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How to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/1109.07.11

We are days away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the media coverage is swelling each day.

I didn’t think that I would want to read tons of remembrances, analyses and essays. After all, what is left to say? But I can’t stop reading the stuff.

New York magazine’s “Encyclopedia of 9/11”—available on-line—is particularly good.

The religion world is, of course, quite focused on the anniversary. On my desk at the moment I have Christianity Today (“The Gospel at Ground Zero: The horrors of 9/11 were not unlike those of Good Friday”) and Guideposts (“9/11 Survivors: Journeys of Faith”).

I’m also looking at a new book—“Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11”—by Wendy Stark Healy, former communications director for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York.

On Sunday, I contributed a profile of Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan, a Westchester plastic surgeon and a Muslim who has spent the last decade talking to people and groups about Islam.

What else? The AP’s fine religion writer Rachel Zoll interviewed Cardinal Egan about his experiences on 9/11. The article has gotten a lot of play. You can read it here.

Tomorrow night (Sept. 8), the Upper Room, a group of progressive Catholics from the New Rochelle area, will hold an “evening of prayer” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Province Center Chapel, 1338 North Ave. in New Ro.

On Sunday, Archbishop Dolan will celebrate a Memorial Mass at 9 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He will then celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s Church, across from Ground Zero, at 12:30 p.m.

Also on Sunday, there will be an interfaith memorial service at Lyon Park in Port Chester at 4 p.m. It’s at Putnam Avenue and King Street.

Also on Sunday, Unity Made Visible, a 7-year-old interfaith group based in Bedford Hills, will hold a program of “music and uplifting messages.” It will be from 4 to 5:30 at Fox Lane H.S. Coordinator Paul Storfer said: “For too long, we have witnessed 9/11 being used as a rallying cry for those who preach divisiveness and intolerance. On the upcoming 10th anniversary of this tragedy, we at Unity Made Visible want to take this day back and turn it into an opportunity for unity, compassion, education, and understanding.”

It’s hard to understand why Mayor Bloomberg chose to exclude clergy-led prayers from the main commemoration on Sunday morning. Apparently, there will be spiritual readings and moments of silence. But why not include a priest, minister and rabbi—and maybe an imam?

One observer, Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center who researches religious liberty, told AP that Bloomberg may have wanted to avoid the question of inviting a Muslim representative.

While some national voices have spoken out against Bloomberg’s decision, New York’s religious leaders haven’t had much to say. In fact, Archbishop Dolan told NY1 that he spoke with Bloomberg about it and was okay with the way things are going.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in 9/11, 9/11 anniversary, Media coveragewith 2 Comments →

Has God made the Super Bowl coverage today?02.07.11

Last year on the morning after the Super Bowl, I blogged about all the media attention that was being given to the faith of the winning Saints.

Reggie Bush was widely quoted saying that God had brought notorious partier Jeremy Shockey to the Saints.

At the same time, the faith of the losing Colts was ignored—even though Head Coach Jim Caldwell was a devout Christian.

My point was that…to the victors goes the faith (at least in the media coverage).

So far today, I haven’t seen many references to the faith of the Packers—even though the Baptist Press wrote during the week about QB Aaron Rodgers being a serious Christian and many of the Packers attending Bible Study on a regular basis.

The only faith-filled quote I’ve seen is from receiver Greg Jennings: “To God be the glory. We’ve been a team that has overcome adversity all year, and now our head captain goes down. “(It was) emotional in the locker room. Our No. 1 receiver goes down. More emotions are flying in the locker room, but we find a way to bottle it up and exert it all out here on the field. To God be the glory.”

Maybe media people were more tuned into religious storylines last year because of all the spiritual vibes in New Orleans.

I’ll keep looking for religion-themed stories on the winners AND the losers.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Media coverage, Packers, Super Bowlwith 2 Comments →

Proposing a forum on media coverage of the Catholic Church07.27.10

In his latest blog post, Archbishop Dolan again tees off on the media.

