Incense, hats and humor -- oh my!

I'm sorry. I try not to pick on any reporters, especially one who is a former Bruin and is fighting the good fight on one of the more besieged religion beats in the country. But I have to ring this bell again. Yesterday I mentioned his story about a Los Angeles parish that had a vibrant Catholic congregation. Before that there was the glorified news brief about the Vatican moving on from Cardinal Roger Mahony. Now the story causing this GetReligionista some consternation concerns the arrival of Mahony's successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez.

What's the problem with "L.A. officially welcomes its next Roman Catholic Archbishop?"

It's not an issue of accuracy. Nor is it that the LAT missed an important story; in fact, this occasion was the sort of pro forma event that the search for Mahony's replacement was not. Nor is the story overwhelmed by bad writing or shallow details, though it does again bang the Gomez-is-a-conservative drum.

But on the whole, the article is an enjoyable read -- if, that is, you can get past the first paragraph:

Los Angeles officially welcomed its next Roman Catholic archbishop Wednesday with a celebratory Mass that included a bit of just about everything: tears, drama, majesty, song, hats, incense, a cast of thousands, prayer and even a little slapstick humor.

Now, I haven't been to Mass since Pope John Paull II died. I'm no expert on Catholic celebrations. But this line made me to erupt in laughter -- and it wasn't due to the slapstick. Incense, HATS (!) ... those are pretty common parts of a Catholic service. You'd think that someone on the Godbeat would be aware of that.

On the one hand, this intro immediately tips the reader to the fact that reporter Mitchell Landsberg might not know much about Catholicism. On the other hand, it may be an indication that the reporter is thorough in his fact-gathering and that he understands many of his readers won't be masters of Catholic ritual.

But even if the details were included in the interest of exhaustiveness, they carry an air of triviality. Like I said: I don't mean to harp, but the first words of this article, not so arguably the most important words of the article, left me with the impression that Landsberg had never been inside a Catholic church before (though I know he had).

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