Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Nearly four months after the firing of Jerome Socolovsky, Religion News Service has hired a new editor in chief.

The name will be familiar to regular GetReligion readers: Bob Smietana.

Smietana, as a news release from RNS notes, is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has worked for The Tennessean, Christianity Today and, most recently, Facts & Trends, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Smietana served as president of the Religion News Association from 2013 to 2015. He is extremely familiar with RNS, previously serving as a correspondent for the news organization and as a member of its board of managers.

From the release:

Smietana credits RNS with first launching his career, and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to now lead the organization, expand its footprint and mentor the next generation of religion journalists.
“The American religious landscape is being transformed before our eyes,” Smietana said. “For more than 80 years, RNS has covered religion with accuracy, insight, empathy and independence. As a result, RNS is perfectly positioned to document that transformation and to help our readers navigate this new world.”
Smietana’s appointment concludes a national search, which solicited more than 130 applicants, helmed by Nicole Neroulias Gupte, chair of the RNS Board of Managers.
“After considering many qualified candidates for this position, we were impressed by the breadth and depth of Bob Smietana’s religion journalism experience, his passion for this beat and commitment to our organization,” Gupte said. “We look forward to working with him as RNS grows its staff and coverage areas, including implementing our Global Religion Journalism Initiative and other exciting projects.”

Smietana is a friend of mine and a longtime reader of GetReligion. We appreciate his willingness to praise us when he agrees with our critiques and engage with us when he disagrees. We hope that continues in his new role.

Full disclosure: I occasionally write freelance stories for RNS.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: No doubt, the big religion headline of the week was the Pennsylvania grand jury report covering seven decades of Catholic priestly sexual abuse in that state's dioceses. Read more on that here and here.

But the "story" of the week has to be San Antonio Express-News writer Silvia Foster-Frau's chilling narrative on the wife of the gunman who killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, last November. 

"This story ... might be the best religion story I've read in years," someone named Bob Smietana (you might have heard of him) wrote on Facebook.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Clergy sex abuse on various fronts is at the center of the most-clicked post this week: It's editor Terry Mattingly's commentary titled "Catholic drama is epic tragedy: Why is Willow Creek meltdown so important?"

A close second: tmatt's piece on "A time for anger? Some Catholic bishops worked hard to limit exposure of their sins and crimes."

3. Guilt folder fodder (and more): On the same day that the Pennsylvania grand jury report was the lead story in the New York Times, a second religion story appeared above the fold on the front page.

This one concerned hopes by some that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, could boost funding for religious education. In other words, the idea is that Kavanaugh might allow taxpayer funds to follow children to the school of their choosing — be it public, private or religious.

It's an informative, mostly balanced read.

4. Shameless plug: Since it's back-to-school time in many communities, I'll share a recent feature I wrote for RNS.

It's a story about houses of worship nationally organizing events to help public school students with supplies, clothing and other needs.

5. Final thought: Is there a place for pro-life voters of faith in the Democratic Party? Apparently not. At least not in Missouri, as lamented on Twitter by Michael Wear, who led faith outreach for President Barack Obama:

The Kansas City Star reported on Missouri Democrats removing an anti-abortion amendment from the party's platform. There's not any religion in that story per se, but I'd love to see a Godbeat pro delve into the question.

Happy Friday, everybody!

Enjoy the weekend!

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