Every reporter knows this truth: The typical news story -- even a longer feature -- doesn't have room for every single detail that you want to include.
Ah, but how do you decide which details make the cut?
In my experience, reporters and editors think about the potential audience for a particular story. On the religion beat, I have always assumed that there is a good chance that people who read religion stories care about the religious details -- especially when they serve as symbols of major themes in the story. I also love details in liturgies, hymns, biblical texts, etc., that offer poignant or even ironic twists on the news.
This brings me to a rather angry note that I received from a reader -- a nationally known historian, who will remain anonymous -- about a symbolic detail in a CNN report linked to the stunning Pennsylvania grand-jury report covering seven decades of Catholic priestly sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The CNN.com headline: "Critics slam Vatican's 'disturbing' silence on abuse cover-ups."
The CNN report noted that Paloma Ovejero, deputy director of the Vatican's press office, simply said: "We have no comment at this time." Meanwhile, U.S. bishops of all stripes have urged Pope Francis to speak out. That led to this passage, with an expert academic voice offering commentary:
"The silence from the Vatican is disturbing," said Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "I don't think the Pope necessarily has to say something today. He needs time to understand the situation. But someone from the Vatican should say something."
Faggioli noted that Wednesday is a national holiday in Italy, and many church offices are closed. But he also noted that it was well-known that Pennsylvania's grand jury report, which was in the works since 2016, would be released on Tuesday.
"I don't think they understand in Rome that this is not just a continuation of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States," Faggioli said. "This is a whole different chapter. There should be people in Rome telling the Pope this information, but they are not, and that is one of the biggest problems in this pontificate -- and it's getting worse."
Ah, what was this national holiday? Well, in this case there were two major events on the same day.
For secular Italians, it's safe to say that they were celebrating Ferragosto -- the Latin is Feriae Augusti, as in the festivals of the Emperor Augustus -- an ancient Roman festival that signals the start of fleeing-the-heat summer holidays in Italy.
But what about all of those the people who gathered at the Vatican to listen to Pope Francis? Were church offices closed because of Ferragosto, or because of an important date on the Catholic liturgical calendar -- the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (or the Dormition of the Theotokos in Eastern Orthodoxy).
For Catholics, this is a celebration of the purity of their faith in one of its most powerful forms, the belief that Mary was taken up into heaven -- body and soul -- because of her Immaculate Conception and her pure and holy life.
Thus, this GetReligion reader in academia asked: Which detail is more important, in this case, that Pope Francis and the Vatican remained silent -- when faced with a truly hellish and putrid scandal -- on Ferragosto (the national holiday) or the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (the holy day of obligation in their faith)? The reader asked: How could anyone miss this powerful irony, in a religion-beat story about what is probably the religion-news story of 2018?
Well, it could be argued that Ferragosto is the holiday affecting more people in the secular world and, thus, the audience for CNN.
But which fact adds content to this specific story? Which fact was almost certainly on the mind of Vatican officials and even the pope, as he stepped before that large crowd to talk about this holy day of obligation in the Catholic faith?
I would vote for Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a holy day focusing on purity and holiness.
Meanwhile, let's note that there was a ton of valid information in this CNN report and, near the end, this fascinating commentary about this news story from a highly relevant source:
Greg Kandra, a Catholic deacon in Brooklyn, New York, said he awoke on Wednesday to countless fellow Catholics expressing outrage on social media about the Pennsylvania grand jury report. The presence of social media is a key difference between now and 2002, when a wave of sexual abuse scandals rocked the Catholic Church, beginning in Boston and quickly spreading to dioceses across the United States.
"What we have now is people freely expressing their outrage on Facebook and Twitter," Kandra said, "and that is where this story is starting to take off. The anger is palpable. This is like 2002 on steroids."
Another difference between now and 2002, Kandra said, is the focus on bishops -- not just priests -- and the accusations that they covered up for abusive priests or even engaged in abuse themselves.
Oh, and the holy day finally makes an appearance in this report:
Wednesday marked the Feast of the Assumption in the Catholic Church, a holy day of obligation that recalls the Virgin Mary's ascent into heaven, and Kandra was one of about 500 Catholics who attended noon Mass at a church in Brooklyn. The priest who celebrated the Mass didn't mention the abuse scandal. At least, not directly, Kandra said.
"He preached about evil and turning to the Blessed Mother to protect us. But he didn't address the big news (about the grand jury report). Maybe he's waiting until Sunday."
Now, Kandra is accurately identified as a permanent Catholic deacon with an important job in the church-media world.
However, in this commentary on reactions to a church scandal, might it also be relevant to readers (religious and secular) that he is an Emmy winning broadcast journalist with 26 years of experience at CBS News, working with "48 Hours," "60 Minutes II" and the other prime CBS franchises?
When it comes to understanding the realities of news, Kandra is not your normal Catholic deacon.