He begins:

*****

Because of all the inaccuracies in the recent coverage of the Catholic Church in the New York Times and other publications, appearing in news articles, editorials, and op-eds, I was tempted to try my best to offer corrections to the multitude of errors. However, I soon realized that this would probably be a full time job.

It is a source of consternation as to why, instead of complimenting the Vatican and a reformer like Pope Benedict XVI, for codifying procedures long advocated by critics, such outfits would instead choose to intrude on a matter of internal doctrine, namely the ordination of women.

*****

Dolan later says that the media’s “obsessive criticism” of the pope is “simply out of bounds.”

I’ve noted in the past that Dolan has become something of a media critic since coming to NY. Defending the church and the pope from the NYT and others seems to be one of his passions.

So here’s an idea: How about someone organizes a forum on media coverage of the church?

Give Dolan and someone from the Times, plus others (John Allen? Father James Martin? A  media critic like Howard Kurtz?), a chance to make their case and rebut the other side(s).

Do it in public. In a civil forum.

The Fordham Center on Religion and Culture seems like a natural host. They did a program about anti-Catholicism a few years ago, which I still regret that I missed. (How does one define anti-Catholicism in 2010, I wonder?) But a forum on media coverage of the Catholic Church would certainly revisit the anti-Catholicism question.

What do you think, Mr. and Mrs. Steinfels?

The Crossroads Cultural Center in NYC, run by the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, has run several provocative forums in recent years and could do one on media coverage. Monsignor Albacete?

One of the many academic centers at Notre Dame could do it—but I would rather the forum be in New York.

How about the Columbia Journalism School?

Maybe Iona could step up to the plate and bring some action to Suburbia?

So who is going to do it? How about one night in late September?

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in anti-Catholicism, Catholic Church, Media coveragewith No Comments →

One fed-up archbishop06.23.10

Archbishop Dolan is angry.

It comes through loud and clear in is latest blog post, up today.

Once again, he’s not happy with how his church is being portrayed by the media. But this time he’s not going after the New York Times, his target several times in recent months.

Instead, he’s going after “a prominent Catholic journal, published in New York,” “a newspaper on Staten Island” and an “Irish newspaper” for unfairly criticizing the church hierarchy.

He doesn’t like the journal’s steady criticisms of bishops and the pope, how the Staten Island newspaper blamed the “autocratic, aloof, mean, clandestine archdiocese (Dolan’s words)” for the mosque controversy and the Irish’s paper’s blaming of the “nasty, money-hungry, mean-old (Dolan again)” archdiocese for the closing of a Catholic school.

Dolan writes:

*****

Who likes criticism?  Nobody.  But I figure it comes with the job, and have to face it when it’s legitimate.  That happens often enough.

But I don’t like seeing “the archdiocese” blamed for something not its fault.

*****

Upon his arrival in New York, Dolan was widely praised for knowing how to work with the media.

But he seems increasingly exasperated by media coverage of his church.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Archdiocese of New York, Catholic Church, Media coveragewith 1 Comment →

A liberal Catholic shot at the NYT04.29.10

As I’ve written before, recent media coverage of sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has faced harsh criticism from those who sense anti-Catholic leanings in the secular media.

Weighing in now is none other than Westchester’s own Kenneth Woodward, the former longtime religion editor at Newsweek (where he remains a contributing editor). I’ve often praised the terrific lecture series that Woodward organizes at his parish, St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff Manor.

In fact, the next FREE lecture is this Monday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m., when Christian Smith, director of Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at Notre Dame, will talk about “Souls in Transition: The Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.”

Woodward has written a critique of the New York Times’ recent stories about sex abuse for the Catholic weekly, Commonweal. This is particularly interesting because Commonweal is, of course, a liberal magazine that has been very critical of the church’s handling of the abuse crisis.

Woodward’s essay, called “Church of the Times,” actually has two, almost separate themes.

