On Monday, I criticized a Los Angeles Times story for failing to provide essential details to readers. Today, I criticize a Washington Times column for ... failing to provide essential details to readers. Like the LAT's Duke Helfand, the WT's Julia Duin began her column with a bang and a flourish:
Every priest in the Diocese of Arlington knows of Father James Haley. And the Rev. Joseph Clark.
What both priests have in common is that their careers have been destroyed by one man - Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde.
But like the early dance scene in Fitzgerald's "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," the music stopped. Or at least the story had no more than one or two notes in it. Duin told the column almost entirely from the perspective of the two priests and presented their claims with insufficient skepticism. Take this passage:
Bishop Loverde was not amused when, starting in 1999, Father Haley began supplying him with names of adulterous priests, homosexual clergy and priests with a predilection for child porn.
A critical reader will wonder how Haley knows all this information. Is he a long-time priest or an exceptionally social and knowledgeable one? How many names did he provide?
I find his claims hard to believe, especially his insistence that he knows priests who like child pornography. I know more than a few priests. Although they mention that priests stray from their vows when it comes to adultery and homosexuality, they have never talked about seminarians or clerics who like child porn. A priest would only discuss that issue in the confessional, which he is bound never to reveal.
In any event, Duin also needed to elaborate about Clark's story. She described his claims this way:
Father Clark's troubles began in 2005 after he told a deacon, Gerald Moore, that he was improperly handling consecrated wine. The deacon's daughter threatened the diocese with a lawsuit, and instead of calling the daughter's bluff, the bishop put the priest on forced leave.
This makes little sense. A priest was put on leave for telling a deacon that he handled consecrated wine improperly? There must be more to the story. Bishop Loverde is well known as a conservative; the Arlington diocese is one of the few that allows only boys to serve as altar servers. If anything, the bishop would applaud Clark for his admonishment, not punish him.
To her credit, Duin did ask church officials about Clark's allegations:
While in Rome covering the papal transition in 2005, I buttonholed Monsignor Augustine "Gus" DiNoia, undersecretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (where a lot of the molestation cases and accusations end up). I handed the monsignor a full page article I had written in 2004 about Father Haley and asked for comment.
I got none.
In November 2006, I located Bishop Loverde at a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting and asked him whether he planned to restore Father Clark. He dodged my question, but eventually, the Vatican decided Father Clark had not been given due process.
Duin's reporting does not reflect well on DiNoia or Loverde. Yet I think that a comment from Loverde or his spokespersons is in order; if they refused to speak to Duin, she should have said so.
The column comes across as unduly critical of Loverde. I don't doubt that like too many Catholic prelates, Bishop Loverde can be heavy handed and imperious toward reporters. But Loverde or his spokesperson deserved some quotes in this story. Duin does not mention the bishop's response to Haley's allegations.
I know staffers at The Washington Times. They say that reporters at the paper, far from being a lazy bunch of journalists, are industrious and overworked. I just thought that this column needed a little more work. (Photo of Bishop Loverde and one diocese's parishioners by user Michael Kelleher used under a Creative Commons license).