Louis Moore

A stunning police raid on Catholic offices in Houston: Is this a major TEXAS story?

A stunning police raid on Catholic offices in Houston: Is this a major TEXAS story?

In terms of global, national, regional and local importance, the massive police raid of Catholic headquarters in Houston is clearly the big religion-news story of the day.

The question for me: How important is this story in terms of TEXAS news?

Hold that thought. First, here is the headline in The New York Times: “Investigators Raid Offices of President of U.S. Catholic Bishops.”

This is a solid and disturbing report, with some factual language in places where journalists often offer vague details. Here is the Times overture by veteran religion-beat scribe Laurie Goldstein:

Dozens of local and federal law enforcement officers conducted a surprise search of the offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on Wednesday, looking for evidence in a clergy sexual abuse case that has ensnared the local archbishop, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, who also serves as president of the United States Catholic bishops’ conference.

The raid in Houston is the latest sign of crisis in the church, with prosecutors growing more aggressive in their search for cover-ups of abuse, and the bishops — led by Cardinal DiNardo — hamstrung by the Vatican in their efforts to carry out reforms.

The church is under a barrage of investigations around the country. Attorneys general in at least a dozen states have opened inquiries, and the Justice Department has told bishops not to destroy any documents that could relate to sex abuse cases. Last month, the attorney general in Michigan executed search warrants on all seven Catholic dioceses in that state.

The scene outside the archdiocesan offices in Houston on Wednesday morning was extraordinary, with police cars lined up on the street and about 50 uniformed officers headed inside, some carrying boxes to hold evidence.

So what is the issue here? Let’s talk about Texas.

To be blunt: When I started writing this post, I did a simple search of The Houston Chronicle website for this word “DiNardo.” The results were a bit surprising, since I couldn’t find anything about this raid at the top of the initial search list.

My bad: Apparently something in the algorithms at this website placed this story way down the list when ranking news in terms of importance. When I clicked to search by date, there was a substantial report on the raid.

Let me confess that, for an old religion-beat guy like myself, The Houston Chronicle isn’t just another newspaper.

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Flashback to Godbeat past: Several symbolic stories from front lines of the SBC wars

Flashback to Godbeat past: Several symbolic stories from front lines of the SBC wars

Here is an idea for the current leaders of the Religion Newswriters Association.

What if we held a reunion for the army of Godbeat pros who worked in the 1980s and '90s? You know, gather up the folks who used to trek from one annual denominational gathering to another -- two, three or, for reporters from big newsrooms, even more events -- each summer. Call up Bruce Buursma and let him organize the whole thing. Louis Moore and Virginia Culver can plan the program. Russ Chandler can handle the after-party (more on that in a minute).

Then everyone can get together and tells stories about what life was like back in the age of travel budgets. I promise you that, within 10 minutes, folks would start telling Southern Baptist Convention stories. Everybody who worked the beat during that era has several great SBC civil-war stories.

This is sort of what host Todd Wilken and I talked about during this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in).

We started talking about the news from this year's SBC gathering in St. Louis -- click here and then here for GetReligion background. But we ended up focusing on how important it is for journalists who cover this kind of gathering to actually know something about the religious group's life, past and present. Try to imagine having a Super Bowl and newsrooms sending reporters who know little or nothing about football.

Of course, very few news organizations spent money to send reporters to this year's SBC gathering. In the 1980s there would be 30-plus religion-beat pros at SBC meetings, scribes with folders packed with background material and notebooks full of sources. This year? At best, some organizations asked religion-beat reporters to watch the video feeds. It's like being a hoops reporter and covering the NBA finals -- without being at the games.

Does this affect the coverage? You think?

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What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

About a third of a century ago, back when I was doing graduate work in mass communications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I started calling up editors and asking them a simple question: Why doesn't your newsroom -- mostly newspapers, back then -- do more to cover religion news?

These interviews ended up being part of my graduate project, which was edited down and ran as a massive cover story -- "The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets" -- at the professional journal called The Quill

Editors gave me all kinds of reasons for their limited coverage of the Godbeat, but there were two reasons that I heard more than any other:

(1) Religion news is too boring (and no one wants to cover it).

(2) Religion news is too controversial (and causes our readers to get too riled up and they write too many leaders to the editor).

And there you had it: The world was just full -- too full, it seemed -- of boring, controversial religion stories. Between the lines, these journalists seem to be saying that religion was boring to THEM, yet they could not figure out why THEIR READERS seemed to care so much about it. Thus, the strange blend of boredom and controversy.

I thought about that this week when "Crossroads" podcast host Todd Wilken and I were talking about that controversial speech that President Barack Obama gave at the recent National Prayer Breakfast.

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