Your GetReligionistas, as you know, rarely comment on editorials, especially those of the op-ed variety that offer the point of view of one scribe with an attitude. However, official editorials that express the beliefs of the newspaper's editorial board often, in my humble opinion, offer insights into the thinking of newsroom professionals when it comes to complex and controversial topics in the news. A regular reader out in Colorado sent us a perfect example from the Denver Post -- an editorial about a law that some legislators believe will help limit the abuse of children and teens.
No, this time we are not talking about the pope, priests or even religion. That's kind of the point. Here's the set-up material at the top of this short editorial essay:
A proposal to require Colorado school districts to alert parents when teachers and staff are arrested or charged with serious crimes seems to be a reasonable way to ensure transparency between schools and parents while also serving as a useful safeguard for children. As long as key elements of the rule are clearly thought through and properly implemented, the Colorado Board of Education should usher in the new requirement.
OK, so far so good.
The key is that this new law would require school officials to notify parents -- within 24 hours -- if a faculty member or school employee is arrested or charged in connection with "felony cases, misdemeanor crimes involving children and any unlawful sexual behavior."
Now, here is the newspaper's totally logical note of concern about this legislation:
We have no problem with school districts passing along information that's already a public record to parents. However, we're also aware that some cases resolve without charges or convictions.
Exercising judgment in the publication and review of details concerning arrests and charges is vitally important. Remembering that someone charged with a crime is to be deemed innocent until proven guilty must remain part of the equation.
Now, does that statement apply to any priests or nuns who happen to teach in local Catholic schools? How about Sunday school teachers? Youth group leaders? Is there one standard for religious teachers and workers, while another standard is used for secular teachers and workers?
Thus, the reader noted:
Can you imagine the howls of suspicion and derision if that same line were used ... regarding accused priests?
That's a good comment. It also seems that the Archdiocese of Denver is going to get nailed on this issue no matter what it does when faced with tough cases.
Consider, for example, the tone of the Denver Post coverage of a dispute in a local parish that followed a decision by the archbishop and his staff to enforce a strict, strict policy in the aftermath of an accusation of sexual abuse. That led to this A1 headline and lede:
Denver archbishop defends removal of priest after allegations of sexual abuse
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput on Monday asked for prayers for the priest he removed from the ministry ... and healing for the man who reported that he had been sexually abused by the Rev. Melvin Thompson more than 35 years ago in an undisclosed Colorado parish.
Chaput, in a column that will appear ... in the Denver Catholic Register, said he understands the frustration parishioners at St. Thomas More Catholic Church have expressed at losing a "respected and well-loved" priest about whom no previous allegations had been made.
Catholics have complained, Chaput said, of the "unfairness" of the action to relieve Thompson, 74, of his priestly duties one day after a single unsubstantiated accusation that he denies.
Chaput said it was a painful but necessary action. The archdiocese reported the accusation to civil authorities April 8, according to spokeswoman Jeanette DeMelo. None of the police or sheriff's departments in the Colorado cities and counties Thompson has worked in had seen a complaint as of Monday afternoon.
The archdiocese says that this quick strike, zero-tolerance policy is rooted in guidelines released in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also, the Vatican has just posted a guide for handling sexual abuse that is based on reforms demanded in 2001 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
So, Post editors and reporters: Is quick, decisive action on claims of sexual abuse good or bad? Does the answer depend on the type of collar worn by the person who has been accused?