Complaints about a story on Catholic marriage

Last month we reported on a nationwide survey that examined U.S. Catholic attitudes and practices regarding marriage. Made public Feb. 11, the survey was conducted in June 2007 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University via the Internet polling firm Knowledge Networks.

It was commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life in April of that year.

Since our story came out, we have received some e-mails and a couple of phone calls disputing one element of it: that many survey participants, according to our story, “mistakenly believe that a non-Catholic spouse must promise to raise the couple’s children as Catholic.”

That phrase also generated letters to the editor to Catholic papers around the country and postings in the blogosphere saying we got it wrong.

But the story was accurate. Readers, though, would have benefited from more detail when we first reported it.

The church in fact has not required a non-Catholic spouse to make such a promise since Pope Paul VI’s apostolic letter “Matrimonia Mixta,” issued motu proprio on March 31, 1970. The 1983 Code of Canon Law reflects the revised legislation.

“The obligatory promises prescribed in law apply to the Catholic party. The other party is to be informed about the promises that the Catholic party must make. This is a subtle distinction which is not always clear in practice,” said Siobhan Verbeek, a canon lawyer who is on the staff of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

Here are the pertinent sections of the code:

— Canon 1125.1: “The Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.”

— Canon 1125.2: “The other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party.”

Verbeek told me that the 1917 Code of Canon Law — the one replaced by the 1983 code — “obliged both parties to make a promise to baptize and raise any children arising from the marriage in the Catholic faith.”

But the provision began to be “relaxed by the mid-1960s,” she said, pointing to a March 18, 1966, instruction from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called “Matrimonii Sacramentum” regarding mixed marriages.

A news story we posted the same day on “Matrimonii Sacramentum” reported that “the Holy See has issued new rules on mixed marriages, softening some restrictions and dropping the penalty of excommunication for Catholics who are married before a non-Catholic priest or minister.”

The story noted that while those rules still required both spouses in a mixed marriage to baptize and raise the children as Catholics, the language used “seems designed to soften the impact of such promises on the conscience of the non-Catholic party.” Another change was the promise no longer needed to be made in writing, the story said.

Four years later came Pope Paul’s “Matrimonia Mixta,” followed by the changes in the 1983 code.

Anticipating what the pope might say

The Washington Post last week had a Page 1 story headlined “Catholic College Leaders Expect Pope to Deliver Stern Message.” And while no less an authority than the GetReligion blog called it “a pretty solid report,” it also warned how, as the trip gets closer, reporters may ignore the main purposes of such a pastoral visit (i.e., Jesus, the Eucharist, holiness) to report what they feel are the “real” (i.e., “anything that can be seen as affecting politics and, thus, real life”) issues.

It didn’t take long for questions like those to be raised about the Post story (which also is appearing in papers that subscribe to the Post’s news service). The president of The Catholic University of America, Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell, wrote a letter published today taking the story to task for stirring up a controversy to make headlines:

The suggestion that the pope is coming to the United States with a hammer for Catholic educational leaders is not only premature but also prejudicial. Instead of condemning Catholic universities and colleges for what may be perceived as failures — and failures do exist — the pope might very well thank Catholic educational institutions for being beacons of light in a society that sometimes prefers darkness.

Predicting what this pope might say or do is always a tricky business. His first encyclical, after all, wasn’t about church doctrine or wayward Catholics but about love as a gift from God. Perhaps the Post headline would have been more accurate if it had not speculated on what Catholic college leaders expect the pope to say but simply reported on what some in the church want him to say.

Catching a glimpse of the pope in U.S.

Pope Benedict XVI waves from his popemobile after celebrating Mass in northern Italy last year. (CNS/Daniele Colarieti, Catholic Press Photo)Today’s announcement of the Vatican’s official program for next month’s U.S. papal trip includes information on where you might be able to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI in the popemobile if you don’t have tickets for a papal event:

 — The first use of the popemobile on this trip will be when the pope leaves the White House at noon April 16 en route to the apostolic nunciature, a distance of about three miles. A major traffic nightmare is certainly a possibility since the White House is smack in the middle of downtown. The precise route was not announced.

