Denver Post team flubs a bunch of key details in a simple Catholic funeral story

A 14-year-old boy who was standing on a sidewalk in south Denver as a car careened in his direction is dead. Denver media have been full of news about this tragedy, as it involved a soon-to-be-eighth grader who got mowed down by an 81-year-old driver who clearly did not need to be at the wheel of a moving vehicle.

The tragedy, which happened on July 13, involved a woman with some standing in the community -- since she had been in a hit-and-run a few months before. Not only are locals discussing the boy’s untimely death, but they’re also asking when it’s time to get many elderly drivers off the road. 

His funeral was Saturday. Now, this wasn’t just any funeral. It was a Mass for a 14-year-old that lots of people attended. With all the local interest in this story, you’d hope the Denver Post would send someone to cover the funeral who  has a clue about religion reporting. Alas, that's not what happened with this story. It starts OK:

On the day that relatives left the hospital for the last time after 14-year-old Cole Sukle died, the sky opened up and family members were suddenly pelted by lots and lots of white pellets. It was hail, said Sherri Potter, the boy’s aunt.
But the turbulent weather made Potter smile, remembering floors littered with white pellets after Cole would play with family using air-soft guns that shot soft, white pellets. It was one of Cole’s favorite games, she said.
“I thought later that maybe my playful dad and my nephew Donnie who went to heaven ahead of Cole were welcoming him, with a crazy game of air-soft,” Potter said. “I’m going to always think of Cole and smile every time I see a hail.”
Cole died after he and his friend got hit by a car as they stood along Yale Way in southeast Denver.

But when we get to the service, problems arise.

Hundreds gathered Saturday morning at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church, 2250 S. Harrison St. in southeast Denver to pray and remember Cole. Firefighters who were with Cole on the day of the crash attended the mass.
The priest relaxed some of the rituals to welcome and acknowledge the many who attended but might not be Catholic. In his sermon, he asked people to think of religion as not founded in God, but in relationships with the people who make them believe in a higher power. In thinking about it that way, he said, it is natural to feel lost after one person is missing -- especially someone like Cole, who had a way of befriending and helping so many people, he said.

Is there any competent editor working the Saturday shift at the Denver Post?

First, who is “the priest?” Does he have a name? The church’s website shows two on staff. And what is meant by “relaxed some of the rituals?” Is the newspaper implying that non-Catholics were allowed to receive Communion in the Mass (with an upper-case "M," by the way)? Maybe certain prayers were left out?

In the sentence about religions “as not founded in God but in relationships with people,” what does that mean? Even if you're a liberal cleric, that paraphrased sentence is pretty out there, theologically speaking. Would any minister with a brain choose a public funeral as a place to digress on religion not really being about God?

Then there’s the little things, like “he said” showing up twice in the last sentence and then, later in the article, “Mass” is not capitalized, which is a big no-no in the world of Associated Press style. It’s one thing when the reporter is clueless. It’s another when her editor allows a sloppy piece to go in the newspaper.

One wonders if this is par for the course at this paper. It’s been awhile since the Denver Post has covered faith issues adequately. These days, the newspaper seems to go out of its way to ignore it. There are nine topic tabs atop the paper’s web site and most of them have multiple subtopics, ranging from airlines and marijuana to comics and reverb music as pull-downs. There’s nothing that alludes to religion/belief/faith or anything close other than “Hark,” an occasional religion blog written by non-staff writers. 

The Post wrote in 2013 that Colorado is becoming less religious, but even if one accepts their low estimate, one-third of the populace is still a healthy demographic chunk that at least deserves regular coverage.  For every place that is as pagan as Boulder (a great topic to cover), there’s Greeley or Colorado Springs.

A glance at the staff listings shows a small staff that’s been decimated by recent layoffs. Their longtime editor resigned this spring, right before his replacements announced reporters will be expected to produce two stories a day, aka assembly line journalism. So I realize that the remaining reporters are way overworked and I’m not anxious to kick someone when they are down.

Still, a death is a death, a Catholic funeral Mass is a Catholic funeral Mass, and if you’re going to cover it, do it right.

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