liturgy

Follow the money? By all means. But Bransfield scandal may involve some 'Catholic' issues

Follow the money? By all means. But Bransfield scandal may involve some 'Catholic' issues

It’s time for another trip into my GetReligion folder of guilt. That’s where news features go that I know are important, but I cannot — quickly — spot the issue that is nagging me.

Thus, the story gets filed away, while I keep thinking about it.

In this case, we are talking about a Washington Post story that is an important follow-up on the newspaper’s investigation into charges of corruption against Catholic Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of West Virginia — an important disciple of the fallen cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick. Click here for the first GetReligion post on this topic, by Bobby Ross, Jr.

The headline on this new expose states: “Warnings about West Virginia bishop went unheeded as he doled out cash gifts to Catholic leaders.” Yes, this story is about money, money, money and then more money.

Oh, there is some signs of sexual harassment of seminarians in there, but that doesn’t seem to interest the Post team. And there are hints that some of the conflicts surrounding Bransfield may have had something to do with Catholicism. Maybe. Hold that thought because we will come back to it. Here is the overture:

Senior Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican began receiving warnings about West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield as far back as 2012. In letters and emails, parishioners claimed that Bransfield was abusing his power and misspending church money on luxuries such as a personal chef, a chauffeur, first-class travel abroad and more than $1 million in renovations to his residence.

“I beg of you to please look into this situation,” Linda Abrahamian, a parishioner from Martinsburg, W.Va., wrote in 2013 to the pope’s ambassador to the United States.

But Bransfield’s conduct went unchecked for five more years. He resigned in September 2018 after one of his closest aides came forward with an incendiary inside account of years of sexual and financial misconduct, including the claim that Bransfield sought to “purchase influence” by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash gifts to senior Catholic leaders.

“It is my own opinion that His Excellency makes use of monetary gifts, such as those noted above, to higher ranking ecclesiastics and gifts to subordinates to purchase influence from the former and compliance or loyalty from the latter,” Monsignor Kevin Quirk wrote to William Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore, in a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

Then there is the big thesis statement:

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Surprise: Washington Post covers only one side of Episcopal Church prayerbook debate

Surprise: Washington Post covers only one side of Episcopal Church prayerbook debate

One of the central truths of religion-beat life is very hard to explain to editors, who primarily award news-value points based on whether a story is linked to partisan politics (these days, that means Donald Trump) and/or sexuality.

However, people who sweat the details at pew level know that, if you want to cause mass confusion (no pun intended), then what you need to do is change the hymnals and liturgical rites used by the faithful.

While this reality affects several flocks, Episcopal Church battles over The Book of Common Prayer have drawn the most ink in the past. The relatively modest coverage of recent debates among Episcopalians over same-sex marriage rites and the gender of God was probably a sign of how much the liberal Protestant brand has faded, in terms of providing sure-fire news hooks. Many journalists may be waiting for the upcoming United Methodist showdown.

However, the Washington Post, to its credit, did offer modest coverage of recent Episcopal Church efforts to further modernize the denomination's worship. As is usually the case, the Episcopalians managed to move forward -- in terms of progress for the doctrinal left -- while being careful at the same time, so as not to frighten elderly donors.

If you were a secular editor who didn't know the players and the rules of the Episcopal game, what would you make of this story's overture?

After more than a week of debate among church leaders about whether God should be referred to by male pronouns -- and about the numerous other issues that come up when writing a prayer book -- the Episcopal Church has decided to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that Episcopalian worshipers hold dear.

The question now is when it will happen.

At the denomination’s triennial conference ... leaders considered a plan that would have led to a new prayer book in 2030. They voted it down.

“There’s no timeline for it,” said the Very Rev. Samuel Candler, chair of the committee on prayer book revision. “There’s no A-B-C-D plan. ..."

So, did the convention vote to create a new prayerbook, complete with gender-neutral language for God and official same-sex marriage rites, or not?

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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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New York Times trips on pope's 'Lord's Prayer' story, but Houston Chronicle recovers

New York Times trips on pope's 'Lord's Prayer' story, but Houston Chronicle recovers

If it is possible to be simultaneously perceptive and as dense as odium, which I believe is the most dense material on the planet, then The New York Times is our winner.

