Paul Moses

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009).

By this author

Poll: Pope Francis and Former Catholics

A new poll released in advance of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States offers data that suggest the pontiff will have the ear of many Catholics who have left the church or otherwise become discouraged with its leadership.  

The poll by Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service presents an interesting profile of those who identify as former Catholics, a group that it says comprises 15 percent of the U.S. population. It finds a gender gap, for example: former Catholics tend to be male (55 percent) while current Catholics are more likely female (56 percent). The former Catholics are more likely to identify as liberal (37 percent) than current Catholics (27 percent) or as political independents (50 percent, former Catholics; 36 percent, current Catholics).

Former Catholics are reported to have a much more positive view of Pope Francis (64 percent approve) than of the church (43 percent). Similar gaps can be found among young people and liberals.

Catholics are much more likely to say that Pope Francis understands the needs and views of American Catholics (80 percent) than to say the U.S. Catholic bishops do (60 percent).

While some conservative Catholics have objected to Francis's priorities,  the poll suggests that overall, American Catholics have a more favorable feeling toward their church than they did before Francis became pope. (56 percent said their feelings had changed, and of those 3 out of 5 said their feelings toward the church had become more favorable.)

 

In Norcia, Topping the Charts

Norcia is my favorite town in Italy. Tucked into the  far southeastern corner of Umbria, it is the home town of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica; the home of great butchers dating to medieval times; and the jumping-off point for hiking excursions into the nearby Sybillini Mountains National Park. And so the walled town has the lovely Basilica of St. Benedict and a lively community of young monks; the best prosciutto, wild boar sausages and truffles from an enticing array of butcher shops; and views of towering mountains.

Mayors Gather at Vatican to Urge Climate Pact

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called it "an extraordinarily effective act" -- the Vatican's move to draw together 60 mayors from around the world to sign a statement today that "human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity." 

Pope Francis and Archbishop Hughes on Capitalism

Pope Francis’s rhetorical attack on the excesses of capitalism, a prominent feature of his recent Latin American trip, is troubling to many Catholic conservatives and others in the United States. 

In particular, he declared: “An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the `dung of the devil.' The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, sister and mother earth.”

This led Patrick Buchanan to ask: “Why not leave the socialist sermons to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?” 

But  Francis’s talk reminded me not of leftwing political speeches but of an address delivered by the very icon of conservatism in the American Catholic Church: Archbishop John Hughes.   It is called “A Lecture on the Antecedent Causes of the Irish Famine in 1847” -- an important historical document.

Long before Pope Leo XIII started the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching with his 1891 encyclical and a year ahead of the publication of “The Communist Manifesto,” Hughes criticized the excesses of capitalism as it existed in his time. Much as Francis looks at the world from the perspective of the Latin American poor, Hughes saw it from the point of view of the Irish at the height of the Great Famine.

“The newspapers tell us that this calamity has been produced by the failure of the potato crop; but this ought not to be a sufficient cause,” he said. Instead, he pointed to three larger causes: historical inequities resulting from the British conquest of Ireland; bad government; and “a defective or vicious system of social economy.”

Hughes condemned colonialism, just as Francis now assails “the new colonialism,” declaring, “The invaders regarded the natives as illegal occupiers of the soil -- as barbarians, who stood between them and the peaceable possession of their property.” 

Of the economic system, Hughes explained: “By social economy I mean that effort of society, organized into a sovereign state, to accomplish the welfare of all its members. The welfare of its members is the end of its existence - - `Salus populi, suprema lex.’” Hughes decried “the free system--the system of competition,--the system of making the wants of mankind a regulator for their supplies.” He continued:

Judith Miller and Jon Stewart on journalism

"All journalists are manipulated." I have to say, that line Judith Miller used in her interview with Jon Stewart this week is irking me. It's probably true, certainly for myself, that at some time or another, skillful PR people have managed to mislead, sidetrack, obstruct and otherwise manipulate every reporter. 

But part of the job is to recognize when that's being done, and Miller, promoting her new book The Story, comes across under Stewart's questioning as willfully oblivious to that.

During the interview, Stewart calls Miller's  attention to a September 8, 2002 front-page New York Times story Miller wrote (with Michael Gordon, as she noted) showcasing the Bush administration’s contention that Saddam Hussein had “embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.”

Stewart pointed out the phrase that says administration “hard-liners” were arguing that the first “smoking gun” to be sighted from Saddam's supposed build-up could be a “mushroom cloud.”  (Condoleeza Rice used the  line publicly the same day, and President George W. Bush repeated it in a speech the following month.)

“It’s a very powerful line, and it explains their thinking,” Miller responds.

Stewart retorts that the phrase originated with a White House speechwriter, Michael Gerson. “It’s a political line directly tied to the White House,” he says. In other words: recognize that it's spin.

"Jon, were we not to report what it was that had the community, the intelligence community to be  so nervous about Saddam?" Miller replies. "Were we supposed to keep that from the American people?"