The first is that the Times is a sort of Church of Secularism that can’t help seeing believers as space aliens—quite odd and difficult to understand. He makes the case that the Times operates much like the Vatican:

*****

As U.S. newspapers go, the Times is also a venerable institution and its hierarchy of editors, deputy and assistant editors, and copyeditors is a match for the Roman curia. The paper has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. To those who devote their lives to it, the Times has become “a place that will shelter you the rest of your life,” as Arthur Gelb wrote in his detailed memoir, City Room. I know what he means: Newsweek in the nearly four decades I worked there was also a sheltering institution. Moreover, with reporting flowing in from our worldwide news bureaus, we in New York felt as if we were operating at the throbbing center of the known and knowable universe. Given its exponentially larger work force, not to mention hourly input from the Internet, this illusion is all the more powerful at the Times. A journalist could spend a lifetime in its newsroom without encountering a dissenter from the institutional ideology.

*****

Woodward’s point that the Times sees its mission as Big and Important (“All the news that’s fit to print,” anyone?), not unlike a religious institution, is quirky and fun to consider, whether you agree or not.

His second point is that the Times’ coverage of two high-profile “scandals” was poorly done. He spends much less time on this point, opening and closing his essay with it.

First and foremost, he asserts that the Times has been too reliant on the legal papers (and views) of the lawyer Jeff Anderson, the most high-profile defender of abuse victims.

He writes: “It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own.”

But Woodward doesn’t critique the stories—dates, places, chains of command—as other critics have tried to do.

Woodward does make one timely point about all the Times’ recent front-page stories about abuse scandals connected or vaguely connected to the pope: ”…clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups. An April 13 verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, which has struggled with the child-sexual-abuse issue for a century, did not merit page-1, above-the-fold treatment but rather a single paragraph deep inside the paper.”

I would like to know how the Times would explain its meager coverage of the Boy Scouts’ case, which involves a national organization having decades worth of files related to scout masters who have abused minors. Here is their most recent story about the case, which ran deep inside the paper.

The Times’ ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, recently defended the paper’s coverage of things Catholic.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in anti-Catholicism, Briarcliff Manor, Christian Smith, Clark Hoyt, Commonweal, Jeff Anderson, Kenneth Woodward, Media coverage, New York Times, Sex abuse, St. Theresa's Churchwith 1 Comment →

Good Friday, the ‘Coffee Haggadah’ and the Catholic-media showdown03.31.10

A few things today after a day off:

First, two Good Friday items. For the last decade, the largest non-denominational Protestant service in the region has been held in Westchester, usually at the Westchester County Center. I covered the “Westchester  One in Praise” service a couple of times and saw thousands gather on Good Friday—mostly evangelicals and Pentecostals, a racial and ethnic mix.

This year’s 7:30 p.m. service will be at Mount Vernon High School. The featured speaker will be Dr. Carolyn D. Showell of First Apostolic Faith Church in Baltimore.

What else? Last year, I visited the Peale Center for Christian Living up in Pawling to write about their annual Day of Prayer on Good Friday.

I sat in the back of a chapel at the home of Guideposts magazine and watched a few dozen people read prayer requests from strangers and then pray for them. Rotating teams of staff and volunteers prayed for something like 16,000 people between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

If you want to know more or might want to send in a prayer request for this year’s 40th anniversary Good Friday Day of Prayer, go to www.Ourprayer.org.

Second, Passover. Someone gave me a copy the other day of a Maxwell House Haggadah. I found myself wondering how a coffee company wound up creating the most popular Haggadah in the U.S., used by countless families at their seders over decades.

I came across a short article from Moment magazine that answered my questions.