Someone decided to head a report on something Pope Francis is thinking about in this manner: "Lost in Translation? Pope Ponders an Update to Lord’s Prayer." Yes, the word "update" appears in the first paragraph, too, but I wonder if it's the right word to use.

More on that in just a moment. Meanwhile, take in the opening of this story:

ROME -- It has been a question of theological debate and liturgical interpretation for years, and now Pope Francis has joined the discussion: Does the Lord’s Prayer, Christendom’s resonant petition to the Almighty, need an update?
In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer -- “lead us not into temptation” -- was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.
“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”
In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

My first journalism problem is that word "update." We are, after all, talking about the meaning of words taken from scripture, words ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth, no less. I'm not at all certain the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church is into "updating" Scripture.

It may seem like a minor point, but words do matter. What I believe the pope is suggesting is perhaps a revised translation, but that's not an update, is it? Is the actual issue a matter of translation?

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Reading a newspaper story (about a prayerbook) through Richard Pryor's eyes

Reading a newspaper story (about a prayerbook) through Richard Pryor's eyes

"Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” So saith Richard Pryor in his 1982 film “Live on the Sunset Strip."

Caught in flagrante delicto with another woman by his wife, Pryor’s character in his stand up comedy routine denies the claims of objective reality by reference to a higher authority -- himself.

Reading the Miami Herald’s recent story entitled “Long overdue: This book was stolen in 1840. Now it’s back on the library shelf” shook loose this phrase from the windmills of my mind.

You might well ask why I would think of Richard Pryor when reading a light news item concerning the return of an overdue Irish library book. I am seldom subject to Richard Pryor flashbacks. However, the text of this story -- which was distributed via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s syndication service -- is rather odd and speaks to a reporter unfamiliar with his subject matter.

But it was the illustration that accompanied the article that was immediately problematic. SImply put -- nothing matches. What is written in the article does not match what is presented in the accompanying illustrations.

The lede begins: 

A book published in 1666, believed to be one of only two in the country of its kind, was returned to Marsh’s Library in Ireland after going missing for nearly 180 years.
The book, a prayer guide of sorts for members of the old Church of England, was brought back to the library by none other than a priest, who found the 17th Century tome while going through a pile of dusty books in his Monkstown parish rectory, according to the Irish Sun. It had been missing since 1840, when it was taken from the library’s reading room. This wasn’t one that could be checked out.

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Anglicans OK casual-dress liturgical option: Did The Guardian know this is part of an old war?

Anglicans OK casual-dress liturgical option: Did The Guardian know this is part of an old war?

As a rule, your GetReligionistas critique religion-beat stories in the mainstream press when journalists get something really right or really wrong. Often we simply note the presence of "religion ghosts" in stories, our term for a religion-shaped hole in the content that makes it hard for readers to know what is going on.

On weekends, I often point readers toward "think pieces" linked to religion-beat trends and issues -- essays, op-ed page columns, etc. -- that we wouldn't normally feature, because of our emphasis on basic news reporting.

The following piece from The Guardian -- "Clergy to ditch their robes in further sign of dress-down Britain" -- is a little bit of all of this.

First, it's a news piece about a highly symbolic and rather edgy decision made by the Church of England. Second, it contains material that -- think-piece style -- points to larger trends in England. Finally, while the story is pretty solid, it does contain an important hole that editors could have filled with a few sentences of content by a religion-beat pro who knew what she or he was doing.

The overture does a great job of putting this church decision in a wider cultural context:

First it was ties in parliament, now it is surplices at communion.
Following Speaker John Bercow’s decision last month to relax the convention requiring male MPs to wear jackets and ties in parliament, the Church of England is to allow clergy to conduct services in civvies.
The C of E’s ruling body, the synod, meeting in York, has given final approval to a change in canon law on “the vesture of ordained and authorised ministers during the time of divine service”. The measure needs to be approved by the Queen, who swapped her crown for a hat at last month’s state opening of parliament in another sign of dress-down Britain.

So what, pray tell, is a "surplice"? What are "vestments"?

