastern Orthodox and Catholic leaders have jointly affirmed “our common teaching that life begins at the earliest moments of conception” and is “sacred” through all stages of development. However, America’s 53-member Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops acknowledges “rare but serious medical instances where mother and child may require extraordinary actions.”

A Southern Baptist Convention resolution before the Supreme Court ruling advocated permission in cases of “rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity” or damage to a mother’s “emotional, mental, and physical health.” The SBC later shifted toward strict conservatism on many matters. A 2018 resolution affirms “the full dignity of every unborn child” and denounces abortion “except to save the mother’s physical life.”

Two United Methodist Church agencies helped establish the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (since renamed Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) to champion women’s unimpeded choice. But the 2016 UMC conference directed the agencies to leave the coalition, and voted to withdraw endorsement, upheld since 1976, of the Supreme Court’s “legal right to abortion.” The UMC recognizes “tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify” abortion. It opposes late-term abortion except for danger to the mother’s “physical life” or “severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.”

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As Pope Benedict XVI re-enters the fray, experts take broad look at U.S. Catholicism

As Pope Benedict XVI re-enters the fray, experts take broad look at U.S. Catholicism

Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden emergence from the cloister may well prove to be the religion story of the year.

The media speculated on how things would work six years ago when Benedict broke precedent to abdicate instead of serving as pope till death, to be  succeeded by Pope Francis. Benedict largely maintained silence, lest Catholics think they had two popes. That period ended with a flash last week when conservative Catholic outlets released Benedict’s remarkable 6,000-word  analysis of the Catholic Church’s unrelenting scandals over priests’ sexual abuse of underage victims.

Benedict, who said he cleared the publication with Pope Francis, evidently felt he must plunge into the debate because he thinks the reigning pontiff’s February summit meeting on the sexual-abuse crisis was a flop and the church has not solved this severe and enervating crisis (nor did it when Benedict himself was in charge). Media on both the Catholic right and left said Benedict and his allies are setting up a  clash with his more liberal successor on the causes and cures of the scandal. 

Benedict sees alienation from God as the heart of the matter, with relaxed attitudes toward sin and sex from secular culture that infiltrated the priesthood from secular culture, while “homosexual cliques … significantly changed the climate” in seminaries.

Meanwhile, Francis and his allies stress the need for internal structural reforms in the church. (For what it’s worth, The Guy suspects both pontiffs are correct on the Catholic emergency.)    

What should reporters be doing in the wake of Francis’s summit,  Benedict’s breakout, and ongoing news?

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Vatican archives coverage was missed chance to dig into John Paul II's Jewish outreach

Vatican archives coverage was missed chance to dig into John Paul II's Jewish outreach

The announcement by Pope Francis that the Vatican had decided to open up the its archives on World War II-era Pope Pius XII — long criticized by many for staying largely silent during the Holocaust and the horrors committed by the Nazis — flooded the internet.

Got news? Words like “secret” and “files” are catnip for editors looking to fill news budgets at the start of the week.

That’s why the so-called “Friday news dump” has become such a thing in recent years, especially among politicians attempting to bury bad news at the start of the weekend when people pay less attention. In the case of Pope Francis, there’s no hiding an announcement that could forever alter Catholic-Jewish relations going forward.

Lost in all the intrigue of these Holocaust-era archives was the chance by mainstream news outlets to give some broader context for what all this means regarding Catholic-Jewish relations and the complicated history between these two faith traditions. There are several factors as to why the news coverage didn’t feature more depth. The lack of religion beat writers (an issue discussed on this website at great length over the years) and the frenetic pace of the internet to write a story (and quickly move on to another) are two of the biggest hurdles of this story and so many others.

A general sweep of the coverage shows that news organizations barely took on the issue — or even bothered to give a deeper explanation — of past Christian persecution of Jews and the efforts made since the Second Vatican Council, and later by Saint Pope John Paul II, to bring healing to this relationship.

The news coverage surrounding the announcement that the archives would be released in 2020 — eight years earlier than expected — was largely collected from an article published in Italian by Vatican News, the official news website of the Holy See. In it, Pope Francis is quoted as saying, “The church is not afraid of history. On the contrary, she loves it and would like to love it more and better, just as she loves God.”

What would have triggered a “sidebar story” or a “timeline” in the days of newspapers, is largely lost in the digital age. Both would have certainly included the name and work of John Paul II.

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Intermarriage on the rise: How does Catholicism view Catholic-Jewish weddings?

Intermarriage on the rise: How does Catholicism view Catholic-Jewish weddings?

ELEANOR’S QUESTION:

Is it sinful for Catholics to attend a wedding between a Catholic and a Jew, performed by a rabbi?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

No.

But there’s much more to be said about how Catholicism views interfaith marriages. (The church is more open on this than those who adhere to Jewish tradition, as we’ll discuss below.)