Here is the opening:

*****

In 1923, when Maxwell House Coffee signed on with the Joseph Jacobs Advertising agency in New York, it was already a legend. Theodore Roosevelt supposedly drank a cup in 1907 at the Nashville hotel for which it was named, proclaiming it “good to the last drop.” Fortune smiled even more on the brand when Jacobs conceived a plan to entice American Jews to serve the coffee at their Seders. First, he lined up a prominent rabbi to assure Jews that coffee beans were not forbidden legumes but fruit. Then he convinced his client to underwrite America’s first mass-marketed Haggadah. When it appeared in 1934, free with the purchase of a can of coffee, the Maxwell House Haggadah swiftly revolutionized how American Jews celebrated Passover.

*****

So there you go. Producing a Haggadah—and a good one—was good for business.

Kraft, which now owns Maxwell House, still produces the Haggadah. One million copies were printed in 2009 for distribution through supermarket chains like ShopRite.

Rabbi Burton L. Visotsky of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, notes: “Local custom ruled liturgy. Maxwell House did more to codify Jewish liturgy than any force in history.”

Being something of a coffee snob, I haven’t had a sip of Maxwell House in a long time. Now I find myself wondering what it tastes like.

Third, an international conflict grows over the recent media coverage of various sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

Several reports that have called into question the past decision-making of Pope Benedict have unleashed passionate defenses of the pope and increasingly  harsh criticism of the media—especially the New York Times.

Most of the criticism has focused on extensive NYT reporting about a late Milwaukee priest who allegedly molested close to 200 boys at a school for the deaf, where he worked from 1950 to 1974. While no one seems to dispute that the priest, Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, was a monster, the Times’ contention that the pope—then Cardinal Ratzinger—was slow to react in 1996 has created the firestorm.

Archbishop Dolan, who defended the pope after Palm Sunday Mass by comparing attacks against him to the persecution of Jesus, now writes on his blog about “diatribes” against the church and the pope.

He concludes with this GREAT soundbite:

*****

Let me be upfront: I confess a bias in favor of the Church and her Pope.

I only wish some others would admit a bias on the other side.

*****

Meanwhile, a Milwaukee priest who presided over a canonical criminal trial involving Murphy, has stepped out in the Catholic media to complain that he has been widely misquoted—even though he was never interviewed by a journalist.

“As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing from a sense of duty to the truth,” writes Father Thomas Brundage.

Brundage writes that Murphy was guilty of “unmitigated and gruesome crimes.” But he takes the Times to task for all sorts of things, which I can’t fully summarize here.

Among other things, he writes:

*****

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

*****

On NationalReview.com, Raymond J. de Souza also dissects the Times’ coverage of the Ratzinger connection.

“The story is false,” he writes. “It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.”

Finally, Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and prominent historian of American religion, suggests on ReligionDispatches.org that Catholics who are “disgruntled” by scandal go Episcopalian.

He notes that the Vatican has reached out to conservative Anglicans who are fed up with their church’s leftward drift.

Balmer writes:

*****

So what do we learn from these developments over the past five months? Consider the evidence. I gather that the lesson from the Vatican is that homosexuality, even on the part of those in loving, committed relationships, is sin, must be exposed to the light of day for its shamefulness and must never be countenanced. It’s okay, however, to turn a blind eye to pedophile priests, to reassign them quietly to do harm elsewhere or simply to ignore the problem.

I’ll take my Episcopal Church, warts and all, any day.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Catholic Church, Day of Prayer, Father Thomas Brundage, Good Friday, Guideposts, Lawrence Murphy, Maxwell House Haggadah, Media coverage, Passover, Peale Center, Pope Benedict, Randall Balmer, Raymond de Souza, ReligionDispatches, Sex abuse, Westchester One in Praisewith 1 Comment →

Archbishop Dolan vs. the Times, Round 3 and counting03.29.10

I wrote the other day about media coverage of sex abuse in the Catholic Church and claims from some—including Archbishop Dolan—that the coverage has an anti-Catholic slant.

His main concern, as he wrote on his blog, is that the media focus on abuse in the Catholic world but largely ignore abuse in the larger society.

