Podcast: Is Cardinal Burke being 'political' by asking the pope questions about 'doctrine'?

Podcast: Is Cardinal Burke being 'political' by asking the pope questions about 'doctrine'?

Let’s start with some basic facts about a hot, hot story on the religion-news beat — the escalating clashes between Pope Francis and doctrinal conservatives in his church.

We know that Pope Francis and the wider Synod on Synodality camp wants to bring a wave of “reform” to the Roman Catholic Church, with some openly stating that this includes the modernization of doctrines as well as the pastoral-care practices linked to traditional doctrines.

We know that Cardinal Raymond Burke and others — mostly leaders from the era of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI — insist that their primary goals are to defend the church’s doctrines, primarily on moral issues, as stated in the Catechism and centuries of church tradition.

Thus, journalists need to thinking about the meaning of several words that they are using, over and over, in coverage of this clash inside the Church of Rome. These three words were at the heart of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (CLICK HERE to tune that in).

What three words?

The first word is “reform.” In a previous post, I turned to online dictionaries and found this useful set of definitions for that loaded term:

Reform …. * make changes for improvement in order to remove abuse and injustices; "reform a political system" * bring, lead, or force to abandon a wrong or evil course of life, conduct, and adopt a right one; "The Church reformed me"; "reform your conduct" ... * a change for the better as a result of correcting abuses; "justice was for sale before the reform of the law courts" ... * improve by alteration or correction of errors or defects and put into a better condition; "reform the health system in this country" * a campaign aimed to correct abuses or malpractices. ...

What doctrines and pastoral traditions are we talking about?

The Associated Press report focusing on the pope’s latest actions against Cardinal Burke — the loss of his apartment in Rome and, most likely, his stipend — offers the following:

Burke, a 75-year-old canon lawyer whom Francis had fired as the Vatican’s high court justice in 2014, has become one of the most outspoken critics of the pope, his outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics and his reform project to make the church more responsive to the needs of ordinary faithful.

Twice, Burke has joined other conservative cardinals in issuing formal questions to the pontiff, known as “dubia,” asking him to clarify questions of doctrine that upset conservatives and traditionalists.


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Rosalynn Carter memorials, with coverage about faith, family and, yes, political fashions

Rosalynn Carter memorials, with coverage about faith, family and, yes, political fashions

The public drama of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter continues this week with a public memorial service and a family funeral, the kind of events that pull people into church sanctuaries, especially in the Bible Belt.

It’s safe to say that the more private funeral today — in the couple’s home church, Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia — will be a worship service in a progressive Baptist congregation. It will be interesting to see if footage is provided featuring the eulogy, along with the hymns and scriptures chosen by the Carters.

The memorial service was held in Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church, near the Carter Center at Emory University. The 99-year-old president — 10 months into home hospice care — spent Monday night at the center, close to where is wife’s body lay in repose. Atlanta is 164 miles from the Carter home in Plains.

Let’s give credit to the Associated Press for getting some mention of the couple’s faith into the lede of its story about the public, rather political, memorial service:

ATLANTA (AP) — Rosalynn Carter was remembered Tuesday as a former U.S. first lady who leveraged her fierce intellect and political power to put her deep Christian faith into action by always helping others, especially those who needed it most.

A gathering of first ladies and presidents — including her 99-year-old husband Jimmy Carter — joined other political figures in tribute. But a parade of speakers said her global stature wasn’t what defined her.

Later on, there was this, as well:

Family members described how Rosalynn Carter went from growing up in a small town where she had never spoken to a group larger than her Sunday school class to being a global figure who visited more than 120 countries.

Kathryn Cade, who stayed on as a close adviser as Rosalynn Carter helped build The Carter Center and its global reach, called Rosalynn Carter’s time as first lady “really just one chapter in a life that was about caring for others.”

GetReligion readers may recall that I chided AP for producing a stunningly faith-free obit for the former First Lady.


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Mainstream press ignores statements in which Pope Francis doubles down on doctrine

Mainstream press ignores statements in which Pope Francis doubles down on doctrine

Catholics around the world are currently preparing for Advent. But there’s another period they are all currently experiencing that can’t be found on any liturgical calendar. 

Catholics are living in a post-Synod on Synodality church where the debates from the month-long meeting that took place at the Vatican last month continues to reverberate, even with the efforts by Pope Francis to put a lid on news coverage of the discussions and speeches that took place during that event.

Europe, in particular, has been the epicenter of the action since that meeting of bishops wrapped up on Oct. 29. The synod was led, for the most part, by Europeans.

Indeed, in a span of nearly a month, we’ve seen violence against churches — a trend we have documented here at GetReligion for years now — and Pope Francis’ letter saying German bishops are “increasingly” moving away from the church’s position on a number of issues. 

Let’s start with the church vandalism. 

This is what Catholic News Agency reported on Nov. 17: 

During the night of Nov. 14–15, unidentified persons destroyed the altar and stole sacred vessels from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the Archdiocese of Rouen, France.

