Fear and loathing in NY archdiocese

egan David Gonzalez of The New York Times wrote a curiously incomplete story. He reported that a group of priests in the New York archdiocese resent Cardinal Edward Egan for reassigning them unilaterally. But he failed to explain why the priests are upset. Gonzalez deserves credit for not only writing an interesting story but also for being honest with his readers. He must have been tempted to use the negative remarks anonymously. Instead, he explained the circumstances of his interviews with priests:

Almost no one interviewed for this story would speak without anonymity. Many of them said they were reluctant to risk running afoul of the cardinal. Interviews with nine priests -- including several who have served in significant administrative roles under previous archbishops -- revealed continued dissatisfaction with the cardinal's management style. ...

Many priests said that had ultimately affected morale -- a precious commodity among an increasingly aging and overworked clergy.

"There are some priests who are hurting right now and are devastated," said one priest who has been fielding calls from colleagues. "And no one is officially reaching out to them. That I emphatically know. There is no outreach right now."

Calls to three pastors known to have been reassigned were not returned. Another declined to comment, saying he hoped to appeal the decision. Some of the pastors -- who under church rules are assigned to six-year terms -- were reassigned before their term was up. It is unclear how many of them have informed their congregations of the moves.

I think this passage was well done. It painted a picture of fear and loathing among the reassigned priests. Earlier in the story, Gonzalez explained that Cardinal Egan contested the critics' claims. Yet unless the priests are feigning upset, I think the story reveals low morale among priests.

I'm just not sure, and readers can't be sure either, why the priests disdain Egan. Gonzalez needed to explain how exactly the Cardinal acted imperiously. After all, as Gonzalez points out, the Cardinal is under no obligation under canon law to consult the board.

To grasp the situation, readers need more background. Why was the personnel board created? Why does it, apparently, smooth relations between the ordinary and priests?

Quoting from a priest about why he hates to be reassigned without the board's input would have been helpful. For example, I think that Gonzalez needed to flesh out this sentence below:

They said Cardinal Egan had not only disregarded the personnel board in recent years, but had also failed to provide any guidance on how to handle the transition for those priests and congregations affected by the transfers.

This passages begs lots of questions. Why do priests need guidance on transitioning to a new parish? How are congregations affected? As a Catholic, I can guess at the answers, but most readers won't be able to.

Gonzalez's story gets religion. It just didn't explain religion well enough to readers.

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