A long, long time ago, I was the religion writer and columnist for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. It's a fascinating city in a beautiful region (heaven, you know) and I envy people who get to work out there. The person who holds that position these days, and has for many years, is Jean Torkelson. And I must say that I do not envy her right now. Or maybe I do envy her. That's what I cannot figure out at the moment.
You ask, "Why?"
At the moment, Torkelson is covering what has to be one of the strangest stories to come down the jogging path in a long, long time. It's a serious story, because the Catholic Church is a serious place these days when it comes to priests with innovative ideas about matters of sex (kind of). Yet this story is also, so, so ... Well, you judge. Click here for a range of mainstream coverage at the moment.
It's the kind of story that leaves a reporter wondering what angle to take, what tone to strike. Here's the lede on a Torkelson column that tries to walk this tightrope:
Here's a surefire way to scatter the flock on a Sunday morning: Just walk up after Mass and ask folks what they think about their pastor being caught jogging naked.
You would like a summary of the facts about the actions of Father Robert Whipkey?
... Whipkey faces an indecent exposure charge for what he says was innocent predawn nude jogging on June 22. That forced the Denver Archdiocese to reveal that Whipkey entered therapy in 1999 for "inappropriate personal behavior" while a pastor in Sterling. A former police chief said the issue involved shaving naked in front of boys.
Despite a recurring theme here, the archdiocese not only returned Whipkey to parish work after Sterling, but didn't put him on leave until six weeks after the June jogging incident. And that, the flock said, was only after the media made it a big deal.
"He's a great pastor," said George Martinez, one of few parishioners to give his name. "I had dropped out, and I'm back in church because of him."
A strange story indeed. I was left wondering a simple question: This is a serious story. How does one avoid the fact that it is also, well, rather funny in a kind of Monty Python-esque manner? Torkelson wisely plays it straight down the middle, but does allow a zinger in a direct quote.
It all looks odd to Amy Berger, who lives across the street from St. Theresa's.
"If you want to jog nude, why not get a treadmill?" she mused.
I have very mixed feelings on all of this and I have no idea how I would handle it.
So good luck, Colorado journalists. And my heart goes out to the copy-desk pros who have to write the headlines for this one.