New bishop in Harrisburg: One story, one side, one problem

OK, gentle readers, once again I need to stress that the following post on a recent story in The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.) focuses on a journalism issue in this story, not the tensions centering on the appointment of a particular Catholic bishop to a particular post in the American hierarchy. This post is also not a commentary on what Catholic leaders have or have not done about the decades of sexual abuse of children and teen-agers by clergy or the cover-up of some of these crimes. I mean, my views on this issue are clear.

No, this is a post about the construction of a particular new report. In many ways, this post is an example of one of the most disturbing trends that your GetReligionistas have seen in religion-news coverage over the past decade.

The headline hints at the central problem: "Victims advocate: Appointment of Bishop Ronald Gainer the most distressing promotion yet from Pope Francis."

And here is the top of the story:

The top official for a national group that advocates on behalf of people who have been abused by Catholic priests on Friday denounced the appointment of the new bishop of the Harrisburg Diocese.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the appointment of Bishop Ronald Gainer a disappointing decision that signals the Vatican’s continued willingness to promote and advance clergy, he said, who shield predator priests. Clohessy said the appointment of Gainer ... may be Pope Francis’ most distressing promotion yet.

“It’s a painful message,” Clohessy said. “The message is nothing has changed. Church officials who continue putting kids in harms way continue getting promotions. It sounds cynical but appointments like this make us question why should we expect bishops to change when they are moved up the ladder despite clear wrongdoing.”

Obviously -- I mean OBVIOUSLY -- Clohessy is a crucial voice in a report on this topic. Also, from decades of following this hellish story, I realize that critics of the hierarchy are much more likely to speak freely to the press about these issues.

I get all of that. That isn't the problem. That is not what this post is about.

The problem is that this story is, literally, only half of a news story.

Let's look at each and every one of the other attribution clauses linked to the information in this story.

* In the wake of Gainer’s appointment, SNAP drew attention. ...

* Clohessy said SNAP last year. ...

* Last year, the Chicago Tribune reported. ...

Wait, there's more.

* In addition, Clohessy said Gainer. ...

* ... the Lexington Herald Leader then reported.

* In spite of that, Clohessy said. ...

* “It’s obviously reckless ... ,” Clohessy said.

* "Similarly ... , Clohessy said. "There’s obviously no doubt ...." he said.

Once again, let me stress that the information from SNAP, and even from the other newspapers, is crucial and this information needs to be included in a responsible report on the sexual-abuse issue. However, it would have been good to have sought out voices on both sides of the earlier events, rather than simply assuming that the Chicago and Lexington newspapers were the definitive authorities on these complex stories.

Thus, as a faithful GetReligion reader noted:

OK, and where is the opposing viewpoint? No one at Penn Live could pick up the phone and call the Lexington Diocese?

Yes, this report on one of the most complex, painful and divisive issues in American religion does not contain a single word of sourcing from the other side of the debate.

Yes, I know that Catholic officials may have failed to return calls. If that is the case, then say so.

Yes, I know that the legal teams involved in the defense of church leaders -- in this case or in others -- may have declined to return calls. If that is the case, then say so.

However, I find it hard to believe that there were zero people willing to discuss either the Gainer case or the fine points of cases similar to it. Really? There was no one willing to provide a different perspective? What is this, a column? An opinion or analysis essay?

It's called journalism, folks. Give it a try.

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