A religion story in full

peacockSometimes reporters get religion completely. Their stories are not only interesting, important, and well executed, but also explain religion in full. Take this Washington Times story by reporter Julia Duin. The article is about a federal scandal involving Catholic officials in Richmond. Duin began her story this way:

Federal authorities are investigating the actions of a Catholic charity in Richmond which helped a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl to receive an abortion in January, in possible violation of Virginia law.

Officials have called the matter to the attention of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters in Washington, urging it to prevent any repetition of the incident.

Four employees of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, Richmond, (CCR) have been fired and one supervisor with the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services agency has been suspended, according to federal sources and a secret April 29 letter written by three bishops to 350 bishops nationwide.

Did you get that? Representatives of a Catholic charity helped a 16-year-old kill her unborn child. Talk about an attention grabber. (Months before, the same officials had given the girl an unspecified contraceptive device.)

Then, Duin backed up her claims. She reported first, that three Catholic bishops on April 29 had written a letter to all 350 Catholic U.S. prelates confirming the incident. She reported second, the contents of an earlier letter from a federal official:

In a three-page letter dated April 23, David Siegel, acting director of the HHS Refugee Resettlement Office, criticized the Catholic bishops group.

"USCCB's inability to direct the actions of its sub-grantee was a failure of management, oversight and monitoring," he said in the letter to Johnny Young, executive director of the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) agency.

In addition, Mr. Siegel noted in the letter, CCR staff used the wrong medical authorization form to justify the abortion, adding that if his agency had received the correct form, "it would not have been approved."

It might have been tempting for Duin to stick to the legal aspects of the case. Instead, she wrote about the religious ramifications of what Catholic officials allegedly did:

Roman Catholic doctrine condemns deliberate abortion as a mortal sin in all cases and imposes automatic excommunication upon anyone who obtains one or knowingly helps someone else do so. The excommunication usually can be lifted by ordinary confession and appropriate penance.

The church also teaches that knowingly using contraception is a mortal sin, although it does not incur automatic excommunication. Moreover, the church objects to some methods of contraception - those that prevent a fertilized embryo from implanting in the uterus - as forms of abortion.

A reader can't ask a reporter to do much more. Duin summarized and explained Catholic teaching. Her description gave readers more than sufficient context.

My only question about the story is why federal authorities warned Catholic officials rather than punish them. Didn't church officials break the law and don't they deserve a day in court?

That said, Duin did more than report and explain her story well. She also hinted at problems afflicting the U.S. Catholic Church:

"Some members of the MRS staff were not sufficiently aware of church teaching and [USCCB] policy regarding these matters to take stronger and more appropriate actions," Bishops DiLorenzo, Wester and Driscoll said in a letter to their peers. ...

Officials for the diocese, the Catholic bishops and their agencies declined multiple requests for comment.

In other words, some bishops failed to explain church teaching and kept their actions hidden. Which is the opposite of what Julia Duin did.

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