An official U.S. Catholic website says that until recent decades “the idea of a Catholic marrying outside the faith was practically unheard of, if not taboo,” and such ceremonies never occurred publicly in a church sanctuary. Yet today, in some parts of the U.S. up to 40 percent of Catholics are in “ecumenical marriages” between Christians of differing affiliations, or “interfaith marriages” with non-Christians.

The site says “because of the challenges that arise, . . . the church doesn’t encourage” interfaith marriage but does seek to support such couples and “help them to meet those challenges with a spirit of holiness.” Under the law code that covers all Catholics worldwide, says a Canon Law Society of America commentary, there’ve been “extensive changes” in the direction of leniency in marriage rules since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and mixed marriages have become “more commonplace and socially acceptable.”

In Catholic belief, a marriage between a Catholic and a Jew (or someone from another non-Christian religion) is not a “sacrament.” Importantly, this doesn’t mean the church questions that the couple is truly married as a civil matter, nor does it express any disrespect toward Judaism, with which Christianity has such great affinity.

The technical term used in marriages with non-Christians is “the impediment of disparity of cult.” If an interfaith couple wishes a wedding in a Catholic church, canon law prescribes that the local bishop must issue a “dispensation” on the basis of “just and reasonable cause,” which occurs far more routinely than in past times.


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Why has anti-Semitism persisted throughout history?

Why has anti-Semitism persisted throughout history?

THE QUESTION:

How did anti-Semitism originate and why has this prejudice been so persistent throughout history?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

It’s often said that history’s longest-running prejudice is anti-Semitism, hostility toward Jews as individuals or as a group. (The term was coined in 1879 by an anti-Semitic German journalist!)  This is no bygone social affliction but an ever-present problem made pertinent by numerous recent events.

Though the U.S. champions religious freedom, not so long ago its prestige universities limited Jewish enrollment while realtors and elite country cluhs drew lines against Jews. More recently, in a 2014 Trinity College survey, 54 percent of U.S. Jewish college students nationwide said they’d personally “experienced” or “witnessed” anti-Semitism. Since only 23 percent identified as religious, this was largely socio-ethnic prejudice. In a similar 2011 survey in Britain, 51 percent of collegians said they observed anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League reported 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. during 2017, a 57 percent increase over 2016. There’ve been verbal attacks from figures in the Women’s March and the Nation of Islam, and President Trump’s odd response to an infamous neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va. Bizarrely, a Washington, D.C., Council member even blamed a legendary Jewish clan, the Rothschilds, for “controlling the climate.”

Overseas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated in April that modern Israel was a colonial plot that “has nothing to do with Jews,” as though they lacked any presence in the Holy Land the past 4,000 years. He blamed the Holocaust not on Nazi anti-Semitism but the Jews’ own “social behavior, [charging of] interest, and financial matters.”

At a March “global forum for combating antisemitism” in Jerusalem, speakers cited growing concern over developments among right-wing parties and Muslim immigrants in Europe, within Britain’s Labour Party, and Iran, ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah.

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As year six begins, Pope Francis’s devotion to Mary shows a traditionalist streak

As year six begins, Pope Francis’s devotion to Mary shows a traditionalist streak

Liberal Catholics have often rejoiced, and Catholic conservatives have sometimes grumbled, over Pope Francis, who was elected on March 13, five years ago.

A Pew Research survey (.pdf here) released in time for the anniversary shows 84 percent of U.S. Catholics over-all have a favorable opinion of Francis -- but 55 percent of Catholic Republicans find him “too liberal” (up from 23 percent in 2015). Yes, it would have been nice to see some survey questions framed in doctrinal terms, rather than this political reference point.

 A new decree on the Virgin Mary reminds reporters going forward that the pontiff does have a traditionalist streak worth remembering, as surely as there’s a perennially interesting feature theme in how Catholicism honors the mother of Jesus Christ and the resulting ecumenical conflict.

Upon endorsement from Francis, the new decree was issued March 3 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. (Why such convoluted titles at the Vatican?). It states that all church calendars and liturgies will now honor Mary as the “Mother of the Church” the day after Pentecost Sunday, also citing her “divine motherhood” and “intimate union in the work of the Redeemer.”

This is an annual “memorial,” the lowest level of recognition in worship. But higher “solemnities” with obligatory Mass attendance are already on the universal calendar, hailing Mary under the dogmas of her bodily Assumption into heaven (August 15) and her Immaculate Conception free from original sin (December 8). Those provide yearly feature pegs.

Writers who want to develop this aspect of the pope’s personal piety should read a 2015 rundown in the doctrinally conservative National Catholic Register. For instance, twelve hours after the cardinals elected Francis, he quietly visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major to venerate the icon of Mary as the Protectress of the Romans.