According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, the prosecutor’s office confirmed that the Sacré-Coeur basilica was vandalized and that the unidentified persons also smashed a statue, although the Blessed Sacrament was not stolen.

The authorities have not yet identified the vandals, but local police have already launched an investigation to find them. 

CNA also reported this: 

A recent report from the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC) indicates that France ranks third for the most hate crimes against Christians in 2022, with 106 out of a total of 748.


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Church of England backs same-sex blessings and the elite press yawns, once again

Church of England backs same-sex blessings and the elite press yawns, once again

What we have here is a battle between two relevant parables linked to a major religion-beat story.

The first is that classic ducks analogy. You know the one (care of UsingEnglish.com): " If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck"

In other words, if the Church of England narrowly approves the use of stand-alone (that’s crucial) rites to bless same-sex relationships, then that is the visual equivalent of same-sex marriage rites. Cue the “duck.”

It’s safe to say that a formal, honest change in Church of England doctrine on marriage would be the last straw for the stressed-out Anglican Communion causing a schism that would probably end up in the lap of King Charles III. At this point, Global South leaders — representing about 75% of Anglicans in pews — have already proclaimed that it's time to start cutting the ties between the "Canterbury Communion" and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Does it matter that the technically evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby abstained from the vote? Click here for a conservative Anglican news-you-can-use collection of his actions on this issue in the past.

So the walking duck image is certainly relevant, in this case. However, this brings us to an image that I have used several times here at GetReligion — with Anglican news events, even. I am referring to the “lighthouse” parable and, dang it, it’s relevant once again

As the story goes, this lighthouse had a gun that sounded a warning every hour. The keeper tended the beacon and kept enough shells in the gun so it could keep firing. After decades, he could sleep right through the now-routine blasts. Then the inevitable happened. He forgot to load extra shells and, in the dead of night, the gun did not fire.

This rare silence awoke the keeper, who leapt from bed shouting, "What was that sound?"

Now, once upon a time, almost anything that Anglicans and/or Episcopalians approved on LGBTQ+ issues was automatically one of the year’s most important mainstream news reports. Ditto for actions by Pope Francis or Catholic leaders in once-important lands (think Germany).

Now, this no longer seems to be the case.


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'The Exorcist' at 50 -- If demons are real, how about angels? What about an eternal soul?

'The Exorcist' at 50 -- If demons are real, how about angels? What about an eternal soul?

William Peter Blatty was pounding out the first pages of "The Exorcist" when his telephone rang -- bringing the news that his mother had died.

The screenwriter was already digging into dark material that was completely different from the whimsical work -- such as the classic "A Shot in the Dark" Pink Panther script -- that established his Hollywood career. He was writing a fictional take on an exorcism case he heard discussed during his Georgetown University studies.

But the death of Blatty's Lebanese-born, fervently Catholic mother changed everything. She spoke very little English and called her son "Il Waheed," Arabic for "the one" or "the only." He struggled with grief for five years and his supernatural thriller turned into something much more ambitious.

"I wanted to write about good and evil and the unseen world all around us. I wanted to make a statement that the grave is not the end, that there is more to life than death," said Blatty, meeting in a diner near the Georgetown neighborhood described in "The Exorcist."

It was 2013, four years before Blatty's death, and our conversation focused on the 40th anniversary of the film that brought him an Academy Award, for adopting his novel for the big screen. Now, on the 50th anniversary of "The Exorcist," critics are still debating why it had such as seismic impact.

Blatty insisted, many times, that he wasn't trying to shock people, even though the R-rated classic sent many rushing for theater exits, sickened by its stomach-wrenching visions. His goal was "apostolic, from the beginning," an attempt to inspire faith and defend core Christian doctrines, he said.

The equation was simple: "If demons are real, why not angels? If angels are real, why not souls? And if souls are real, what about your own soul? … And, by the way, if incarnate evil is real, what are you going to do about that?"

"The Exorcist" set box-office records for horror films, with numbers that soared with subsequent re-releases. At the same time, Blatty was deeply satisfied to hear priests report that, in the weeks after the movie opened, penitents lined up for confession.


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Personal note, and post-Thanksgiving thinking from The Free Press: 'What We're Grateful For'

Personal note, and post-Thanksgiving thinking from The Free Press: 'What We're Grateful For'

How was your Thanksgiving? Mine was pretty serious, although it really helped to spend it with a circle of friends from the thriving St. Anne Orthodox Church here in Oak Ridge, Tenn. It was a day to give thanks — including for the life and witness of a dear friend, David Waite, who died recently.

This made me think of the days when David, in the middle of a long fight with cancer, was completely locked down (for obvious reasons) during COVID-tide. We saw him during Zoom classes, but missed him during worship services, even when they were held outdoors (think Holy Week in a revival tent). And David missed a Thanksgiving service that he dearly loved.

