No surprise here: Godbeat all-star produces stellar journalism on a sickening subject

The details are sickening.

Even reading the lede on Wednesday's story by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette religion writer Peter Smith makes one want to vomit.

Yet the felony charges revealed in Pennsylvania this week against a Catholic religious order's superiors demand strong news coverage.

And that's exactly what Godbeat all-star Smith provides:

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — One of his Franciscan superiors knew Brother Stephen Baker had sexually abused a minor and ordered a psychological evaluation in the early 1990s. The evaluation came back with a caution — to keep Baker away from one-on-one contact with children, and no overnight trips with them.
Even so, the Very Rev. Giles A. Schinelli admitted under oath to a grand jury that he assigned Baker to work at Bishop McCort Catholic High School here in 1992, and Baker had plenty of one-on-one contact with students.
Baker became an athletic trainer there despite lacking any professional qualifications, and under the guise of offering massages or other treatment, Baker handled boys’ bare genitals with his hands and digitally penetrated their anuses, among other offenses.
A statewide grand jury, saying that he enabled a nearly two-decade rampage of abuse that claimed at least 100 victims, recommended that Father Schinelli and the two who succeeded him as head of a Hollidaysburg-based Franciscan province face almost unprecedented felony charges.
Each is charged with one count of endangering the welfare of children and criminal conspiracy, which are third-degree felonies.
The charges represent one of the broadest-ever drives to hold Roman Catholic higher-ups to account in any American criminal court for the sexual abuse of minors by those under their supervision. And they’re the first religious-order superiors to face such charges.

Producing quality journalism on a story such as this requires both factual reporting — with details attributed to named sources — and fair treatment of the various parties cited in court documents.

Smith's 1,200-word breaking news report illustrates his commitment to each of those essentials.

Note, for example, how the Post-Gazette veteran makes clear his attempt to give those charged an opportunity to respond to the accusations:

The three superiors chose “to protect the image and reputation of the Franciscan friars” rather than protect children “to whom they owed a duty of care,” Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Tuesday in a news conference announcing the charges at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.
Messages left with a Bishop McCort High School spokesman and with Fathers Criscitelli in Minnesota and Schinelli in Florida were not returned Tuesday. A woman who answered the phone at Father D’Aversa’s parish in Florida said he was out of town and was not checking messages.

Have we mentioned before that Smith is really good at what he does? (OK, maybe we have.)

Kudos to him and his newspaper — once again — on a job well done. 

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