Something rather interesting and important is missing from the Washington Post story that ran under the headline, "Anti-Catholic protesters with bullhorns appear at several D.C.-area parishes." However, and this is the strange part, it does not appear that the Post team is to blame.
See if you can spot the problem at the very top of this report:
Roman Catholic leaders have sent e-mails of warning to dozens of Washington and Maryland priests after protesters with bullhorns yelling anti-Catholic slogans appeared at several parishes and in a couple of cases “stormed the inside of the church just before Mass,” a bishop-administrator wrote in the e-mail.
A spokeswoman with the Archdiocese of Washington, which oversees 139 parishes in the District and suburban Maryland, said Wednesday that “really small” groups of protesters have appeared on the property of three or four parishes in the past couple of weeks near Mass time. They were shouting at parishioners going in and out and were handing out “fundamentalist” Christian literature, said Chieko Noguchi.
She would not identify the parishes or share the literature or what it said, saying it was unclear whether the protesters had created it or were using something they got elsewhere.
No, it's not the scare-quotes use of the familiar and often abused "fundamentalist" epithet that troubles me. It is highly likely -- in Associated Press Stylebook terms -- that this particular f-word actually applies to this case.
But we don't know. Why don't we know?
Let's put the issue another way: These protestors are shouting out anti-Catholic slogans, but we don't know what they were shouting. OK, I will ask: Like what? The assumption is that the content of the shouted slogan pointed, somehow, toward fundamentalist Protestantism (as opposed to the shouts and slogans, these days, of liberal anti-Catholic protestors).
Also, the protesters handed out literature. What kind? Published where? What were the titles of some of the booklets and what not? It's hard to have anonymous literature of this kind.
So here is the question I wanted to see answered: Why is the archdiocese declining to answer these basic questions or share information about the material being passed out? Isn't that a rather crucial detail, if the goal is to warn others? I can understand not wanting to give the haters free publicity, but basic facts are facts.
The story does use some pretty strong language to describe what happened.
But the Rev. Mike Jones, pastor at St. Pius, described the incident in the parish’s Nov. 2 bulletin.
“We don’t have to go to the other side of the world to experience religious extremists,” wrote Jones, describing parishioners leaving Saturday’s 5 p.m. Mass. “We were assaulted by shouting and hatred being spewed by protesters standing at both our driveways. Armed with megaphones and brandishing signs, these ‘christians’ ranted for more than 30 minutes about everything they view as ‘evils’ of our Catholic faith. They attacked our dogmas, teachings, practices and leaders, including Pope Francis! Who are they? We don’t yet know.”
My question to journalists reading about this: Should a term like "fundamentalist" be used with no specific content in the story to support it? Maybe the reporters were given specifics, but agreed not to use them. Strange.