A stunning police raid on Catholic offices in Houston: Is this a major TEXAS story?

In terms of global, national, regional and local importance, the massive police raid of Catholic headquarters in Houston is clearly the big religion-news story of the day.

The question for me: How important is this story in terms of TEXAS news?

Hold that thought. First, here is the headline in The New York Times: “Investigators Raid Offices of President of U.S. Catholic Bishops.”

This is a solid and disturbing report, with some factual language in places where journalists often offer vague details. Here is the Times overture by veteran religion-beat scribe Laurie Goldstein:

Dozens of local and federal law enforcement officers conducted a surprise search of the offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on Wednesday, looking for evidence in a clergy sexual abuse case that has ensnared the local archbishop, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, who also serves as president of the United States Catholic bishops’ conference.

The raid in Houston is the latest sign of crisis in the church, with prosecutors growing more aggressive in their search for cover-ups of abuse, and the bishops — led by Cardinal DiNardo — hamstrung by the Vatican in their efforts to carry out reforms.

The church is under a barrage of investigations around the country. Attorneys general in at least a dozen states have opened inquiries, and the Justice Department has told bishops not to destroy any documents that could relate to sex abuse cases. Last month, the attorney general in Michigan executed search warrants on all seven Catholic dioceses in that state.

The scene outside the archdiocesan offices in Houston on Wednesday morning was extraordinary, with police cars lined up on the street and about 50 uniformed officers headed inside, some carrying boxes to hold evidence.

So what is the issue here? Let’s talk about Texas.

To be blunt: When I started writing this post, I did a simple search of The Houston Chronicle website for this word “DiNardo.” The results were a bit surprising, since I couldn’t find anything about this raid at the top of the initial search list.

My bad: Apparently something in the algorithms at this website placed this story way down the list when ranking news in terms of importance. When I clicked to search by date, there was a substantial report on the raid.

Let me confess that, for an old religion-beat guy like myself, The Houston Chronicle isn’t just another newspaper.

Once upon a time, the Chronicle was one of the nation’s top newspapers, in terms of serious coverage of religion news. A long list of prominent reporters worked there over the years — names like Louis Moore, (our own) Julia Duin and Cecile Holmes. It was the religion-beat work at the Chronicle that made me — a J-student at Baylor University in Central Texas — think that it was possible to do solid, ambitious work in this complicated field.

This local police-raid story at Chron.com is solid on the basic details, as you would expect. But if readers are looking for a larger context, they — #DUH — need to look to the Times. Contrast the overture at the top of this post with the following Chron.com language:

Dozens of state and local law enforcement swarmed the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston's downtown office Wednesday to seize records related to Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, the priest accused of sexually abusing at least two children who attended a Conroe church.

Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said the surprise search was aimed at a trove of employment and disciplinary records related to La Rosa-Lopez and his time at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.

If evidence of additional victims or accused priests were found outside Montgomery County, the Texas Rangers were there to seize it, Ligon said. They came armed with a search warrant at the nation's fifth largest diocese.

A set of confidential documents kept by each diocese, known as "secret archives" in Canon law, was among the records sought.

"I am a lay Catholic myself, but today I stand here as a district attorney of Montgomery County," Ligon said. "This is not a search warrant against the Catholic Church, but this search warrant is to review files that belonged to a defendant."

I know, all news is local. But this is a major development in one of the most important religion-news stories in the world. Surely Chronicle editors know that?

Meanwhile, Catholic readers have to shudder when reading language of this kind:

Standing outside the church as about 60 law enforcement officials — including unspecified federal agents — searched inside, Ligon expressed trust in DiNardo's vow of transparency but said his confidence has limits, even as the archdiocese prepares to release the names of priests deemed to have been credibly accused.

Ligon told reporters that "the Catholic Church has cooperated to a degree."

"Even if DiNardo is cooperative, the people working for him may not," Ligon said. "He can be transparent all he wants, but what he doesn't know, he doesn't know. I'm born suspicious as hell. I assume people are going to lie to me and not tell the truth."

So this was, obviously, a big HOUSTON story.

But was it an important TEXAS story?

That’s where, alas, we have another highly symbolic news organization, in terms of the history of religion-beat coverage — The Dallas Morning News. Once again, we are dealing with a paper that once had a national reputation for high-quality religion news.

Your GetReligionistas have — black-flag trigger warning — focused lots of attention on the decline of the religion beat in Dallas, a city that would make anyone’s list of the five or six most religion-soaked metropolitan areas in America.

So what happens when you search www.DallasNews.com for the word “DiNardo”?

This is what I got a few minutes ago, before clicking “post.”

Did I miss something? Maybe the newspaper ran a wire-service story that doesn’t show up in an online search? (See comments below.)

The bottom line: Is the Dallas Morning News still attempting to cover the state of Texas, I mean, other than stories about politics and football? I know that the News is a shadow of what it used to be, in these hard times, but this had to be one of the 10 or so world-US-Texas stories that got covered on this day.

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