The news of the election of Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan as president of the Polish Catholic Bishops' Conference has me scratching my head and asking myself "What were they thinking?" I have nothing against Archbishop Gadecki. In fact I know little about the man. And after reading the story from the Associated Press you dear reader will know even less. The rolling of eyes and gnashing of teeth (it didn't reach the rending of garments level of distress) I experienced came not with the archbishop but the AP.
I have seldom seen such a poor job of reporting as found in the AP story whose headline in the Buffalo News read: "Poland's Catholic bishops pick new leader Gadecki".
While there are no major errors of fact in this story -- the man's name was spelled correctly, he is a Catholic archbishop, and was elected to lead the Polish Episcopal Conference -- you might be excused in thinking this was another story about the clergy abuse scandal.
The opportunities to make mistakes in a four paragraph story are limited. Yet in a story ostensibly about the election of Archbishop Gadecki to lead the Polish church, his name is not mentioned until the third of four paragraphs, while we get pedophilia in the opening and the close.
Here is the lede:
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's Roman Catholic bishops have elected a new leader to succeed Archbishop Jozef Michalik, who angered many with 2013 comments that suggested victims of pedophilia were partly to blame.
The news of the election of a new archbishop is contained in clause one, but the real story is the departure of Archbishop Michalik from office. The AP is using its editorial voice to set the tone for the story. And what we are told is the archbishop was an insensitive lout who said stupid things about the clergy abuse scandal.
The AP doubles down in the second paragraph ...
Wednesday's vote was unconnected to the controversy over Michalik, who had served 10 years — the maximum permitted — as leader of the Polish Episcopal Conference. He remains archbishop in the southeast Polish diocese of Przemysl.
... where the "don't let the door hit you on the way out" theme is strengthened. In paragraph three we read:
Catholic commentators welcomed the election of Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, a conservative but conciliatory figure based in the western city of Poznan. Gadecki previously was deputy leader of the bishops conference.
But this amount of space devoted to Gadecki seems a bit too much for the AP as we are back to Michalik in the close.
In October, Michalik told reporters that children of divorced parents were more likely to suffer sexual abuse because they may seek "closeness with others" and encourage sexual contact. Michalik denied he meant this.
Tell me again, what was this story about? Was it a report on the election of a new leader for Poland's Catholics? The title and the opening clause of the first sentence might suggest this to be true. Or was this article about the departure of Michalik, tainted by the ordure of the abuse scandal?
One can see the questionable news judgment the AP displayed when you compare this piece to the article on Radio Poland's English-language service webpage. It's lede stated:
Archbishop of Poznan Stanislaw Gadecki was elected to the post on Wednesday afternoon, after predecessor Archbishop Jozef Michalik completed the second of a maximum two terms. “I am shaken in the face of this responsibility, which moves me from a diocesan level to a nationwide one,” Archbishop Gadecki told reporters following the election.
“The situation of the Catholic Church in Poland today is very delicate, but I will not lose courage,” he said.
This story discussed the Catholic Church's troubles in Poland, but also lets us know a bit about Gadecki.
Commentators in the Polish press emphasized in the lead-up to the election that Archbishop Gadecki belonged neither to the circle of the conservative private station Radio Maryja, nor to the liberal faction within the Church.
And if you turn to the Polish press you can read the real story of the significance of Gadecki's election. According to journalist Dominika Wielowieyska writing in the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza Gadecki is the right man for the Catholic Church as he will pull the bishops back from politics.
I am particularly pleased that Gadecki criticized the bishops for becoming active in political parties - especially in the PiS. (Conservative opposition party) That is already a step forward. The departing chairman Jósef Michalik once voiced the strange opinion that he didn't see such meddling as a problem. The new chairman, by contrast, also no longer backs Radio Maryja, which makes no bones about its support for the PiS.
There is a story in the Gadecki election that I believe Western readers would find of interest in light of the American Catholic bishops recent forays into the political arena. But the AP is the news service that time forgot. They write as if a Catholic story must include references to the abuse scandal, no matter if the space given to this issue crowds out the story being covered.
This is what is called hack work. Somebody was paid to knock this story out for the AP, who then passed it on to their subscribers without giving it proper editorial scrutiny. The AP and the author made a few bucks, the readers and truth were left the poorer for this story.