Dolan was not done.

image_xlimage_2010_03_R1433_DOLAN_POPE_3292010Yesterday, after Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dolan defended Pope Benedict XVI from media reports connecting the pontiff to sex-abuse scandals in Germany and the U.S. The Vatican has also been quite unhappy with some of the reports.

Dolan, as he tends to do, used strong, unambiguous words: “And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.”

…now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus…

That’s the New York Times he’s talking about there, folks.

According to the AP, Dolan got a 20-second standing ovation from the packed cathedral.

You get the feeling this isn’t over. Dolan has shown that he is quite comfortable charging anti-Catholicism in the media—especially the Times—and he does not take kindly to attacks on his Holy Father.

Here are his remarks in full:

(AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

****

“May I ask your patience a couple of minutes longer in what has already been a lengthy — — yet hopefully uplifting — — Sunday Mass?



“The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year.



“The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.



“Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.



“What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.


“Sunday Mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias, and hyperbole of such aspersions.



“But, Sunday Mass is indeed the time for Catholics to pray for “ . . . Benedict our Pope.”



“And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.



“No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.



“Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?



“Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.



“All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.



“Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church. At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, il papa, needs our love, support, and prayers.”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in anti-Catholicism, Archbishop Dolan, Media coverage, Palm Sunday, Pope Benedict, Sex abuse, St. Patrick's Cathedralwith 5 Comments →

Are the media picking on the Catholic Church?03.25.10

Headlines about sex-abuse scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church seem to be everywhere these days.

And that means that media coverage will be widely critiqued—and often judged to be anti-Catholic.

In fact, none other than Archbishop Dolan, on his Facebook page, when writing about a NYT article about a scandal in Germany, alleges that his church is getting singled out:

*****

What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — but also that the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.

That, of course, is malarkey. Because, as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it.

The sexual abuse of our young people is an international, cultural, societal horror. It affects every religion, country, family, job, profession, vocation, and ethnic group.

*****

Dolan also argues that the church is getting little credit for all that it’s done to correct past problems.

Just this week, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference announced that its annual report card on sex abuse “shows the fewest number of victims, allegations and offenders in dioceses since 2004.”

In 2009, dioceses across the country received 398 allegations. 71% of the allegations involved incidents from 1960 to 1984. Only SIX allegations involved children under the age of 18 during the year 2009.

Dioceses spent more than $21 million for child protection programs including training, background checks and salaries for compliance staff, according to the report.

Referring to the church’s policies on sex-abuse, adopted in 2002, Cardinal Francis George, president of the Bishops Conference, writes: “The Charter is causing a cultural change in the U.S. Catholic Church, one I hope will permeate all areas of society.”

The church’s efforts to turn things around are why Dolan also writes:

****

We Catholics have for a decade apologized, cried, reached out, shouted mea culpa, and engaged in a comprehensive reform that has met with widespread acclaim. We’ve got a long way to go, and the reform still has to continue.

But it is fair to say that, just as the Catholic Church may have been a bleak example of how not to respond to this tragedy in the past, the Church is now a model of what to do. As the National Review Online observes, “. . . the Church’s efforts to come to grips with this problem within the household of faith — more far reaching than in any other institution or sector of society — have led others to look to the Catholic Church for guidance on how to address what is, in fact, a global plague.”

As another doctor, Paul McHugh, an international scholar on this subject at Johns Hopkins University, remarked, “Nobody is doing more to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church.”

That, of course, is another headline you’ll never see.

*****

Dolan couldn’t have been happy to see today’s NYT, which features a front-page article about a late Wisconsin priest who molested hundreds of boys—while the Vatican did not react to pleas from several bishops to do something.

It’s one of those stories that leaves you shaking your head. How could it happen?

So, is Dolan right that the Catholic Church is being picked on and not given credit for its reforms? It’s a tough case to make when the pope is apologizing to the people of Ireland for decades of abuse and Germans are up in arms about scandals there.

Sure, the church is trying to turn things around (although some advocates for victims would say that some bishops and dioceses are still dragging their feet). But Catholics and the society at large are still only coming to terms with decades of abuse and how it happened.

