You never forget certain names in the news — even though you may go years without hearing them.
I think of Pat Boone, who was a major celebrity decades ago but — at age 83 — is not nearly as well known to younger Americans. Boone spoke briefly at this year's Religion News Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., and joked that a fellow speaker told him, "I know who you are. I thought you died." (In case you're curious about Boone, read the interview I did with him at the RNA meeting.)
Just this week, the death of Cardinal Bernard Law — "the disgraced former archbishop of Boston whose failures to stop child molesters in the priesthood sparked what would become the worst crisis in American Catholicism," as The Associated Press described him — pushed him back into the headlines. Fifteen years ago, of course, Law was at the center of the clergy sex abuse scandal sparked by a Boston Globe investigation. At that time, I was religion editor at The Oklahoman, and I remember covering the June 2002 meeting in Dallas where then-Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating was appointed to lead a national review board charged with monitoring U.S. bishops' new policy on clergy sexual abuse. (Read Julia Duin's post on news coverage of Law's death.)
I've found that readers like "What ever happened to?" stories. They appreciate knowing — months or even years later — how life turned out for a particular newsmaker. We journalists, on the other hand, often neglect to go back and provide such updates. Generally, there is plenty of new news to keep us busy.
Occasionally, though, reporters find intriguing stories in blasts from the past: A recent one comes courtesy of the Charlotte Observer's veteran religion writer, Tim Funk, who interviewed Jessica Hahn — yes, that Jessica Hahn.
If your response is, "Jessica who?" then you probably also wouldn't recognize a rotary telephone or have any clue about dial-up internet.
Good news for you: Funk's story does an excellent job of providing historical background and context so that his story makes sense — and would be worth a read — even to those fresh to the story of Hahn and her relationship with disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker. (There's another name that will need no introduction to readers of a certain age. Read Terry Mattingly's 1996 column on Bakker's conspiracy theories.)
At the top of his Hahn story, the Observer writer gets right to the point:
It’s been three decades since the world found out about the 15 minutes she spent in a Florida hotel room with televangelist Jim Bakker. But Jessica Hahn says it’s only been in the last two years that she’s finally confronted her anger about what happened, and how it’s affected the rest of her life.
She says she’s angry at Bakker, founder of the onetime PTL empire near Charlotte, for using his power and his image as a man of God to manipulate her, then a 21-year-old church secretary, into having sex.
“He just believed that everybody should serve him because he was serving God,” she said of Bakker.
She’s also angry at herself for being in the hotel room. And for reacting to this experience and the sudden media glare by making “maybe not the best choices” over the years that followed — including posing nude three times in Playboy.
Such choices, Hahn said, turned her into “pretty much a cartoon character.”
“There are nights now that I get up (at 3 a.m.), and I’m sweating,” she recently told the Observer. “I never had that before. I thought I was sliding through. I thought, ‘My life is fine. I didn’t get injured by this. Nothing affected me. I went off and posed in Playboy ... I did this and I did that. I made it work.’ But no! I wake up now and go, ‘Oh my God, I’m so angry.’ ”
Is there a current news peg for this piece? Yes.
Hahn said she finds herself identifying with some of the women now coming forward, often telling their stories of sexual harassment and abuse after staying silent about them for years.
Read the entire piece, and there's some head-scratching inconsistency in Hahn's view of the world. For example, she's coming forward to join the fight against sexual harassment and exploitation of women — but she's a fan of Donald Trump and the late Hugh Hefner. Wait, what!?
But give Funk credit for a fair, sensitively told story in which he lets Hahn share her perspective in her own words, including talking about her faith:
Hahn said that, through it all, she remains committed to her faith
“God is still the first and most important thing in my life. The only person I really talk to,” she said. “My faith is strong. ... I still believe in God more than ever. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t his mess.”
As for what lesson she learned from the PTL saga, Hahn answered with words for others who are seeking a church.
“If they’re not glorifying God, run for the hills,” she said. “If they’re not compassionate toward every human being, whether rich or poor ... then they’re not preaching the Gospel. They’re talking about themselves. Find a church where people embrace you.”
Your turn, GetReligion readers: Any names who used to be in the news — particularly religion news — that you haven't heard in a while and wonder "what ever happened to?" By all means, leave a comment or tweet us at @GetReligion. Thank you for reading and reflecting!