This is where The Guardian team needed to add a few extra sentences. For starters, the editors seemed to think that all Christian bodies are branches on the same tree, when it comes to traditions about liturgical details. Instead, this latest Anglican innovation is yet another sign of a church body moving toward Protestant influences and away from it's ties to ancient Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

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Beam me up, Church of Scotland: Some details missing in mini-feature about online baptism

Beam me up, Church of Scotland: Some details missing in mini-feature about online baptism

Religion News service had me at the headline on this report from the other side of the pond: "Church of Scotland to consider online baptisms, Communion."

I think that's part of my problem with this very, very short news story.

Now, when you hear the phrase "online Communion," what image do you get in your mind's eye? At the very least, is has to be a rather Protestant image in that it involves worship taking place in a digital, online, visual environment -- with the person on the other side of this liturgical encounter actually consuming analog bread and wine (or something).

Where do the Communion elements come from? Are they shipped to the online flock members, perhaps through a liturgical variation on Amazon Prime? Do the worshippers provide their own elements (raising the previously "or something" issue).

These are questions that any journalist would ask, right? I mean, don't we need to define our terms?

This brings me to the totally new sacramental concept -- at least for me, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian -- that is included in this report. What, precisely, is a rite of "online baptism"? Here is the context:

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) -- The Church of Scotland will launch a two-year investigation into the possibility of introducing online baptisms, Communion and other Christian sacraments.
The church, known as The Kirk, has seen its rolls fall by almost one-third between 2004 and 2015, to just under 364,000 members. 

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Wine? Juice? Water? Wheat bread? What should be served at Holy Eucharist?

Wine? Juice? Water? Wheat bread? What should be served at Holy Eucharist?

GORDON’S QUESTION:

Why do some Christians use (unfermented) grape juice or leavened bread in Communion since what was on the table at the Last Supper was almost certainly unleavened bread and fermented wine?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Bible records that on the night of Jesus’ arrest he blessed and distributed bread saying “take; this is my body,”  and shared a cup saying “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” He concluded with “do this in remembrance of me,” and billions of Christians have done just that across the centuries in rites known as Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Mass, Holy Eucharist or Divine Liturgy.

Historians assume that, yes, Jesus’ “Last Supper” would have consisted of commonplace fermented wine, not fresh and non-alcoholic grape juice, and bread without leavening since this occurred during Jewish Passover. Modern Christians differ on the elements they serve, as we’ll see, but there’s a limit. Believers were offended by a TV ad produced for the 2011 Super Bowl (but never aired) with a pastor boosting church attendance by providing sacramental Doritos and Pepsi.

Roman Catholic canon law is precise about using the literal elements from the Last Supper at daily Masses.

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Crux offers exotic, National Geographic-style look at Catholic traditionalists? Or not?

Crux offers exotic, National Geographic-style look at Catholic traditionalists? Or not?

Try to imagine the mayhem that would be created in the religion blogosphere if a major controversy hit the news that involved gay rights, Mormonism, atheism and (wait for it) the Latin Mass. I think you'd need to call in the online equivalent of the U.S. Marines to control it.

Everyone who covers religion news knows that the Latin Mass is a hot-button topic, a Maypole around which a number of other emotional Catholic issues dance. As the old saying goes: What's the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.

So the folks at Crux just ran a massive on-site report about the recent Sacra Liturgia USA meeting. To say this is a colorful piece would be a great understatement.

This is, on one level, a classic example of the neo-National Geographic feature in which the tiniest details of life in an exotic tribe are placed under the microscope in order to contrast these folks with normal people. Yes, think trip to the zoo. In this case, "normal people" are the progressives in the post-Vatican II academic establishment and their journalism friends. Here's the view of one faithful GetReligion reader of the Crux feature:

In this article and the accompanying photos it seems to me as if Crux Now is treating this like they were reporting on and taking pictures at a zoo. "Oh, look! There's the scarlet Cardinal with flocks of admirers around him! Oh, and see over there? That's the white-hatted, red-breasted lionheart with an old-fashioned chasuble on!"

I can see some of that, in this coverage of the Cardinal Burke show. However, I was impressed with two elements of this story, which we will get to in a moment. There is one major wince moment at the very end for the suddenly old new Catholic left.

My problem with this piece?

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