I, for one, find it hard to buy the argument that sex-abuse outside the Catholic Church gets ignored by the media. It’s a case I’ve heard for the last decade.

Dolan notes that there has been much more abuse in public schools than in churches. It’s true, BUT each school system is responsible for what its employees do. There is no national school board that sets policies on abuse or can shuttle abusive teachers around.

When an abusive teacher is arrested in, say, Tulsa, the media there cover it. But the rest of the country has no interest. So, while there is extensive coverage of abuse in schools and other walks of life, the coverage does not feel tied together like coverage of abuse in the hierarchical Catholic Church.

When Jeanine Pirro was the Westchester DA and regularly busted men for seeking under-age sex partners via the Web, the Journal News put just about every case on Page One. But these were “local” stories that the national media would not have picked up on.

This week, a sex-abuse trial in Portland, Ore., involving the Boy Scouts of America revealed that the Scouts have kept confidential NATIONAL files on suspected abusers among its troop leaders. The trial has received extensive media coverage all across the country—as have past trials involving sex abuse in the Boy Scouts.

Sex abuse does get covered in all areas.

I want to share an email blast I got today from Father Thomas Berg, a priest and head of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person. He deals often with the media and has this take on the recent coverage:

*****

You may have seen the front page (above the fold) story in today’s New York Times by Laurie Goldstein regarding Vatican inaction on a Milwaukee priest accused of sexual misconduct.  My take (and I know the author) is that while NYT is definitely taking aim at Pope Benedict and smells blood in the water, Goldstein’s real message was more about a culture of inaction and of hushing up abuse cases in order not to tarnish the image of the Church and to “avoid scandal”.   That internal culture and its attendant modes of operation certainly do need to change; they were, for all intents and purposes, still the m.o. in the late 90’s when these reports reached the Vatican. It may be the case that, at the time, then Cardinal Ratzinger was still working under those received ways of (in)action; but I believe the truth about Benedict is that his whole m.o. on how to handle these things underwent a real metamorphosis in the early part of the new decade of 2000.  Although lengthy, I encourage you to read the following article by John Allen which makes a compelling case for that sea change in mentality in Cardinal Ratzinger who became, in Allen’s words,  “a Catholic Eliot Ness” after becoming Pope in terms of handling high profile abuse cases. The question now is how the Pope will handle things from here and will he be true to his past.

****

Read that John Allen story. I praised it just the other day.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Boy Scouts, Catholic Church, Father Thomas Berg, Media coverage, New York Times, Public schools, Sex abuse, U.S. Catholic Bishops Conferencewith 4 Comments →

Everywhere you look: pictures of rabbis in handcuffs07.24.09

All the media coverage of the New Jersey corruption sweep—featuring black-hatted, bearded rabbis—is bound to be making a lot of people uncomfortable today.

It’s a pretty ugly affair, for the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn and New Jersey and the fabled institution of crooked Jersey pols (all that’s missing is Tony Soprano in cuffs).

Five rabbis—including the national Syrian-Jewish community’s top rebbe—are accused of laundering money, in part through Jewish charities. Yuck.

I’m sure that many are on the lookout today for anti-Semitic reactions and stereotypes—and there are plenty of nasty comments on several websites I’ve perused.

Media coverage will also be dissected for Jewish cliches.

Right off the bat, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, a respected commentator on many religious and cultural issues, released a statement taking the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s website to task for bordering on “Jew-baiting.” He thought that yesterday’s initial coverage of the arrests was eager to play up the involvement of Jews and rabbis, but offered few specifics about who is accused of doing what.

