New podcast: German priests plan huge rite to bless gay unions? Time for time travel …

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I don’t know about you, but this Crux headline sounds like a big story to me: “German Catholics plan huge blessing of gay unions on May 10.

I mean, think of the global ramifications of that kind of event, when connected to other doctrinal developments on the Catholic left in German and Europe in general. Remember that recent Memo to journalists that GetReligion patriarch Richard Ostling, the one with this headline: “With open talk of schism, will German bishops mar the rest of Pope Francis’s reign?

But there seems to be some question about whether the plans for this event are worthy of mainstream media coverage. Why is that? That was the topic of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in or sign up for the podcasts with iTunes).

One crucial detail jumped out at me in the overture of this Crux report (see if you can spot it):

ROME — Continuing to openly challenge the Vatican, several Catholic leaders in Germany are openly supporting the blessing of same-sex couples, with a massive blessing service scheduled for May 10, in direct opposition to Rome’s chief doctrinal office.

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen said that the priests in his diocese will face no canonical consequence if they decide to bless gay and lesbian couples next month as part of the event called “Love wins, blessing service for lovers.” …

His comments came in an interview with WDR earlier this week, and follow his comments on Easter, when he argued that there are “many blessings for gay couples” in Germany. He also said that the Catholic Church is not supposed to reject gay people but “find ways for homosexuals to be able to live together.”

Note: We are not talking about one or two rebellious priests. There is a bishop who plans — in a rather passive-aggressive manner — to support the event by refusing to discipline his priests if they take part.

Obviously, Bishop Overbeck is not the only man in a mitre in Europe who has gone on the record in opposition to that recent headline-fueling Vatican ruling against same-sex marriages. Check out my “On Religion” column on that ruling and the aftermath on the Catholic left: “Did Pope Francis undercut that Vatican ruling on blessings for same-sex couples?”

There are many, many Catholic priests (and other activists) in the German Parish Priests Initiative who have signed a petition in support of same-sex blessings.

That made it sound like there was the potential for a wave of public same-sex union rites — as opposed to those held in secret — in Germany and elsewhere. Unless I have misunderstood, it now sounds like there will be one May 10 event, perhaps led by priests who have clearly been given a green light from their bishop or bishops.

Think like a journalist: What’s the story?

What are the questions reporters will want to answer ahead of May 10, if they have decided that this story is worth covering (which it is)?

OK, who is taking part? Who are the priests who are risking their futures or, at the very least, face the potential wrath of German cardinals who still support the teachings of the Catholic Catechism? Where will this event be held? One location or many? Have there been communications from the Vatican about this planned celebration of what some German leaders clearly see as a valid development of doctrine?

Now, has this story been hidden from journalists?

The answer is “no.” It has been discussed in two places that journalists know to look for developments on the Catholic left. See this National Catholic Reporter headline: “Germany’s top Catholic bishop sees change coming for blessing same-sex unions.” But, just as important, the cutting-edge Catholic activists at at New Ways Ministry — a force on LGBTQ issues since the 1980s — have posted this: “Bishop Pledges Not to Sanction Priests Who Bless Same-Gender Couples in May Event.”

So where is the mainstream and even elite coverage? What is happening here?

Well, ask yourself this question: If journalists wanted to support the LGBTQ cause at this point in the Catholic game, how would they handle the timing of the coverage? Would they want to out their sources on the Catholic left or protect them? Would they want to help conservatives put pressure on Pope Francis or keep things quiet?

Why not wait to cover the event or events when they happen? Why not, maybe, actively cooperate behind the scenes with the activists who are planning the event, thus guaranteeing access for coverage and photography, while protecting the planners in the short term?

Do mainstream journalists do things like that?

With that in mind, please allow me to do some time travelling. Set the WABAC Machine for Baltimore in 2011, when I wrote two posts about some strange (or not so strange) editorial decisions by editors at The Baltimore Sun. See these two posts, in particular: “Who made her a Catholic bishop?” and a podcast and post entitled “If Womenpriests were rabbis?

The key is a passage from Sun coverage of a rite to ordain women as priests in a movement that continues to claim that it is a valid expression of Catholic sacramental life, even though it is rejected by the Vatican and mainstream bishops. Read this Sun language carefully:

Andrea Johnson, presiding as bishop, ordained two women from Maryland, Ann Penick and Marellen Mayers, one from Pennsylvania and one from New York in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ. The church was filled with family members – including husbands of three of the ordinands – and friends, including some who are employed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore but who support the ordination of women. Photography was limited to protect the privacy of those attending the ceremony.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II said the church has no authority to ordain women, “and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” In 2008, the Vatican further decreed that women who seek ordination or any bishop who attempts it immediately excommunicate themselves from the Roman Catholic Church.

Stop and think about this, again, in the context of the “Love wins, blessing service for lovers” plans in Germany on May 10.

Did Sun journalists know the timing for this ordination rite? Yes. Did they know the location? Yes. Did they know — this is a huge news story in and of itself — that employees of Catholic institutions, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, were going to take part, to some degree? It would appear so.

Now, these Womenpriest events have been happening for years and years. They are, at this point, not all that newsworthy. The big story here, as I mentioned, was the behind-the-scenes participation of local Catholic leaders and educators in this illegal rite (in terms of Catholic law).

Why would journalists agree not to cover the big story? Why go so far as to agree not to photograph the congregation and, thus, expose Catholic employees who were working to undercut the laws and teachings of their own church?

To be blunt: The journalists didn’t want to hurt the cause.

Would they extend this grace to movements on the conservative side of the religion beat? In one of those earlier posts, I created this alternative vision. This is long, but I think you will see the links to the current context:

“ … Let’s say that the home mission board of the Southern Baptist Convention decided to hold a celebration in a Baltimore-area church sanctuary in which four people who are of Jewish birth and background would be ordained in order to serve in new congregations that would compete directly with local congregations that are affiliated with traditional Jewish movements. …

Now, as it turns out, the participants in this public celebration actually included recognizable leaders from the Baltimore Jewish Federation, major Jewish schools, the Jewish studies programs of local universities and even major Jewish congregations. They were there to celebrate the ordination of these new “rabbis,” cheering and applauding the rites.

And how about the news media? The event’s organizers asked the media professionals who were present to honor the privacy of these Jewish leaders who came to celebrate the ordination of these Jesusrabbis. For example, the Baltimore Sun team members agreed not to cover this important factual element of the story or even to take photos of the crowd. In a way, the Sun actually helped these Jesusrabbi movement supporters to maintain their positions in prominent local Jewish institutions, even though the overwhelming majority of local Jews would see their actions as scandalous acts of betrayal to any traditional form of the Jewish faith.

Did I mention that all of this took place in a church sanctuary in an event that was clearly open, in some sense, to the public?

But wait! If the event was secret, then that would be even more significant. The Jesusrabbi Movement even knew to invite these Jewish leaders who were acting in rebellion against their own congregations and institutions. They would had to have been, to some degree, on the inside.

So, who can imagine Sun editors cooperating in this manner in this hypothetical case, going to far as to ignore crucial news information that the public would want to know? How about other major media institutions? Would they agree to help the Jesusrabbis movement in this manner?

Once again, here is the current question: Why are journalists not following up on the Crux piece (and other online discussions) of the plans for the May 10 “Love wins, blessing service for lovers” same-sex union blessings in Germany? Will there be pre-event coverage?

Just asking.

Enjoy the podcast and, please, pass it on to others.

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