One of the biggest holes in religion news coverage is treatment of weekly worship. Regular worship is one of the most common expressions of religious activity. Much more important in the life of the church than, say, politics. But it doesn't seem to interest reporters terribly much. So I was pleased to see the angle that Washington Post religion reporter William Wan took with his latest: "As Easter nears, priests struggle with how, whether to address church scandals." Of all times for the media and the Vatican to be warring, it's happening during Holy Week. As priests are preparing multiple homilies for the week, it's reasonable to ask whether they're thinking about mentioning the news. The story is build around Monsignor John Enzler of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington:
As a parish priest, the church figure closest to everyday Catholics, do you avoid the subject altogether? Do you slip it into the Good Friday bulletin? Or meet it head-on with an Easter sermon?
"The thing is, this is not exactly what people expect on Easter," sighed Enzler, whose high-profile congregants include "Hardball" host Chris Matthews and conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan. "They come dressed in their Easter finery, having gone through the Lenten season, excited about the coming joy. To hear this kind of a message would be pretty rough."
To not address it, however, could alienate those on the fence -- those with doubts, who want answers, honesty and transparency from the church. To say nothing, Enzler worried, leaves the question hanging in the air, an opening to be filled by critics and negative stories in the media.
The reporter then gives a pretty full explanation of the questions being leveled at Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican's strong response, and a look at what U.S. bishops have been saying.
The story also includes criticism. And yes, that includes the ubiquitous, at times omnipresent, Father Thomas Reese. But not just him:
To drive home that point, victim advocates are planning a Good Friday event in front of the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington. "A vigil not a protest . . . it is a sacred day after all," said organizer Jessica Lillie. "But Good Friday is a day of sorrow, and we want the church to stop hiding the sorrow of victims."
Then it comes back to the priests. The reporter has quotes from a total of three priests, one who says bringing up the issue again might not be spiritually fruitful during Easter. Another says silence is inadequate. I actually wouldn't have minded a survey of a few more folks.
But we get a very nice explanation of what Enzler has thought about. He says that four mothers in parish -- recent converts with 10 children -- asked him to say something. He began thinking about how to do it, deciding on a mention in the Easter bulletin:
"I wanted to be careful to say it well, to say it right," Enzler said. The first version was too heavy on apology. "You want to admit that the church isn't perfect, but the last thing you want is to add fuel to the fire," Enzler said.
This was the crux, he realized, in which the church found itself: It needed to admit missteps, but worried that by doing so, it would fall prey to the accusations of its critics.
With almost four decades in the priesthood, Enzler recalled that some of his most powerful sermons were ones in which he let down his guard and became vulnerable with his flock. By sharing his struggles, he thought, his parishioners could see the true heart of the church and its priests. They, too, struggle at times with mistakes. They, too, agonize over how to fix them. They, too, need grace and prayer.
In the end, he settled on this phrasing: "I think it is fair to say that the child abuse issue has not always been handled well by the church. Today I pray for all victims of abuse, their families and the Church. Amidst our shared pain, we gather in hope and prayer and, yes, the spirit of the Resurrection."
The story actually isn't that long. But the reporter does a great job of letting this priest just speak and explain all the challenges he must face in addressing the topic. It actually goes on to discuss Enzler's concern about those Catholics who only attend Mass once or twice a year. For that reason, he's also going to mention something during the homily.
It's a great story idea with anecdotes that made it even better. I think the piece works so well because it has a relatively tight focus. It also does a nice job of describing conflicting views without making the conflict itself the crux of the story.