Gracia speaks
Just before her departure from the Philippines to Kansas, widowed missionary Gracia Burnham spoke publicly for the first time since her Friday rescue. "We want to thank each and every one of you for every time you remembered us in prayer," she said. "We needed every single prayer you prayed for us during our ordeal in the jungle. We know there are countless of you who don't even know us who prayed and offered support also, and we thank you, too."

Gracia thanked the Philippine soldiers who rescued her and attacked her captors. "During our ordeal, we were repeatedly lied to by the Abu Sayyaf," she said gravely. "And they are not men of honor. They should be treated as common criminals."

Gracia had a busy day yesterday; she visited with the family of Ediborah Yap, the nurse who was also slain in the rescue attempt. ("Gracia herself told me that Ediborah was a hero," said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.) Gracia also debriefed American and Filipino military officials about the activities of the Abu Sayyaf.

The buzz in Rose Hill, Kansas, this morning is about how much better Gracia looks than she did in images from her captivity (lots of photos of both here). The family is eager to see her when she arrives on a commercial flight in Kansas City (about a three-hour drive from Rose Hill) this afternoon. (She is not expected to address the public today.) Several papers report on yesterday's church services, but you can read Christianity Today's coverage here.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the pursuit of the Burnhams' abductors continues. More than 600 troops are pursuing the Abu Sayyaf, which is estimated to number 242—with 30 in the cell that held the Burnhams.

The Philippine military is watching the country's ports, recruiting leaders on the island of Mindanao to watch for the bandits, and—perhaps most importantly—asking the U.S. military to extend its operations in the country. "The American forces in Basilan want to do it. The Philippine forces want to do it. Why not do it?" defense minister Angelo Reyes said. "If you are able to prevent just one terrorist attack, it's worth it."

The U.S. has reportedly agreed. "The United States has declared assistance to the [Philippine] Armed Forces to prevent the terrorists from escaping, should they escape internationally," Ambassador Francis Ricciardone said today. "We will have to see what more we can do to make sure these people are wiped out."

This worries some Filipinos. "With the unfortunate death [of Martin Burnham and Ediborah Yap], the government might, instead of being mindful of the unspeakable cost to human life of the war, proceed forth into a foreign policy altogether not in the Philippine interest," said Rep. Imee Marcos, a member of the country's House of Representatives and daughter of former president Ferdinand Marcos.

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The deaths of Burnham and Yap "looked like the botched ending to one chapter of the American effort against terrorism," writes Raymond Bonner in today's New York Times. "American and Philippine officials disagree. But the episode raises many questions about the American military role [in the Philippines]."

Bonner questions whether the U.S. should be giving so much attention to the Abu Sayyaf. "If the United States is going to go after groups like Abu Sayyaf, whose links to Osama bin Laden are tenuous, the list of further targets is potentially long," he writes. America's real goal—though unspoken—was to free the Burnhams, but even so "it was not the first time the Abu Sayyaf group had seized Americans."

What probably happened, says Bonner, is that the Bush administration "selected Abu Sayyaf because it looked like a chance to win a relatively easy battle early in the war [against terrorism]. … In a broader sense, the United States may have wanted to strengthen its military presence here, and across Southeast Asia, which declined after the cold war."

Bonner writes that military officials from both countries "have heaped praise on the operation and the United States military mission here in general" in an effort to curb criticism. "'This was a successful operation,' declared Roilo Golez, national security adviser to the Philippine president. 'Enormously successful,' said a senior American official."

The Philippine media aren't buying it. "Sorry to rain on everyone's parade, but there is no way in hell what happened … can be described a success," the newspaper Today editorializes. "It was at a very least a total flop and at the worst a profound human tragedy given the quality of the people who were killed: people who had dedicated their lives to serving others."

Daily Tribune columnist Ninez Cacho-Olivares agrees. "It is wrong for [President Arroyo] to congratulate the military for the botched rescue, because it gives the military the message that, faced with such situations, the hostages' safety can be sacrificed," she writes. She claims the effort was a conspiratorial ruse to get the U.S. to extend its military presence.

Even the Philippine military has had to back off its earlier crowing. "Was the operation a complete success? This is one of those questions where you encounter a grey area," said Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, who described Operation Daybreak as "not a complete success but not a complete failure, either."

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In an op-ed piece in Today, however, Alvin Capino criticizes the criticism. "If the bleeding hearts cannot recognize the heroism and valor of our troops they should at least refrain from criticizing our soldiers who did what they could to resolve the crisis. … Disparaging the [Philippine military] at this time would only help the cause of the bandits and would draw attention away from their heinous and barbaric acts against their hostages and against those unfortunate to come their way."

Are the U.S. media anti-Catholic or afraid to appear that way?
A Honduran cardinal considered to be a serious candidate as the next pope has lashed out against the U.S. media, saying they have reported the Catholic abuse scandal with "a fury which reminds me of the times of Diocletian and Nero and, more recently, Stalin and Hitler."

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga told the Italian magazine 30 Giorni in an interview to be published this week that the "openly anti-Catholic" Ted Turner and major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe, are persecuting the church because of its support for a Palestinian homeland and its stance against abortion and the death penalty.

He also defended Cardinal Bernard Law, who has been subject to questioning "with methods that recall the dark days of Stalinist trials of churchmen of eastern Europe."

Editor & Publisher is also raising questions concerning the news media's coverage of the Catholic church. In today's Ethics Corner Column, Allan Wolper asks, "When will the nun stories surface again?"

The article centers on the "nightmarish tales from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States" of nuns who said that priests raped or seduced them and encouraged those who became pregnant to have abortions. The National Catholic Reporter broke the story last March.

But what happened to it?

Sister Mary Ann Cunningham, who heads the National Coalition of American Nuns, says the story disappeared because of the media's fear of being labeled anti-Catholic. "A lot of us don't read the regular newspapers anymore because they just aren't doing their jobs," she told Editor & Publisher. "The only ones willing to go after the truth are those alternative publications."

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Tom Roberts, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, says his small weekly does not have the resources to cover the issue, and European journalists who picked up on the story did not advance it for the same reasons. He said another challenge to the story is the lack of U.S. religious superiors who would talk. "That is not unusual," he said. "The nuns don't want to hurt the church. Some of them might still be working for the priests who assaulted them."

But a wide problem does exist, observers say, and it needs to be discussed. But will it?

"When we first broke it, people covered our coverage," Roberts told Editor & Publisher. "Incredibly, the Vatican confirmed it on its website. But then it just dropped off the media's radar screen after 9/11."

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This week's bishops' conference:

Church abuse scandal:

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Australian sex scandal:

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