This leads me to an “On Religion” column that I wrote during that time about the Orthodox Akathist of Thanksgiving (see the YouTube at the top of this post), a litany of poetic Russian prayers created during hellish persecution by the Bolsheviks (.pdf here). Here is some key material from that column:

An "akathist" is a service honoring a saint, a holy season or the Holy Trinity. Many trace this akathist to the scholarly Metropolitan Tryphon, a well-known spiritual father at the height of the persecution. The version of the service used today was found in the personal effects of Father Gregory Petrov, who died in 1940 in a concentration camp.

It is also important that "Glory to God in all things" were the last words spoken by St. John Chrysostom, the famous preacher and archbishop of Constantinople who died in 407 after being forced into imprisonment and exile by his critics.

Later, there is this:

The service offers thanksgiving for many kinds of gifts and events in life, from the moonlight in which "nightingales sing" to valleys and hills that "lieth like wedding garments, white as snow." Worshippers offer thanksgiving for the "humbleness of the animals which serve me," as well as "artists, poets and scientists," because the "power of Thy supreme knowledge maketh them prophets and interpreters of Thy laws."

But near the end, a priest chants the crucial theme: "How near Thou art in the day of sickness. Thou Thyself visitest the sick; Thou Thyself bendest over the sufferer's bed. His heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace and unexpected consolation."


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Podcast: CNN offers an old opposition-research file on Speaker Mike 'theocrat' Johnson

Podcast: CNN offers an old opposition-research file on Speaker Mike 'theocrat' Johnson

Before we return to the never-ending saga of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and his efforts to create a totalitarian theocracy that destroys democracy in America, let’s pause for a Journalism 101 case study.

Don’t worry, this is directly related to this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (CLICK HERE to tune that in).

Now, gentle readers, are any of you old enough to remember Marabel Morgan, the evangelical superstar who wrote “The Total Woman,” which sold something like 10 million copies? Morgan was an anti-feminist crusader clothed in pink (as opposed to something else) who had a knack for infuriating blue-zipcode elites. Here is a quick flashback, via the Faith Profiles website:

An editor at Time magazine once confided in Marabel Morgan that he came away from a cocktail party with high-heel marks all over his chest at the mere mention of her name.

And what heinous crime did Morgan commit that could provoke such a sharp reaction? Morgan wrote a book in the early 1970s that sold more than 5 million copies about how she salvaged her marriage. The widespread belief was that she proposed that women rekindle their marriages by such innovations as greeting their husbands at the door dressed in Saran Wrap or having sex under the dining room table.

Whee!

During my early 1980s religion-beat work at The Charlotte News, I ventured out to a suburban megachurch where Morgan spoke to several thousand fans. I left that meeting absolutely furious, my mind packed with outrageous punchline quotes from her (I had to admit entertaining) speech.

Driving back to the newsroom on deadline, I started figuring out what would be in the crucial first two or three paragraphs of the story. Then I realized that, if I followed my own prejudices, I was going to frontload this story with stuff that would fire up my editors and others who detested Morgan and her tribe.

Thus, I decided to attempt a story that opened with material that included (a) what Morgan said that I knew would appeal to her critics and (b) what she said that drew cheers and applause from her supporters.


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Latest 'mainline' Protestant renewal development is intriguing, but is it quixotic?

Latest 'mainline' Protestant renewal development is intriguing, but is it quixotic?

On October 31, the anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of “95 Theses” that initiated the Protestant break with Rome, an upstart U.S. group issued new “Theses” demanding that seven “Mainline” Protestant denominations (listed below) restore devotion to their onetime biblical orthodoxy.

In one of this American generation’s most significant disruptions, Mainline churches, once so influential in American religion, education and cultural values, have suffered unprecedented declines in numbers and vitality. The new “Operation Reconquista” www.operationreconquista.com/ protest launched on Reformation Day squarely puts the blame for all that on liberalism.

Such a boldly ambitious game plan warrants some news attention. So far, the movement has received limited coverage and only in parochial media such as the progressive Baptist News Global and Christianity Today.

Given the entrenched church leadership these insurgents oppose, the effort looks quixotic, but it could become noteworthy even if no gradual turnarounds of the denominations ever occur. It’s potentially intriguing if these insurgents at least re-create the largely defunct organized conservative beachheads within denominations that are ever more resolute in their doctrinal liberalism.

This strategy conflicts with the trend of minority evangelicals in “mainline” churches to surrender, quit in frustration and join either burgeoning non-denominational congregations or breakaway denominations. The United Methodist Church is currently suffering the biggest split since the Civil War. Conservatives report that 24% or more of UMC congregations have lately departed, nearly 7,300 in total, mostly to join the new Global Methodist Church.

But Reconquista strategists want the Mainline’s remaining conservative members to stay put. They argue that these grand old denominations have future potential and that parishioners must restore the vast valuable assets “hijacked” by the doctrinal left to the purposes intended by past generations of faithful donors.

Notes on verbiage: First, “Mainline” Protestant denominations are identified by origins in Colonial times, memberships that are predominantly white and well-off, affiliation with the National Council of Churches, and a flexibly tolerant attitude about Christian teachings, in contrast with strict evangelical and conservative groups. Sociologists have long called them the “Seven Sisters.”


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