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GetReligion readers! Help with research project linked to one thing about Lenten news

GetReligion readers! Help with research project linked to one thing about Lenten news

Western liturgical Christians (and a few other believers, these days): I hope you are having a blessed Ash Wednesday and not getting into any trouble at work.

In newsrooms, the days just before Ash Wednesday officially open the season in which lots of editors and non-religion-beat reporters scramble to try to find photo-ops and maybe even easy stories linked to something that is going on called "Lent" and, eventually, "Easter."

This year, the calendar yielded a perfectly valid news hook, as captured in this headline from Religion News Service: "When Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, what’s a clergyperson to do?" What happens when the waves of advertisements for jewels and chocolate collide with centuries of Catholic -- large "C" or small "c" -- tradition?

(RNS) -- For many this year, Feb. 14 is a day of mixed messages. It’s Valentine’s Day, a time for chocolate, roses and perhaps a dinner date. But it’s also Ash Wednesday, which for many Christians is the start of Lent, a period of penitence that precedes Easter Sunday.
How do clergy reconcile this calendar clash, the first of its kind since 1945? 

Eventually, attention will return to Lent itself, the penitential season (in the West) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. In the ancient traditions of Eastern Christianity, Great Lent begins this year -- on the older Julian calendar -- this coming Sunday, Feb. 18, with a service called Forgiveness Vespers, a beautiful rite that would be worthy of coverage. This year, Easter is on April 1 and, for the Orthodox, Pascha is on April 8.

Now, journalists -- on or off the religion-news beat -- what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Lent? There are lots of facts and traditions linked to this season (the Orthodox go vegan for the whole thing), but I would assume that most people think, well, of one thing.

Right, what is the one thing you will give up for Lent? Chocolate? Colas? Facebook? While thinking that through, check out the top of this new Rick Hamlin commentary at The New York Times: "What Will You Give Up for Lent?"

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C'Mon Washington Post! Tell us more about that new Smithonian religion expert

C'Mon Washington Post! Tell us more about that new Smithonian religion expert

If you pay attention to sports, and I know that some GetReligion readers do, then you are probably familiar with the ESPN "C'Mon Man!" feature.

The whole idea is rather simple. When a player, referee or fan does something strange or inexplicable -- usually it's an embarrassing mistake -- this phrase is what you are allowed to shout at the field or television screen. When this happens in journalism today, people make references to spitting coffee on keyboards.

However, I do not drink coffee. So we are going with a "C'Mon Man!" reference when dealing with an interesting detail in that short Washington Post feature that ran the other day with this headline: "The Smithsonian now has its first religion curator since the 1890s."

Let me be clear: There is a lot of fun and fascinating material in this piece. I just have a question or two about the need for follow-up on one prominent detail right at the top. Let's see if you can spot it.

Peter Manseau was born for this job.
The son of a priest and a nun, Manseau was meant to be a scholar making sense of religion. Now his job, as the Smithsonian’s first curator of religion in more than a century, is to remind Americans of our nation’s religious history, in all its diversity, messiness, import and splendor.
“You can’t tell the story of America,” he said, “without the role of religion in it.”

Yes, I am talking about that phrase noting that Manseau is the "son of a priest and a nun."

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Got news? Will anyone cover that historic, and now shaky, Orthodox council in Crete?

Got news? Will anyone cover that historic, and now shaky, Orthodox council in Crete?

Every couple of centuries or so, the leaders of Christianity's ancient Orthodox churches get together to talk about issues of theology or church governance. It helps if everyone agrees that there is some kind of crisis that simply has to be addressed.

It also helps if everyone shows up. The whole point is for the church to speak as one body.

That's been rather complicated, you might say, since the Great East-West Schism of 1054. The ancient church of Rome has held its own great councils, after that ecclesiastical earthquake. The ancient churches of the East have not.

That's why it's rather important that, for 50 years, Orthodox leaders have been wrestling with the idea of a Pan-Orthodox Council. After a 1,000-year gap, there may some items of business to discuss. You think?

That council is now days away -- if it takes place. Several Orthodox churches have already pulled out or suggested that they plan to do so, for reasons that some might call "Byzantine." It's especially crucial that the ancient church of Antioch -- involved in a tussle with the symbolic, but now tiny and oppressed, church of Constantinople -- has called for a delay until painful problems can be resolved.

The meeting is supposed to happen in Crete. Why Crete? Because pretty much everyone agrees that it cannot, for myriad reasons, safely be held in Istanbul, in the allegedly secular state of Turkey.

It you were looking for a symbol of all of that, you might cite the issue of Ramadan prayers being broadcast from inside Hagia Sophia (click here for background), a once great Christian cathedral that is now a UNESCO historic site. For decades it has been considered neutral ground for Muslims and Christians, serving a massive cultural icon and museum.

Here's the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I discussed in this week's GetReligion podcast: Have you been hearing about any of this in news coverage here in America? Click here to tune that in.

So where would one need to go to find mainstream news coverage of this international story?

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