A Lack of Contrition

With any luck, I'm back online here. I tried to post this about a week ago, so we'll see if it works now.

"I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to confess my sins, do penance and amend my life. Amen."

Bob McClory begins his commentary on American Bishops and the abuse scandal by quoting from the "Act of Contrition" during confession.

"You had to admit that you were guilty and you had to accept some consequences as a result," writes McClory. "Otherwise, no forgiveness."

McClory--a former priest, and journalism professor emeritus at Medill--is a longtime correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. His piece is great religion writing--using the tenets of the faith to evaluate the action of religious leaders.

Without real contrition, the bishops' apologies become hollow, he says.

Until that happens, repeated apologies and calls for forgiveness will sound too much like the comments Pete Rose provided when he finally admitted betting on baseball games: "I'm sure I'm supposed to act all sorry or guilty. Let's leave it at this; I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family it hurt. Let's move on."

That's not even mentioning penance, which has gotten much easier since the 11th century, when Emporer Henry the IV had to wait barefoot in the show for several days while waiting for Pope Gregory VII's forgiveness.

Another longtime religion writer, Martin Marty, had some timely comments on a Columbia Journalism Review piece by Gal Beckerman entitled "Why don't Journalists get religion?"

Here's what Marty wrote:

What I took from Beckerman's long and subtle piece is this: readers expect, and the press delivers on, conflict because it is obviously newsworthy. Much of the press does less well reporting on the bone-deep, heart-searing, soul-lifting elements that attract the religious.
What Beckerman and some others miss is something that hits me daily: why, I ask, do the critics not find more fault with us, the readers? It is true that we will, should, and want to read feature stories on goodness, charity, and religious exemplarity. Something I wish more papers would understand.

Here's an example, a few years old, of the kind of "bone deep, heart searing stories" that more papers would run if we could find them. It's the story of Sam Lightner, a boy from Portland born with a serious facial deformity, a boy who despite the odds was desperate to live a normal life. It's full of religion--prayer, life and death battles, and the faith of doctors who believe that despite the risk, they could help Sam, and who didn't give up on him when a complication from the surgery left him near death. The Oregonian's series of stories on Sam won a Pulitzer two years ago.


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