Thank you, GetReligion readers, for pointing out something I missed!
I wrote Monday about the viral USA Today story on a priest’s jarring homily after a teen died by suicide.
My main journalistic point was that the Catholic Church’s actual beliefs concerning suicide should have been an important part of the story. However, I was so focused on that point that I failed to notice something else that is equally crucial.
That is, USA Today relied on the teen’s parents and other sources to characterize what the priest said. Granted, those critics included the Archdiocese of Detroit.
But still, didn’t the paper’s audience deserve to hear directly from the priest’s homily?
Thomas Szyszkiewicz, a veteran of Catholic media, and others made that point in comments on my original post.
Here's a link to Father LaCuesta's homily: http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2018/images/12/16/father.lacuesta.homily.maison.hullibarger.funeral.pdf
That the parents took it as saying their son was a sinner is a sign that they have not heard the basic Gospel message in church for a long time -- because we are all sinners. But if you read this homily directly, then you see that he told the truth about what suicide is and then told them that they can entrust themselves and their son to God's mercy. In fact, I believe he seriously misinterpreted that famous passage from Romans 8 ("What can separate us from the love of Christ?") but he did so favoring the mercy of God for their son. That the parents thought they could tell the priest what he could preach on is really presumptuous and that USA Today didn't challenge the parents on why they thought they could tell the priest what to preach on is ridiculous.
The great canon lawyer Ed Peters writes about this here: https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/god-bless-fr-lacuesta/
This is not a situation that any priest wants to be in, but telling the family all fluff and puff isn't doing them any great service and Father LaCuesta seems to have told the truth on many levels. Too bad USA Today didn't see it that way.
Certainly, Szyszkiewicz’s opinions on the content of the priest’s homily and the parents’ response to it are just that — his opinions.
But it’s also true that what the priest actually said is highly relevant to news coverage.
CNN got beat on the story by USA Today, but that extra time allowed it to include additional details — including the priest’s words:
According to a copy of the homily, LaCuesta said, "God can forgive even the taking of one's own life. In fact, God awaits us with his mercy, with ever open arms. ... Yes, because of his mercy, God can forgive suicide and heal what has been broken."
But he also said "we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth -- that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits."
The priest also spoke about the consequences of suicide.
"The finality of suicide makes this all the worse," LaCuesta said. "... Now you will have to work through this pain by yourselves, or with those close to you now who will need to lean on you even as you lean on them."
Bottom line: Full, fair news coverage of a subject like this demands giving a voice to all parties. In this case, that means the priest’s actual words.