Gangbangers and their Catholic counselor

gangs1boschOne in a series of stories about life in South L.A., this piece from the Los Angeles Times about a Catholic priest leading a lot of kids to a better life starts out with a ton of promise.

The little school in South Los Angeles is the end of the road, reserved for those who have bombed out of the rest of the system. The mildest cases were merely kicked out of their last school. The toughest are parolees -- ex-cons, some of them still in no need of a shave.

Earlier this year, they began receiving an unusual visitor. Stan Bosch was a shaggy-headed, motorcycle-riding Catholic priest who'd played college football and had the broad shoulders and busted knees to prove it.

Bosch told them he would never judge them -- and unlike many before him, he held to his pledge. It seemed they could talk about anything with him, so they did. They talked about smoking pot, about getting drunk with their mothers, about being left alone for days at a time. One confessed to a string of burglaries; he said he felt rotten about it but had to find a way to bring home some money. Another said he'd rather be back in jail, where he could be assured meals and a bed.

All the priest asked was that they refrain from calling him "homie." That didn't seem too much to ask.

Better yet, the long feature story was written by Scott Gold, one of my favorite reporters at the Times and one of the best investigative reporters this city's had in a long, long time. Gold, with his reporting partner Matt Lait, exposed the Rampart police scandal about a decade ago and just last week his reporting on inconsistencies in the investigation and conviction of a man who had spent 25 years in prison for murder led the his release.

Gold's story are, to use a cheap cliche and pun, typically good as gold. But as I continued on in "Encouraged to talk about it," something was missing. There was great dialogue between Bosch and his pupils.

But ... what ... was ... missing?

Got it: God.

After mentioning that Bosch, who has received international attention, is a " shaggy-headed, motorcycle-riding Catholic priest" -- a description that is supposed to suggest Bosch is a bit of a rebel -- there is not another mention of God, faith, religion, anything. It seems that Bosch is counselor not confessor.

But is it really possible that Catholicism is completely absent of his relationship with these teens? If he's so different, what is his message? Is he like the Rev. David Kalke at the Central City Lutheran Mission in San Bernardino, who leads a Hip-Hop Jazz Mass, or is he simply a faith-free gang interventionist?

I find the latter hard to believe. That's what I believe. But I don't know what Bosch, who left the pastorate because he was tired of burying kids, believes.

Maybe this detail, from a story about Bosch that appeared last month -- last month -- in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' Tidings would have been helpful:

"If only the power of Jesus could be released on our inner-city streets," he speculates, shaking his head a little. "But we don't have a missionary spirit when it comes to these kids, even though the majority of them are Catholic. There's this image that because a kid is gang involved means he's evil. So they pile up in juvenile hall. But when they come home, where do they go?"

After a pause, Father Bosch has one last thought. "That would be a great thing for our church, our parishes to do," he says, "really embrace and welcome these kids."

Just a thought.

Oh yeah, that photo is from another profile of Bosch that appeared in The Tidings last fall.

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