So this is what big religion news in the Los Angeles Times has come to: 281 words buried on AA5. In a glorified brief with a photo, in eight paragraphs stuck in the second section of the paper, came the news that the Vatican was seeking a replacement for Cardinal Roger Mahony:
The archdiocese distributed a memo to priests and lay leaders this week confirming that the search is underway and asking parishes to join in a prayer enlisting God's help in finding "a shepherd who will be an example of goodness to your people and who will fill our hearts and minds with the truth of the Gospel."
The memo surfaced Thursday in a blog, "Whispers in the Loggia," which closely follows Catholic affairs.
Mahony, who has led the Los Angeles archdiocese for more than two decades, turns 74 on Feb. 27, putting him one year shy of the usual retirement age for his post. The cardinal noted in his blog last month that this would be his last full year as archbishop.
His has been a tumultuous tenure, marked both by his emergence as a leader in the immigrant rights movement and by criticism of his handling of the church's sexual abuse scandals.
Everything in this article is truncated. The headline: "Mahony's successor sought." The reference to his tenure: 25 years became "more than two decades. The fact that he somehow kept his job after presiding over the largest clergy sex abuse scandal in history: not even mentioned.
At least the online version of this article didn't make the same mistake as USA Today. In the online headline, the LAT acknowledged that the Vatican was looking for Mahony's successor; USA Today said the LA archdiocese -- as opposed to Rome -- was the doing the looking. That might seem nit-picky, but church history has been defined by smaller struggles over semantics.
As for the LAT story, I can only say I feel bad that my local paper has gotten so thin that a Pulitzer Prize-winner and fellow Bruin had to pick up a story that clearly deserves its own beat reporter. After all, how did the paper learn that the Vatican was searching for Mahony's successor? Apparently from a blog. A popular blog, indeed, but I didn't realize reporters and editors at major metro papers sit around waiting for bloggers to tell them what's newsworthy.
Though there is a potentially more troubling possibility: That the LAT has given up and is waiting for the AP to do its job. The Los Angeles Times originally had to run on its Website the same AP story that USA Today ran. I appreciate the honesty, but I find it a bit alarming that a breaking news reporter for the Associated Press was breaking real and meaningful news to the LAT about the leader of the largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese in the country.
I looked back through the paper's archives. There is no indication that I missed the LAT's non-existent story about Mahony's announcement last month that this year of running the archdiocese would be his last.