On George Zimmerman's (young) Catholic faith

I have been waiting for someone to write a story about George Zimmerman and his family and it's religious background ever since I saw a passing reference to him being a former altar boy. The world is full of former altar boys, it seems, and every now and then that symbolic detail turns out to have meaning.

However, before we look at this Reuters report -- "George Zimmerman: Prelude to a shooting" -- let me note that this isn't really a news story that appears to impact crucial questions linked to the tragic events at the heart of this case. Like many other journalists I know, I continue to sift through the coverage trying to find hard, factual references to the evidence describing the sequence of events that led to the shooting and what may or may not have happened in that struggle.

In other words, all citizens of good will are waiting for the physical evidence to be discussed and debated. It could be a long and very tense wait. Meanwhile, religion is and has been part of the whirlwind around the death of young Trayvon Martin.

So what is this news story about? Journalists at Reuters tried to find out more information about the complex background of the man who pulled the trigger:

... (A) more nuanced portrait of Zimmerman has emerged from a Reuters investigation into Zimmerman's past and a series of incidents in the community in the months preceding the Martin shooting. Based on extensive interviews with relatives, friends, neighbors, schoolmates and co-workers of Zimmerman in two states, law enforcement officials, and reviews of court documents and police reports, the story sheds new light on the man at the center of one of the most controversial homicide cases in America.

The 28-year-old insurance-fraud investigator comes from a deeply Catholic background and was taught in his early years to do right by those less fortunate. He was raised in a racially integrated household and himself has black roots through an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather -- the father of the maternal grandmother who helped raise him.

A criminal justice student who aspired to become a judge, Zimmerman also concerned himself with the safety of his neighbors after a series of break-ins committed by young African-American men.

As you would expect, the story is rooted in biographical information about the multiracial Zimmerman family. The question, for GetReligion readers, is whether his "deeply Catholic" background is established in hard facts and then successfully linked to the man's character and life before the shooting. Otherwise, why make the reference at all?

The key figure, it appears, is Zimmerman's mother, Gladys -- an active Catholic. His father Robert's background is Baptist. The story includes some of the details that matter:

Gladys came to lead a small but growing Catholic Hispanic enclave within the All Saints Catholic Church parish in the late 1970s, where she was involved in the church's outreach programs. Gladys would bring young George along with her on "home visits" to poor families, said a family friend, Teresa Post.

"It was part of their upbringing to know that there are people in need, people more in need than themselves," said Post, a Peruvian immigrant who lived with the Zimmermans for a time.

Post recalls evening prayers before dinner in the ethnically diverse Zimmerman household, which included siblings Robert Jr., Grace, and Dawn. "It wasn't only white or only Hispanic or only black -- it was mixed," she said. ...

Zimmerman served as an altar boy at All Saints from age 7 to 17, church members said.

"He wasn't the type where, you know, 'I'm being forced to do this,' and a dragging-his-feet Catholic," said Sandra Vega, who went to high school with George and his siblings. "He was an altar boy for years, and then worked in the rectory too. He has a really good heart."

So religion is part of the picture until this young man is 17. Then there is trouble, symbolized by conflicts with police and a fiance's civil motion for a restraining order "alleging domestic violence." "Anger management" is an issue -- on the books. Eventually Zimmerman marries and seeks a career in criminal justice.

There are many details provided about race relations and crime in the Zimmerman neighborhood and the devastating impact of the recession on homeowners. Zimmerman is known for helping people -- black and white -- protect their homes. The question for GetReligion readers is simple: What happens to the religion angle? What happened to Zimmerman's faith?

The answer? Silence. There is no more information. The angle completely vanishes.

Thus, readers are left to draw their own conclusions about the devout Catholic boy who helps his mother reach out to the poor. It's key that part of Zimmerman's defense will be that, as a young adult, he was still trying to help his neighbors, black and white. This story appears to document some of that.

But what happened to his faith between the ages of 17 and 27?

At that point, the clear info about his family turns into a ghost about his adult life -- precisely at the moment that would interest readers. Is he still active in a local parish and it's social-justice ministries? Does the report's earlier information on his faith have any real meaning to recent events? How are we to know?

In the end, a very disappointing story.

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