Hirschfield writes:

*****

When a headline reads, “NJ officials, NY rabbis caught in federal money laundering, corruption sweep”, one expects a story which describes that event. In this case however, no mention is made of any rabbis actually getting arrested. Despite plenty of details about various politicos being taken into custody, there is nothing about rabbis.
This may be a big deal, but the headline and the story don’t match – where is the info on the rabbis? This kind of coverage actually borders on Jew-baiting, and it potentially says something at least as ugly about the author/editors as it does about those who committed any crime. Consider the following quote found on the paper’s website and carried on CNN:
The arrests…”began with an investigation of money transfers by members of the Syrian enclaves in New York and New Jersey,” the newspaper said on its Web site, NJ.com. Those arrested Thursday “include key religious leaders in the tight-knit, wealthy communities,” the report said.
“Enclaves”? “Tight-knit, wealthy communities”? Could it be that the paper harbors deep resentment against Jews who they see as over-privileged, stand-offish people who operate as a law unto themselves? Is this the moment to celebrate how “those people” will now get their comeuppance? If not, why describe the community in classically anti-Semitic ways instead of calling out the specific leaders who broke the law, violated the religious rules of their own community and should be punished to the full extent of the law for any wrongdoing they committed?

*****

Hirschfield doesn’t seem to take into account that the early news reports were based on what was likely the only information available. The Star-Ledger’s Web reports—and everyone else’s—have been regularly updated as more info was released.

This morning, there seems to be plenty of specifics about who is accused of doing what.

As far as the Syrian Jewish community goes, from what I’ve read, it may well qualify as an “enclave.” It is certainly a “tight-knit” community. Is it a “wealthy” community? I don’t know, but it may be.

I don’t see those three terms as necessarily pointing to a “deep resentment” against Syrian Jews by the editors and reporters of the Star-Ledger. How were they supposed to be describe the Syrian Jewish community?

Hirschfield concluded his statement with this:

*****

This story needs to be told, but it needs to be told better than this. It needs to be about justice, not just desserts. By the way, when all this calms down, the Syrian-Jewish community should also take a good look at itself to see what they do which contributes to their being perceived of this way by their neighbors.
While victims of bias should never be blamed for the bias against them, in most cases for a stereotype to take hold it must be rooted in some partial truth. Ironically, coverage like that in the Star Ledger will make that ever less likely to happen, confirming the kind of hostility which is used by any community looking for a reason to turn inward.

*****

The corruption sweep is a huge story. If the allegations turn out to be true—certainly not a given—it would be a deep, long-term black eye for the Syrian-Jewish community. I wonder how many members of the community are worried about media coverage today.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Corruption sting, Media coverage, New Jersey, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Rabbis arrested, Syrian-Jewish communitywith No Comments →

Episcopal gay debates getting old?07.16.09

Is it me, or are we seeing less intense media coverage of the Episcopal Church’s internal gyrations over homosexuality?

I mean, the EC’s General Convention has been underway for a week out in Disneyland. First, Episcopal leaders passed measures saying that ordination should be open to all—softening, if not erasing, the church’s 3-year-old restriction on ordaining gay bishops. That’s Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop, addressing his fellow bishops at the GA.

Yesterday, bishops authorized the church to start drafting a prayer for the blessing of same-sex couples.

You could argue that these are important steps that will further divide the EC from the worldwide Anglican Communion. And there has been plenty of media coverage. But the coverage seems to me to less vigorous then in recent years.

I get the feeling that after years of waiting for some sort of Episcopal/Anglican break-up, with every Episcopal action cited as potentially the fuse that will set it off, anticipation is starting to wane.

Haven’t we seen a pattern? The Episcopal Church does its thing, embracing gays and lesbians. Conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans condemn it all. A few Episcopalians break away. And life goes on.

Maybe there won’t be a pivotal turn, but the EC will slowly shrink and isolate itself a bit. Maybe.

Certainly here in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, where almost all Episcopalians are gay friendly, it’s much ado about nothing. That’s not to say that New York Episcopalians want to lose their Anglican friends overseas.

But they will be the church they want to be. And they’ll see what happens. I think.

(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Episcopal Church, Gay ordination, General Convention, Media coverage, Same-sex coupleswith No Comments →

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