Stewart: "No-- you should have reported it though, in the context that this administration was very clearly pushing a narrative and by losing sight of that context  by not reporting"--

Miller: "I think we did, the story said"--

Stewart: "I wholeheartedly disagree with you."

Miller: "Now, that’s what makes journalism."

Stewart: "It’s actually not what makes journalism, so let’s continue with this."

 

Hillary Clinton on religious beliefs

During her 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton talked a great deal about religion. At one point, she and Barack Obama faced off in a “Compassion Forum” in which they were interviewed about their beliefs.  Clinton used the occasion to continue assailing Obama for his quote that some embittered Americans "cling to guns or religion": 

… from my perspective, the characterization of people in a way that really seemed to be elitist and out of touch is something that we have to overcome.

You know, the Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn't understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans.

And I think it's important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being; it is what gives them meaning in life, through good times and bad times. It is there as a spur, an anchor, to center one in the storms, but also to guide one forward in the day-to-day living that is part of everyone's journey.

Contrast that to the speech Clinton gave last Thursday at the Women in the World Summit in New York:

Yes, we’ve cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.

That last sentence was an applause line, as you can see from the video (at 8:55). The italics are mine, but they reflect the emphasis Clinton put on these words through a change in tone, cadence and gesture.

The remark can be decoded in a variety of ways, but a reasonable reading is that Clinton called for efforts to change religious beliefs that oppose abortion. (I directed an email to the campaign press operation to ask if this was so, but received no response.)

 

Common Core: What if they gave a test and nobody came?

When public schools across Long Island gave this year's New York State English Language Arts assessment test to students in grades 3 to 8 this week, there were a lot of empty seats. A new survey by Newsday of most Long Island school districts found that more than 2 in 5 students declined to take the test.

That's a sign of how deep the parental opposition is to the school "reform" movement's emphasis on standardized testing as the chief solution to poor educational performance.

The school "reformers" -- that assemblage of bi-partisan political backers, foundation leaders, corporate executives, cheerleaders in the news media, think tank thinkers, etc. -- are very fond of using data to judge others' performance. So here are the numbers Newsday reported:

Nearly 65,000 students in Long Island elementary and middle schools refused to take the state English Language Arts test this week -- 43.6 percent of those in grades three through eight eligible for the exam, a Newsday survey of more than 80 percent of districts Islandwide found.

In 100 of the Island's 124 public school districts, 64,785 of 148,564 children opted out of the exam, according to figures the districts reported.

"Parents are speaking and are saying 'Enough is enough,' and they have had it with students spending this amount of time taking tests," the paper quotes the superintendent of a district where two-thirds of the students did not take the test.

What these numbers show is that the school reformers get an F when it comes to maintaining school relations with parents,  a critical element in the educational process.

 

The death of Walter Scott

With a murder charge filed against a South Carolina police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in the back as he fled--according to a now widely circulated video--I wondered what account police initially gave of the shooting before the video surfaced. A story that the Charlleston Post and Courier carried on Saturday, the day of the shooting, provides the answer.

Bob Menendez: a look back

Back in 2006, I wrote an article in Commonweal that criticized some over-the-top attacks Republicans made on Bob Menendez during his campaign for U.S. Senate in New Jersey.

Seymour Hersh visits My Lai

While preparing a lesson about libel for my journalism students, I recently leafed through articles I had written on Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s libel suit against CBS News in 1984. CBS had accused the general of deliberately underestimating the enemy’s troop strength during the Vietnam war, thus giving a false impression that the war was winnable. Westmoreland, charging that his honor had been impugned by slanted reportage, file a defamation suit.

My recollection is that both sides fared poorly in the courtroom battle. The evidence demonstrated some shoddy journalism on CBS’s part, with outtakes showing that interviews were quoted very selectively. But the testimony from Westmoreland’s chief of intelligence also showed that he had delayed reporting a higher enemy troop strength to Washington out of fear it would be a “political bombshell.” Rather than submit the case to the jury, Westmoreland settled the suit without collecting any damages. One press room colleague said, that CBS "framed him for something he did."

Seymour Hersh’s article in the March 30 New Yorker, “The Scene of the Crime: a reporter’s journey to My Lai and the secrets of the past,” revisits the question of how important truths about the war were covered up. It’s a chilling piece in which Hersh recounts how he reported on the massacre at My Lai on March 16, 1968, when U.S. troops rounded up and executed women, children and elderly people. Returning to the scene of the crime, he visited a Vietnamese museum dedicated to the massacre and reports:

The museum’s count, no longer in dispute, is five hundred and four victims, from two hundred and forty-seven families. Twenty-four families were obliterated—–three generations murdered, with no survivors. Among the dead were a hundred and eighty-two women, seventeen of them pregnant. A hundred and seventy-three children were executed, including fifty-six infants. Sixty older men died.