— Later that same day, according to the schedule, he’ll arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the popemobile for his meeting with the U.S. bishops. Again, no precise route was given.

— The next afternoon, after he meets with Catholic education officials at The Catholic University of America in Washington,  he’ll use the popemobile to go to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center for his meeting with representatives of non-Christian religions. That trip will be fairly short, since the university and the JPII center are more or less across the street from one another.

— The lone New York popemobile trip will be on Saturday, April 19, after a noon lunch with Cardinal Edward Egan. That trip from the cardinal’s residence to the residence of the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations is about a mile.

Happy observance of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)I’m wearing my green tie today even though, liturgically, today is not St. Patrick’s Day because of Holy Week. But that doesn’t mean that we have to go as far as the Canadian blogger who suggested over the weekend that we had to send back the green beer since the Irish bishops had the liturgical celebration moved to last Saturday. That didn’t happen here in the States because the Vatican already had decided to move the feast of St. Joseph to that day for everyone else.

But fear not: the next time St. Patrick’s Day will be liturgically homeless because of Holy Week will be in 2160 (scroll down to the final paragraph of this story), and I doubt any of us will still be alive 152 years from now to worry about it.

Journeys of faith highlighted at Easter

‘Tis the season when thousands of people are making the final preparations to be received into the church at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening. Many Catholic publications are highlighting some of the journeys these new partners in faith have made.

For instance, the Catholic Explorer in the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., tells the story of a former evangelical minister who converted to the faith in 1999 and now has a traveling ministry as a motivational speaker. Or, check this story in The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn., about another recent convert “infecting” family and friends with her enthusiasm for the faith. The Catholic Sentinel in Portland, Ore., also had a roundup of some Oregon residents who will be newly initiated into the faith at Easter.

And for a first-person account of what it is like to walk on a journey of faith with 23 new Catholics, look at this story in St. Anthony Messenger magazine by a parish religious education director in California.

New sins? Hardly.

It’s always amusing to work in our newsroom on days like today when other news outlets are misinterpreting — or purposely hyping out of proportion — a story involving the church. Today’s case in point, if you have not heard, is the interview a Vatican official gave to the Vatican newspaper on the social impact of sin in a globalized society.

Among today’s headlines: “Vatican introduces more ways to sin“, “Seven More Sins, Thanks to Vatican“, “New sins as bad as the old sins — Vatican official“, “Vatican Updates Its Thou-Shalt-Not List“, and my personal favorite, “Recycle or go to Hell, warns Vatican.”

Granted, some of these are simply headline writers having fun (a “sin” many of us in the business can admit to). But it of course begs the question of whether there is a catalogue of sins someone can look up, besides the Ten Commandments or the seven deadly sins. (Not even the Catechism of the Catholic Church has an index of sins, though it does have a great index of subjects that it covers.)

The amusement is in the phone calls that come in on a day like today, like the call I took from one Catholic communications official trying to track down the story because she had heard from a local reporter who thought that the addition of new sins to the existing “list” was one of the biggest stories of the year, something akin to an addition to the list of crimes eligible for the death penalty.

And that’s also why we urge readers to check with us to get the unadulterated version of a story getting heavy play in the mainstream media — we add no artificial ingredients. (And if you’ve gone this far without reading how we reported this story, you can click on the link here.)

UPDATE: Another good summary on how this story was wrongly reported is on the blog of America magazine. And it reminds me of last fall’s rumor du jour, the allegation that Bibles were being banned for the Beijing Olympics.

Why Catholics leave (continued) …

More Catholic press reaction to the release late last month of the landmark study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on the religious affiliation of U.S. adults, this time from Our Sunday Visitor.  Editor John Norton wrote a column on one aspect of the study — the fact that Catholics are leaving the church “in droves” — and says in a second column that he was inundated with responses. One that he highlights was from a Michigan deacon who listed a variety of reasons Catholics leave, based on his pastoral experience. You can read those here.