When dealing with a crime, journalists (as well as police, of course) often ask question about what may or may not have been the motives behind the illegal act. That's pretty logical, right? With break-ins and common thefts, it is commonly assumed that the criminals want to sell valuable stolen goods on the black market. Diamonds are valuable, as are computers, etc. Money is money.
If that is the case, then the following story from The Ottawa Citizen -- "Special mass held after theft of church's tabernacle" -- has a rather glaring hole, journalistically speaking.
First things first: Under Associated Press style, that reference in the headline -- and later on in the story text -- should be "Mass," rather than the lower-case "mass."
Second, the first question that jumped into my mind after reading the headline was this: Did the whole Harvard University "black Mass" story receive much coverage on wire services in Canada?
Why ask that question? Well, because of that logical crime-motive question I hinted at earlier.
So there is another question to ponder: What is the street price these days for a holy tabernacle stolen from a Catholic altar? And, yes, what is the going price on the fake-pagan market these days for containers of consecrated bread and wine? What is the price per Host? After all a "black Mass" with a consecrated Host is much more scandalous than one served with cookies, potato chips, ordinary bread or whatever banal or crude substance leaps to mind.
One key detail in this crime didn't make it into the headline or the lede, but was briefly mentioned in an early quote. The first thing Catholic readers are going to want to know was whether the tabernacle's contents were stolen. The golden box is valuable. The consecrated items inside are Sacraments.
As police began investigating the break-in, theft and graffiti as a possible hate crime, priests and parishioners from other local Catholic churches went to the St. Martin de Porres church in Bells Corners for a special "reparation" mass Friday.
"We have a long history of tradition and rituals and we have special masses and special prayers we can say when someone has done something like this, when they've desecrated a church, when they've stolen the blessed sacrament," said Father Geoffrey Kerslake, episcopal vicar with the Archdiocese of Ottawa.
Kerslake, one of the leaders of Friday's mass, said he found the parishioners' response "striking." He said the community wasn't angry at whoever took the tabernacle and sprayed graffiti, which police said contained hateful words towards the Catholic church. "Although people were obviously shocked, and sad, I didn't see any anger," he said. "I didn't see hatred. I didn't see people screaming out for vengeance."
Once again, Associated Press style is "Blessed Sacrament" rather than "blessed sacrament," but it appears that the Ottawa Citizen copy desk disagrees with some doctrines in the omnipresent bible of daily journalism.
It's clear that the material value question was asked, in this case. The spiritual question? Read on:
Catholic churches have tabernacles, usually a metal box or cylinder around the size of a large bread box, to keep Communion bread that is taken to sick people outside the church, Kerslake said.
He said he's not sure exactly how much the tabernacle at St. Martin de Porres was worth. But the items don't usually have a "great material value" associated with them, he said. Everything that was taken from the church was worth "several thousand dollars" according to the report filed to police, he said.
Great "material" value"? That's one way to put it.
Also, did the priest really say -- this is a paraphrased quote -- that the tabernacle contains Communion bread or did he say "consecrated" Communion bread? That's a rather interesting detail to miss. Perhaps we are dealing with a newsroom that contains no practicing Catholics?
Meanwhile, one other detail in that earlier passage caught my eye, a detail mentioned again later in the report:
Inside the church, offices and storage rooms were “trashed” and “hate-related” words were inscribed on some items, said Gardner, declining to be specific about the messages.
So it appears that a reporter did ask the logical question about the content of the "hate-related" graffiti, the words left behind by the robbers that raised questions about whether this incident was or was not a hate crime. Perhaps parishioners had theories or first-hand information about these crucial details, that is, if a reporter could spare the time to attend the Mass, the clean-up activities, etc.
However, just thinking out loud, might the contents of the hate language have something to do with the motive for the crime, for the logic behind the stealing of the tabernacle and its holy contents?
IMAGE: A typical altar tabernacle in a Catholic parish.