"Rejoice, there is life after Ann Rodgers in Pittsburgh!"
So said regular GetReligion reader Jerry N., who emailed us a link to Peter Smith's latest piece of top-notch Godbeat journalism for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Smith, of course, spent 13 years as the religion writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He joined the Post-Gazette in 2013, succeeding Rodgers, Pittsburgh's longtime "queen of religion news." The two swept top honors in the metropolitan newspapers division of last year's Religion Newswriters Association contest. Just a few months ago, we featured Smith in a 5Q+1 interview about his in-depth reporting project on immigrant religious communities in Pittsburgh.
So yes, we at GetReligion are big fans of Smith — and of the Post-Gazette's strong commitment to the religion beat.
(In other cases, such as when Religion Newswriters Association President Bob Smietana left The Tennessean, major dailies opted to let the Godbeat disappear. And now there are rumblings that the San Antonio Express-News is wavering on replacing the great Abe Levy, even though the Texas newspaper advertised for the position.)
What makes Smith's brand of journalism so special?
In a nutshell, his stories provide an enjoyable mix of real people (in other words, he puts a human face on issues and trends), relevant context and important history.
This week's 1,800-word story on married Eastern Catholic priests is just the latest example.
Smith's lede provides rich details:
On a January weeknight, Halyna Charron was finishing preparations of a dinner of spinach pie, pork and tabouli salad.
Her husband, the Rev. Jason Charron, and all but the youngest of their six daughters, who range from 2 to 13 years old, pitched in at various times, slicing vegetables and setting the table in their Carnegie home. In between, one daughter played piano in the living room, another a brief video game in the TV room.
When they gathered at the table, they stood for a dinner blessing and faced a display of icons as the parents led the children in chanting prayers in English and Ukrainian.
During the meal, the parents asked the daughters what they learned in school, and the girls talked of homework and upcoming tests.
After dinner, Father Charron buttoned up his black cassock and headed out to do a house blessing in Upper St. Clair for a family of parishioners — a January tradition for Ukrainian Catholics. He and two daughters, brought along for the ride, gathered with the host family in their dining room for a prayer. The whole group then processed up and down stairs as Father Charron chanted blessings and sprinkled each room with holy water.
It was another day in the life of balancing work, marriage and family. “I can’t be a good pastor if I’m a lousy dad or lousy husband,” said Father Charron, 38.
That’s not the typical challenge for a Catholic priest.
From there, the Post-Gazette moves quickly to provide needed background:
But throughout North America, the ranks of married priests have slowly been growing in Eastern Catholic parishes such as Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Carnegie, where Father Charron became pastor last year.
Eastern Catholics are now preparing for more married priests. A historic decree last year by Pope Francis lifted a generations-old ban on married priests serving Eastern Catholic rites in the Americas and Australia.
Eastern Catholics, estimated around 600,000 in the United States, are barely 1 percent of the nation’s Catholic population. But they are some of its most diverse members, with distinct heritages in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and beyond. They are loyal to papal authority and Catholic dogma while practicing ancient liturgies and traditions similar to those of Orthodox and other Eastern churches.
Those traditions have included married priests — at least in the Old World.
Said Jerry N.:
The article did well to outline the difficulties that married clergy bring, such as the issue of paying them enough, or that married clergy don't like being assigned parishes with bad school districts, as is often the case with the old ethnic parishes of the Rust Belt.
By all means, read the whole story and celebrate another golden era of Steel City religion writing.