In the May 20, 2011 issue of The U.P. Catholic, my usual column became a “Letter from the Editor.” In it I wrote about the difficult task and reasoning behind reporting on clerical abuse. The “letter” received a national award in 2012. We put the story below, written by Loreene Zeno Koskey, communications director for the Diocese of Marquette, on our annual Catholic Press Month page. The “Letter” follows the story.
The U.P. Catholic receives national press award
The U.P. Catholic has earned recognition from the Catholic Press Association for an editorial published in its May 20, 2011 issue. John Fee’s editorial called “Letter from the Editor – Why write about a priest being removed from the clerical state?” received a third place award in the category of best editorial in diocesan newspapers with a circulation between 17,001 and 40,000.
Here’s what the judges had to say about this entry: “An editor explains in an admirably reader-friendly way why newspapers must publish bad news. The reader comes to better understand the watchdog role of the press. The sex-abuse scandal grew big under the veil of secrecy, the writer notes. So shedding light on current allegations of sex abuse serves the readers and the church. That argument carries much persuasive power.”
“It’s great to receive recognition from your peers,” Fee said, “but it is an honor and a joy to work for The U.P. Catholic and with the wonderful people of the U.P.”
Why write about a priest being removed from the clerical state?
To the readers,
Following the recent story in this newspaper concerning a priest removed from the clerical state, I received four letters by post or e-mail. Of those, three were critical of printing this story, and one was glowing in its praise for the newspaper.
In short, the story was called “muckraking at its best,” “‘sour grapes’ because (the former diocesan priest) didn’t play the game,” and, to paraphrase, airing dirty laundry.
One writer noted, “We prefer to remember the good he did, i.e., the large numbers he returned to the Church during his days of active ministry, the comforting of mourners at the death of their loved ones, the tasteful redecorating of churches throughout the diocese, etc.”
With that in mind, why would we print this story?
The easy answer is we’re obligated to bring this information to the people of the diocese. With the norms and standards put in place by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the diocese is required to be as open as possible in these situations. The diocese itself has made a commitment to victims not only to offer help, but to be transparent in these matters. The diocesan newspaper is the natural vehicle to disseminate this information.
The hard answer is that the lack of openness in the past is at least partly to blame for allowing these problems to continue and to spread beyond anyone’s comprehension. When it became clear that past solutions were not working, the U.S. bishops and our diocese took strong measures to put an end to abuse in the Church – and the measures are working.
According to the 2010 Survey of Allegations and Costs conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), seven youth made credible accusations of sexual misconduct against seven clerics in 2010 in the United States. A credible allegation is one which has a semblance of truth to it following an initial examination of the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegation. Approximately 30,000 diocesan priests serve in the U.S. and all but one diocese responded to the nationwide CARA survey.
While it’s sickening to think that seven priests could possibly have committed the unthinkable, it’s a significant change in the right direction. It’s only reasonable to attribute a good portion of this change to the hard decisions made by the bishops and diocesan leadership across the U.S. One of those hard decisions being printing stories in diocesan newspapers about priests removed for sexual abuse.
I pray that we’ll never have a story like this again in the newspaper. But should it become necessary, we will honor our commitments and do what’s required. As difficult as it is, it’s working.
The U.P. Catholic