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Attention all newsroom managers: There will also be non-political religion news in 2019

Attention all newsroom managers: There will also be non-political religion news in 2019

(COMMENTARY) We already know that in 2019 the news biz will be as consumed by All Things Trump as during the prior three and a half years. The media must also monitor countless maneuvers by countless Democratic presidential hopefuls. And there will be those ongoing eruptions in global politics.

If any column inches and air time are left over for our beat, the temptation will be to do those “religion and” stories, oh you know like predictable Donald Trump accolades from the media’s favorite evangelicals. On the big 2019 theme of whether the President can win a second term, The Guy reminds pundits for the umpteenth time that white Catholics outside the Bible Belt will decide that.

Most important, The Guy advises editors that audiences will welcome a bit of a break from political news. How about covering the more religious aspects of the religion beat like these three major 2019 stories?

First, the top story of 2018, as the Dec. 5 Guy Memo proposed, is reports that the “CRISR” technique in November successfully produced the first newborns with engineered genes that will be inherited by future generations. Biologists “playing God” to create human “designer babies” is an ethical quagmire that demands 2019 follow-ups.

Then, two vital and nearly simultaneous church events, one dealing with moral performance and the other with moral doctrine, will reverberate throughout the year.

Ready to mark those calendars?

Feb. 21-24 — Pope Francis has summoned the 135 heads of national bishops’ conferences and comparable officers for a Vatican summit to cope with the disgusting and ceaseless cascade of priests who sexually molested underaged boys and girls (and the bishops and cardinals who hid them). The stakes could not be higher for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

This brings fierce memories of Pope John Paul II’s 2002 Vatican abuse confab with U.S. Catholic leaders (which The Guy covered for The AP alongside Rome Bureau legend Victor Simpson). Shortly thereafter, several hundred reporters (including The Guy alongside award-winning AP virtuoso Rachel Zoll) swamped the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Dallas that devised a cleanup plan.

U.S. scandals then dominated the news. Since, it’s become obvious this is no “American crisis” but a worldwide one. The fact that victims’ suffering, scandals, cover-ups, malfeasance, investigations, lawsuits and bankruptcies persist 16 years later shows how intractable the moral rot has proven to be, with Cardinal Pell’s conviction the latest instance.

Reporters unable to cover in person can monitor the meeting long-distance via specialized news sites, among them the U.S. church’s Catholic News Service, Catholic News Agency (and related National Catholic Register), Catholic World News, Catholic World Report, Crux, National Catholic Reporter, Britain’s The Tablet, blogger Rocco Palmo’s Whispers in the Loggia, Zenit and of course Vatican press releases.

Meanwhile, note that Francis hasn’t yet answered Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s accusation from last August 22 that he reversed penalties Pope Benedict XVI imposed upon the now-notorious U.S. ex-Cardinal “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.

Meanwhile, don’t neglect the similar scandals besmirching U.S. Protestantism.

Feb. 23-28 — The United Methodist Church (UMC) holds an extraordinary General Conference in St. Louis to settle its internal doctrinal impasse over whether to approve gay clergy and marriages. A potential schism lurks.

The UMC is the third largest religious body in the U.S., with 7,679,850 members in 33,583 congregations (compare that with the nation’s 14,000 McDonald’s outlets). Importantly, 42 percent of the Methodists represented at St. Louis are in mostly conservative jurisdictions overseas, unlike other "mainline" Protestant denominations that are U.S.-only (and changed their doctrines on marriage and sex).

A study commission proposes three future options for the UMC: (1) Remain united while liberals gain local option on gay policy. (2) Remain nominally united with separate jurisdictions based upon sexuality beliefs. (3) Uphold the traditional teaching and reinforce discipline against dissenters.

On Oct. 26, the UMC’s Judicial Council (supreme court) ruled that (1) is largely constitutional, (3) is partly unconstitutional and needs work to be considered, and (2) somehow is not the council’s business. See coverage here and the mind-numbing ruling here (.pdf). A conservative study commission member then filed an appeal against the Judicial Council’s treatment of plans for leaving the UMC.

For info on key Methodist players, see this previous Guy Memo. And here is a national column on the topic by our own Terry Mattingly.

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