Archdiocese of Chicago

An accused priest, a long-suffering victim: The hero in this sad tale is ... a journalist

An accused priest, a long-suffering victim: The hero in this sad tale is ... a journalist

We've said it before: Negative posts about media coverage of religion are so much easier to write than positive ones.

When critiquing a less-than-perfect story, there are flaws to point out. Unanswered questions to raise. Bias to criticize.

But when a story hits all the right notes — compelling subject matter, fair treatment of all sides, no sign of where the reporter stands — it's tempting to say, simply, "Hey, read this!" and move along.

That's the case with Godbeat pro Manya Brachear Pashman's in-depth report on whether a Chicago priest should return to ministry after revelations of teen misconduct:

Should a priest's sexual misconduct as a youth bar him from ministry? That's the question facing Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich.
For decades, the Rev. Bruce Wellems, a Roman Catholic priest with the Claretian Missionaries, has served as a father figure for young men in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood.
But when revelations of his sexual misconduct as a teenager resurfaced in 2014 shortly after his religious order transferred him to California, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez removed him from ministry immediately. He returned to his former neighborhood to resume work as a youth advocate and community organizer.
Now Cupich must decide whether the popular priest can wear a collar, celebrate Mass and officially return to active ministry. Wellems, 58, admits to the abuse, though his recollection of the details and how long it lasted differs from the victim's.
"These allegations had nothing to do with who I was as a person," Wellems said in an interview with the Tribune. "In my adult life I've done nothing against children. There's nothing that's ever come up."
The contrast between the actions in Los Angeles and Chicago highlights a gray area in the church's policies on clerical sexual abuse of children and a stark difference in how two archdioceses have handled the issue. Rules adopted by America's Catholic bishops in 2002 apply to priests and deacons who commit even a single incident of abuse, but they give dioceses considerable discretion on how to apply the church's zero-tolerance policy.

Another temptation with a story like this is to copy and paste every word. But at 2,800 words, that would make for a long post. And I'd get myself into copyright trouble.

So I'll try to explain what I like about this story. It's not the subject matter per se. Sexual abuse doesn't make for cheerful reading. 

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Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

While working on a story on Christians and immigration a few years ago, I witnessed a mother's tearful farewell to her son, who was being deported.

CHICAGO — On a dark street, a mother weeps. 
At 4:45 a.m., she stands outside a two-story brick building surrounded by razor wire, her sobs drowning out the drum of machinery at a nearby factory. 
The Spanish-speaking woman just said goodbye — through a glass panel at a federal deportation center west of Chicago — to her son Miguel, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. 

Recalling that emotional scene, my interest was piqued by a front-page Chicago Tribune story on Roman Catholic Archbishop-Designate Blase Cupich making immigration reform a top priority.

The top of the Tribune's meaty, 1,300-word report:

Immigrant rights activists are hailing Chicago's next Roman Catholic archbishop, hoping that Blase Cupich's outspoken advocacy for their cause translates to meaningful changes to local and state laws that would make Illinois the friendliest state for immigrants.
"It's always very encouraging to hear your faith leader calling on what you believe is a human rights issue," said Erendira Rendon, a lead organizer for the Resurrection Project, a Pilsen-based community development organization. "We've been grateful for Cardinal (Francis) George's support of immigration reform, but it's exciting to see the new archbishop is going to make it a priority."

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Hey NYTimes: Please study the timeline of abuse in Chicago

Back in my graduate-school days, I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, after spending a few years working at the local daily, The News-Gazette. I read the Chicago dailes, of course, during some glorious years of newspaper warfare in that great and wild city. Thus, I remember ripping my way way through the headlines and thousands of words of copy kicked off by the famous Chicago Sun-Times blockbusters about the life and times of one Cardinal John Patrick Cody. Here’s a slice of a Nieman Reports flashback:

On Thursday, September 10, 1981, the Chicago Sun-Times splashed across its front page a three-tiered headline that jolted the city: “Federal grand jury probes Cardinal Cody use of church funds.” A subhead read: “Investigation centers on gifts to a friend.” The first in an extended, multifaceted series of investigative stories did not appear until a team of three Sun-Times reporters had completed an 18-month search for sources, documents and other substantiating evidence. And this investigation took place at a time when reporters still shared information with federal authorities, including the Internal Revenue Service. …

Fully aware that they were dealing with an explosive issue in a metropolitan area where the Catholic Church was a powerful institution with members at the top levels of the city’s political, judicial, business and labor establishment, the tabloid’s publisher and editors were not in a rush to get into print. When the reporting team was first assembled, Publisher James Hoge told the investigative unit: “We’re going to have to do as careful and as in-depth reporting as anyone’s ever done, because this is dynamite.”

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